COVID-19 and The Gospel

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 5:15-20

The gospel and being filled with the Holy Spirit were always meant to spread like a virus, not unlike COVID-19. One person can “infect” a whole group of people. Yet, what are the preventative measures that stop the spread? Masks, hand sanitizer, social distancing, and inoculation.

Masks = when people hide their face, when they are afraid to be transparent about their life

Hand sanitizer = when people refuse to get their hands dirty, when they want their Christianity tidy and neat and don’t want the mess that comes with the Holy Spirit and a servant-life of following Jesus

Social distancing = lack of connection, lack of community, relational distance

Inoculation = vaccines work by exposing the immune system to part of the virus without being exposed to the whole thing. People get inoculated from the gospel and the Holy Spirit when they get a partial exposure but don’t experience the whole thing. This leads them to believe they have experienced the whole thing, and they are not impressed when it is offered again. They’ve built up a hardness of heart, an immunity.

By far the strongest preventive measure against a virus is a vaccine. Likewise, the strongest preventive measure the enemy can enact against the gospel and the filling of the Holy Spirit is partial exposure without full exposure.

I see this with the gospel when people say, “Oh yeah, I grew up in church.” What they often mean is, “I already know all about Jesus and the church and I don’t want any part of it.” But of course, that isn’t true. They were exposed only partially to the Kingdom and all that comes with following Jesus. If they knew the whole thing, they’d want all of it.

I also see this with the filling of the Spirit, mostly from those who have some experience (usually bad experience) with the charismatic tradition. People saw a charismatic televangelist or went to a charismatic. church for a time in their life and had horrible experiences with that. They now believe they are an expert on the Holy Spirit and being filled with the Spirit. They reject so much of the Spirit’s work in the world because “they already know.” But if they really knew the fullness of the Spirit, they would be running around telling everyone about it. They’ve become inoculated with just enough exposure to leave a bad taste in their mouth but not enough exposure to see what all the fuss is about.

This is why it is vital for churches and Christians to be “all in.” When we give people a partial exposure to the gospel or a partial exposure to the gifts of the Spirit, we run the risk of eventual inoculation. We must be all in ourselves, sold out for Christ, and invite people to an uncompromised experience of the Kingdom and the Spirit.

Normal Christianity

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues,proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.

Matthew 4:23-25

Imagine that you’ve never heard anything about Jesus. So you open the first book of the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew, and you read all the way through it. What would you encounter there? A Jesus who just preached sermons? A list of “dos” and “don’ts?” No.

If you weren’t contaminated by western culture’s preconceived notions of Jesus, you’d encounter a Jesus who proclaimed a message about a new kind of kingdom on the earth. You’d also encounter a Jesus who was constantly healing people everywhere he went. You might expect that followers of Jesus would heal people everywhere they went.

Physical healing was central to Jesus’s ministry. So was setting free those who were bound by demonic darkness. These were not side ministries for Jesus. They were two out of the three main ways that Jesus demonstrated the Kingdom of God coming to earth. The third was His teaching/preaching about the Kingdom.

Jesus did not come to bring a disembodied gospel. Jesus came in a physical body and cared about physical bodies. It wasn’t about spiritual truths that help us escape the world. It was about the truth that His Kingdom came to transform this world, including physical bodies. Jesus did not bring a Gnostic gospel. He brought an embodied one.

Over and over again we see that healing physical sickness was central to the Kingdom of God. Besides story after story of Jesus encountering an individual and healing them, we get passages of scripture that seem to summarize mass healings as if there were too many to name. And we learn that this healing ministry wasn’t a side show. It was central to the fulfillment of prophecy about the coming Messiah.

When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“He took up our infirmities
    and bore our diseases.” [Isaiah 53:4]

Matthew 8:16-17

When Jesus wanted to assure John the Baptist that He was, in fact, the Messiah, the message Jesus sent to John was all about healing. Healing physical sickness was one of the main signs that Jesus was fulfilling the prophecies about the coming Messiah.

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.

Matthew 11:2-5

Physical healing wasn’t just something Jesus did on the side. It was one of the main things Jesus did with His limited time here on earth. It was central to demonstrating that God’s Kingdom had invaded the kingdom of this world. The light was breaking through the darkness.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 

Matthew 9:35-36

It was also something He empowered His disciples to do. In other words, healing wasn’t just a ministry of the Messiah. It was something expected of every disciple of Jesus. Seeing people get healed by the power of God and seeing demons get cast out of people was always meant to be “normal Christianity.”

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness…

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “… As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”

Matthew 10:1, 5-8

Healing the sick was something Jesus did everywhere He went. Healings were physical demonstrations of the truth of His Kingdom. They were evidence that He really was the Messiah and the Kingdom of God really was being inaugurated on the earth.

And the early followers of Jesus picked up this mantle and continued to carry it. They continued to proclaim the message of the Kingdom and continued to demonstrate the Kingdom through healings, deliverance, signs, wonders, and miracles. We see this reality all throughout the book of Acts.

Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.

Acts 2:43

The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed.

Acts 5:12-16

The prayer of the early believers was, “…enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:29-30). They simply wanted to continue the ministry of Jesus. They wanted to boldly proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God and then demonstrate the Kingdom through signs and wonders. This was “normal Christianity.”

In the West, many churches have denounced physical healing and deliverance ministry. Or, if it is believed at all, we have relegated them to side ministries. How could something so central to the gospel, so central to the Kingdom, so central to Jesus and the early church get shoved aside? Church, we have to do better than this!

Our culture is tired of hearing about Jesus and the gospel. They are crying out, “Show me! Prove it! Demonstrate it!” And two of the primary ways Christians are meant to demonstrate the Kingdom of God coming to earth is through physical healing and deliverance. It was never meant to be a “special” ministry reserved for “elite” Christians or the “crazy charismatic” Christians. This was meant to be normal Christianity.

Normal Christianity looks like every church member praying for their co-workers and seeing them get healed right there in the office. Normal Christianity looks like having dinner with neighbors and, for dessert, praying and seeing them set free from the demonic oppression they’ve experienced for years. Normal Christianity looks like delivering a prophetic word to your boss that then shapes the future of your company. Normal Christianity looks like getting a word of knowledge for the person in front of you at Walmart, giving the word, and then leading them to give their life to Jesus. Normal Christianity looks like getting a prophetic dream for a family member that ends up encouraging them about their true identity.

Normal Christianity looks like every person in the church doing this all week long so that it becomes such a regular occurrence that there is no need for any fanfare about it. There’s no arguing over the legitimacy of these things because everyone experiences them daily. There’s no need to debate when it is just normal life. This is normal Christianity.

We need to return to the Bible’s definition of normal Christianity once again!

Christmas Movies

Missy and I are finding ourselves weary of the “lessons” of so many Christmas movies. Many movies have at least one kid filled with questions and doubts about Santa who is then told to “just believe.” But the child at home watching this movie learns to “believe” just in time to discover their belief in Santa to be false.

What’s the message here? It doesn’t matter if your belief is true, just believe in something? Belief in something is the virtue, not truth? This message is toxic to real faith.

Or what about the movies that have some greedy character that is all about the presents they get at Christmas. Then the lesson at the end of the movie is that Christmas isn’t about the gifts but about….wait for it….family and loved ones. Really? But what about the kids who have a dysfunctional family? How are they supposed to watch that movie?

The truth is that Christmas is about the gift of Jesus, not a generic sense of family. And no matter our family situation, Jesus loves us and is God with us, Immanuel. That’s the good news!

Or what about the movies that tell kids that if they are good enough, they will get lots of presents from Santa. So the kids whose parents went through a rough year this year–who lost their jobs or their business or their health–what are they supposed to think when only a few gifts are around the tree? Is the lesson that they weren’t good enough?

We are spreading the lie of performance mentality with all of this, or worse, the lie of works righteousness. Performance mentality says that if you perform well (in life, in school, at home) then everything will work out. And if you don’t perform well, it won’t. So if things are bad, push harder to perform better. Works righteousness is similar. It says that if you do everything correctly, you will be in right standing with God and He will bless you. Both of these are lies. We live by grace through faith and not by our performance or our works.

I know these are just silly movies, but the messages in so many of these movies are horrendous. Missy and I are having a harder and harder time sitting through them without getting a little nauseous. Sometimes I just want to be a Grinch. I want to turn off the delightful little Christmas movie midway through and tell my kids, “Don’t believe anything you just saw. It’s crap. It’s not true.” And maybe one day soon I will.

Simple Faith

 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”

But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.

Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

2 Kings 5:9-14

When we read about the life of Elisha, almost everything he did was a foreshadowing of Jesus. This event was no different. Naaman, the commander of the armies of Aram, had leprosy and traveled south to Israel to seek healing from Elisha. When he arrived at Elisha’s house, we was told to simply go wash in the Jordan River seven times and he’d be healed. But the simplicity of this act was offensive to Naaman.

The Jordan River was not impressive back then nor is it today. Dipping in the Nile or the Euphrates may have seemed significant. Even the rivers of Aram (Abana and Pharpar) made more sense than the Jordan. Naaman was expecting a magical display of Elisha’s power. The healers and witch doctors of that day all had ceremonies and herbs and incantations for practicing their healing arts (as they still do today). They all had strict and complicated rituals for a person to follow in order to be healed. But God through Elisha didn’t need all of that. The power of the Spirit was enough to heal.

Notice that when a person has been taught their whole life that to get right with God, to get well, to get clean, one must work for it, simple grace is offensive. Earning one’s righteousness through works, though a heavy burden, comes with it the feeling of control. It comes with it the ability to retain one’s pride and self-sufficiency.

But receiving simple grace requires humility. It requires giving up on earning our righteousness, our healing, our cleansing. It demands simple obedience in receiving the grace of God. It means laying down my self-sufficiency and my control. This is why the simplicity of dipping in the Jordan was so offensive to Naaman. It was too easy. It displayed too much of God’s grace and not enough of his own works. Many people react the same way to the message of the gospel.

But if we want to be cleansed from the inside out, it requires something very simple. We only need to receive the grace of God through Jesus Christ. That’s what this weekend is all about. Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday are the once and for all declaration that God paid the price for our sin so that we wouldn’t have to. He sacrificed Himself so that we wouldn’t have to work for our righteousness. We could simply receive His righteousness, a righteousness that we don’t deserve in any way.

By believing Jesus, entrusting our life to Him, we lay down our attempts at saving ourselves through good works. We lay down our self-sufficiency and pride. Humbly, we come before the Lord and repent for our sin. And in doing so, we are given the free gift of grace. We are forgiven for all past, present and future sin, and we are given a new heart. The very Spirit of the Living God comes to dwell in us and begins to transform us from the inside out.

Naaman dipping seven times in the Jordan was a foreshadowing of the simplicity of baptism. We are washed clean from our sin, not by complicated religious rituals and incantations, but by simple faith in Jesus Christ. What He did for us was enough. We need only to believe it. We need only to take Jesus at His word.

Have you been spending your life trying to be a good person on your own merit? Apart from the transforming work of Christ, that kind of life only leads to failure and disappointment. If you haven’t already, receive the free grace of God, purchased for you by the death of Jesus. And receive a new heart, a new life, a life won for you by the resurrection of Jesus.

Don’t be offended by the simplicity of it all like Naaman was. Let go of the pride and self-sufficiency that would keep you from surrendering your life to Jesus, and invite the Holy Spirit to come and dwell within you. Pray something like this:

Father God, thank you for sending your son Jesus to take my place on the cross. Please forgive me for my sin and my selfishness. I receive your grace today. I know I don’t deserve it. I know I can’t earn it. I know Jesus did for me what I could never do for myself. I surrender my life to you, Jesus. I am yours. I ask You to come and transform my heart. Wash me clean. Make me new. Holy Spirit, I invite you to come and dwell in me and give me new life. I ask you to transform me from the inside out. I lay down my pride and my self-sufficiency. And in its place I receive your love and your peace. I ask all of this in Jesus’s name. Amen.

From Death to Life

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. 

Colossians 1:21-23

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not that we are basically good people who just need a little help to become better people, and if we would follow some principles of Jesus, we would be better. Many churches are proclaiming this message, but this is not the gospel.

No, the gospel is that we were once enemies of God. Our thoughts and our behavior revealed the fact that we were alienated from God. But God, in His great love and grace, sent Jesus, the image of the invisible God, to die for us. We were dead in our sin and so Jesus came to rescue us by dying for us.

When Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, He brought us with Him. We have now been transformed from death to life. The message is not that good people get a little better but–by faith in Jesus because of the grace of God–dead people come to life!

The result is not that we are a little better. The result is that Jesus now presents us to the Father as perfectly holy, without blemish and free from accusation. We are clothed with Christ, not the filthy rags of our old life. Paul said it this way to the Christians in Corinth:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God. Some of you once lived this way. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (New English Translation)

We stand before the Father blameless because of what Jesus did for us. “…count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus”(Romans 6:11)

Living a holy life simply means we stop doing CPR on our old, dead life. Our old self has been crucified with Christ and buried with Christ. If we sense it coming out of the grave, it does so as a zombie that needs to be put down. It is not who we are anymore. Holiness is simply being who we now are in Christ. Holiness is living out our true identity as new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Paul says it this way to the Romans:

Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

Romans 6:13-14

New Shoes

…and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 

Ephesians 6:15

Literally in the Greek this sentence reads, “and having bound under the feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” The imagery here is someone taking the leather straps of a sandal and wrapping them around their feet until the footwear is firmly in place. But instead of the leather of a sandal, it’s the preparation, readiness and firm footing of the gospel that secures the traction of a Christian.

It is significant that Paul describes the gospel not as the gospel of salvation or the gospel of Jesus or the gospel of grace (though it is all of those things), but instead the gospel of peace. It is the peace of the gospel in our lives that prepares us for battle and secures our footing.

Another way of saying it is that fear and anxiety undermine our footing when we try to stand firm against the enemy. Fear trips us up in battle and anxiety makes us stumble.

We know from boxing that in any kind of hand-to-hand combat, the one with the secure footing is the one who wins. The power of a punch starts in the footing, travels up through the legs and hips gaining momentum, and is released as the shoulders rotate and the arm extends. The balance and footwork of any fighter is 90% of the battle. This is true for us as well.

Our balance and footwork in the battle against the enemy starts with being prepared with peace. Philippians 4:7 says, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Speaking about Jesus, Ephesians 2:14 says, “For he himself is our peace.” And if we still doubt the power of peace, Romans 16:20 says, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” Make no mistake, peace is a weapon!

How do we get this peace that sends fear and anxiety running?

Paul teaches the Philippians, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you”(Philippians 4:9). In other words, live out the gospel, put it into practice, and you’ll find peace following you everywhere.

The writer of Hebrews puts it this way, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it”(Hebrews 12:11). The disciplined life of following Jesus produces not just a little peace, but a whole harvest of peace.

Colossians 3:15 says, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…” This necessarily means we are not letting other things rule in our hearts like anxious thoughts, fears, and worries about the future.

All of this points to the fact that peace must be pursued. It is a fruit of the Spirit, the fruit of a disciplined life in Christ, the fruit of a life that refuses to give fear or anxiety an inch in their heart or mind. “For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control”(2 Timothy 1:7 NET).

Without God

If we were to run into a Gentile pagan from the first century who somehow time-warped to our culture today, most Americans would say things like, “They seem very nice and very religious. They are so faithful to be mindful of all of their gods…They are just a really good person…They are more religious than I am…I find their religious practices so interesting.” It might be similar to how most would respond to living next door to a Hindu swami.

Without question, as a follower of Jesus, we should be gentle, kind and loving to those of all faith traditions. It’s the fruit of the Spirit! Yet, the typical American attitude about the truthfulness of polytheistic religions is very different than the apostle Paul’s attitude.

This is what the apostle Paul said about the polytheistic faith of the Gentiles in the first century:

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)—remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 

Ephesians 2:11-12

Paul looked straight at those who used to worship a pantheon of gods and told them that not only were they separate from Christ in their old life but that they were “without hope and without God in the world.” It wasn’t just that they had a different religion than Paul. Paul wasn’t interested in affirming a universalistic religious pluralism. The worship of many gods was (and still is) completely bankrupt when it came to the promises of God, completely void of hope, and completely disconnected from the true God.

Before we follow Christ, here is how Paul describes us:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 

Ephesians 2:1-2

Following the ways of the world is the same as following “the ruler of the kingdom of the air,” otherwise known as Satan. He is called a “ruler” because he has a measure of power in this world to deceive and torment people. Satan is “the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” He is actively trying to get people to reject Christ and live in unbelief. Satan is happy to have people believe anything but the truth of the gospel regardless of how “religious” they are.

Yet, Satan is a conquered ruler. He does exert a measure of power, but all of his authority has been stripped away by Jesus. Jesus now has all authority as He Himself said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”(Matthew 28:18).

Imagine an oppressive ruler who had been completely conquered and overthrown by good and generous Kingdom yet was still on the run trying to exert his power over the kingdom he once had. All of the oppressive ruler’s authority has been taken, but by using the power he has left, he tries to get people to believe he still has authority. And so he only has the amount of authority that people are willing to give him. He goes from village to village usurping the people’s authority who haven’t yet been told “the good news” of their freedom. And even those who have believed the good news are a target and must stand firm against his attacks (Ephesians 6:10-18).

This is why we can’t sit idly by in silence, but we must “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, and teach them to obey everything Jesus has commanded us (Matthew 28:18). Following Jesus isn’t about having one set of beliefs among a myriad of comparative religions. It’s about a relationship with the rightful King and Lord.

Pacifier

Throughout the centuries, there have been different tactics employed by the enemy to pacify the Church. Usually it is some form of trying to get Christians to want to “fit in” to the religious subculture or the current dominant culture. In Paul’s day, there were those who wanted the Gentile believers to fit in by getting circumcised. He writes, “Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ”(Galatians 6:12).

In this case, to “fit in” meant compliance with the Jewish religious subculture. Paul calls them out for what they are doing. They are trying to avoid being persecuted, mocked, insulted and left out. And this same thing has existed in every generation of the Church.

Today there is a similar pressure to “impress people by means of the flesh.” There are many in the American Church who so badly want to fit in with the rest of culture. They try so hard to prove they are “normal” and not some fanatical Christian. They compromise holiness and soften the gospel until it is barely unrecognizable. All of this is an attempt to “avoid being persecuted” even though persecution in America just means mockery, insults and social condemnation (not beatings, imprisonment and death like in other countries around the world).

There is a lie that is all too easy to believe. It is the lie that we can make the gospel more respectable. It is the lie that we can make the Christian life easier to accept. But if the last century of American church history has shown us anything it is that, if this tactic does “win people to Christ,” it too often creates Christians who look like, act like, think like and live like the rest of the world. Instead of being the called out ones we’ve become the blended in ones.

Too scared to pray for people in public, too scared to share the gospel, too scared to stand firm on morality, too scared of what others think about us, too scared to believe in the miraculous power of God, too scared to allow the Holy Spirit to move in a way that might seem “weird,” too scared to take risks, the American church has been thoroughly pacified.

We need a new generation of Christians who aren’t full of fear, who aren’t trying to impress unbelievers with how “normal” they are, who aren’t afraid of being persecuted for the cross of Christ.

Elemental Spiritual Forces

Paul is trying to explain to the Galatians why they no longer need to be enslaved to the Law. He uses the analogy of a young child who needs guardians to watch him until he is old enough. He writes, “as long as he is a minor, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything” (Galatians 4:1 NET).

Then Paul delivers the good news: “So also we, when we were minors, were enslaved under the basic forces of the world. But when the appropriate time had come, God sent out his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we may be adopted as sons with full rights” (Galatians 4:3-5 NET).

That phrase “basic forces” of the world is sometimes translated “basic principles” or “elemental spiritual forces” of the world. In the Greek it is simply the word stoicheion (pronounced stoy-kee-on). The reason the English translators have a hard time with his word is because is has layers of meaning, especially in the polytheistic culture of the Roman world.

Stoicheion means: a single letter of the alphabet, an element, a first principle. So it can be used to reference an elementary principle of faith (like the Law) or an elemental building block of nature (like wind, fire, water, earth, stars, etc). We might use this word today to describe the elements on the periodic table or the Bill of Rights. And one can see how, in a polytheistic culture where things like earth, wind, fire, trees, stars, lunar and solar seasons all had spirits associated with them that were worshiped, this word stoicheion would have layers of meaning.

This is why Paul said to the Galatians: “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces (stoicheion)? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!” (Galatians 4:8-10)

To the Jewish Christians, Paul was saying, “Now that you’ve been adopted into the family of God through faith in Jesus Christ, and now that you’ve been given the Holy Spirit, for you to think that the observance of Jewish holy days will make you righteous is tantamount to astrology and the pagan worship of seasons.”

He was trying to help them see that the stoicheion of Judaism was similar to the stoicheion of the pagan Roman world. Both religious practices lead to slavery. Trying to be justified by the Law is enslavement to the demonic religious spirit just as trying to be justified by pagan religious practice is enslavement to demonic spirits behind the pantheon of gods. (“…the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God.”- 1 Corinthians 10:20)

Rather than return to elemental principles of the world, which amount to worshiping the elemental demonic spiritual forces, Paul reminds them of who they really are in Christ. He writes, “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir” (Galatians 4:6-7).

A Gospel of Prepositions

The gospel is all about prepositions not just propositions. Notice how Paul says it in Galatians 3:26-27, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 

Not only is Christ in us through the Holy Spirit, but we are in Christ through faith. As followers of Jesus we were baptized into Christ and invited to be baptized in or with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). This is the command not only to receive the Spirit (John 20:22) but also to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).

So not only does He reside on the inside making us Temples of the Holy Spirit, but we are also clothed with Christ on the outside. We no longer wear the blemished rags of our past sin but wear white robes of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10) and celebratory garments of praise (Isaiah 61:3).

So are we in Christ or is He in us? Yes! Is the Holy Spirit in us or are we in the Spirit? Yes! Jesus said, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you” (John 15:4). And in Jesus’s prayer for all future disciples, He takes it a step further and reveals how believers have now been brought into the divine Godhead:
“Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity” (John 17:21-23).

Paul expands on this idea in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus:
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus…”(Ephesians 2:4-6). We were dead in sin but are now alive with Christ. So the way God sees us is seated with Christ even as Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father. Not only is Christ in us, and we are in Him; not only are we clothed with Christ, but we are also seated with Him in the heavenly realms. So we don’t just look forward to moving from earth to heaven, but we live, right now, from heaven to earth.