FREEDOM is a word that’s used a lot these days. We all WANT it. But it can mean lots of different things to different people.
- agers want FREEDOM from the control of their parents. Free to come and go as they please – at least until they want mum to pick them up from the station.
- Credit card companies promise you FINANCIAL freedom. Buy what you want when you want it. Live the life you’ve DREAMED of. Be FREE… at 18% per annum.
- A dissatisfied marriage partner longs for the FREEDOM to be single again. The freedom to be who they want to be. Which is often a round-about way of saying they want to be SELFISH.
- We all long for freedom from the MORTGAGE, freedom from TRAFFIC. Freedom from WORRY. Freedom from PAIN.
But what does freedom mean for THE CHRISTIAN? What has Jesus freed us FROM? And what should freedom LOOK LIKE in the life of a Christian?
The Two Extremes
That’s the topic of ch 5 of Galatians. And Paul seems to be arguing against TWO groups of people. At opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of how they understand FREEDOM. Two extremes.
At one end there’s the group who’ve been listening to the false teachers. We’ve seen Paul arguing against them all the way through the letter. They reckon Jesus has died for them. But then they ALSO need to keep all the Old Testament laws AS WELL. Just to be SURE. Like being circumcised. And only eating certain types of food. And keeping certain days holy.
And so there’s not really much FREEDOM at ALL in being a Christian. It’s more about rule-keeping. That’s who Paul’s thinking about there in v1 of ch5.
5:1 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.
And Paul’s point has been. You can’t TRUST what Jesus has done/ and then try to DO SOMETHING YOURSELF. To EARN God’s favour. That’s just SLAVERY. You have to let go of ONE to grab the OTHER.
2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.
4 You who are trying to be justified BY LAW have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 But BY FAITH we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.
That’s ONE SIDE of Paul’s argument. Jesus set us FREE from the guilt of being God’s enemies. We can’t EARN it. So just TRUST it.
But it seemed like there was ANOTHER group who’d misunderstood Paul’s message of freedom. Jump down to v13. They’re at the OTHER end.
13 You, my brothers, were called to be FREE. But do not use your FREEDOM to INDULGE THE SINFUL RE; rather, serve one another in love.
Sounds similar to v1, doesn’t it? “You were called to be free”, followed by a command. “You’ve been set free, so don’t go back to slavery”. “You’ve been set free, but don’t use your freedom to indulge the sinful re.”
Same TRUTH. But a different TARGET. Each group with a different understanding, polar opposites, of what it means for the Christian to be FREE. And both getting it wrong.
And while we’ve spoken about the FIRST mistake in the last few weeks, this week we’re going to look at the SECOND mistake. Thinking that since Christ has set you FREE, then you can basically do WHATEVER YOU WANT.
Imagine Thomas the tank engine has finally been allowed to leave the yard, and travel on the main line. He’s FREE to travel anywhere he likes, as fast as he likes. From one end of the rail network to the other.
But after a while he decides that the railway tracks are a bit boring. What he REALLY wants is to LEAVE the tracks. That would be REAL freedom. He’d love to travel up that HILL next to the tracks, or go along the sand at the beach. Or paddle in the water. It would be REAL FREEDOM to play soccer on the grass with the boys.
But, of course, that’s not FREEDOM. He was DESIGNED for tracks. Anything ELSE isn’t freedom, it’s a train wreck.
And it’s the same with Christian freedom.
Paul had come with the message that no one could keep the law completely. And that the ONLY way to be right with God was through Jesus’ in our place. And then to claim the forgiveness HE’D WON. Not because of what WE’D done, but what JESUS had done. Freed from perfect law-keeping. Free from guilt. Free from judgment.
Which is ALL TRUE. But then some people had said, “GREAT! If it’s not about what I’ve done or can do. That means I can ask for forgiveness, then go off and do WHATEVER I WANT!”
We may not want to put it quite as BLUNTLY as that. But the way we TREAT God’s forgiveness, in reality, isn’t really much different.
We know we’re saved by grace. That God’s forgiven our sin. And so, we’re tempted to do something we KNOW is wrong. And we give in because we know we can be forgiven. We treat grace as if it’s CHEAP.
- I really want that CD. Anyway, it’s not really stealing. And besides, God will forgive me anyway.
- It doesn’t matter if I blast that guy who cut me off in the traffic. He doesn’t know I’m a Christian. And besides, God will forgive me anyway.
- It doesn’t matter if I put down my family. Ridicule them in a nasty way. They’ll get over it. And besides, God will forgive me anyway.
- I’ve even heard Christians say this about DIVORCE. Yes, I wanted to be with someone else. Yes, I’ve made a mess of things. Yes, God s divorce. But it’s not the unforgiveable sin. People will get over it. Things will go back to normal. And besides, God will forgive me anyway.
Freedom to love
That’s wanting Jesus as SAVIOUR, but not AS LORD. Wanting him to RESCUE you, but then not wanting to DO WHAT HE SAYS. And Paul says that’s not what FREEDOM IS. That’s not the life God CALLED you to. What you were DESIGNED for. V13.
13 You, my brothers, were CALLED to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful re; RATHER, SERVE ONE ANOTHER IN LOVE.
Christ has set us free from A GUILTY CONSCIENCE. He’s set us free from having to PERFECTLY KEEP THE LAW. He’s set us free from JUDGMENT.
But it CERTAINLY doesn’t mean he’s set us free from any sort of moral obligation, or right sort of living. He says, rather, SERVE one another in LOVE. You’ve been set free to LOVE. That’s your DESIGN.
The word for serve is SLAVERY. Which is quite ironic really. You’ve been set FREE alright, free to be a SLAVE TO OTHERS. To put THEIR needs before your own. That’s what TRUE LOVE is – choosing to put someone else’s good above YOURS.
And notice the order? The LOGIC? It’s AFTER you’ve been set free that you serve others in LOVE. You don’t DO the serving things to MAKE yourself free. Which is the way LOTS of people look at it.
The funny thing is/ when you look at the actual DEEDS that are DONE. Serving in love because you’re free (on the one hand)/ and law-keeping to MAKE you free/ might end up looking PRETTY SIMILAR. It’s just the motivation that’s changed. Look how Paul goes on in v14.
14 The entire LAW is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Whatever was in the Old Testament law/ to do with how you treated other people can be summarised by, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
If you love your neighbour, you won’t steal from him.
If you love your neighbour, you won’t LIE to them.
If you love your parents, you’ll HONOUR them.
And so on.
That’s what you’ve been set free FOR.
And it turns your MOTIVES for living around. You don’t keep the law of love because it MAKES YOU RIGHT WITH GOD. Because the law can NEVER do that.
INSTEAD, NOW that you’re right with God. NOW that you’re trusting HIM for the gift of forgiveness. Now that he’s CALLED you, you keep the law of love because you LOVE OTHERS. Which is an incredibly FREEING idea once you understand it.
See how it says it back in v6?
6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is FAITH EXPRESSING ITSELF THROUGH LOVE.
External things don’t COUNT when it comes to being made right with God. What DOES count is FAITH. Trusting God’s offer of forgiveness, and then SHOWING that in the way you LOVE.
Faith ON ITS OWN isn’t enough. It’s PROVED genuine by deeds of love. Deeds on their own aren’t enough, they’ve got to come from a trust that God has made you right with himself through Jesus, and that your deeds will never DO IT.
The only thing that counts is FAITH EXPRESSING ITSELF THROUGH LOVE
3. The freedom of the Spirit
It seems like this was a PARTICULAR, SPECIFIC MESSAGE for the Galatians. This call to LOVE EACH OTHER. Perhaps all the theological argument had resulted in heated words, broken relationships. Perhaps the two sides of the argument where at each other’s throats. Jump back down to v14.
Paul’s told them that the entire law is summed up with “Love your neighbour as yourself”. Then he says (v15)
15 If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
It’s a sad fact of life that Christians don’t automatically get rid of all their bad habits the moment they’re born again. For most of us, it’s a long, drawn-out work in progress.
And, unfortunately, often the biggest disagreements and nastiest words we have are between Christians. Disagreements about theology or right practice, about who’s right and wrong, or perhaps who’s right and who’s MORE right.
Misunderstandings about who did what and why. Juicy judgmental gossip that drags people down.
Perhaps that’s been YOUR experience. Biting and devouring each other. Paul calls it.
That’s not the freedom God’s CALLED you to. It’s not what faith looks like when it’s worked out in love. And it shouldn’t BE like that.
And Paul says the answer, instead, is to WALK BY THE SPIRIT. Listen to God’s Holy Spirit who OPENED your EYES, who SAVED you, who WASHED you. Who LIVES WITH you and IN you. Look at v16.
16 So I say, LIVE BY THE SPIRIT, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful re.
It’s literally WALK by the Spirit, or in the Spirit. Walk through life following Jesus, doing things GUIDED by his Spirit, in The STRENGTH his Spirit gives. Priorities shaped, thoughts flavoured by him. WALK IN THE Spirit. And you won’t gratify the desires of your OLD re.
The civil war
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But we all know it’s not as simple as it sounds. Paul goes on to describe THE CIVIL WAR that’s going on inside every Christian. Whether you’ve been saved for a DAY, or a DECADE. 50 weeks, or 50 years. V17
17 For the SINFUL RE desires what is contrary to the SPIRIT, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful re. They are in CONFLICT with each other, so that you do not do what you want.
Every one of us, if we’re a Christian, has to cope with a series of constant battles. Skirmishes on a range of different fronts. Every day.
There’s our self that wants to do the selfish, self-satisfying thing. The thing that will PLEASE us, or make us more comfortable, or make us feel better. But on the other hand, God’s Spirit is working in us, gradually renovating us, changing our thoughts, and motives, our words, our reactions, our desires.
And, at every turn, there’s a battle. We have to CHOOSE who we’ll follow. Our , human inclination? Or God’s Spirit?
What do I THINK? Where do I LOOK? What do I SAY? How do I RESPOND? What will I CHOOSE?
Will I choose to LOVE my neighbour as myself? Or will I choose to bite and devour him? One is following the Spirit. The other is to follow the self – the OLD re.
BEFORE you were a Christian, it was always the self that won. It was no contest. Slavery to sin. But now, because of the SPIRIT, The Christian life is FREEDOM. V18.
18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law
Christians are FREE because they NOW HAVE THE ABILITY TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT. To choose to listen to the Spirit. To walk after him. BECAUSE they HAVE God’s Spirit. HE is the POWER to choose LOVE. To put others first. To break habits. To develop self-control. To put the OLD re to .
On our own, we’re unable to choose RIGHT. We’re enslaved to choosing WRONG. But with God’s Spirit, he FREES us to be able to please him.
Paul moves on to describing the two sides of the battle. What your life will look like if you continually choose ONE SIDE over ANOTHER.
V19. If you keep choosing to do what comes LY, here’s what you can expect.
19 The acts of the sinful re are obvious: ual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, , and the like.
All sorts of things you wouldn’t expect a Christian to go anywhere NEAR. Like ual immorality, witchcraft, and . But right there amongst them are the sorts of things we CAN find hard to conquer.
Like discord and dissensions and factions. That’s TAKING SIDES. Deciding that ONE person is better than ANOTHER. And then doing things that put one person AGAINST the other. Gossip. ing rumours. Refusing to forgive. Preferring to talk ABOUT someone than TO someone. Not being willing to apologise, to clear up misunderstandings. To mend fences, or build bridges.
We’re constantly fighting a battle. To either do what comes LY when it comes to these things. Or follow the Spirit. And treat people with LOVE.
Or what about ENVY. That’s a sneaky one isn’t it? Or SELFISH AMBITION. Creeps right up on you, and before you know it, you’re dreaming about that promotion, the attention, the power, a better situation.
It’s a constant battle. To do what comes LY. Or to follow the Spirit. And be content with who and what and where God’s called you to.
Paul’s warning is that people who continually allow the , SINFUL re to WIN that battle. Show they’re not really God’s AT ALL. V21.
I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Is that YOU?
But when you DO walk by the Spirit, then here’s the sorts of things you can expect to be sprouting up in your life. The things people are going to notice about you as they think about what you USED to be like. This time last MONTH, or last YEAR. V22.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.
That’s the battle. That’s the two sides. Your sinful re, and God’s Spirit. And it will continue until the day you die.
But don’t be discouraged if you find that you fall back into the sorts of things you used to do. If they’re not what you WANT. If they’re not where you REMAIN, then that’s GOOD NEWS. Because it means the BATTLE CONTINUES. And God IS at work in you, moulding you into the shape of Jesus.
And Paul finishes two final pieces of advice. One negative. One positive. To help us in that struggle.
First, when you became a Christian, you CRUCIFIED you’re sinful re, your old character. V24. It’s stuck up on a cross. . Cursed. So LEAVE it stuck there.
The problem is we like to pull it back down every so often. To reminisce. To longingly play with it. To bring back LUST every so often, or JEALOUSY, or AMBITION. Because we think it will satisfy us. Give us something God WON’T.
But it’s . It’s POWERLESS. So LEAVE it hanging there. Turn your BACK on it. And Walk away.
That’s the NEGATIVE advice. Here’s the positive. V25.
25 Since we LIVE by the Spirit, let us KEEP IN STEP WITH THE SPIRIT.
Since you’ve been MADE ALIVE by God’s Spirit, keep in STEP with him. He’s got the power and the righteousness to CLEANSE you, and FREE you. So LISTEN to him in the REST of your life. Follow him. Make God’s priorities YOUR priorities. His ways of thinking, his words, his program. Make them YOURS.
KEEP in STEP with the Spirit. So you can express your faith in LOVE.
Let me finish with an illustration. Jazz music is about FREEDOM. There’s not really any music written down. Perhaps a few chords. And, from the outside, it looks like you basically just play WHATEVER YOU WANT.
But that’s a misunderstanding. If everybody did THAT, it would sound TERRIBLE.
In jazz there’s BOUNDARIES. There’s RULES. Rules about CHORDS, and rhythm, and who takes turns to play solos. And who plays loud, and who plays soft.
And it’s as the jazz player listens to everyone else AROUND him, that he works out how he can play stuff that FITS. That BLENDS, that HARMONISES.
The jazz player’s been SET FREE to FIT IN with OTHERS. That’s FREEDOM. That’s what makes beautiful music the way it was DESIGNED.
When you KEEP IN STEP with the rules of JAZZ, the music sounds FANTASTIC. It’s free and it’s wild and it’s joyful and it’s beautiful.
And it’s the same with the Christian life. You’ve been set free by the Spirit. Made alive. So keep in STEP with the Spirit. And SERVE ONE ANOTHER IN LOVE.