Our country just celebrated 243 years of freedom yesterday. Happy birthday America!

I’m thankful for the freedoms we have in this country: (according to my dictionary) “the power or right to act, speak or think as we want without hindrance or restraint (within the law); the absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government (Thank you veterans. Freedom is not free. Thank you for your sacrifices over the centuries); and the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved (so long as we don’t break the law).”

One of my favorite books in the Bible is Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Galatians is principally concerned with the first major controversy of the church: the relationship between Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles. Should Jews who convert to Christianity still follow the Mosaic Law? Should Gentile Christians be forced to convert to Judaism and follow the laws of Moses? I’m sure they were fighting a lot on social media.

Let me back up.

When Moses led the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and into a wilderness existence (and eventually into the Promised Land), God gave them a set of laws to follow (it was their constitution). God did not give them only 10 laws. There were, in fact, 613 laws: The first two of the Ten Commandments (given directly from God) and 611 other laws that are summarized in the last eight of the Ten Commandments. These laws governed the newly freed, former Hebrew slaves of Pharoah, and provided a framework for the people to live safely and successfully in their newfound freedom. In fact, the Ten Commandments and many other elements of Hebrew law provided a major source for the development of western legal systems and democracy— like “all humans are born equal” (we are all descendants of Adam and Eve), “the rule of law” (the Ten Commandments and the other laws of the Torah, not the whims of kings, was considered the law of the land), “majority rule” and “democracy,” “fair trial,” “punishment,” and “freedom of religion and speech.” Being born a Jew makes one obligated to follow the Torah. But Jews must do this freely. Non-Jews have the freedom to practice their own religions. Moreover, unlike most other religions, Judaism does not actively seek converts.

So, what was Paul’s message to the believers in Galatia (and to us)? Embrace each other in unity despite your racial distinctions, and justification comes to people by faith in Jesus Christ, not by their works under the law.

We who call ourselves Christian must walk a fine line. We can’t fall into the trap of legalism as these early Jewish Christians did in the first century, but we also can’t live our lives as if anything goes either. “You…were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13). Yes, freedom in Christ is a gift available to all who seek to escape the chains of sinful nature, but it also should result, like following the laws of the land, in a life of walking by the Spirit and, therefore, in a life lived within the law.

The Mosaic Law freed the Hebrews to live freely in community with each other, the Constitution and other laws of our country allows us to continue to live in freedom, and “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” (Galatians 5:1).

“The entire law (all 613 laws) is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:14). If we all follow this law, we shall all be free in Christ indeed. The day you accept Jesus into your heart you are “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male of female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28-29) And that day of salvation is your Independence Day.

God Bless America!

 

Envoy Gary Dobney works with The Salvation Army of Sheridan.