Is there Such a Thing as Too Much Freedom?

last will and testament
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/ken_mayer/5599532152/">Ken Mayer</a>

Galatians 3:15-18

Take this real-life example, friends. Nobody makes corrections to or ignores someone’s will once it’s been notarized. The promises God made to Abraham and to his heir. It doesn’t say “heirs,” as in many heirs. It says “heir.” One person. That person is Jesus.

Here’s my point. The laws of Moses came 430 years later. That law can’t annul a deal that God had already notarized. It can’t cancel the promise already in effect. If the inheritance were based on Mosaic law, it wouldn’t have any relation to the earlier promise. But as it is, God notarized it with Abraham.

Paul is desperately grasping at straws here. None of this logic makes any sense.

  1. The promise to Abraham is pretty clear (Genesis 15:5) that God is promising a lot of descendents to be Abraham’s heirs, not just one person.
  2. People contest wills all the time. And it’s certainly not uncommon for provisions in wills to be declared invalid, or for them to be over-ruled in court.
  3. Laws change over time. So do terms of agreements. Even notarized agreements.
  4. If God is the one of the parties to the agreement, it’s God’s prerogative to change the agreement.

Besides, it’s sheer folly to use a legal argument when the whole point you’re trying to make is that the law doesn’t apply.

As much as Paul wants to make a case for Christ superseding the old Mosaic law, he’s still so ingrained in and bound by legalism that he himself can’t escape it.

Better to recognize that Jesus was indeed an heir to Abraham’s promise, and that so is everyone else. It’s just that Jesus realized the freedom of that promise in a way that the vast majority of the rest of us haven’t.

Better to recognize that if everyone is the heir to Abraham’s promise, then all of us have the capacity to be blessed and to be a blessing to many.

Better to recognize that declaring faith in Jesus isn’t a magical key that unlocks the pearly gates, but it is a way to realize and live into the freedom that is available to anyone who wants it.

Alas, for many, like Paul, that much freedom is too much to think possible without trying to make more rules about it.

What’s In a Name?

old man
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/sukanto_debnath/536924967/in/photostream/">Sukanto Debnath</a>

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

When the Exalted Ancestor was ninety-nine years old, God visited him and told him, “I’m God of the mountain. Stick with me and be true to me, and I will make a deal with you: I will guarantee you a multitude of descendents.”

The Exalted Ancestor threw himself to the ground, and God continued, “Here’s the deal I’ll make with you: your family will be so big, it’ll be nations – lots of nations. No longer will you be called Exalted Ancestor. From now on, you’ll be called, “Father of the Nations,” because that’s what I’ve made you. I’ll make you fertile, so fertile that you’ll give rise to nations. You’ll be the father of kings! I’ll make this deal with you, and it’ll be the same deal for your descendents through the ages. This deal is forever. I’ll be your God, and your children’s God.”

God told the Father of the Nations, “As for Sarai, you will now call her Princess. That will be her new name. I will favor her, and she will have your child. I will favor her and she will be the progenitor of nations and kings. She will be the mother of kings and nations.”

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
Romeo and Juliet, II,ii,1-2

Genesis tells the story of God’s covenant with Abraham several times. The broad outline of God’s deal common to them all is that God will make this old childless man into a father of multitudes. Abraham, for his part, must rely on God to do what God promises and try to stay out of the way of providence – a task, both parts of which are harder than one might think.

In this version, what stands out is the changing of names. Abram (Exalted Ancestor) becomes Abraham (Father of Nations). Sarai, which has no distinct meaning of its own, becomes Sarah (Princess).

While many peoples and traditions look back to an exalted ancestor, or even to many exalted ancestors, the change is to distinguish this one ancestor as a single common originator of a whole branch of the human family. The focus of this tradition is not about venerating ancestors, but about insuring the well-being of future generations. It’s not about past, but future.

It also explicitly acknowledges that the same benefits of divine blessing are available to the whole multitude of nations that will become a part of this heritage. So, even though the promise is made to a single individual, it takes on a universal scope. It’s not meant to be restrictive, but expansive.

Abraham’s Promise Is Your Promise

dad holding child
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Galatians 3:23-29

Before there was faith, by law we were prisoners under guard. Until faith appeared, the rulebook was our master. But then Jesus came so we could do what is right implicitly. Now, living by faith we have no master. Instead, Jesus has made us God’s children. If you’ve been through Jesus’ baptism, you’ve taken on Jesus’ life. You’re not defined by your ethnicity. You’re not defined by your economic status. You’re not defined by your gender. You’re now all alike defined by the Jesus mission. And if you’re on the Jesus mission, the promise God gave to Abraham falls to you.

The Abrahamic promise (see Genesis 12:1-3) is three-fold:

  1. that you’ll become a great nation,
  2. that your name will be great, and
  3. that you’ll be blessed in order to bless others.

The audacity of Paul’s claim lies not in the part we moderns like to think, “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female” (though this is an extraordinary statement for its time). The real audacity is that Paul is taking what had been reserved for a single great mythological archetypical persona from the ancient past and applying it to everyone who is a part of the Jesus mission in the present. The responsibility to give rise to a great movement, to be great, and to be blessed in order to bless others falls to everyone and anyone who has, like Jesus, realized and accepted with joy who they really are.

If this is true, then the stakes really have gone up. Because you can’t hide behind all the other labels people tend to hide behind: ethnicity, economic status, gender. You’re either on the mission, or you aren’t. You have accepted who you really are, or you haven’t.

Time to fish or cut bait. Take hold of the promise and be great, be blessed, be a blessing to someone. Do something to leave in your wake even more people who know themselves truly and rejoice in who they really are – a great nation.