No Longer a Slave

Galatians 4-6

Galatians 5:1 – It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.


Growing up in the great Southwest, I have had the luxury of enjoying authentic Mexican food. I could eat chips and salsa every day, all day. When I’ve got a craving, I will even eat chips and salsa from New York City. (Click here for reference to an old TV commercial.) 


Tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, burritos are all very, very good. But one main entree dish tops them all, the chimichanga. If you’re not familiar with the chimichanga, you can think of it as a deep fried burrito topped with sour cream and guacamole. Or if you’re feeling extra decadent,  queso fundido sauce. My mouth is watering just thinking about it…


When I was in college, I spent a semester at Kansas State University. For the most part, I enjoyed going to school there. One of the only drawbacks was that back in 1993, there weren’t any Mexican restaurants in the area. And while I could get chips and salsa from the grocery store, and tacos from Taco Bell, there wasn’t any authentic Mexican cuisine to be found. 


Then one day, I was dining at an Applebee’s. And low and behold, there on the menu was a chicken chimichanga. I almost cried. I was so excited! With great anticipation, I waited for the plate to be brought out to the table. And when the dish finally arrived, it was everything I could do to hold back the tears. Not because I was so thrilled, but because the chimichanga was covered in chili! Not Mexican red or green chili, but chili beans! I was dumbfounded. How could anyone mess up my chimichanga?!?! When I spoke with my parents later that evening (they were still living in Arizona), I let the tears fall. I was so homesick. 


I tell you all of this because when I read the book of Galatians, something stands out to me. The church in Galatia had enthusiastically accepted the Gospel that the apostle Paul had preached to them. But after he had left, interlopers had begun to convince Believers that there were certain rituals that they had to practice, including circumcision, to be considered righteous. When Paul heard of this, he was so frustrated! 

Here’s Bethany’s interpretation of Galatians 5:1 – Why, why, why would you go back to living under the burden of all these rules and regulations? Don’t you know that Christ died so that you wouldn’t have to be a slave to all that? Your faith has set you FREE! Now start living like it! 


The same message applies to you and me. Once you realize what life can be like living under the grace of God through faith in what His son did on the cross on your behalf, why, why, why would you ever think about going back to a previous lifestyle? And yet, that’s what we encounter every single day. We’re faced with decisions on how to treat others, how we spend our time, how we invest our finances. It might be tempting to make concessions in stressful circumstances, but we must stay strong, to persevere and be firm in our faith. 


When you get in the habit of living in freedom, going back to a former way of living becomes just as inconceivable as eating a chimichanga with chili beans dumped all over it. When you experience the REAL DEAL – you never want to go back. 


Grace from God gives us a glimpse of His goodness.

Mercy from the Most High motivates us to move mountains.

Forgiveness from the Father fills in the fissures of the heart.

Rest within the shadow of the Rock renews our responsiveness.

Acceptance by the Almighty alters our attitudes.

Joy from Jehovah jolts our joints! 


It is for Freedom that Christ has set you Free. Now start living like it!  

Bethany Ligon

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Galatians 4-6

Tomorrow we will read Acts 17:1-18:18.

With Christ

Galatians 1-3


Social conversations today sometimes revolve around issues and individuals with whom we can relate or identify. For example, I am a fan of the Arizona Cardinals and when there is an exciting play on the field, I tend to get loud. And when the team wins a game, I feel like there is some part of me that also wins, even though I watch the game from home while ironing clothes for the week ahead. If the team loses a game, I feel bad for the team knowing how hard they fought to bring home a victory for all those who choose to cheer them on! I might not ever get the chance to score a touchdown or take a ready position on the offensive line trying to protect a quarterback, but I still feel like I am part of the team. 

When I read the words written by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians, I claim his declaration in chapter 2 verse 20 as my own. “I have been crucified with Christ” is a phrase that I believe I might have written myself if I were the one penning this epistle. When Jesus offered his life on the cross, he wasn’t doing it just for himself. He wasn’t doing it for all of the believers who were alive at the time. He allowed nails to be driven into his wrists and feet and his blood to pour out for all of us. This is something that I identify with. Jesus was willing to die for me. It’s a gift that I am willing to accept so that I do not have to pay that debt myself. I claim that Jesus is my Savior.


But Jesus is not just my Savior, he is also my Lord. “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Because of what Jesus has done for me, the only response that I can have is to dedicate my life in service to him. The thoughts that I think, the words that I speak, the actions that I take, are all a reflection of what it means to “live by faith in the Son of God”. Make no mistake, I mess up often. But thankfully, because the grace of God is never ending, I can be made right again upon confession and repentance. 

And so I ask you, with whom do you identify? Is it your family? Is it your school or workplace? Is it with a professional sports team? Is it your church? While all of those people and organizations are most likely good people and places to associate yourself, remember that the ultimate person with whom you can identify is Jesus the Messiah. He died so that you wouldn’t have to. 


So what will your response to this sacrifice be? Will you align yourself with Christ? Will you choose to be on his team and play every play on the field with all of your heart? Will your thoughts, words, and actions reveal your true allegiance?

I challenge you that if you haven’t already accepted Jesus as your Savior, to do that today! And if you have already done that, remember that he is Lord of your life too. Now is the time to start living like it!  

-Bethany Ligon

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Galatians 1-3

Tomorrow we will read the rest of Galatians, chapters 4-6.

Live Like New Creations!

Galatians 6

Galatians 6 9

In keeping in step with the Spirit, we can’t ignore sin.  But we don’t just condemn the person either.  We are supposed to restore that person.   And beyond that, Paul says:

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Now, this seems a little contrary to what he says just three verses later that each person should carry their own load, but I think it is not. We are responsible for ourselves.  But as members of the body of Christ, we can help each other out to make things easier for our brothers and sisters.

The next paragraph is encouraging!  Don’t give up – something better is coming!

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Paul wraps up this book by going back to the topic of circumcision that was causing divide.

15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.

Do it or don’t do it – it doesn’t matter.  We are under a new law of freedom now.  This may not be an issue that causes divide amongst Christians today, but we can get trapped in other debates about things that don’t really matter.  If we are new creations in Christ, we should live like it, in the freedom his sacrifice has given us, giving honor to him and our Father.

Thanks for reading this week – I hope you gained something from these devotions!

 

~Stephanie Fletcher

In Step with the Spirit

Galatians 5

Gal 5 7

Chapter 5 picks up right where 4 left off (if you haven’t already, you might just want to read the whole book straight through to get the most out of it – it’s only 6 chapters).

1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. […] You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?

From chapter 4, we know that the Galatians were struggling, falling back to their old ways. Paul is still trying to get to the heart of the why and how.  He wants them to quit trying to be justified by the law – because by doing do, they miss out on Christ’s promise and are once again bound into slavery.

Do you ever get bogged down by doing things exactly by the letter and then realize that you have been missing the point?  Paul is specifically talking to the Galatians about circumcision, but I think the same idea could apply to many things.  This reminds me of Jesus’ teachings about the Sabbath.  The Pharisees were so focused on making sure no work was done, that they wanted to condemn Jesus for healing someone.  Jesus pointed out that if a sheep fell into a hole on the Sabbath, they would pull it out – and how much more valuable is a person!  So Paul’s point is to quit being so focused on the letter of the law – he says in verse 5 “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

So rather than focusing on the law, focus on this:

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

It could be easy to say that if we are not bound by the law that we are free to do whatever we want, but I believe we are called to a standard higher than the law by this freedom.  If we look to Romans 6, Paul clarifies here that we are to offer ourselves to God as an instrument of righteousness and to not let sin reign.

This chapter finishes with the fruit of the Spirit.  You are probably familiar with these, but I usually think about these alone, not in the context of this book.  If we are children of God through Christ, then we have the Spirit to guide us rather than the law.  This list isn’t easy.  They are high standards of living.  I am going to leave you today with these verses as a reminder – let’s try to live in step with the Spirit.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

 

~Stephanie Fletcher

Backs Turned to God, or Turning Back to God – Your Choice

Galatians 4

Galatians 4 9

Picking up from yesterday’s chapter, Paul continues to talk about heirs.   I think it is best to go back and read the end of Galatians 3 again (remember, the chapter breaks were added later – not by Paul when he was writing).  Everyone was a slave under the law.  But thankfully, God made a way that they (and we) could become His children.  By accepting Christ, one can become a child of God through adoption.

Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba,[c] Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

From slave to heir – what an amazing opportunity!  How often do we take that for granted?  Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, not only have we been freed from the bondage of slavery, but we have also become heirs of God – and our inheritance is eternal life in His Kingdom.

This next section speaks of the Galatians turning their backs to God.  Paul is feeling like he wasted his time and effort with them since they have reverted to how they were before they knew God.  Paul seems to not be able to understand how they could go back.  When he was with them to bring them the gospel the first time, they were a blessing to him, but now they are causing him great distress.  Paul even goes as far as to compare it to the pains of childbirth as he is waiting for Christ to be formed in them again.  As someone who went through that last year, my sarcastic side thinks “Really, Paul?  What do you know about that?”  But my somewhat more logical side can recognize that he is using that language to convey the seriousness of his concern – both in how much he cares for them as if they were his own children, and also how hurt he is by the turning of their backs on what he taught them.

I imagine that the Galatians were not intentionally turning away from God.  But by not being intentionally focused on God, that was the result.  I know I am guilty of this.  It takes work to keep your mind and life set on God.  You may not be actively doing things that would displease Him, but by not actively doing things that do please Him, you are still going to be drifting further and further from Him.

Going back to Abraham’s story again, Paul brings up his two sons.

22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. 23 His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise. […] 30 But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.”[f]31 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.

We want to be children of the promise – of the free woman.  And the only way for us to do this is through Christ, so if you haven’t made the decision to follow him yet, I encourage you to do so!

~Stephanie Fletcher

Through Faith

Galatians 3

Galatians 3 26

Paul has been summarizing different points of his life in his letter to the Galatians.  But it is not without a point.  He brings it back to them at the start of this chapter.  They have fallen into the same pattern that Peter and some other Jews had of believing that they were saved by works of the law, so Paul is needing to correct them to right thinking.  Like his reminder to Peter, he reminds them of that faith or belief.

6 So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 7 Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9 So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

This is us!  We call ourselves of the Faith of Abraham or of the Abrahamic Faith.    God promises Abraham in Genesis 22 that through his offspring, all nations on earth will be blessed because of his obedience.  In God’s earlier promises to Abraham, He promises that his descendants will be blessed, but this takes it a step further and gives hope to those who did not come from a Jewish background.  It was through Christ’s sacrifice that we are able to be a part of the blessing given to Abraham by faith.

Paul tries to explain that we are saved by faith in another way:

16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,”[i] meaning one person, who is Christ. 17 What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. 18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

Usually when I think of the Old Testament times, I think of the law.  But Paul reminds me here that the promise given to Abraham was before the law and the law does not replace God’s covenant with Abraham.  Abraham, who we look to as an example, was before the law and God’s blessings were given to him.

Paul then summarizes with this encouraging message:

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Our backgrounds don’t matter.  Our identity is in Christ, and he is our hope to be heirs to the Kingdom of God.  That is something to be thankful for!

 

~Stephanie Fletcher

The Life I Now Live

Galatians 2

Galatians 2 20

Paul has jumped ahead 14 years in his summary of his life as we start this next chapter.   Paul chose to meet with the leaders in the faith to present to them the gospel he was sharing with the Gentiles to make sure he was doing it properly.

This was 14 years after the end of events in the previous chapter, and if you look back, that was 3 years (and sometime) after his conversion.  After 17+ years of being in the faith, Paul, whose words we read in our study of Scripture, still asked those with more experience than he if he was on the right path.  What a good reminder for us!  Sometimes I think it can be easy to assume that for as long as you have been a part of the church (especially if you are someone like me who was raised in the church), that we have it all right.  But it is wise to continually seek counsel to ensure we have not strayed from the truth or are missing anything.

In Paul’s case, the leaders had nothing to add to what he was sharing.  “On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised,[a]just as Peter had been to the circumcised.[b] For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles.”

Paul’s message may have looked a little different than Peter’s because of who he was presenting to, but these leaders still agreed that it was true and wasn’t lacking anything.  I like this.  It is a reminder to me that not everyone is going to receive the Good News the same way.  If we tried to present it to everyone identically, it just wouldn’t click.  But by having different ways of sharing, and different people doing the sharing, we have the opportunity to reach more people.

As Paul continues to talk of his journey, he comes upon the argument that he had with Peter regarding forcing Gentiles to follow the Jewish law.  He reminds Peter that they and we are not justified by works, but by faith in Jesus Christ.  But that doesn’t mean that we can return or remain in our sinful lifestyle.  We must get out of that pattern.

The chapter ends with this:

19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”[e]

As Christians today, we are not bound by the law, but we are to live for God just like Paul.  We should be grateful for the grace God has given and the sacrifice of Jesus and strive to live a life worthy of that honor.

 

~Stephanie Fletcher

Keeping God’s Gospel

Galatians 1

Galatians 1 7

Today we are going to be starting the book of Galatians which was written by Paul to the churches in Galatia.

After his introduction, he gets right into a major problem he is seeing among them:

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

Although this was an issue the people of Galatia were having, it is something that we can fall prey to as well.  It is a good reminder to us that the truth matters and that if we are trying to present the gospel contrary to what is found in Scripture, we are in trouble.

He continues on with his reminder in this way:

10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

You may find that it is easy to go through life being a people pleaser, and you may be able to avoid a lot of conflict this way, but if you are so focused on pleasing people to the extent that you start to displease God, you are going to have problems.

Now, I’m not saying you should try to stir up conflict with others.  We are told in Romans 12:18 “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” But that doesn’t mean that you give in to the world.  You still have a responsibility first and foremost to God to uphold His Word which brings us back to keeping the gospel as it is presented in Scripture.  It is an unchanging story.

This first chapter finishes up with Paul summarizing his conversion and early faith story which we read about earlier this year in Acts.  If you missed it, go back and read the full account!  When Paul is writing here, he is assuming that his readers have already heard the story and he doesn’t go into much detail.  His point here is that God was praised because of Paul’s conversion, not because they knew Paul at all.

Most of us probably don’t have a story like Paul’s, but that doesn’t mean that God can’t be praised because of what we do for Him.  If our lives are reflecting God’s love, He will be praised.  Make that your goal for the week – that because of how you are living, God will be given praise.

 

~Stephanie Fletcher

 

Battle to the Death

Galatians 4-6

galatians-5-25

Tuesday, June 27

There is a life and death battle going on inside all of us.  In one corner we have the flesh and in the other corner we have the Spirit.  It is a battle to the death.  One will win; the other will die.

The desires of the flesh are listed in Galatians 5:19-21.  They are sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery (excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures); idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.  We all have some of these desires and verse 21 says that if we give into these desires we will not inherit the kingdom of God.  Thus, if our flesh wins the battle, on judgment day you will be sentenced to death.

However, Galatians 5:24 states that those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  Galatians 5:16 says if you walk by the Spirit, you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.  I am sure most of you have heard of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  I think many people look at the fruit of the Spirit as a list of good attributes that we ought to try to attain, but that is not what this verse is saying.  It says the FRUIT of the Spirit are these attributes, meaning you will automatically receive these attributes if you live by the Spirit.  You don’t have to try to be more patient; you will automatically be more patient because of the Spirit that is in you.  You will be more loving due to the Spirit and so on.

You will want to ask to be filled with the Spirit so you can be more loving because Galatians 5:14 says the whole Old Testament Law can be fulfilled by loving your neighbor as yourself.  Think about it.  If you crucify the selfish desires of your flesh and love others instead of yourself, you are fulfilling the whole Law.  You are not required to fulfill that Law, but it is pretty awesome to think we could do that by just living for others instead of ourselves.

Galatians 6:8 says, “For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life.”  We will reap what we sow.  The next verse (6:9) then tells us to not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we don’t grow weary.  Verse 10 then adds that while we have the opportunity, we should do good to all men, but especially to those that are of the household of the faith.  Paul admits that it is not always easy to do good to all people.  You have to sacrifice your own desires to use your time and resources for others, and to make it even more difficult some people are not very deserving of your help and not at all grateful for the good you do for them.  It can be very tiring continually sacrificing for others even if they do appreciate it, but remember not to grow weary and you will reap the reward.

It sounds difficult to crucify all of your fleshly desires and live for others instead of yourself, but are you really sacrificing that much if the reward you get for doing this is eternal life in the Kingdom?  You will actually gain a WHOLE LOT MORE if you can stop living for yourself now in this short lifetime and live for others instead.  Seems like a REALLY EASY choice to make; crucify your fleshly desires and live by the Spirit.

-Rick McClain

(Photo Credit: http://www.dailylifeverse.com/posts/2014/11/galatians-5-25)

Old Testament Salvation

Monday, June 26
Galatians 1-3

It seems so easy to understand. I sin so I deserve to die. Jesus died in my place so if I put my faith in God and Jesus and am baptized, then I am saved. Pretty simple. But what about the people that lived before Jesus was crucified? How could they be saved since Jesus did not die for their sins before they died themselves? Many people believe those Old Testament folks were saved by sacrificing animals for their sins since these instructions were included in the Old Testament Law that Moses gave to them. That seems logical, but there were many people that lived before the law was instituted, including Abraham and Noah. The Law could not save them because it did not exist yet. Galatians 3:17 says the Law came 430 years after the promises were made to Abraham. That brings me to my last question for now: If there was a way to be saved before Christ died and before the Old Testament law sacrifices were put in place, why would Jesus have needed to die? Why couldn’t we be saved in the same way Noah and Abraham were saved?
Hebrews 11 makes it clear that there were indeed people that were alive before the Law was put in place that are saved. Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham were all mentioned as men who had faith. Hebrews 11:16 states that God is not ashamed to be called their God and that He has prepared a city for them. They were saved by their faith, not from sacrificing animals. Moreover, Hebrews 10:4 says it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. That makes it pretty clear that sacrificing animals was not the way to be saved, even for those following the Old Testament Law. So how were they saved since they were not baptized?
Acts 4:12 says, referring to Jesus, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” Galatians 2:16 explains that we are saved by faith in Christ Jesus, not by the works of the Law. It also mentions that no flesh is justified by the works of the Law, which again throws out the animal sacrifices as a way to salvation. Therefore, we are saved by our faith, the same way that people in the Old Testament were saved.
But you may be thinking, how could the Old Testament people put their faith in Jesus when Jesus did not even exist yet? Jesus was not alive back then, but he was talked about a lot. The first reference to Jesus was all the way back in Genesis 3:15, but the coming Messiah was mentioned all throughout the Old Testament. I believe that their faith in God and the faith that He had a plan in place to make them righteous (the Messiah) was indeed having faith in Jesus, even though they didn’t know Jesus by name. I believe that Jesus death on the cross paid for their sins even though they died before that happened.
So why did all of the animals need to die if it didn’t save anyone? Galatians 3:24 said the Law was their tutor that would lead them to Christ so they could be justified by faith. It was a set of rules, if followed, that would lead them to Christ so they could be saved by their faith. Noah showed his faith by building an ark. Abraham showed his faith by packing up everything and moving to a new land. People alive when the Law was instituted showed their faith by following the law. We now show our faith by being baptized. All of mankind from the beginning of time was saved the same way, by faith in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:29 states, “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” That verse seems to tie it all together. Abraham’s offspring belong to Christ and will receive the very same promise that was given to Abraham.

Rick McClain