Focal Passage: Gal. 3:23-29
The day of my swimming test
had finally arrived. For almost an entire week of Boy Scout camp I had been
relegated to the Red swimming area, the portion of the lake reserved for
“beginner” swimmers. Now I had my
sights on the Blue area of the lake, the deep water where only “advanced”
swimmers could tread. With the swimming instructions I had received over the
course of the week racing through my mind, I plunged into the murky water.
Lowering my head and
gritting my teeth, I swam until I could barely feel my arms. A few minutes
later, I emerged from the lake a Blue swimmer. I can still remember how hard
and fast my heart was beating, not from exhaustion, but from euphoria. I had
done it. Now I was finally free to swim with my friends, most of whom were
“advanced” swimmers already. I felt a celebration was only appropriate, so upon
receiving my Blue swimmer credentials I leapt with carefree abandon into the
water … of the Red area. Free or not, I wanted to stay where my feet could
touch the bottom.
Perhaps in no epistle is
Paul’s anger and disappointment as evident as it is in his letter to the
Galatians. Why? Simply put, the Galatian congregations have somehow managed to
sneak back into the Red area. Though Paul has proclaimed Christ’s grace and
freedom to these believers, they’ve once again sought refuge in the law. Paul
explains that, up until the time of Christ, the law served to “imprison” and
“guard” (Gal. 23:3). Now Christ provides freedom. Why on earth would a person
return to imprisonment instead of embracing freedom? As frightening as it
sounds, many of us know exactly why someone would do that.
The notion of “freedom” may
seem appealing, but it’s a dangerous idea. Remember that even when the Hebrews
were released from slavery in Egypt, they pondered returning to captivity (Num.
14:3-4). Many felt there was greater safety in bondage than in daily reliance
Likewise, humans have a proclivity to retreat into legalism. After all,
legalism is more well-defined, and we feel much safer when we know the rules.
Perhaps it was this way of thinking that fueled some of Jesus’ poignant words
in Matthew 5. Jesus taught that both adultery and murder were more than “acts”;
instead, they were matters of the heart. In short, Jesus instructs his
listeners to eschew legalism, not because legalism makes following Christ seem
too hard, but because legalism makes following Christ seem too easy. Being a
disciple of Jesus entails more than following a checklist.
Christians must vigilantly
guard themselves from legalism. Like the Galatians, if given half a chance
we’ll head for the shallow water