Being still at heart and listening. The meditation and conversation of God through the Holy Spirit is the breath to the soul that blows out crusty custom in His gusts, while depositing peace in His insight and understanding. In the dynamism of His voice, unsolicited questions arise, as He reaches out in desire to produce unity with the Father and confirms His aspiration to complete the work He has begun. This is the prelude and epilogue to being led to this passage on freedom and slavery.
It is for freedom’s sake that Christ has set you free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1
First, what is freedom, that for it’s own sake Christ has set you free? And second, what is the nature and propensity to be burdened again with a yoke of slavery?
Is the yoke merely circumcision, that as a gentile, one can skip over or is there a deeper subtext to the nature of freedom and it’s contrasting slavery that is ingrained in the souls of all men, needing serious examination and surgical extraction by the word of Christ through His Spirit?
Like a javelin thrust into my spirit, He has led me to consider the nature of these diametrically opposed statements and the promulgated precepts that have sprung up around them. This has been a rather persistent ponder over the last season or two, as His intercession has been met in repentance.
If freedom was truly embraced for freedoms sake or it was within the power of mankind to not return to, or even pine for, his ever familiar corporeal subjugation, it would be sufficient to move on from here with a simpleton interpretation like; “I was a sinner, but Jesus set me free, so I must never return to a life of sin again”. But there is far more than meets the eye in this little nugget of a passage as it pertains to the magnitude, gravity and complexion of slavery’s yoke and freedom’s entropy under it.
Circumcision was the denoted burden from Genesis 17:9-14 that drew Paul’s focus of supplication for the Galatians. But as the Holy Spirit has revealed to me, the connotation for the yoke of slavery is far deeper than any cut to the flesh. For as the soul is bound by the knowledge of good and evil and clings to the interpretation of law as the arbitrator of truth, we remain blind to the unmerited favor of freedom.
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to proclaim the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Luke 4:18-19
In his advocation for freedom, Paul was pretty bold to take a swipe at the covenant that God had brought to Abraham centuries before. Imagine the offense of those who were seeking to follow God in His “everlasting covenant” made with Abraham hearing it was a yoke of bondage? Outrage! Heresy!! Blasphemy!!! That might be akin to someone saying that, much of the modern western structure of the institutional church is born out of man centered pagan ritual and design and not the impetus and orchestration of the Holy Spirit toward unified corporate participation in the worship of Christ.
We know the demands of some for circumcision were in ignorance for not comprehending Jesus, who through the faithful love of the Father, had crucified the flesh and all of it’s requirements before God, by living through the Spirit. The old covenant law was fulfilled and sealed in His own blood. And even though circumcision was not part of the law, but came from the patriarchs, it is an understandable misdirection on the part of the circumcision to want to pour new wine into an old wineskin.
Jesus said it Himself and often times, it happens today; the illumination of God’s path is missed or misunderstood due to tradition or law, the things of this world, and/or men that are governed by the flesh. Paul called out the circumcision group for this physical act that supposed a truer spiritual designation, as worthless in Christ, because at it’s root it was a dress up for the outside of the cup, supplanting the more valuable inside of the cup, made right by God through Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Freedom in Christ for freedom’s sake was the issue juxtaposed to circumcision of the flesh for the law, traditions and unenlightened desires of men. But, do not forget, the door to true freedom was and still is a circumcision in and of itself. The difference has to do with the anatomical location of the knife and who shall wield it.
The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. Deuteronomy 30:6
Through decades long incited observation and revelation of the Holy Spirit, this one thing has been laid bare; most struggle with standing firm in freedom, as Paul exhorted. Finding those who embrace freedom for freedom’s sake, as the desired, moreover, mandatory heart attitude in Christ is elusive in the family of faith. Some could disagree with that statement, but similar carnal bondages and compromises to the flesh and the will of men are far more familiar and acceptable today within fellowships of believers than confessed.
We won’t break out the list, but multiple denominational structures and convocations of faith under the control of men force bondage to their doctrine, or worse, aggrandizing opinions, before they will acknowledge or allow you the freedom Christ holds out. On it’s face, that is the most absurd and grotesque statement that could ever be uttered. But it is the epitome of bondage to slavery, like that encountered by the Galatians with the circumcision group. Men thinking they are expert or that they hold sway over the power and dominion of Christ for another man, beckons slavery to the flesh though it is not readily admitted, because doing so would expose “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.
Today, some promote a freedom in Christ delivered in small, pre-approved, acceptable ranges of observance, that men call decent and orderly. Packaging outside these standards is generally rejected or rationalized out the door. This does not resemble the call to freedom for freedom’s sake. Diverse motivations are abundant, but because of the limiting factor of man’s voice of approval, the shroud or foreskin of this world and all it’s motivations is not fully removed and the yoke of bondage ensues unabated.
Maybe a closer description would be that the Lord God has removed the foreskin from the hearts of men for freedom, but due to the desire for religious appearance and tradition, men diligently work to reinstate a covering to match their understanding of a conformed heart and our bondage to that yoke of slavery returns to many willing members.
In that, the yoke of slavery persists upon the leaping sheep in its new found pasture, not for debauchery or licentiousness, but for religious appearance and the judgments of men being satisfied. Just like in Galatia. Using the principles of this world in an effort to dress up the outside of the cup, freedom and the giver of life is shrouded, and His circumcision of the heart is forsaken in the desire to please men. A yoke of bondage to stand firmly against.
I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 1 Corinthians 4:3
Though this passage comes through another letter from Paul, it is an adequate descriptor of His revelation and attitude about circumcision and the entrusted mysteries of God he was seeking to share. He knew the voice from whom he had heard the truth (Galatians 1:11-12) and in light of that, the opinions and traditions of men became chaff to his soul. It appears to be blatantly obvious that He had embraced freedom for freedom’s sake and only that voice moved him. Rightly so, because true freedom only comes in following the lead of the Spirit. See to it that you do not refuse Him that speaks. Hebrews 12:25
Imagine today, Paul calling out “leaders” for their demands of adherence to a custom or convention like circumcision or some other misconstrued appearance of righteousness in the fellowship you attend? Paul would be maligned and marginalized with deep prejudice, first for his lack of submission to the word and Christ, as well as church leadership! Because, the scriptures are clear that circumcision was the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham to be observed. Just who did he think he was to contradict and seek to bring an unwritten understanding, that in Christ, neither circumcision or uncircumcision had any value? Paul solely trusted in God’s sovereign direction through the leading of the Holy Spirit. Like Jesus said (John 14:26) and John knew. (1 John 2:27) An anointing remained in Paul and he had no need of anyone to teach him. Regardless of the opinions of men, he listened for and followed the leading of the Holy Spirit, the true circumcision of Christ.
You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings. 1 Corinthians 7:23
In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ. Colossians 2:11
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. 1 Corinthians 5:6
With an ear to hear, many things hidden, get revealed. In the crucified Christ, the pressing and profound beckoning to freedom is found with, after and behind the voice of the Spirit. His intercession that is met in faith, with a penchant and a preoccupation for that treasure, is freedom, and bears fruit for freedom’s sake. His intercession that is met in repentance, the living word spoken, to be considered, heeded and pondered is the way, the truth and the life. This is the promised heart of flesh circumcised by Christ in the Spirit and is free.
For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh. Philippians 3:3
It was true for Jesus with the religious leaders, for Paul in the early church with the circumcision group (religious leaders) and it is still true today (same). The will of man because of his bondage to the knowledge of good and evil seeks to put boundaries and rules on freedom long before a soul has fully contemplated or embraced an understanding of that freedom.
Initially, they have been unwrapped, circumcised by God to enter His freedom in repentance. But in many ways they never fully taste it, because they go from the old bondage of their failed carnal desires to a new bondage of man’s religious expectations and traditions that are carnal and fruitless for salvation and the life hidden in Christ. What Jesus gained for them is lost as they listen to the injudicious incentive of men seeking to regulate Christ and the prisoner’s freedom is fumbled.
It needs to be shouted from the rooftops that true freedom is solely initiated and directed by the Holy Spirit! The residency of the voice of God in Christ that calls us heavenward, the power to worship and glorify God, forsaking this world and it’s ordinances. It is He who is presently speaking in freedom and the avenue of His intercession being met in repentance is the only path away from the burden to the yoke of slavery! Stand firm then, under the sound of His voice in repentance!
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 2 Corinthians 3:17
Again, though Paul was specifically addressing circumcision by the hands of men; what is not overtly stated, but clearly visible, is the circumcision group was advocating a usurpation of the revelation of the Holy Spirit and His work in the body, as Lord. It was indeed their perception of righteousness based out of tradition and the knowledge of good and evil, pitted against the Spirit of life whom Paul advocated for in freedom.
They didn’t understand the circumcision of Christ that was done by the Spirit and it is not stated that they ever came to an understanding of that truth. The revelation in Deuteronomy 30:6, the promise of God, for the circumcision of our hearts, by God, was in Christ through His Spirit and not in the power of man’s hands or his understanding. Paul’s exhortation about freedom and slavery went far beyond the act in the flesh being demanded of, to an issue of power and control in men as arbiters of righteousness that seeks to override the Holy Spirit. The only one who leads and empowers us to fulfill the command to love Him with all our heart and soul and live.
In forsaking the tree of life, that is nourished in the Holy Spirit, there is nothing left to dine on but the perceptions of good and evil, right and wrong. It is a meal of death as promised, and in that, we bite and devour each other as our perception of righteousness becomes the mark of godliness instead of Christ; who grants complete freedom to not listen at all, and pursue a belief that is wholly and totally dead. I wonder, if this a real important ponder stop?
On a deeper level than a simple cut of the flesh to show right standing or to gain acceptance, Paul was speaking to a far more insidious evil and enemy of freedom, the power of self-righteous peer pressure and it’s love child, “Group Think”. The opinions and leading of men we succumb to, for what they offer in acceptance and approval disguised as right standing and the love and fellowship of God. The spirit of death is at the very heart of this yoke of slavery Paul was addressing. It does not profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits His soul.
If group think is the captain and the demands of men are the rudder, the ship of soul is being battered on the capricious shores of adaptation to opinion. There is no promise of peace and rest on that beach. Freedom calls us out of the ship of opinion and genius of men onto the sea of faith, where each step is guided not by right and wrong or opinion, but love and trust of the one who speaks to our spirit. The Spirit of truth leads us contrary to the tides of the sea of humanity, for in freedom there is no condemnation or judgement. The wind of the Holy Spirit is the freedom to the soul, for freedom’s sake.
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” John 3:5-8
The Holy Spirit, whom Jesus and the Father sent to us is our primary need; to know His voice and surrender to His empowerment to do the will of God. This is true freedom! This is life! There is a fathomless simplicity and inexhaustible beauty to the mystery of His voice. This mysterious beauty is also shunned by many in the community of faith, because it requires them to put down the knife they are approaching you with and let Christ by His Spirit bring the deep circumcision of the heart. Every true believer should exhort and encourage an ear to hear what the Spirit is saying because He is the only voice that matters. Stand in the freedom of Christ and live at peace with others to be free to do as they hear Him lead, unity in Christ will be the pure result.
The Holy Spirit is the most important asset the church has going forward.
God is looking for one that will not follow another voice. No longer is the flesh, the voice of men or serpents to be our leading for anything. No longer are we led by the knowledge of good and evil because the tree of life has come to dwell in us and He is our daily bread and satisfaction. His anointing remains and our adherence to His leading will be what is reconciled back to Christ in the end as life and prosperity.
The circumcision group in Galatia was not an anomaly, they live today, still advocating for adherence to the external dress-up and it’s burden to slavery. It is not within the power of mankind to abstain from that slavery, to forgo seeking power, control and dominance over others; or to feed the carnal nature, the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. This is the ever familiar corporeal subjugation of mankind. Since eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, man has been bound to those attributes and only in being led to crucifixion of the flesh by the Spirit of God is there freedom from that heart motivation.
Freedom for freedoms sake begins with listening first for the Holy Spirit. He is the one whom Jesus promised would lead us into all truth. The carnal demands of our souls and external judgments of the experts are not only mitigated, but overcome by His Spirit. Jesus said it like this …His sheep follow Him because they know His voice, but they will never follow a stranger, in fact they will run away from him because they do not recognize a strangers voice. The circumcision knew the law, but the law does not bear fruit in the Spirit. Being technically correct in what they read, but not listening for the Spirit of God to guide them through the process of understanding what is written, they erred to the exercise of tradition, demanding their diagnosis of good and evil on others. In that, they reaped the promised death instead of His life. Making Christ, who is life, of no value to them.
Freedom and the yoke of bondage to slavery are branches that grow on two separate trees in close proximity at the center of all things. As the Spirt has walked me along on this road of understanding, repeatedly, He has returned me to the garden and what was originally presented to Adam. Freedom to eat of any tree. Freedom and slavery are in their fruit and I hope to be able to follow along further with Him, as He leads me to another missive concerning the Two Trees (coming soon).
Freedom is enslaved and suffers entropy under the law and our presumed knowledge of good and evil. No life was ever placed into the fruit of that tree and we are still not to eat from it. For in the day you eat of that tree, you will surely die, so do not judge and do not condemn and so, fumble freedom. The Lord our God in His most gracious love for us, has restored to us an open gate back to the garden, to what was originally offered in the first mention of freedom in the scriptures. It was removed from us as we broke unity from His voice, following the voice of the serpent stranger. It is for freedoms sake that the precious gift of freedom has been returned to us and once again we are free to consume the fruit of the tree of life, and thereby, dwell in freedom and live!
This may be hard to hear, but it is true. Because not all who say they believe are truly, actively, listening for the voice of the Holy Spirit that leads us to life and freedom; we end up with factually correct individuals, that are spiritually dead, making judgments, calling the shots and seeking adherents. Just like in Galatia, where men could point to a passage in the book of the law and say, here it is Paul, you are a Heretic and a Blasphemer! This is the biting and devouring, leading to the destruction of each other that was eluded to in later verses. The demands of the circumcision is a reflection of their diet consisting of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They did not eat from the tree of life that produces the fruit of freedom in faith.
The unmerited favor of God that found us must be trusted to complete the work He began. Having begun in the Spirit the flesh profits nothing. The rules men set up to please God have an appearance of wisdom in their self-imposed worship but they are energized by the fruit of the wrong tree and empower the yoke of bondage to slavery and death. His intercession being met in repentance is our only requirement. This is the yoke that is easy and the burden that is light. We have need of one thing and one thing only, a response to His lead by the Spirit. This is the Kingdom of God, like a measure of yeast a woman worked into the loaf.
Listening begets more listening and develops deeper communion and fellowship, that follows. If we are to read scripture, He will guide us to do it and illuminate those words. If we are to pray, He will already be speaking and we merely have need to listen for the conversation, and agree in unity.
As stated before, because many do not actively listen for His Spirit, the flesh is not crucified and can not be. It is at this juncture between life and death, where freedom is subsumed under the self-centered, burdensome yoke of slavery, as men take it upon themselves to get right, to word up, or whatever other self-imposed actions they imagine. It sounds like it’s real fruit, but it lacks one thing, the humility and patience to wait in silent desperation for the voice of the living God to lead in freedom. In lieu of that man hammers out the links of slavery to the flesh and makes plans to help himself into God. Repent!
It is for freedom’s sake that Christ has set you free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1