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TONY ELDER: We're free to do good works, not because we must, but because we want to

As we celebrate the concept of liberty this week in relation to our nation, let's also take a moment to rejoice in the liberty that we possess through Christ.

I was reminded of the importance of this truth recently when someone was explaining to me about the beliefs of a couple of individuals whom I had met. They seemed to be very nice people -- hard workers and honest. Everything about them exhibited good character, along with a sincere faith in God.

However, I was told that they believe in the necessity of adhering to many of the laws and regulations spelled out in the Old Testament. For example, they observe Sabbaths around the time of the new moon. And they follow certain dietary restrictions which were given to the Israelites.

Let me make it clear that I have no problem with people choosing to live a different lifestyle from the way we see the majority of society living today. As a matter of fact, I have no doubt that some of those choices will likely result in a healthier life, both physically and spiritually.

But hopefully these individuals I met are not depending on their obedience to those regulations as the means to finding or maintaining favor with God. That's something we all have to guard against. We may not observe the same guidelines as these other folks, but we may have our own "good works" which we're depending on to make us acceptable to God.

We may feel just as bound to other rules which we believe we have to strictly follow, such as being in church every Sunday, reading our Bible regularly, praying every day, tithing, or whatever else you feel you're obligated to do as a Christian in order to avoid getting in trouble with God.

It's sad when anyone, especially a professed believer in Christ, makes himself a slave to certain legalistic standards, whatever those may be. Because the good news is that in Christ we have liberty. We have been set free from the bondage of having to try to live by all the rules that make someone righteous. Instead we are free to "live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).

In Paul's letter to the Galatians, he deals extensively with this whole issue. He declares that we have been called to liberty (5:13) and encourages the believers to "stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free" (5:1). In this case, it's not talking about our freedom from sin, although that important truth is declared elsewhere in scripture.

Rather, it's referring to the fact that followers of Christ are not only not obligated to keep the Old Testament law, but that to try to do so as our means of salvation is to turn our backs on the true gospel.

Such freedom doesn't mean that we can live sinfully and selfishly. Paul instructed, "Do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another" (5:13).

We're free to live a life expressing our love for God and love for others. We're free from having to follow all the rules as an obligation, and now we find ourselves wanting to do whatever will please Christ and help others, which may mean following some of those same guidelines, or surpassing them.

Our liberty in Christ is not so much about what we do, but why. We're free to do good works, not because we must, but because we want to. It's an expression of our love and gratitude to the Lord.

So recognize and enjoy your liberty in Christ. You're free to fully live for Him and serve Him by faith.

The Rev. Tony W. Elder is pastor of Wesley Community Fellowship Church. He can be reached at 770-483-3405 or by email at RevTElder@aol.