2 Corinthians 5:21: “For God took the sinless Christ and poured into him our sins. Then, in exchange, he poured God’s goodness into us!”

The human spirit is unfettered and free. Try to subjugate humans, eventually they will shake off the shackles and move on. That is why all dictatorships have an expiration date. I call dictatorship “Law on steroids”. In a dictatorship the dictator is the Law. Everything he or she says is to be followed. Discussions or different viewpoints are strongly discouraged; agreeing to disagree is not an option. There is no free press, there is no free thinking; consequently, there is no room for creativity, spontaneity and ingenuity.

Dictatorships are not meant to be. People were created by God to be free.

Initially we were created free from the Law. Then there was this tree that we were not supposed to touch, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Yeah, that tree! I call that tree “The Tree of the do’s and don’ts” – in other words – it’s the tree of the Law. God never wanted us to go down that road because He knew we would get lost in the Law. And so it happened! We ate from that Tree and we have never been the same; we became strangers to God, strangers to freedom.

Meanwhile, God has never abandoned us. He helped us out. He worked with us. He even gave us the Ten Commandments so that we could see firsthand that even the best of all laws with the best of intentions cannot bring peace to the world or to the human soul.

We have learnt the hard way. So when we learnt our lesson, God sent His Son to restore us back to the way things used to be, which is the life we can’t remember anymore – the life we had before we touched that Tree. So in a passage of rites, Jesus lets Himself get nailed by the Law, completely and utterly nailed – as in nailed to the tree – and dies – which is all the Law can do. There is no life in the Law.

The Law will outlive its usefulness. The age of the Law has expired with the arrival of the Son of God. Jesus’s death and subsequent resurrection started a whole new era; Jesus brought us the Kingdom of God, which is goodness on steroids – God’s goodness poured into us. We don’t become good by not sinning but by accepting Jesus’s wonderful gift. Plain and simple! Unless of course we don’t want it plain and simple, which puts us right back under that Tree.

I am a tree huger. I love trees, but I certainly don’t like the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This tree has brought us nothing but grief! However, I realize, old habits die hard, and there are die-hard fans of the Law out there. They emerge anywhere regardless of nationality. They especially emerge in various religious pursuits. I strongly discourage this approach. Religious doctrine is not what Jesus had in mind for us. He came to save us from the Law and all its repercussions. He came to free us – and indeed He did.

Let freedom ring!

Oh, freedom, Oh, freedom
Oh freedom over me
And before I’d be a slave
I’d be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free

1 Thessalonians 5:19-22: “By all means use your judgement, and hold on to whatever is really good, Steer clear of evil in any form.”

“Hold on!” whether it’s a rock climber holding on to a rock or a tree-climbing kid holding on to a tree limb – it makes sense to hold on to something stable to avoid plunging 30 feet below. That’s how we defy gravity.

Similarly, we also defy gravity in our day-to-day life. We all have been in chaotic life circumstances one way or another. We don’t like it, but life just happens. We better hold on to something good when the whirlwinds of changes blow through our lives. And yet, how often do we find ourselves holding on to something bad like a toxic relationship for instance? This is where Paul is coming from in his letter to his Greek friends in Thessaloniki. He is asking his friends to use their better judgment by identifying what is good and then holding on to it.

It goes without saying that we cannot hold on very well if we fail to let go of whatever takes up space in our hands. Back to the tree-climbing kid: if I carried a bag of groceries and saw a kid about to fall from a tree close to me, I would have to let go of my grocery bag to catch the falling kid. We all have to use our better judgment to determine and let go of our baggage. We have to ask ourselves some hard questions: what is toxic in our lives? What undermines the good things we have? We need to let go of evil to embrace the good and the wholesome.

Believe it or not, that’s what legalism is all about, but it approaches the whole issue upside-down by first identifying the evil, then proceeding to build fences and walls around it saying: “Do not touch!” In all reality we are supposed to identify the good first and by holding on to it, we let go of our baggage, which by the way includes legalism.

We are all familiar with “Thou shall not steal” from the Ten Commandments – well, legalism does steal! It steals the good things from us; joy, love, and mercy go right out the window once legalism takes over. This is probably the reason why Jesus got so incensed about his law-abiding contemporaries. Listen to some of His serious accusations (Matthew 23:23-24):

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”

When people try to clip the wings of freedom Jesus gave us, He gets mad. Understandably so! If you worked hard for a great cause and someone else would take away the benefit of your labor, I bet you would get mad too. Well, Jesus died for a very good cause. He died to set us free. Our freedom is purchased by His lifeblood. So why are we surprised that Jesus butts heads with the religious establishment?

If we feel cornered by other people’s expectations with no room left to breathe, here is some good news: Jesus gives us room to breathe. He is very protective of the freedom He has given to you and me. And once He sets us free He wants us to stay free and steer clear of any form of slavery, especially legalism. Paul calls his legalistic friends in Galatia (situated in modern Turkey) “bewitched”. Here is what he wrote (Galatians 3:1-2):

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”

Paul’s question is now ours to answer. We cannot meet the Divine by meeting legalistic criteria. We meet the Son of God by embracing Him – and He’ll never let us go, not now, not ever!

“Oh no, you never let go, through the calm and through the storm; in every high and every low you never let go of me!” (Matt Redman)