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Tensions in Freedom

The lighthouse and sunrise reflect the beauty of truth and the need for truth to shine out faithfully.
Photo Credit: Paulius Dragunas

(By Angela Watson)

As we sat in the waiting room, a physiotherapist came out and, seeing one of the men take off his jacket, commented, “I’m not sure we are going to be able to work on you if you’re wearing that shirt.” A chuckle filled the room as we all turned to see a brave man wearing a Habs jersey in the middle of a downtown Toronto waiting room. 

If you are still getting familiar with hockey, the rivalry between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens (Habs) has continued since the NHL began in 1942. The only two Canadian teams of the original six — this rivalry runs deep.

As the jesting continued, the physiotherapist shared that although most of his family was from Montreal, he lived in Toronto now, so the Leafs were his team. This conversation reminded me that as Christ’s followers, our citizenship matters. Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).

Our acceptance of Jesus’ death on the cross as the payment for our sins has placed us in the family of God, and we are now foreigners here on earth. The definition of a foreigner is someone who is not a citizen of the place they currently inhabit. That’s us: we live here on earth, but our citizenship is in heaven. In Colossians 3, we can learn more about our character and focus as citizens of heaven.

Recently my thoughts have been on this verse in Galatians 1:10: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” 

In the letter to the Galatians, we see how the gospel of grace leads to true freedom and godly living. In Christ, we are free to not worry about what others think, but our goal is to please God. 

When it comes to the thoughts and mindset of the world around us, it’s often like the rivalry between the Leafs and Habs; there are clear sides. The Bible tells us that Satan is the god of this world and that he is the deceiver of the whole world (2 Corinthians 4:4, Revelation 12:9). From the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, Satan has attempted to win this world for himself, but at the cross, Jesus claimed the victory, and Revelation 20:10 tells us how it ends for the deceiver of this world.

Depending on your interest in or knowledge of hockey, in 1990, another franchise, the Ottawa Senators (Sens), was added to the NHL. They weren’t the first to join when the league expanded in 1967; however, what sets them apart for a Leafs fan is that their home is in Ontario, too.

So, while the rivalry between the Habs and Leafs runs long and deep, this “new” team with the same provincial allegiance has created a new tension. Fans are citizens of the same province, but their jerseys are different; games between the Leafs and the Sens are often called the Battle for Ontario. 

With this in mind, let’s look more closely at the context of this verse in Galatians, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” 

We can see that Paul isn’t just reminding the Galatians that they have been delivered from the present evil age and that they should not be seeking to please the world (Galatians 1:4). He is also warning them about those who are also followers of Christ, part of God’s kingdom, who are adding the requirements of the law to the gospel of Christ (Galatians 2:14).

Jesus was born into a Jewish family to Jewish parents and was raised as a Jew. His message was first to the Jews because God’s desire for them was to represent Him and His love to the world. From the beginning, God’s plan was for all men everywhere to be saved. “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:11-12).

Gentiles were now being saved and part of the family of God. Because they were Gentiles, they were not circumcised and did not follow the Old Testament law. This was a source of struggle with the early church: differences were not only related to circumcision but also to the foods that were eaten and other aspects of Jewish law. 

Similar to what we see in this passage, there is more than just rivalry between us and the world — there is often tension between followers of Jesus whose personal convictions and callings differ.

As Christians today, we may not face the conflicts that arose between the Jews and the Gentiles regarding the law. However, there is still tension that exists between works and faith. “A person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16).

Christ has set us free. He has called us to live in His freedom and to stand firm in faith. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). 

When we read Chapter 5, we may focus on the second part, “Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.” This truth of freedom in Christ does not mean that we are free to do whatever we want to satisfy the desires of the flesh. But at the beginning of this chapter, Paul is warning us not to submit to following a set of rules, no matter how good those rules may seem or who else is following them. 

Rather than live under the yoke of satisfying our worldly desires or conforming to the expectations of other Christians, we are called to live by the Spirit, in the freedom of Christ.

Who are we seeking approval from? Man (myself or others) or God?


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