So, Paul asks the Galatians (5:7): “Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?” God shows us how we are enabled by Him to get out of our own way. And coupled with an understanding of ourselves comes an understanding of the human condition at large as well as the particular peculiarities of those we meet and know. In other words: know and love Him, understand yourself, understand others.
Existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said that “hell is other people”. Well, I wouldn’t quite go that far. But I will say that unless we’re looking out for the subtleties of legalism and manipulation, we very well could let slip the anchor of our faith-in-Jesus and turn our attention on some person other than Him.
Elsewhere in Galatians (3:1), Paul levels a more stinging query: “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?”
Both times does Paul refer to truth with reference to our turning from the simple, childlike faith that was the entryway to the Kingdom of God. What it would seem that he is saying here is that we don’t know truth when we see it. Can I go that far? Well, without the illumination of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, we are doomed to darkness. And what’s sad, tragic really, is that only Jesus offers true freedom. Consider this question of Jeremiah (17:9): “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” (emphasis mine) I think he put his finger on it. Galatians 4:17 says “they zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them.” Eugene Peterson translates the same verse in the Message: “Those heretical teachers go to great lengths to flatter you, but their motives are rotten. They want to shut you out of the free world of God’s grace so that you will always depend on them for approval and direction, making them feel important.” Did you catch that? Who did hinder you (5:7)? Who hath bewitched you (3:1)? Paul identifies the type of person who is at odd’s with Jesus’ gospel of freedom and liberation. Instead, spouting the message of legalism and doubt and insecurity and codependency. “They want to shut you out of the free world of God’s grace.” That’s exactly where God takes us when we accept Jesus.
“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (2 Corinthians 3:17)
This is where the firmness of conviction must extend past yourself. We must be willing to see our own feelings hurt by “denying [your]self and tak[ing] up your cross daily” to follow Jesus. This is what Paul is referring to when he says “I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31). By the same token, we must care more about God’s feelings than others’ when someone seeks to “entangle” us “again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1). Just say no. If you’re afraid of offending them, think of what Jesus had to go through to remain pure before His Father. Toes were stepped on. And I’m not advocating belligerence and icy interactions. Meekness is not weakness. Many people (Christians and non) think that the honest, innocent Christian is an “easy mark” and then seek to enamor and ingratiate in order to steal the beauty of God’s Spirit that is so heavy upon them. The beauty that the new Christian is more-than-likely unaware of. “Moses wist (knew) not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him.” (Exodus 34:29)
Here’s the thing: we all have people in our life who’ve treated us this way. And yes, it’s best to distance yourself from them if possible. But whether or not it’s possible (or permissible, divorce is a last resort. And God hates divorce, “putting away” Malachi 2:16), these individuals need forgiveness. While hell may not literally be “other people”, I believe that other people let hell live through them by subsequently keeping us from living in “the free world of God’s grace”.
So to recap: Don’t you shut yourself out of “the free world of God’s grace”. Be grateful and the Holy Spirit will maintain it around you. And don’t let others keep you from “the free world of God’s grace” through manipulation, subtlety and deceit. Forgive ’em, move on.
Then the quondam quandary will itself be a thing of the past.