Galatians 4:1-7: Freedom and the leash

How does the gospel of Jesus Christ bring us to maturity?

I was pondering this question as I took our dog, Sasha, for a walk. It’s not always easy to walk a dog and think about stuff.  Frisky our long-departed beagle took my full attention.  He would strain at the leash, sniff the ground, and bay at every scent of rabbit.  I had to be careful that he didn’t pull my arm out of its socket.

But Sasha is leash trained.  With Mark’s initiative and my long overdue cooperation we committed ourselves to the task.  I still remember the day we pulled out the brand new leash and training collar.

“Sasha, this is a leash.  It means we’re in charge.  You’re not.  The collar will show you that we mean business.  But if you learn the lessons we teach you, you won’t stay on the leash.  You will enjoy freedom.”

She cocked her head at us. I think she understood.

Step by step we worked with her on sit, stay, heel, stand, come, away, and bring me a cup of coffee.  She had a little trouble not spilling, but she was making progress.  We decided to expand her training with a long leash.  It mimicked freedom, but we still had control.  She would sit and stay while we walked fifty feet uphill.  “Come!” At first she raced past us the full length of the rope, but we eventually taught her not just to come but to stop.

In the fullness of time…The day came when I slipped the training collar off her head.  We had come to the bottom of a quiet street.  On one side a hill sloped sharply up, covered in dew and ice plant, a juicy green carpet.  I had her sit and removed her training collar.  “Stay!” I commanded and started stepping backwards.  She stared at me, quivering.

I stopped after twenty feet, counted silently to ten and then shouted, “Away!”  With that she flew past me and bounded up the hill.  A few yards further and she stopped to look at me.  “Away!” I said again.  She romped through the thick ice plant a little farther, then stopped to look again.  We repeated this pattern to the end of the street until her tongue was hanging sideways and her coat soggy.

“Good dog! Now you’ve internalized the leash.  Heel.” I pocketed her training collar as we headed home.

Freedom from law. Are you puzzled about freedom from the law?  Does it seem like a dangerous thing, if not for me at least for my children? Are you tempted to slap the law back in place as a means of keeping your life or your family under control?

Our study of Galatians so far has convinced us that the law is powerless to save us because we are powerless to keep it. Slapping law back in place won’t change that picture.

Galatians 4:1-7 details God’s two-fold answer to our dilemma.  First he sent the Son.  The Son kept the Law for us and then died to pay for all the laws we didn’t keep.  He did this not just to declare us “righteous”, but to declare us “sons and daughters.”  Our faith in him brings a complete change in legal standing–no longer rebels, but adopted children.  It would hold up in any court.

Freedom for obedience. But he didn’t stop there.  And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit of the Son acts like our internalized leash.  He brings the law of God into our hearts, showing us that it is good and right and perfect.  He stirs in us a desire to obey.  He convinces us that there is no condemnation hanging over us.  He helps us cry out for help when we are tempted.  He gives us power to stay near the Father all the way home.

This has been God’s plan all along.  Consider these words spoken to David shortly after his confession of adultery and murder.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;  I will counsel you with my eye upon you.  Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you. Psalm 32:8-9

Daughters, we are no longer leashed to the law, but indwelt by the Spirit.  He will help you cry “Abba!” when you are tempted.  The gospel will bring you to maturity by the Spirit of the Son.

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