Freedom from expectations: Running to be free

I have tried to do it all.

I have tried to do it perfectly.

I have tried to wow the world, or at least just my husband.

And every time I come up short.

Expectations are probably the number one struggle in this life for most of us – our own expectations, expectations placed on us from others, floating cultural expectations, made-up expectations. You name it, someone or something expects it.

The difficult reality is that without belief we will not be able to manage all the expectation. This is Biblical fact. Goodness, it’s hard enough to manage expectation even with the hope of Christ.

Paul lays out this reality for the Galatians in Galatians 3:10-14:

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

It is so easy to run from belief in order to be free.

Belief to unbelievers often feels too much like expectation – following rules, making commitments, organized nonsense.

There is expectation in life. Yes, it’s a thing. Without belief, these expectations are my doom. The Greek word for curse in Galatians 3:10 is kataran or a curse, doomed one, due to condemnation.

The curse Paul talks about in Galatians says, yes, I will never measure up to any expectation, not a single one.

Galatians 3:11 says:

Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law…

The irony is that in facing the expectations head on, in looking the law in the eye, living in belief of God, instead of closing our eyes to all the expectation and running away to hide in unbelief, if we just open our eyes, we would see the beautiful Truth of redemption:

In Christ, the law looks a lot less like expectation and a lot more like crucifixion.

Christ Jesus came into the world so that we no longer live under this curse. Those expectations? Every single one – whether they are appropriate, inappropriate, or somewhere wonky in the middle – is intended by God to remind us of freedom.

When someone puts an expectation on me, when I see, hear, or feel an expectation rising up within my soul, now, because the curse has been lifted in Christ’s crucifixion, I respond with freedom.

Freedom to live in Christ, to love in Christ, to carry out my vocations and roles honoring others, serving in His name.

Every single expectation is in my freedom.

Cooking dinner for the seventieth night in a row – freedom in Christ! I do it because I like food, and I love my family, not because I have to.

Talking nicely to someone I don’t like – freedom in Christ! My eternity is secured whether I talk nice or not, but life is better when I do.

Giving time or money – Freedom in Christ! I could keep it all, spend it all, or Ebenezer it all, but something in my heart just won’t, because God gave me people and people matter more.

It’s not perfect. I’m not perfect. Freedom doesn’t look perfect, but it doesn’t cease being freedom. I have it, whether I use it or not, feel it or not.

Today I am praying for that Spirit of Faith and Freedom in you.

…so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Let the Holy Spirit well up. Write it on your wrist, your hand, or wherever you can see it as a reminder. Every time you feel the weight of expectation, of “not enough,” say it out loud:

Freedom in Christ!

And then go about your business. Do what needs to be done in your home, your family, at school, at work, at church, in life, but knowing that curses are for unbelief, expectations are the law- pointing us straight to our freedom in Christ.

He lives! And so I do to. I live in belief, and truth in love, because that’s Him in me, that’s real freedom.

Spirit, speak freedom into our lives. May expectation only point us to Him, every time, to live free and full, and abundantly, eyes wide open, in love, in care, in giving…

Freedom in Christ!

 

Discussion questions:

What expectations get to you – at home, at work, in friendship and relationships, at church, as a citizen, anywhere?

How does freedom through Christ Jesus change expectations for the believer?

How can we help one another live in freedom in our vocations and roles, while being faithful to the Word of Truth?

 

Freedom from heritage: It’s complicated

Whose son or daughter are you?

Consider your answer in the space here for a moment or jot it down in your Bible study notebook.

 

You may be like me and write some names with, “It’s complicated” in the margin. 😉

Your storyline might look slightly simpler, but life is rarely without complication.

Paul accuses the Galatians, at the beginning of Galatians 3, of foolishness, not because of their history, or their life circumstances, but because of their definitions of all of it.

Read Galatians 3:6-9 and look for the answer to this question:

In what did the Judaizers want the Galatians to find their justification, their ground for inclusion in the community of faith?

… just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:6-9)

Abraham, sons of Abraham, along with Abraham…

Abraham was the heritage of the Jews, the father, the great-great-great to beat all great-grandfathers. He represented the seed of faith for them. Without his legacy, I think they felt unmoored, unsure where to turn, unsure what they would point at in order to say, “I’m ok. You’re ok. We’re justified. Safe.”

We can experience this too when we look to our parents, our grandparents, or our heritage for mooring, for identity and certainty. When broken marriages and families are part of our history, we don’t know where to put that. When national oppression, the Crusades, the Holocaust are in the lineup of our family or faith tree, ack, I don’t even know where to put that.

But God does.

Paul helps the Galatians, and even the Judaizers by redefining their heritage. Abraham made sense to them. The line of Abraham has been what they followed for generations. God, through Paul’s pen, offers a new way of defining their heritage in Abraham:

Abraham received the Gospel beforehand.

It wasn’t that Abraham received the law of circumcision that mattered. That wasn’t the heritage that God was passing down for generation to generation. It was that he received the Gospel to pass down from generation to generation.

I am not, and Paul is not, discounting the epic that is the nation of Israel, the people of Israel’s story. It’s that the law of circumcision, the heritage of Israel, is only as useful as what it points to – the Gospel.

This is what Abraham passed down:

And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.”  Genesis 15:6-7

This is what Paul points to in Galatians 3:6-7, as well.

God spoke and Abraham believed. It wasn’t his name that mattered to God or where he came from.

God spoke. Abraham believed. Abraham, in all his issues and complications (and there are many – see Genesis 16 or Genesis 20 for just two examples) was credited as righteous because of God’s Word spoken over Him, God’s Word passed down through Him.

Just as complications of families’ lines, heritage, and nationalities are passed down and threaded through our history- the good, the bad, and the ugly – so are God’s work and God’s Word.

God can work outside of us and in spite of us.

I’m complicated, you’re complicated, families are complicated, heritage is complicated.

Isn’t all of life?

There are no easy answers.

Through the Word, the Gospel spoken, Faith works in and around all of the complication.

Freedom doesn’t come dependent on where you came from or who you came from. God’s Word spoken brings freedom to our families. If your family passed that freedom on to you, great! If not, it’s your turn. You are passing on the faith now, in this time, to the next generation. From the time of Abraham, to the Gospels, to the Apostle Paul and the Galatians, and now to us, freedom comes in the Word of Life.

We are opening that Word together, now, as you read. That is a powerful thing. We share it with one another. We share it with the next generation – that is a powerful thing.

No matter what complications come our way or we put into our family line, when we have the Word, share the Word, live in the Word, there is freedom.


Discussion questions:

What complications in your family history can you identify?

What complications in Christian history can you identify? (The not so pretty times, decisions, and pieces of Christianity across time.)

What freedom have you seen God work in the midst of and through the complications?

Freedom thru open ears: Tangible faith

One of my favorite Bible verses is Hebrews 11:1 –

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

The phrase “things not seen” is oddly comforting to me. We believe in something that isn’t right in front of our face. We believe in something too big to hold, too big to put in one place.

God commanded the stars into place and He holds up the Universe. Would we want to relegate God to what we can see or feel?

If we thought about it for a moment, I don’t think we would. Believing in what we can touch and feel is our default zone though. We are doubtful of things unseen, stories that don’t leave a trail of proof. It feels too much like rumors, distrustful, lacking evidence.

The Galatian believers had the same problem. They had fallen in love with the one true God, a God that not only offered righteousness, but worked justice through grace and mercy. Why were they suddenly so easily deceived by a message of law, of must’s?

Read Galatians 3:1-6 and I think you’ll find some answers about the Galatians, but also about our belief and unbelief conundrum as well:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

Works of the law, as Paul calls them – acts we can do, rituals we can perform, sacrifices we can touch – have a certain seduction, a bewitching:

It’s just easier.

And so often in life we just want something, anything to be easier.

While “do more,” “follow through,” “act this way,” sound harder, in reality they’re the default, the don’t-have-to-think-about-it choice. At our core, our sinful selves want an easier way that’s touchable, seeable, and absolutely tangible.

Paul gives a double-edged argument to the Galatians. He refutes the idea that God is in this tangible law of flesh while presenting the Gospel reality that God, while outside of what we can see, gave Himself as One who can be seen, who can be touched, who can be felt.

“It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ…”
“Did you receive the Sprit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?”

Christ came as man into this world, a touchable Savior.

Christ performed miracles in the lives of those in the New Testament, and in our own lives, works that we can see.

Christ suffered and died on the cross and was laid in a tomb, as part of a written-in-ink, held-in-someone’s-hands, historic record.

Christ left His living and active Word, so that we can hold it, eat its hope, and breathe in its sweet life-giving breath –

tangible.

We haven’t even touched on the water that brings the Spirit alive in our hearts, flowing over our heads, the bread and wine that sustain our souls, or the people that hug us on any given day as part of His living tangible Body.

God in His grace is unseen -too big for our eyes and ears and hearts.

Paul’s point to the Galatians is the same as ours, “Why would you want it any other way?”

God in His grace is seen – giving us eyes to see His glory and ears to hear His mercy, firsthand.

Let us throw off the default, let it drown in our Baptism each day.

Read Galatians 3:2-6 again below, and answer Paul’s questions for yourself:

Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? When, where, and what stories and passages in the Scripture have had an impact on your faith walk?

 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? When has your flesh proved useless in this life, unable to do what you needed it to do and you needed to absolutely rely on God’s strength?

Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? When have you suffered in this life? How did or has God worked His grace in the midst of the struggle?

Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? What miracles, big or tiny, has God worked in your life? What passages of Scripture have you had the Spirit bring alive for you at a particular time?

God is at work, in the seen and the unseen. He’s not too big or too small for our restless, easily deceived hearts. He is so very faithful.

In our foolishness, He does some of His best work.

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Discussion questions:

Choose one or more of the questions below to ponder on a journal page or as a group…

When, where, and what stories and passages in the Scripture have had an impact on your faith walk?

When has your flesh proved useless in this life, unable to do what you needed it to do and you needed to absolutely rely on God’s strength?

When have you suffered in this life? How did or has God worked His grace in the midst of the struggle?

What miracles, big or tiny, has God worked in your life? What passages of Scripture have you had the Spirit bring alive for you at a particular time?