Liberty

“We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker. (Galatians 2:15-18)

As Baptists, we believe in something called “individual soul liberty.” No one can force us to believe anything. Or do anything. We have something called “The Baptist Faith and Message”; it says what Baptists believe. But an important thing to understand about it: it is descriptive, not prescriptive. It gives us an idea of what most Baptists think, if we took all the millions of us in aggregate. But it doesn’t tell us what we have to believe. The Bible is the only authority for our faith and practice. If the Baptist Faith and Message were prescriptive, then that would mean we’re placing it above the Bible. If we needed to do what men in authority told us to do, or to think, then we’d be putting them above the Bible. If we honored and obeyed the traditions of men, then again, we’d be putting them above the Bible. We have no Baptist pope or Baptist bishops. Each and everyone one of us is a priest before God, filled with the Holy Spirit. We are congregationally ruled. We get together and talk and pray and make decisions. We vote. No one but God and our collective decision determines our course of action.

There is no human intermediary between us and God but the man Christ Jesus, who also happens to be God. No one has more of the Holy Spirit than anyone else. We all stand equal before God.

That’s why Paul felt no qualms putting Peter in his place or ignoring parts of the letter from the Jerusalem church council. The “so called pillars” were just that. They were no better than Paul. And Paul’s no better than us.

Keeping the law does not justify us. The traditions of the religion he grew up in did not justify him. His relationship with God was not dependent upon what people said, whether they recognized God’s call on his life or not. His relationship with God was dependent upon God, upon the finished work of Christ on the cross. His calling was from God, not from people. He would obey God rather than man.

Paul is leading up to the point that we are not saved according to what we do, but according to what Jesus did.

The only peer pressure to feel is the pressure of Jesus.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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