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Episode 13 of Kindavangelical just released! Patriarchal Regrets

Freedom For Rule Breakers
8-DAY READING

There’s a tension in our Christian lives between living under the law or living under grace. If we chose grace, do we leave the entire Old Testament behind? What about the Ten Commandments? What about other rules in Scripture? In this 8-day reading plan, Pete Briscoe addresses the biblical tension and what’s at stake—which is everything, including our inheritance—and our freedom in Christ.

Day 1

Why Do We Have the Law?

So what does a good teacher do? Create tension—but just the right amount. —Joshua L. Liebman

Tension results from unknowns. It exists to keep an audience engaged and asking good questions. Tension evokes emotional investment and sets the stakes: Who is going to lose what, and how am I going to feel if it’s lost?

In Galatians, Paul does a major job of heightening the tension between the law and grace. He builds the tension to the place where we have to face clear distinctions, and we have to choose between the two:

Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? (Galatians 3:2)

So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? (Galatians 3:5)

We do a little dance because we know the answer, don’t we? Spirit and belief, baby!

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. Why, then, was the law given at all? (Galatians 3:18-19)

And our dance floor is suddenly still. Why did God give the law? If we don’t need it, did God make a mistake?

What’s at stake in Paul’s question? Do we leave the entire Old Testament behind? What about the Ten Commandments? What about other rules in Scripture? Sure, we all want to answer “grace and belief,” but don’t we feel the tension with the law and rules too? What’s at stake? Just about everything, including our inheritance—our freedom in Christ.

May the tension in Paul’s question dismantle the shackles that keep you from dancing!

Lord, thank You for incredible teachers such as Paul, who build tension so I might realize what’s at stake if I add to Your grace. Give me understanding as to why I’m leaving legalism behind, so I will never be tempted to return and so I can answer with grace and truth to others who need to be set free. Amen.

Day 2

Expiration Date A.D. 30-33

It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important. —Martin Luther King Jr.

Before you rip out the pages of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, let’s wrestle with the biblical tension between law and freedom. If the law can’t save me, then why did God implement the law?

Let’s start with what God did not intend for the law to accomplish, as put forth in Galatians:

  • The law can’t give you the Spirit of God. (3:2)
  • The law can’t mature you in your faith. (3:3)
  • The law can’t work miracles among you. (3:5)
  • The law can’t make you righteous. (3:6)
  • The law can’t justify you. (3:8)

So why did He give the law at all?

It was added because of transgressions until the Seed… had come. (Galatians 3:19)

Let that sink in. God gave the law because of our depravity—our deep-rooted inclination, before we were in Christ, to sin against the standard of God’s perfection. God added the law for a limited time while we were still in Adam.

Wait a second! How do we know it was for a limited time only? Look at the verse above once more:

It was added because of transgressions until the Seed… had come.

The law was confined by the limitations of time. It expired when the promised Seed of Abraham arrived. Abraham’s covenant has no expiration date. But the law? It expired with Jesus!

This tension would be a great mystery if Paul hadn’t solved it for us. Why did God implement the law? There are many reasons, and we will explore them over the next couple of days. But for now, realize that the law came because of mankind’s sinfulness and for a limited amount of time in the past, so we can be free to dance with Jesus today.

Father of Time, my eyes are opened to Your Sovereignty. May Your Spirit slow me down this week as I consider the weight of what it means to benefit from a plan of redemption that took thousands of years to unfold. I praise You that Your plans unfold throughout generations and centuries. Thank You for containing Your law by time, for the sake of preparation, as the time ripened for the coming of Your Son. Amen.

Day 3

Provocative Law

Some scholars suggest the law is “provocative.” It not only names our sins but also causes sin to increase. I agree.

When I was a little boy, we lived in the countryside of England. One day, as my friend and I were playing in the yard, my dad came outside and said, “Pete and Andy, come here!” We ran over. “Do NOT go over the wall at the end of the yard.”

Andy and I had never even noticed the wall at the end of the yard until that moment—the moment it was forbidden. As soon as my dad left, we launched ourselves over the wall to the other side.

As we were frolicking in our disobedience, we heard a terrible grunt. I looked at Andy, “Was that you?” Andy shook his head.

We turned around to see a new addition to the neighborhood—a perturbed bull. We launched ourselves back over the wall, only to find something more terrifying on the other side—my father.

The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. (Romans 5:20)

Listen, I’d never wanted to cross that wall until Dad told me I couldn’t. Then I wanted nothing more than to disobey (not realizing there was something harmful on the other side of disobedience).

The law operates in just that manner. God gave the law because of the sinfulness of mankind. But it was never intended to put a stop to sinfulness. In fact, according to Romans, it actually caused us to sin even more.

Was the law flawed? No. The problem wasn’t in the law—God’s perfect standard for humanity. The problem is in us; the problem is the “power of sin.” (See Romans 7)

In His sovereignty, God allowed us to sin to a point of desperation—to a place where our souls cry out for our need for a Savior. The law works when it points us to Jesus! Have you gotten to that point? Are you there now?

God Who Sees, I thank You for calling right, right, and wrong, wrong. Today, I make no more excuses for my sin. Today, I stop giving it fanciful names that make sin sound nicer and tamer than what it is. I praise You for using the law to show me my need for Your mercy. I thank You for the covering of grace. I pray Your indwelling Spirit suffocates the desires of the power of sin today, so I can dance the hours away. Amen.

Day 4

Designed to Make You Desperate

The law is not designed to make you a disciple. The law is designed to make you desperate.

As sin increased and darkness flourished, the law came and called sin by its name. No longer could someone commit adultery without realizing God had pronounced it wrong. No longer could one neighbor steal from another and make excuses before the Lord. Sin increased, sin was called sin, and people were living in sin and dying in sin and being controlled by sin.

It was a time of desperation! A season of honest transparency when the created cried out to the Creator, “Is there more to life than this? This feels like death!”

The law cannot do what Christ did. The law can’t impart Life.

The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more. (Romans 5:20)

Where earthbound sin and heavenly grace collide, we find a storm of epic proportions—and that’s where we encounter the full strength of God’s love. It is here that we understand why the skies darkened and the sun disappeared in the hours of Jesus’ death. We can see how the temple’s veil—with the thickness of a man’s hand—could be torn in two by the raging of God’s grace.

The law was not designed to make you a disciple; it was designed to make you desperate. Its burden of perfection enslaves. The desire to sin overwhelms. The justice we deserve is more than we can bear. As prisoners, we cry out for undeserved freedom, for we know we are guilty.

And at that moment—when you admit you can’t live the life you deserve—you are met by an overwhelming storm of God’s grace.

It is in your desperation that He saves you. It is out of darkness that He disciples you.

And it is in this grace that you find Life.

Lord, without You, I’m unworthy of You. At my worst, I hear You whisper I am loved. The moment I realize I have nothing to give, You remind me You’ve given me everything in Jesus. Your grace is a storm that washes me clean of my sin. I surrender to that storm today. I rest in the cool waters of Your forgiveness. Through Your Spirit, may I live a life worthy of all You’ve done. Amen.

Day 5

Finding Freedom in Dependency

Let’s be eager to leave what is familiar for what is true. —Francis Chan, Erasing Hell

The law was not designed to bring freedom. It was designed as a fence creating a place of captivity and protection for God’s people. Paul knew the first step to dancing in the freedom we have in Christ was to stop marching to the law. Marching is a sign of imprisonment; it’s a sign of living under the law.

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. … Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. (Galatians 3:23, 25)

During Paul’s day, wealthy families hired a paidagogos to care for their sons between the ages of 6 and 18. These “guardians” were responsible for all of the child’s training, and they often held brutal discipline in high regard. Yet they also played an important role in protecting these sons from the unwanted public advances common in Roman times.

That’s the image of a guardian that Paul has in his mind as he writes about our freedom from the law—a strict guardian that is both disciplined and protected. Yes, those images still appear in many forms in our world today. “Guardians” that seem so familiar and so safe… but are they?

So in Christ Jesus [we] are all children of God through faith…

Now that we are saved, we are free to be defined by Christ and nothing else. He invites us to a place of full dependency upon Him, and in this place, we are everything. But the choice is ours, moment by moment. Will we, indeed, eagerly leave what is familiar for what is true?

Lord Jesus, I eagerly confess that You are the way, the truth, and the life. I choose to live each day in radical trust that we are experiencing life together. I leave behind all titles given to me by this world, and I embrace the one title that matters—a child of God. Beneath the stricture of the law, I saw clearly the beauty of Your gentle grace. This freedom—this intimacy—is what You had in mind since creation. May we walk in this place together, may we dance in this place together today. Amen.

Day 6

Grace Upon Grace

There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too. —Frederick Buechner

When we step into freedom, there is more opportunity to make poor choices. So what keeps us—we who are free in Christ—from running toward sin?

Let’s be honest. If we are in Christ, sin can’t separate us from God’s love anymore. And consequences? Who has received consequences for every sin they’ve ever committed? No one, right? His grace gives us freedom, and His grace even withholds consequences.

So what keeps us from running toward a life of sin?

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16)

Paul is clear. The trajectory of our life—whether we walk in the Spirit or feed the desires of our flesh is mapped by a decision. We can choose the Spirit, or we can choose the flesh.

What, exactly, is the difference between the two?

“Flesh” is not our old sin nature that died with Christ. Instead, “flesh” is anything one has body, mind, emotions, patterns, heritage, education, etc.—that is outside of the divine resources of the Holy Spirit. When we depend on these “fleshly” resources, we are living independently from God.

Walking in the Spirit, on the other hand, is living dependently upon God to live through us moment by moment in a dynamic, intimate dance.

If we are walking in the Spirit, we aren’t walking in the flesh. The flesh and the Spirit aren’t intended to coexist. And so, there’s a choice to make. So the question takes us back to your salvation: Were you only saved from separation from God? Or were you also saved to life in the Spirit?

Giver of Grace, thank You for the gift of choice. This freedom to choose is so full of grace. Show me this dance of dependence as Your Spirit leads. Amen.

Day 7

Day of Independence

You will never cease to be the most amazed person on earth at what God has done for you on the inside. —Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

If the Holy Spirit had been removed from your life last week, would your days have looked different? That’s a heavy question, isn’t it? Were there any moments last week when you thought, Whew! Man! I am so glad the Holy Spirit is in my life because if He weren’t, that would have gone so differently.

If we’re honest, we have to admit that, even as believers, we can walk independent of God “in the flesh” rather than depending on the Spirit. And while we might be able to choose between flesh and Spirit, the two aren’t complementary—they cannot act harmoniously in the midst of the same circumstance. Truly, this makes our decision tough because the flesh is wired to want the things that God doesn’t desire for us.

For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. (Galatians 5:17)

If you’re defining Christian freedom as “getting to do what you want,” then you aren’t defining it biblically. More than that, you are missing out on the work God desires to do in you and through you. The more often you reject the desires of the flesh; the less conflict exists within you.

So what’s the best option? Consistently walk in the Spirit while learning to recognize the flesh. Here are some notorious ways the flesh reveals itself:

  • Self-sufficient flesh convinces you that you can do this on your own. You’re strong enough, good-looking enough, and smart enough. Self-sufficient flesh turns to God only when all personal ingenuity and resources are exhausted.
  • Religious flesh follows all the rules. You struggle with piety and the judgment of others. You independently try to be good.
  • Indulgent flesh seeks numbness or comfort through means other than God. Society calls it an addictive personality as you latch on to things like food, shopping, fantasy novels, substance abuse, or pornography.
  • Sensuous flesh is drawn toward sensuous things. If it feels good, you do it. You feed desires and find comfort, numbness, or even self-worth and validation through sex.

Yeah, all those things might feel like freedom at first. But it’s a trap that keeps you from doing what you really want to do in your spirit. The choice is yours today, and what a choice it is: You can start dancing in the freedom of a Spirit-led life right now, or you can march as a slave to your own flesh.

Lord, I thank You for Your patience. I am so grateful that I don’t need to have it all together in order to be part of Your family. Through Your leading, I can walk in dependence on You. I choose You today. I surrender my self-sufficient, religious, indulgent, sensuous fleshly desires to You. I ask that You move through me, leading me moment by moment in a continual walk with Your Spirit today. Amen.

Day 8

The Purpose of Freedom

I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery. —Thomas Jefferson

Freedom really is a dangerous thing, particularly if we misunderstand the purpose of our freedom. We are free. In fact, this freedom in Christ is what we are called to—made for—it’s our home… but to what end? What is the purpose of freedom?

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. (Galatians 5:13)

Paul told the Galatians their freedom existed for the purpose of serving each other humbly in love. He warned against indulgence and then called them to service. There’s that decision again. We aren’t supposed to use this freedom to indulge.

So then, why does this freedom exist? What’s the difference?

Indulgence says, “Life is about me.” Service says, “Life is about others.” Paul says there is one way to tell whether you are functioning in the flesh or the Spirit. Just ask the question, Who consumes me?

If your thoughts are mostly about yourself and how you fit in the world—or even how the world relates to you—you are likely indulging the flesh. But if you find your thoughts consumed with Jesus and then drifting toward others and their well-being (and then you find yourself caring for them), you are likely walking in the Spirit.

Radical yet simple, isn’t it?

God Who Sees, I admit that I have bought into society’s idea that my life is a reflection of me and not a reflection of You. Lead me away from self-centered indulgence and give me eyes to see opportunities to serve. I do love others; I just don’t know where to start. Show me right now, and throughout this day, how You want to live through me to serve others in love. Amen.

You. I choose You today. I surrender my self-sufficient, religious, indulgent, sensuous fleshly desires to You. I ask that You move through me, leading me moment by moment in a continual walk with Your Spirit today. Amen.

Reflection:

  1. Do I understand the distinction Paul makes that living by the law cannot bring Life?
  2. Is there anything preventing me from accepting God’s grace and living in freedom?
  3. Spend some time studying Galatians and ask God to reveal Truth to you.

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