We hit a huge pothole, heard a "kajunk," the truck jerked to a stop, and we watched our right rear tire roll past us until it went off the right side of the road and tumble the forty or so feet down to the ditch on the right.

After a hard hike down the embankment, a friend and I retrieved the tire, and made the even harder climb back out. A couple of other guys walked back up the red clay road outside Manaus, Brazil, to look for lug nuts. When we fell in the hole, it broke one lug and somehow the other lug nuts came off. Fortunately they found two lug nuts and we borrowed one from the three other tires to secure our runaway tire back to the truck. We made sure all of the lug nuts were tight, then headed on our way. But, we were an awful sight — sweaty, tired, red clay on us from head to foot, all indiscriminately covered in patches of grease and tire dirt.

As rough as the road was going out to the incredibly beautiful camp, the trip back was terrifying. The rain came down and the red clay became very slick and the potholes were filled with water. As the buses and trucks passed us, they spattered our windshield with mud that wouldn't wash off. Some places in the road had steep drop offs with no guardrails and nothing between you and a long fall except air! We drove down the middle of the road, except when passing another vehicle. We were terrified of slipping into the deep ditches on either side.

It seems that to get to any really beautiful or interesting place, I have to travel over dangerous roads to get there. The ditches, ravines, and drop-offs on either side of the road are waiting for the slightest mistake or misjudgment. Yet, because of the destination, I take the risk.

As followers of Jesus, we have been redeemed by Jesus' gift on the Cross and his triumph through the resurrection. We have been saved by grace, and the journey home to the Father has a great destination. It also includes a journey through dangerous terrain and difficult roads.

Paul warns us of two dangers, deep and dangerous ditches on either side of grace. He also points us to the Holy Spirit as the way to find our path and avoid these ditches.

Notice the first warning:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace (Galatians 5:1-4 TNIV).

No matter how religious the ditch may seem, it is still a ditch. If we are trying to prove ourselves righteous and make ourselves holy by any set of rules or laws, we have fallen in the ditch of legalism — "the yoke of slavery" as Paul puts it. More than just the Old Testament Law, Paul speaks of the underlying principle when he says, "You who are trying to be justified by law-keeping have been alienated from Christ ..." Adhering to law, any law, as basis of being righteous before God is a ditch of slavery.

Such talk makes many folks nervous, but go back and read the book of  Galatians again, or  Romans chapters 1-8, or  2 Corinthians chapter 3. These all speak to this central point. Jesus died as a sin offering for us. We accept his sacrifice and trust in God's grace as we seek to honor his gift as we are led by the Holy Spirit. However, we must not rely, trust, or depend upon our adherence to any set of rules or laws to make us righteous. If we do, as Paul says, we "have fallen away from grace."

Which brings us to the second warning:

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature ... (Galatians 5:13).

The other ditch that is so dangerous and that can wreck our souls is the ditch of rebellion — of letting our "flesh" (or "sinful nature") run wild and wreck our lives. Most of us have seen this happen countless times: people who misunderstand grace to mean license to do whatever they want, whenever they want, and assume that grace is going to cover it. This rebellion to the compassion and character of Jesus nearly always ends up in someone being caught in addictive sin, destroying his or her own life, and the lives of those around them. Grace doesn't just liberate us from law keeping as a way to be righteous; it also liberates us from the bondage that our sinful nature brings.

So how do we avoid these dangerous ditches? How do we enjoy the freedom of the path of grace?

Notice again what Paul says:

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature ... (Galatians 5:16).

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law ... (Galatians 5:18).

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25).

"I willingly yield my heart to the Spirit's influence."
But how do we do that? How do we stay on the road of freedom and grace and not fall into the ditches of legalism or license? How do we "walk by the Spirit" and "keep in step with the Spirit"?

We will explore these questions in coming weeks, but let me share with you a place to begin that comes from the daily devotional also called SpiritFire:

Almighty God, eternal Father, King of Glory, please lead me and guide me by the Holy Spirit. I willingly yield my heart to the Spirit's influence. In Jesus' name I ask for this grace. Amen.

Your comments are welcome and desired. If you receive this by email and would like to comment, follow this link:
http://bit.ly/HL-aC6VP5 — look for the Facebook comment box below.

Why do you think we so easily slip into one of the ditches instead of walking in the grace of Jesus?

How do we allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit in the way of grace?