First of all, if you want to stay free in Christ don't try to do it by keeping the rules. It won't work. You are not under the law.
And please don't go through the Bible trying to work out what is allowed and what isn't allowed. That won't work either.
Here's Galatians 5:19 in a few translations:
"Now the works of the flesh are manifest ... " (Authorised and many other versions)
"The acts of the flesh are obvious ... " (NIV)
"When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear ... " (NLT latest edition)
If you want to stay free in Christ try to avoid the stuff that is obviously wrong and do some things that are obviously good. Paul's list of 'acts of the flesh' isn't there to be studied in detail; It's a list of things that are obvious. It's a list of things that hurt others. It's a list of things that are not like Jesus.
And then Paul gives a list of good things: love, joy, peace etc. He says there is no law against them. So here's how to stay free in Christ. Do something loving. Do something that brings joy. Do something that brings peace.
What matters is the new creation that began when Jesus rose from the dead. We get free through faith in Jesus. We stay free by keeping in step with the Spirit, who is all into love, joy, peace and the rest of his 'fruit.'
More on Sunday ....
"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, NIV)
Paul is worried about these people, that they could lose everything they have gained through their faith in Jesus. The stakes are incredibly high. These free people want to act like slaves. Paul will have none of it.
So what's going on? Think of the Law of Moses as a pair of stabilisers on a bike*. They stop you from falling over, up to a point, but they don't teach you the skills you really need to cycle properly. You don't see cyclists using them at the Olympics. If you want to cycle round sharp bends, quickly, or on uneven ground stabilisers will do more harm than good.
These people were carefully keeping special days, months, seasons and years because the Law of Moses told them to. The word that Paul uses suggests that this was an obsession. But that's not the point of believing in Jesus; the point is that faith should express itself in love.
Freedom in Christ is not about obeying the rules. To be Christ's followers we have to remove the stabilisers.
More on Sunday ...
* I'm grateful to Richard Rohr for this idea.
Have you ever read the Bible from cover to cover? Many people who try it start off enthusiastically until they reach the second half of Exodus where the exciting story shifts into a detailed list of rules and regulations. They find it hard to keep going and they struggle to see the point of it all. If they persevere they are often glad that they did, but the Psalmist's enthusiasm for the Law still seems strange.
The Old Testament, as Christians call it, starts so well with God creating human beings in a wonderful earth. But it soon goes wrong. Twelve chapters in God makes a wonderful promise to Abraham that all nations of the earth will be blessed through his family. But this family seem unable to be that blessing, no more than any other family would be able.
So God sends Moses, the great Law-giver, and a Law which tells these people how to live. But they can't and don't keep it. That's the story of the Old Testament: a book in which hope never dies but reality keeps striking.
Paul, who wrote Galatians, was once an enthusiast for the Law. He saw it as the word of God and the thing that marked out the people of God. It's provisions like circumcision, food laws and Sabbath keeping, mattered to him. Then he saw Jesus, and the Law paled into insignificance. Paul's hero became Abraham, not the Law-giver but the man who believed God and who was declared to be righteous. Paul announced that God's promise to Abraham was being fulfilled, in those who believed in Jesus.
So why are there two testaments? To put the question more precisely: why this story that lasts hundreds of years about a law and a group of people who couldn't keep it? Paul's answer, in part, us that the people of God needed a childhood. And as children they needed a list of rules because they weren't yet ready to live in a grown up sort of way. When Jesus came the emphasis went back to faith, through which people could learn what the Law really pointed to.
More on Sunday .....
A GCSE student told me that the Bible was an old book, which had been copied and translated many times. No way could we be sure that what we have is the original.
Well, the version you have in front of you is a translation from three ancient languages. But most modern translations are not translations of translations, they go back to the earliest manuscripts we possess and they have only been translated once. When we compare translations we find that there a few serious differences between them. But, yes, if you are really serious about learning the Bible it would help to learn the original languages. I'm a fan of that.
This week we start to look at Paul's letter to the Galatians. Most people who study these things think it is genuinely the work of the Apostle Paul, the first century missionary.
Paul has a lot to say but first he spends a lot of time arguing that he does have the right to say it. He talks about the way God called him and the way his gospel agrees with the gospel of those who met Jesus after the resurrection.
We've just looked at Peter's second letter. We saw that he knew the Lord and he claimed he wasn't making up stories. He also said that Paul was preaching the same message. Peter and Paul are keen to say that they are on the same side.
So we need to take Peter and Paul seriously, if I may use the jargon word, as apostles of Jesus.
Next week Paul will really get going, but this week we are introduced to a lot of his themes: the resurrection and the new age it launches, God's one family, grace, peace, God our Father and of course the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
This letter has a lot to say to us. Let's start it with the conviction that it is worth reading.