It's been a rough conference. Truth be told, a number of the kids came just because they could get out of a Saturday school make-up attendance day (we'd had a rough winter and the school systems were scrambling to make 180 days) by claiming a church event on that day. Friday night we were in the back of the hall and there were severe issues with the sound; the sound system wasn't adjusted for the size of the space and we had some pretty bad echoing going on. It was hard work to follow the teaching. For kids who weren't motivated to put in the effort...it was tedious. We all left that night with a headache.
We overnighted at a friend's apartment; someone who used to attend our church but had moved to Nashville. All of us in sleeping bags in the living room. Not a lot of rest. We'd left early enough Saturday morning to get good enough seats for the earlier sessions that the sound system was not an issue, but we still had some attitudes going on, despite some pretty good and practical teaching.
After the afternoon session, one of the younger boys flat refused to return that night. We figured that I could get everyone else in the mom van, so the other mom, whose headache had not really cleared up from the night before, took him back to Huntsville. I was left to get the other 6 kids to get home myself.
I had truly hoped and prayed for breakthroughs for the kids that weekend; but with all the...issues...of the weekend, I didn't know if any breakthrough was going to happen. I was kind of discouraged. But, I picked up my Bible as I sat and waited and rather randomly it opened to Galatians 4: 19:
My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you,
Oh, yes...I didn't mention that I was seven months pregnant at the time. Paul's phrasing jumped off the page at me and I got...at a gut level... the grief and concern and even agony Paul was experiencing over the church at Galatia. ...how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you! (4:20; the rest of the sentence).
He then launches into an analogy comparing the old covenant and the new covenant to Hagar and Sarah to show the superiority of the new covenant.
[Abraham's] son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise. (4:23)
'The ordinary way'... Humans figured things out, and undertook what they needed to do in order to have the outcome they wanted. By the way, they had also concluded that that was the outcome God wanted. So they went to work to make it happen, and it did.
'Result of promise' ...Humans couldn't make it happen, couldn't do anything that would bring about the desired outcome. Sarah was barren. It was physically impossible. God made it happen.
The children born from human effort were born into slavery; the children born from the promise were free.
Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of the promise...(4:28). That is, born by the power of the Spirit (v. 29). And, Paul states, the children born in the ordinary way persecute those born by the power of the Spirit. It was so with Ishmael and Isaac, and it is so now.
When Paul says to 'get rid of the slave woman and her son'...they are to be allowed no influence:
Vs 5:1 - 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.
Don't go back to the mindset you had before, believing your righteousness depends on what YOU do.
Now, don't get me wrong, behavior does matter. But not in the sense of trying to be right before God. Teaching folks that they have to follow rules and regulations to be right before God is putting them under the yoke of slavery. Being right before God bears the fruit of right living...and Paul does discuss that in other places...but that is not a strict observance of religious requirements.
In what ways do I confuse the fruit of righteousness with the requirements of God? When have I ever given someone to believe that there was something they had to DO...in order to be accepted by God? Or have I gone so far to the other side that I proclaim to folks that they're accepted by God no matter how they behave...or continue to behave? How can I articulate the distinction between living right and living religiously?