Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Free to explore

Introduction: Last week, Paul tells us the story of how he resisted efforts by people in Jerusalem to limit Titus’ freedom and re-define his God-given ministry. Now, he tells us another story, not only about his freedom to resist Peter in person, but also calls our attention to the positive side of this encounter – our freedom to explore (Galatians 2: 11-21). We are free to explore – the grace of God, new territories, new skills, and new opportunities. The life of faith is an exploration of God’s wonderland of grace.

Men and women who were free to explore: The bible is filled with accounts of men and women, who having put their trust in God, were willing to step out on a limb, so to speak, to explore new ‘territories’ with God. Think of Noah building his ark and entering in with his whole family; Abraham leaving his native land, business and relatives to go to a strange far away land; or picture the children of Israel leaving the familiar land of Egypt to the distant land of Canaan. The Christian faith is filled with such examples. Hebrews 11 is filled with such examples. History is also filled with accounts of men and women who left the familiar territories of life, and decided to live each day trusting God and anticipating what next He has in store: Mary Slessor dared to leave the comforts of Scotland to go live in Calabar, Nigeria until her death in 1915, for example.

Stopped by fear: Peter started to explore a new dimension of grace, and stepped out of the comforts of his Jewish traditions to interact with Gentile believers. In his heart, he knew it was the right thing to do, after all, God had taught him a big lesson earlier regarding gentiles ( Acts 10:9-22). But the fear of “the other” stopped Peter from going all the way in this way of living and loving. Other Jews from James had come to visit, and so fearing what these “other” would say or do, Peter balked. It seems like fear is the greatest enemy to a life of faith, to the exploratory spirit. It may be fear of “the other”, fear of failure, fear of an uncertain outcome, fear of what others may say or think (Proverbs 29: 25, Hebrews 2: 14-16).

Crucified with Christ: Paul seems to suggest in Galatians 2: 20 that the antidote to fear is to know that we were already dead anyway, crucified with Christ. After all, a dead man doesn't have to worry about what others think of him. But on the other hand, we are now free to live for God, to trust Him, to explore, to step out on a limb in response to his revelation. “The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” He loved me enough to give Himself for me. So I now trust Him enough to go wherever He says go. I am free to explore with Him, because He loves me. He has my back. I may not know what the new land holds in store for me, but I know that He loves me; so I can step out to explore the land. He may not tell me all about what tomorrow may bring, but I know that I can face tomorrow victoriously anyway; because He is with me (Psalm 23:4).

These 'Freedom' series were inspired by Eugene Peterson's Travelling Light: Modern Meditations on St. Paul's Letter of Freedom.