The apostle Paul talked a lot about Law or Liberty in his letters to the early church. One example is his letter to the Galatians. Some of the Galatians were making circumcision an external criteria for someone to be a true follower of Jesus. So Paul wrote to them, “Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” A little later he wrote, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
It is fairly easy for us to look at that situation and say, “Yes, those silly Galatians, why were they making circumcision a test of how authentic someone’s faith was?”
But before we distance ourselves from that too easily…do we do the same thing in different ways today? Do we take an external form (which is not sinful in and of itself) and make it the test of an internal heart condition?
For example, it might be easy to say, “If someone dresses a certain way for a Sunday worship gathering, or if the music is loud and people are dancing as they sing, then they probably aren’t really reverent towards God.” But this is doing the same thing the Galatians were doing! They were taking an external thing and making it the test of someone’s faith. That is a definition of Law! “If you follow this particular code, then you are good, but if not…”
We as humans have the tendency to make up some kind of a “code” in our hearts and minds, not consciously, but on a subconscious level we do it. As long as others are following that code, then they are good with God. But if they don’t follow that code in some way, then on some level, we condemn them.
Here is another example of a code. Let’s say we believe it is good to fill our minds with the truth of Scripture to help us love and follow Jesus. True! But if we think that a person who isn’t doing that in one certain way is probably not quite up to snuff as a Christian, then we have fallen into the way of formulas and codes.
We cannot go back to external, Law-based living! Jesus showed us and called us to something much greater! Do you remember when Jesus and His disciples were picking heads of grain on the Sabbath? The Pharisees were down on Jesus because they were taking an external thing (picking heads of grain for a meal) and saying it was against the heart of the law, which wasn’t true! They were equating their interpretation of the heart of The Law with a particular external. But Jesus showed us that the Law of Love is so much greater than the way we squeeze The Law down into our particular view of it.
Paul put it this way in Galatians, “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.”
In other words, a Spirit-led person will keep the full moral heart of the Law, but not by a particular squeezed down list of external rules.
Let’s embrace the freedom that Christ has given us—to walk with Him in ways that are always greater, stronger, and more faithful than whatever view we currently have. If we do this, when we encounter someone else who is living out their faith in Jesus in a way that is different than ours, then we can be more careful not to judge someone unjustly. Let’s live by faith instead of by formula!