Getting Rid of the Bondwoman
Living by works, or legalism, is the natural condition of people. Whether we are religious or not, without the Holy Spirit we live by works.
Christianity is the only way of life that offers grace. Without Christ, whether or not we are religious, we live by trying to improve ourselves. We develop will power and discipline to modify our behavior and achieve our goals.
But Christ offers us peace. Only in Christ can we be perfect by faith alone without effort on our part.
The Old Covenant was written for people living under the curse of sin. It served to point out sin and to wake people up to the fact that their work and effort were hopeless. The law was intended to be temporary; it was given at Sinai and was to last until Jesus came. (Galatians 3:16-20)
Since Jesus died and rose for us, we live in a new reality. That reality is the New Covenant. Jesus became our curse; he died our death; he rose from death, and now he gives us his life and the promised Holy Spirit. (see Galatians 3:13-14)
The Law Is a Prison
Now that we live in the New Covenant, we are cursed if we go back to observing the law. (Galatians 3:10) The law was like a prison holding us and protecting us from self-destruction until Jesus came. Now, faith has come, and "we are no longer under the supervision of the law." (Galatians 3:23-24)
When Paul chastised the Galatians for allowing the Judaizers to seduce them into observing Jewish customs he said to them, "Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God-or rather are known by God-how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?" (Galatians 4:8-10)
But the Galatians had not been Jews-they had been pagans. Yet was Paul asking them why they were "turning back." They weren't turning back to paganism; they were going toward Judaism. To Paul, their slide into keeping the Old Covenant Jewish law and customs was no different from becoming pagan. Either way, they would be enslaved to works.
Paul compares the Old Covenant to Hagar. She and her children are in slavery. But the New Covenant he compares to Sarah. She and her children are free. Paul says, "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." (Galatians 4:24-31)
Old Covenant Is a Ghost Town
Paul is clear that the Old Covenant and the New Covenant are not different names for the same thing. In fact, if we keep holding onto parts of the Old Covenant, including the law, we are in danger. We are to "get rid" of the Old Covenant. If we don't, we are not free and will not share in the promised inheritance.
When God gave the Old Covenant to Israel, the tabernacle was the center of the community. All Israel knew that God's presence lived in the Most Holy Place: the light of his glory rested over the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant.
During the time of Israel the Ten Commandments and all the ceremonies of the Old Covenant were God's appointed way for people to find and worship him. The Old Covenant was the legal system that defined Israel as a nation and taught them that they belonged to God. God's presence in the temple was his way of saying to Israel, "I am the heart of this covenant; observe these laws and ceremonies, and you will find me."
Centuries later, as Jesus hung on the cross, he cried out, "It is finished!" and died. At the moment of his death the curtain in the temple ripped from top to bottom, and something was gone. The presence of God had abandoned the temple. God had abandoned the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant had become a ghost town.
Days later the presence of God entered his new temple. On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit filled the spirits of the believers. It was a new reality. Instead of living in a temple made by hands, God now dwells in the hearts of his followers. Now the law is in our hearts-not merely the Ten Commandments, but the actual Law Giver, God himself. The Ten were not able to interpret situations with love or compassion. But God in us now tells us, on a moment-by-moment basis, how to live. We are now accountable to God, not the law, for every decision we make.
Turning to the Law Is Turning from Christ
The Ten Commandments were the law of the Old Covenant. The Holy Spirit is the law of the New Covenant.
Now, if we turn back to the written law, we are turning away from the Holy Spirit. Paul said, "Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised [or observe other Old Covenant commandments], Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised [or observes other legal requirements] that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from grace." (Galatians 5:2-4)
As believers living under the New Covenant, if we go back to the law we are returning to a system that God has abandoned. We are returning to a ghost town. The structure of the Old Covenant no longer is the home of the presence of God. Since God left it, the only spiritual power that can be in that structure is the spirit of deception, the spirit of the father of lies. To honor the law when we are under grace is spiritual adultery. To observe any part of the law when we are to be living by the Spirit is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. That is why Paul equated the Galatians' turning to the law with returning to paganism.
Fruits of Sin and Fruits of the Spirit
Paul lists acts of the sinful nature in Galatians 5: 20-21. He compares them with the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23.
"The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God." (Gal. 5:20-21)
Some of these acts, such as idolatry and witchcraft, drunkenness, orgies, and debauchery, seem to be obvious characteristics of paganism or godlessness. But the others, such as sexual immorality, impurity, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, factions and envy, seem prevalent in "civilized" groups. Even though most people agree that these behaviors are "bad," they still flourish in our society. They even flourish in many churches.
These are behaviors that mark people who do not "live by the Spirit." Living under the law does not prevent these behaviors. Whether people are religious or not, looking to the law for life's direction will not result in godly behavior. The law will only increase a sense of futility and guilt.
On the other hand, when we embrace grace and Christ's gift of the Holy Spirit, we begin to produce a different kind of fruit. The Holy Spirit becomes the director of our lives. We no longer have to prove ourselves or struggle for our place in life. Instead, we begin to let God reveal what he wants us to do. We begin to live in peace, without anxiety for the future. We begin to see that we don't have to protect ourselves against our enemies. We can deal with people with love and patience because God is in control of our outcomes.
As we give our insecurities and emotions to him, he honors our faith by giving us insight and wisdom. Our lives increasingly display love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Living in Sabbath Rest
Living in the New Covenant is living in true Sabbath rest. When we understand that the law was nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:13-15), we can fully embrace living by the Holy Spirit, the law in our hearts. We can embrace Today without anxiety or fear for the future. We can embrace Jesus as the true Sabbath; his death released us from the curse of sin. His resurrection has given us his righteousness and new life. We no longer have to work to be justified.
As Christ-followers we are called to turn away from the Old Covenant. We are to "get rid of the slave woman." We are to leave behind any belief that we can "cover our bases" with God by observing rituals or ceremonies including the Sabbath. We are to give up our fear and control to the Comforter who lives in us. We are called to give him our emotional attachments to deceptions we formerly believed to be truths.
As long as we hold onto parts of the law we cannot experience the freedom and confidence of living by the Spirit. As long as we hold onto the law we are denying what Jesus did for us.
When we let go of the old familiar requirements, we walk into a new reality. We walk into security and peace.
We walk into Love.
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