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Galatians #14 . Chapter 5:1

Christ has liberated us to be free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Gal 5:1, HCSB)

These two sentences are extremely powerful. I want to pause and unpack them a little bit. Paul says that Christ has liberated us. One natural question is – how has he done that? Colossians 2:13-18 gives us a clue:

And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses. He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; He triumphed over them by Him.

Therefore, don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is the Messiah. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on ascetic practices and the worship of angels, claiming access to a visionary realm and inflated without cause by his unspiritual mind. (Col 2:13-18, HCSB)

Through the cross, Jesus Christ has liberated us. His death fulfilled the law, and erased our debt and obligation to it. His death triumphed over, and disarmed, the demonic powers that were free to torment us for our failure to keep the law.

Paul says we are liberated to be free. Two more useful questions are, “What are we free from? What are we freed to?”

I’m so glad you asked. What follows all applies to me as much as to you, but I am going to write it as “you” so that you can appreciate the full impact of your freedom. As you consider your freedom, remember this is freedom that you have only in Christ. You didn’t get it. You didn’t earn it. You don’t get to keep it apart from Christ. But in Christ, you are indeed free. Let me explain what I mean by in Christ. You are in Christ when you keep on trusting him. I use the expression keep on trusting quite deliberately. It is a daily (sometimes hourly) habit of continuing to believe who Jesus is, what he has done for us, how he feels about us, and continuing to rest upon it. This is not a one shot deal. This is not a situation where you just say, “Well I got baptized, so I’m good now.” Or “Well, I got saved five years ago, so I’m good now.” This is a process of continually putting our trust in Jesus, day by day. That is what it means to be “in Jesus” and all these things are ours, only in Jesus. I’m not saying that you have to work hard and live the Christian life on your own strength in order to be in Jesus. But I am saying that to be in Jesus, you need to continually rest in Him with trust in what his Word says, and in what he has done for us.

So, in Christ Jesus, you are free.

You are free from the obligations of the Jewish ceremonial law, as Paul has made very clear throughout this letter.

You are free from subservience to the little regulations that religious people sometimes put on you. Things like: The way you dress. What you eat. The way you express worship. Dancing. The manner in which you pray. The music you listen to. Acting externally religious or pious. You don’t have to keep a formula to be right with God. You don’t have to follow man-made rules. Paul wrote to the Colossians:

If you died with the Messiah to the elemental forces of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations: “Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch”? All these regulations refer to what is destroyed by being used up; they are commands and doctrines of men. Although these have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value in curbing self-indulgence. (Col 2:20-23, HCSB

But wait, there’s more.

You are free from the eternal consequences of the fact that you have broken God’s moral law. That’s right, your sins no longer determine your status with God. No, they do not. If Jesus lives in you, he will want to express his life through you in a way that honors God’s moral law. But your failures at times do not determine your status with God. You are free from being defined by your failures and sins.

You are free from trying to make yourself good. Don’t you argue with me, yes you are. In Jesus Christ, God has already made you good. You are free from having to do that.

You are free from shame.

You are free from shame.

In Jesus, there is nothing wrong with who you are. You are not judged based upon your sins, or your failures, or your flaws. You are judged on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus.

You are free from the way others view you. You are even free from the way you view yourself. Now, you can accept the way God views you – which is through the “lens” of Jesus. It’s a little bit like this. When you are in Christ, God looks for you, and finds you there, in Jesus Christ. And what he sees you there, what he sees is Jesus. So he looks at you, and sees the righteousness of Jesus, the love of Jesus, the strength of Jesus, the honor of Jesus. If you are in him, you have the life of Jesus in you. God isn’t deceived when he sees all that, because it is there.

You are free to have joy without guilt. You are free to love yourself, because you are in Christ, and he is in you. You are free to follow the leading of Holy Spirit without beating yourself up for your failures. You are free to wallow with happiness in the fact that you are loved at the deepest core of your being. You are free to live as the person that God made you to be, and not according to the expectations of others.

You are free from trying to get God to bless you. Receive the blessings he chooses to give with joy, and trust him to bless because he is good, not because you are.

You are free from trying to get it right all the time. Let Jesus get it right through you, by continuing on, in Him.

You are free from figuring it out, managing it, controlling it. What is “it?” you ask? Only everything.

Really? Is all this true, without reservation?


Paul will go on and talk about walking according to the Holy Spirit – what we might call, “Christian Living.” We’ll see how all that works when we get to that point. But before we move on and talk about Christian living, we have to make sure that we understand this freedom we have in Jesus. You are free. Don’t submit again to slavery. Stand firm.

The word “yoke” in the New Testament usually implies a sense of servitude or slavery. Jesus invited us to take his yoke, and Paul, later considered himself a servant or slave of Jesus. But Jesus said “slavery” to Him was easy, and the burden is light. Other New Testament passages use the word “yoke” with negative connotations about hard service. The Greek version of the Old Testament, also frequently uses the same word this way. So we have two paths: we can be bound to Jesus, but his yoke is easy and light; or, we can be bound in slavery to having to measure up. Listen to how Jesus invites us:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30, ESV2011)

Paul says, stand firm in the free and easy, restful yoke of Jesus. How do we do that? First, I think it is important to recognize that our battle is not against flesh and blood. The verses I just shared from Colossians show us that Jesus has disarmed the demonic powers. So, having been disarmed, their strategy now is to lie to you. They will come to you say, “I know Tom said you were free from shame, but he doesn’t know who you really are inside. You know that you deserve to live in shame.” This will sound like you, talking to yourself, but it is a lie from the pit of hell. Stand firm. Don’t submit to that slavery any more.

They will come and say, “It’s all good to say that you are free from trying to make yourself good, but after all, the bible tells you to follow certain standards of behavior.” In a few weeks we will get into all the stuff about Christian Living and Christian Behavior. Jesus wants to live his life through you, so of course, your behavior should look more and more like Jesus. But you don’t accomplish that by your efforts. You accomplish it by embracing who you are in Jesus, and continuing to trust him. Actually, Jesus accomplishes the “Christian living” through you. All you have to do is trust him, and let him do what he wants to in and through you.

To fight these lies, we should cling to the truth. Jesus said,

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, you really are My disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32, HCSB)

If we continue in his word – this is part of what it means to be in Jesus Christ. We continue to trust him, and trust his word. His Word tells us the truth, and the truth sets us free. Practically speaking, that means that one very important way to stand firm in our freedom is to know the Bible, and continue to know it even better. Read it. If you aren’t a reader, there are plenty of great CD’s and MP3’s you can get so that you can listen to the Bible. Talk about it with your Christian friends. Grab a devotional that points back to the bible. Stand firm by staying in touch with what the Holy Spirit says through the bible.

It’s also helpful to have allies. Other believers who are continuing on in Jesus can encourage you as you do the same. Listening to these messages, praying together, talking about your struggles and joys – all these help you stand firm.

Sometimes, one of the best ways to stand firm in our freedom is to thank God for it, regularly. Often times, truth really seeps into the soul through the power of thankfulness. If you don’t thank someone for a gift, either you don’t like that person, or you don’t like the gift, or you don’t really believe it has been given you. Thanking God for all this freedom is one way of really grabbing hold of it.

In Jesus, you truly are free. Stand firm in it. Rejoice in it.



1 SAMUEL #7. 1 Samuel 10:24 – 11:15

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I want to reiterate something that happened at the end of chapter 10, and then we’ll move on to chapter 11. Remember, Samuel anointed Saul as king of Israel when it was just the two of them in private. After being anointed king, Saul went home. As he journeyed back, his anointing was confirmed by several signs that Samuel had given him before hand – things Samuel said would happen, which then came true.

Even so, Saul did not tell anyone that Samuel had anointed him king. At first glance this looks like humility, and maybe it was. It looks like he is waiting for God to confirm it before he says anything. And yet – God already did confirm it. Maybe it is something else altogether – insecurity.

After some time, Samuel gathered the people together, and they asked the Lord to choose a king by lots. Saul was chosen. This was another powerful confirmation of Saul’s calling. But Saul hid among the baggage while it was happening. This could be humility also, but again, it could just as well be insecurity. Actually, I think it is a little bit of both. When we read the texts carefully, we can see that Saul is a very complex, very real person. I suspect that he had a lot of insecurity, but that he was also capable of genuine humility.

Briefly, I want to point out that his insecurity seems to be because he has trouble believing what God has said. Through Samuel, God told him he would be king. Through the signs, he confirmed it. Through the choices by lot, God confirmed it again. But I suspect, for the reasons I shared last week, that Saul had never really been a man of faith. He did not know God, and had not ever been very interested in Him. It’s hard to believe what God says if you don’t really know God. It’s hard to trust someone you don’t know. If you go your whole life ignoring God, then it is hard to believe it when someone tells you that God has a purpose for your life.

Listen to what happened next:

25 Then Samuel told the people the rights and duties of the kingship, and he wrote them in a book and laid it up before the LORD. Then Samuel sent all the people away, each one to his home. 26 Saul also went to his home at Gibeah, and with him went men of valor whose hearts God had touched. 27 But some worthless fellows said, “How can this man save us?” And they despised him and brought him no present. But he held his peace.

Just put yourself in Saul’s situation for a minute. You have just made king – twice. It has been confirmed by lot and by prophesied signs that came true. A future with possibilities you never dreamed of is opening up in front of you. Everyone shakes your hand and slaps you on the back, and congratulates you…and then goes home. You look around. It’s time for you to go home also. There’s nothing else to do. I can’t help thinking that this was a major let down for Saul. So he’s king. Now he’s got to go back and plow his fields.

A few warriors felt called to stick with the new king and serve him. The Lord touched them and they believed in him and stuck with him. But there were at least an equal number of people who didn’t believe in him at all, and mocked him and his calling.

I think all of this must have been disappointing, and it would not have helped his struggles in believing God and setting aside his insecurity.

Now, I want to leave Saul for a moment and go back and set the stage for what happened next. I spoke about this a little bit last time, but I want to go into more detail now. Roughly two hundred years earlier the residents of a town called Gibeah, in the tribe of Benjamin, had committed an atrocity. Rather than welcome a traveling priest, they had attempted to abuse and rape him. When they were prevented from this they raped and killed his concubine instead. In those days a concubine was considered a wife.

The priest took the dead body of his wife, and cut it up, and sent the pieces to the twelve tribes of Israel as a graphic way of letting the whole nation know what had taken place in Gibeah. Eleven of the tribes assembled – the tribe of Benjamin did not come, and Gibeah was in their territory. The other tribes demanded that the tribe of Benjamin deliver the residents of Gibeah to the rest of the nation so that justice could be done. Benjamin refused, and fought a war with the other tribes rather than punish the evil-doers. Naturally, there was a great deal of outrage against the tribe of Benjamin. The other Israelites destroyed almost the entire tribe, which numbered about 30,000 adult men, plus women and children – possibly more than 120,000 people altogether. The only survivors were six hundred Benjamite warriors who escaped into the hills. Everyone else – including women and children, had been killed.

In their rage, the other tribes had sworn an oath to not allow their daughters to marry any Benjamite. That meant that within a few years, there would be no more tribe of Benjamin. But after the war, the Israelites began to mourn for the loss of the twelfth tribe. They looked for a way to get them wives without violating their oaths, so that the tribe could be eventually restored. They found that one city in Israel had refused to go to war along with the other people – the city of Jabesh-Gilead, on the other side of the Jordan river Valley. In effect, Jabesh-Gilead had also been defending the evil doers, just passively, by refusing to fight for justice. So the rest of the Israelites took all of the unmarried women in that city, and gave them to the Benjamites to be their wives.

I mentioned some of this last week. I think the Lord’s choice of Saul was in part to remove the shame of the tribe of Benjamin. Not only was Saul from Benjamin, but he was from the town of Gibeah – the very town that had committed such shameful acts. The Lord was saying to them, “You are no longer under a cloud of shame. You are not second-class in my eyes. Your forgiveness is complete.”

But there was another group under a cloud of shame for that incident – the city of Jabesh-Gilead. They too, had defended the evil act of Benjamin, even if only passively. When Saul was made king, the shame of Benjamin and Gibeah was finally removed. But it appeared that Jabesh-Gilead was forgotten by God in all this. Their sin had not been as great, but they had suffered too, and they still lived under a cloud of shame. God is noticing Benjamin and Gibeah, but no one seems to remember poor Jabesh-Gilead.

Now, after Saul was chosen as king, things got even worse for Jabesh-Gilead. The foreign nation of Ammon came up to besiege the city. You can almost see the low self-esteem born of 200 years of shame. They don’t even pretend they will fight. They start negotiating a surrender right away, ready to give up their freedom in order to keep their lives. As often happens when a bully encounters someone with a poor sense of self-worth, the bully senses weakness, and begins to pile it on. Surrender isn’t good enough for the Ammonites. They want to rub the faces of their enemies in it. They demand that all the men have their right eyes gouged out, as one of the conditions of surrender.

The next exchange of messages sounds strange to us who are used to modern warfare. They city of Jabesh- Gilead asks for seven days to see if anyone will help them. The strange thing is that the Ammonites grant them the time. But there are three reasons for this. First, if the Ammonites don’t grant the time they will end up having to fight anyway, when there is still a chance of a bloodless victory. Second, the Ammonites probably felt that the other Israelite tribes were too disorganized to do anything within seven days anyway. Third, both the Ammonites and the people of Jabesh-Gilead seem doubtful that anyone would help them anyway. They are the black sheep of the family. Of any town in Israel, they are the least likely to be helped.

Their messengers go all over Israel. When the messengers get to Gibeah, Saul’s home town, no one thinks to go get the king. In fact, his royal majesty was plowing a field at that moment. He happens to come to town as the people were weeping over the fate of Jabesh-Gilead.

. 6 And the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled. 7 He took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by the hand of messengers, saying, “Whoever does not come out after Saul and Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen!” Then the dread of the LORD fell upon the people, and they came out as one man.

Many of you don’t know this, but my wife has a bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies. Years ago she did an exhaustive study on the Holy Spirit. She has pointed out to me many times that when the Holy Spirit comes on people in the Old Testament, it often seems to be almost an external thing, and God seems to use people whether or not they are close to him or in tune with him. For instance, the hero Samson was clearly ignorant of God and lived a sinful life – and yet God used him. After Jesus came, however, the Holy Spirit stopped working in that external way, and now he is connected with all who believe in Jesus through a spirit-to-spirit connection. Now the spirit is within everyone who trusts Jesus, and he flows through us and does his work from the inside out.

Saul is living in those Old Testament times, and in spite of his lack of faith, God used him. The Spirit came on him, and he acted. Even as God is using him, however, you can see his insecurity. First, he calls the people not only in his name, but also the name of Samuel, as if he is afraid they won’t come for the summons of the king alone. Second, he cuts up his oxen and sends out the pieces. Normally a middle-eastern leader in those days would say something like, “so shall I do to you if you do not fulfill your oath of loyalty to me.” But Saul says, “I will do this to your oxen.” It’s almost humorous. He has already destroyed his own oxen, and now he threatens not the people but their cattle.

Even so, God was with him. They assembled for battle and when up and destroyed the Ammonites, saving the city of Jabesh-Gilead. This no-account, shame-filled place suddenly has the tender care and affection of the entire country. Their shame also, has been forgiven and removed.

I have pointed out many of Saul’s faults, but as I said last week, God was not just trying to screw the Israelites for rejecting the Lord as their king. Saul, among all the tribes of Israel, would have been more sensitive to the shame and disgrace of Jabesh-Gilead than anyone else. His own tribe and clan had been under that same cloud until he was chosen as king. I am reminded again of 1 Corinthians, written by another man from the tribe of Benjamin, who was also called Saul:

26 Brothers, consider your calling: Not many are wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. 27 Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. 28 God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world — what is viewed as nothing — to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, 29 so that no one can boast in His presence. (1Cor 1:26-29, HCSB)

Saul was chosen by the Lord. He started out well. God graciously gave him opportunity after opportunity to respond in faith. In this instance, he did.

So what does all this mean for you right now?

Maybe, like Saul, you are facing confusion, hurt and disappointment with God. Perhaps the Lord has given you a calling or done something in your life that seemed momentous. It seemed like it was all heading somewhere. But now everyone is turning out the lights and heading home, and you are left to make your way back to life as usual, and you don’t understand. You wonder what it was all about, if all these ways in which God seemed to be at work amount to nothing. I don’t have every answer for you. But I do know that Saul experienced that. In time, however, God showed him what to do and opened up the opportunity to step fully into his calling. Trust the Lord that he will do that for you also, even if it looks like it is all over right now.

On the other hand, maybe you have been dealing with insecurity, like Saul. The Lord has shown you he is real. He has spoken to your heart, revealed himself through the Bible. But you aren’t sure if you can trust him. Maybe you are afraid to step up to God’s calling. Perhaps that is because you don’t yet know him very well. Here, you can take a different path than Saul. Seek the Lord. Seek him by reading the bible, or listening to recordings of scripture passages. Seek him in music, in fellowship with other Christians, in worship. And make a decision to trust him and trust that what he says is true.

You might be someone who feels like the city of Jabesh-Gilead. For a while maybe other people shared your shame or humiliation. But now they’ve been able to move on, and you are stuck in the same old place. You feel forgotten. Maybe things have even gotten worse lately. You’ve gone from a bad place to a really dangerous or horrible place. I think the Lord would say to you, through this scripture, “do not fear! Do not give up hope. I never forget you. Sometimes I let things get a lot worse so I can then make them far, far better than ever before.”

Pause for a few moments now, and listen to what the Lord is saying. Thank him for it, and receive it with a choice of faith.

Do You Really Want God to Do What You Ask Him?


1 SAMUEL # 6 CHAPTERS 10 & 11


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This is an age-old story line, repeated all the time in books and movies. A young man goes looking for some donkeys, and comes back three days later at the king of his country.

OK, so it is isn’t a normal or well-known tale. But I love, in part because it seems almost random. Yet in that randomness, we can see God at work. That gives me comfort when events in my own life seem both ordinary and random.

In chapter 8, The elders of of Israel gathered and asked God to give them a king. They asked Samuel to ask God for that, and to show them who God wanted. Then they all went home.

The narrative suddenly switches, and 1 Samuel chapter 9 tells us about a young man who went out with his servant to look for some lost donkeys. The young man was named Saul. He was not at the meeting where the people asked for the king. He was not seeking the Lord, or going on a pilgrimage to a place of worship. He was just doing his job, which at that moment, was to find his dad’s lost donkeys.

After a few days of wandering in the hills, Saul and his servant decided to give up. As they turned back, they were near Samuel’s hometown. Saul’s servant knew this, and suggested that they ask Samuel to ask God where the donkeys are. Saul wasn’t sure about it, because they had nothing to give Samuel, but the servant had some money. Saul then said, basically, “OK, if you think it will helps us find the donkeys.” In other words, he has no desire to see a prophet in order to get closer to God, or to learn God’s will for his life. He just wants God’s help in accomplishing his own mission.

We learned at the end of chapter seven that Samuel used to travel around to various places in Israel and lead worship and judge disputes and share God’s words with the people. Even though Samuel did not live very far from Saul (compared to other areas of Israel) he had never met him. This implies that Saul had not, up to that point, been particularly interested in God. He obviously had never been to Samuel for any other purpose, and he obviously had never taken a sacrifice to worship with Samuel when he was in Saul’s area. Even now, he seeks Samuel not because he wants to know God, but because he’s lost his donkeys. His focus is not on the will of God or on relationship with God, but rather what Samuel can do for him.

So by this point, we can see something things about Saul. The first few verses tell us that he was an unusually tall and large man – the tallest man in all twelve tribes. He was also handsome. But other than that, there is nothing out of the ordinary about him. He isn’t particularly persistent. He isn’t especially patient, or spiritually sensitive. He’s just an ordinary person, except that he is very big, and impressive to look at. He had no clue what was coming.

Samuel, as always had been talking to God and listening. As we study this book, I think Samuel is becoming one of my favorite heroes of the faith. The people wanted a king. God told Samuel he would grant their request. So Samuel went back to work, and waited for God. He didn’t immediately go out and try to find a king for them. He talked to God and listened, and then, some time later, God told him when to anoint the first king. So when Saul showed up in town, Samuel was ready. He recognized him as the person God had chosen to be the answer to the request of the people of Israel. He treated Saul as if he had been expecting him (and actually, he had, since God told him to expect him) and made him a guest of honor at the feast he was going to.

After the feast, Saul was Samuel’s guest. They spoke for a long time. Later, in private, Samuel poured oil on Saul’s head, to anoint him as king of Israel. The significance of oil was that it represented the Spirit of God. The idea was, that with the oil, the Holy Spirit was poured out onto Saul, and he was to be God’s chosen instrument from now on. This is one of the big spiritual differences between the time before Jesus, and the time since his resurrection. Before Jesus, you see that God generally filled only one or two people with His Holy Spirit in each generation. It was as if he had just a few chosen instruments for each lifetime. But the prophet Joel predicted the great change that would come after the Messiah:

28 ​​​​​​​After all of this ​​​​​​I will pour out my Spirit on all kinds of people. ​​​​​​Your sons and daughters will prophesy. ​​​​​​Your elderly will have revelatory dreams; ​​​​​​your young men will see prophetic visions. 29 ​​​​​​​Even on male and female servants ​​​​​​I will pour out my Spirit in those days. (Joel 2:28-29, NET)

In Acts 2:17, on the day of Pentecost, the Lord gave his Holy Spirit to all 120 followers of Jesus. Peter quotes this prophecy from Joel and affirms that it was fulfilled from that day on. And so, from that day on, God’s chosen instruments to work in this world are every single person who trusts in Jesus. It is no longer one or two people in a generation – it is all of God’s people. We are all given the anointing of the Holy Spirit to do God’s work here and now.


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