Last time I referred to a psychology book that stated that religion can offer resources to help people cope better with their problems. I contrasted this statement with Paul’s manifesto in Galatians 5: 1, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” My point was that biblical counseling is not helping people use religious resources to learn to cope better with problems; biblical counseling is explaining and applying God’s decisive–and progressive–liberation from all forms of destructive slavery. I then surveyed Galatians 1-3 for gospel truths that lead to freedom and life. Let’s continue the survey with Galatians 4-5.
- Galatians 4:3-5—“In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Here Paul expressly identifies the gospel with redemption (or freedom) from slavery and with adoption as sons. Paul explains that apart from Christ we are all enslaved to “elementary principles of the world.” We can understand these principles (or “spirits”—see verse 8) as any and all forms of law-keeping or self-salvation that Satan uses to bring us into bondage. Tim Keller explains that self-salvation can be religious (“Do this and you will be accepted by God.”) or non-religious (“Perform or achieve and you will be secure and happy.”). Both are common among counselees. Either approach amounts to self-imposed slavery, not God-given freedom. Either approach ultimately leads to twisted thinking, dysphoric emotions, idolatrous pursuits, and death. Jesus came to “redeem those who were under the law so we might receive adoption as sons”—to exchange, as John Wesley said, “the faith of a servant” for “the faith of a son.” This week a counselee testified to the liberating power of Jesus to lift the impossible burden of self-sufficiency he had been carrying. The resulting freedom and peace decreased his depression and increased his energy and affection. It is a joy to see God work deeply like this.
- Galatians 4:12-20—“Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong…but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus….Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth…my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” There are numerous truths here for us as biblical counselors. First, Paul points us to the principle of identification: we have become like our counselees—as weak and needy people who need Jesus and as humble and compassionate friends–so that we can encourage them to become like us—as increasingly free and full of joy in Christ through faith. Second, Paul reminds us that our counselees may initially receive us as they would Christ himself, but later they might treat us as “enemies” because we are trying to help them see hard truths they don’t want to see. This leads to the third point: we must and can be willing, in Christ, to suffer “the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed” in those we counsel. Our concern is not that we be accepted or successful but that Christ both dwell in our counselees and that he be formed in them. This desire motivates both patient counseling and fervent prayer.
- Galatians 5:1-26—This chapter is the heart and soul of Galatians and overflows with counseling power. For the sake of brevity I will simply refer to verses and personalize them as if I were speaking to a counselee.
- 5:1: “Christ has given you true freedom in the gospel and delivered you from two counterfeits: seeking salvation through law-keeping (legalism) and through law breaking (license). These counterfeits are deadly. Rejoice in your freedom and don’t fall back into either form of slavery again.”
- 5:2-6: “Paul has God’s authoritative saving message for you—don’t try to add religious performance to faith in Jesus Christ. Christ’s grace only works alone, not in partnership with anything else. As the Spirit empowers your faith now, you can look forward to perfect righteousness in heaven. Remember, as a believer united to Christ, neither being good enough nor failing to be good enough makes any difference to your acceptance with God. The only thing that matters is trusting, treasuring, and following Jesus in love.”
- 5:7-12: “As you walk in the freedom Christ has won for you, various people will try to get you off course, falling back into the slavery of performance. I’m confident you won’t listen to them and will stay the course. Those who twist the gospel of grace infuriate me and God will eventually punish them.”
- 5:13-15: “Rejoice in your freedom, my dear friend, but don’t abuse it by indulging in selfish pleasures. Show your joy in Christ by serving others in love. Amazingly, as you give up trying to save yourself by law-keeping and simply love others in Jesus’ name, you actually fulfill the law of love! O happy paradox!”
- 5: 16-26: “Jesus has purchased your freedom and given you his Spirit to indwell you. Follow the Spirit’s lead, and he will keep you from sinful desires. You see, there is a war between the desires of your sinful nature and the desires of the Spirit within you. If you depend on and follow the Spirit, you are free from the law which stirs up sin and leads to death. Our sinful desires lead to various sinful attitudes and actions, but the power of the indwelling Spirit produces beautiful Christ-like character. Because you belong to Jesus, your sinful nature has already been put to death. Keep depending on the Spirit and following his lead. Don’t fall back into trying to prove your worth by being competitive or jealous. You have everything you could ever need or desire in Christ right now.”
Galatians does not offer religious reform but divine rescue through the grace of the gospel. Here are some words I wrote many years ago on a day the Lord poured grace into my thirsty soul:
A prisoner of sin, now I’m starting to see
Jesus alone can set prisoners free.
The shackles of sin are broken by grace;
I’m released by the power of the Savior’s embrace.
Join the Conversation: What kind of freedom are your counselees typically looking for? Do you more often see evidences of legalism or license? How will you win them to true freedom?