Christianity 201

November 15, 2018

Sailing Lessons for the Super Religious and Irreligious

by Clarke Dixon

Listen to the 35-minute message on which this devotional is based at this link.

“Since God loves us so much, we ought to be super-religious, zealous for learning and keeping all the rules!” Or, “Since God loves us so much, we can be irreligious. It does not matter what we do!” Which is it? What kind of impact does the love of God through Jesus have on our lives?

Paul helps us sort this out in his letter to the Galatians. Paul discovered that the Galatians had become super-religious, expecting non-Jewish people to become Jewish in order to become Christian. That is, all Christians should keep all the Old Testament commandments right down to the strict dietary restrictions. Most Christians today regularly disregard such laws. Should we start worrying about all those rules? Should we become super observant of the Old Covenant laws? What do we learn from Galatians? Here is where the sailing lessons begin . . .

We are no longer one-design racing. This summer we bought a sailboat that happens to be a “one-design” racing boat. It has all the bells and whistles of a racing boat. It is also built to exact specifications. Should I show up for a one-design race, everything would be checked out to ensure that my boat still fits the exact specifications. Should we fail to meet even one of the rules, we will be disqualified. We will be stuck on the beach.

This is like relating to God through the Old Covenant. Should even one law be broken, then the covenant is broken. You are disqualified, stuck on the beach. Problem is, no one could ever race! Everyone was stuck on the beach. Through the Old Covenant, God was teaching His people their need for His grace. He was pointing to Jesus:

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed.  Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. Galatians 3:23-26

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,  in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. Galatians 4:4-5

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

We no longer relate to God through the Old Covenant. Now we relate to God through the New Covenant, through the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It is like my boat which is now retired from one-design racing. I need not be concerned that I will be stuck on the beach because of the rules. I am free to sail! We are not under the Old Covenant, we are not fearful of disqualification, being stuck on the beach for breaking a rule. We are free to sail!

So this means that we can do anything? There are no rules at all? Not so fast! We might not be one-design racing with all the rules and regulations, but we are sailing. A sailboat has sails, a rudder, a centreboard and all such things required for sailing. A sailboat has different equipment from a powerboat. A sailboat sounds and feels different out on the water than a powerboat. We can think of it this way; while we are free from all the rules and regulations of one-design racing, we are called to go sailing with God rather than continue power-boating alone. The early Christians had learned that non-Jews did not need to become Jews on their way to becoming Christians. But neither could they remain “typical Romans” either. Paul explains:

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:13-14

We are not to live by the law, but we are to love, we are to live by the Spirit:

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Galatians 5:16-18

While the non-Jews were not called to become Jews on the way to Jesus, they were called to be different from what they were. We can think of them as being called from a life of power-boating to a life of sailing, only they are not required to enter a one-design race. In being called to follow Jesus, we are not called to just stay as we are, we are called to live by the Spirit, not the rules.

Sailing is best enjoyed under full sail. My first sailboat had a lot of character. That is a nice way of saying it was old and in rough shape. In our first summer of sailing part of the deck ripped away making it impossible to use one of the two sails. I could have kept sailing without that sail and a section of the deck for the years I owned the boat, but it was much better sailing once fixed. The Christian life is like that. We can keep living with brokenness in our lives, with blind spots to our sin. But the Christian life is so much better under full sail. What does that look like?

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-25

Is your deck broken? Is your sailing hampered by sin and brokenness? Perhaps you are not as loving as you think? Or patient? Or kind? Or generous? Or gentle? The fruit of the Spirit is a good place to look when we are checking our boats over for needed repairs.

As for my boat, I didn’t fix it. My Dad did! We should note that the fruit of the Spirit is precisely that. It is not the fruit of our labours. It is not the fruit of our efforts at keeping the law. It is the fruit of God’s work in our lives. Our heavenly Father does the repairs.

Are we to be super-religious or irreligious? Are we to be bound by religious rules or are we free to do anything and everything? Neither, rather we are to experience relationship with God through Jesus, being moved and changed by His Holy Spirit. Let us conclude by noting that the words for Spirit in both the Hebrew and Greek of the Bible also are the words for ‘wind.’ Happy sailing!

Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada.

Check out Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV


August 21, 2016

Freedom in Christ – An Often Misunderstood Concept

by Russell Young

The nature of the freedom enjoyed by the believer in Christ is sometimes confused.  Some accept it to mean that they are free of consequences regardless of their behaviour.  There are many compelling Scriptural evidences that reject such thinking (Rom 8:13; Gal 6:7-8; 2 Cor 5:10; 1 Pet 1:17; Mt 7:21) In fact, this understanding might be what the Lord referred to as the teaching of the Nicolaitans (Rev 2:6, 15) that he strongly rejected.

The truth about freedom has best been revealed by Paul to the Galatians. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened by a yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5:1, NIV) His address to them was concerning the return of some to Jewish practices and to the covenant of the law.  He had stated that Sarah and Hagar, the wives of Abraham, “represent two covenants.” (Gal 4:24, NIV) Freedom comes through release of enslavement to the Old Covenant which required the law to be fully lived through a person’s own resources.  The second covenant is the covenant of the Spirit.  The son of Sarah was born by the power of the Spirit (Gal 4:29); he was the son of promise and enjoyed right to the New Covenant or the Covenant of the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:6). Freedom belongs to those who are re-born by the power of the Spirit.

It needs to be understood that the requirements of the New Covenant have to be completed and in this regard, Paul wrote to the Romans: “He condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. (Rom 8:3-4, NIV) There is clearly a requirement for the believer to live according to the Spirit’s leadership and through his power in order to satisfy the righteous requirements of the law.  Freedom is from the first or Old Covenant and the consequence of sin committed while under its requirements but not from the consequences of all sin that might follow confession of faith. Once placed under the jurisdiction of the New Covenant the believer must still strive for righteousness.  Further in his letter to the Galatians Paul wrote: “But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.” (Gal 5:5, NIV) The Spirit must produce the needed righteousness, but that comes through living according to his leadership.  The believer cannot engage in those unlawful practices about which he is being convicted. “Those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires…the mind controlled by the Spirit is life.” (Rom 8:5…6, NIV)

If believers have to live in accordance to the Spirit, where is their freedom?  They have been freed from the death sentence that awaited them for the sins committed while under the first covenant, and they have been freed from having to live out the law through their own resources.  They have been released or freed from these two impossible burdens.

The Lord also addressed the issue of “freedom.”  “Jesus replied. ‘I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (Jn 8:34-36, NIV) Further in the discussion he has stated, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” (Jn 8:51, NIV) He has been addressing the issue of slavery to sin and was talking to some Jewish believers.  The issue of his concern related to the nature of their slavery and his teaching is that they have been set free from slavery to sin because they now have the Spirit to gain victory over it. Freedom in Christ is freedom from slavery to sin.

The Lord is the Spirit.  “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.” (2 Cor 3:17) He had gained victory over sin while in the body that the father had prepared for him in the womb of Mary and he can provide freedom from sin while in the body of the believer, if obediently followed. Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” (Jn 10: 27, NIV)

James spoke of “the perfect law that gives freedom.” (Jas 1:25, NIV) The perfect law is the law (commands) given by Christ through the Spirit to the believer.  The one who obeys his law-his Spirit- will be free from slavery to sin.  Sin need not have dominion over the person who is committed to Christ.

Russell Young returns tomorrow with part two of our look at freedom.