“Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1 NIV).
Would it surprise us to find that the Apostle Paul’s statement from nearly 2,000 years ago was an emancipation declaration that changed the lives of not only his first century readers, but broke the chains of addiction, servitude, and bondage of untold numbers of readers since then? Is Paul trivializing the magnitude of pain and suffering holding us today? Or, are we reading these statements of Scripture with a hardness of heart and unbelief befitting those further away from the first coming of Christ and nearer still to the second coming of Christ? “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8 NIV). Is the diabolical genius of the wicked one, simply to desensitize us to the plain meaning of the words of God, hardening us from receiving their simple truth, and barring the work of the Holy Spirit from allowing His straightforward message from having its clearly stated fulfillment in our lives? “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path” (Matthew 13:19 NIV). If you have the slightest inclination to seek understanding of what the Scripture is saying to you, then the Holy Spirit is still striving to teach you. “2 Turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding — 3 indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, 4 and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, 5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. 6 For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:2-6 NIV).
“For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13 KJV).
The natural tendency of anyone liberated from the necessity of keeping a list of rules to get to heaven is the extreme of “I have the right to do anything” without regard to anyone. When I was a much younger man registering to vote for the first time, I remember listening to a congressman’s campaign speech explaining the limitations of our rights as citizens. He said, “My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins.” In other words, the militancy of demanding our rights — always a popular theme both from the pulpit and the public platform — must take into account something more than ourselves — namely, our neighbor. Jesus addressed this very concept with an expert in the OT Jewish Law, who asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25 NIV). Jesus asked him to respond to his own question. The expert said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself” (10:27 NIV). “You have answered correctly, Jesus replied. Do this and you will live” (10:28 NIV), in other words, you will “inherit eternal life” (10:25 NIV). But, as the all knowing Messiah, Jesus knew the OT mindset of His interrogator. He knew no one would actually keep the Law by force of will by their own choosing. And, this not even accounting for the need for forgiveness for our untold failures of not keeping that Law. Unsurprisingly, Jesus’ attacker “wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29 NIV). The Parable of the Good Samaritan was Jesus’ response. A traveler on his way to Jerusalem was attacked, stripped, beaten, and left “half dead” (10:30 NIV). A priest, and later, a Levite simply “passed by on the other side” of the road (10:31,32 NIV). But, a Samaritan, who was despised by the Jews, “took pity on him” (10:33 NIV) and “took care of him” (10:34 NIV). Remember, Samaritans traditionally returned that hatred to the Jews. Jesus asked, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (10:36 NIV). The expert correctly replied, “The one who had mercy on him” (10:37 NIV), to which Jesus responded, “Go and do likewise” (10:37 NIV). Jesus was saying, “You say you ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:18 NIV), but you really only ‘love those who love you’ (Luke 6:32 NIV), and not this Samaritan. This expert in the OT Law was being reminded of our unending necessity to love our neighbor.