Freedom in Christ
Galatians 5: 1-15
We've seen so far, Galatians has been pretty deeply theological, and what we have today in Galatians 5, there is a shift from gospel theology to gospel practice; gospel theology to gospel living. That's what we're going to see in today’s passage.
So, what I want to do this morning is I want us to talk about what it means to be free in Christ.
So, what Paul does is he starts talking about Christian freedom. I'm convinced that this word, “freedom,” is one of the most abused and misunderstood words in the entire Christian vocabulary. All kinds of people claim freedom in Christ to indulge in all kinds of things that have nothing to do with Christ. So, we need to see a biblical picture of what it means to be free in Christ. So, what Paul does is he starts by talking about two enemies of Christian freedom, and then, we see Christian freedom described.
In verse 1 he writes,
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
What has Christ done for us? He’s set us free. Why has he set us free? So we can be free. So we can experience and live in the good of freedom.
Ok, but what has Jesus set us free from?’ Well, look at the second part of verse 1: “stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery”.
Now, a yoke is that length of wood that keeps an animal, like an ox, in line, or that slaves would wear, from which heavy loads could be hung. It’s a picture of your life being under the control of another, of you having to do hard labour. And Paul says, Jesus has set you free from just such a yoke of slavery.
And Paul is saying to Galatians, Christ has set you free from that. That’s how you used to live when you were pagans - don’t go back to that by following religious rule keeping again. Instead he says, v1, ‘stand firm’ - stay on your guard, keep watch, resist. Because, whilst you can’t lose your salvation, you can lose the freedom your salvation in Christ brings.
For Example: If you were a slave in the Southern United States before the Emancipation Proclamation. That means that you couldn’t vote; you had no power, and somebody could beat you up and probably kill you. You didn’t have rights. So if you were in town and some white person told you to do this or that and was abusive to you, you were very frightened and did anything he said. Now it’s ten years later, and the Emancipation Proclamation has been issued. You have rights. But you walk into town, and a white person starts to yell at you. Even though you know with your head, “Hey, I have some rights here,” you’re still scared and acting like a slave. That actually is the condition of some Christians.
We are like those freed slaves. We can stand in freedom or we can act like we are still imprisoned. And there are two enemies that can imprison us or two enemies of Christian freedom.
1. Legalism: Don’t lose gospel freedom (vv. 2-12)
Number one is legalism. This one we've already seen a lot to this point. The enemy to Christian freedom is legalism. Working to earn the favor of God. Whether according to our own rules or according to God’s rules. Let’s read verse 2:
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.
Now, what Paul is saying here in Galatians 5 is he’s addressing the picture of legalism that is being promoted by the Judaizers in the churches in Galatia. The example of legalism that he used is circumcision. The Judaizers were saying, “You need to be circumcised in order to be saved. You need to be circumcised in order to be made right before God.
Now, it's important that we realize that Paul was not against circumcision in and of itself. Earlier in the book, in chapter 2, he talked about how he didn't want Titus to be circumcised and he encouraged Titus not to be circumcised, because in doing so, Titus would be showing that, apparently, you need to do this in order to be saved.
But at the same time, in another point of the New Testament, Paul actually encourages Timothy to be circumcised. The reason was, first of all, Timothy’s mom was a Jew; but then more importantly, Paul and Timothy were working among Jews, and this was a barrier or hindrance, so to speak, to the Jews receiving the gospel and hearing the gospel from them.
So, Paul’s not against circumcision; he was circumcised. The difference is, Paul is adamantly against circumcision and/or anything else that we put as a regulation or a rule to follow in order to achieve salvation, in order to be made right before God or earn favor before God. He’s against Sabbaths; he's against any feasts; he's against anything no matter how small or how big, that we put on the table to think, “When I do this, I'm going to earn favor before God."
Now, for Example, circumcision is the deal here in Galatians, but there are so many examples of legalism like this around us today.
There are many people who believe, “Well, if I do work for the church or do work in the church, then I'm earning favor before God."
Many people base their status before God on the frequency of their personal devotions
A lot of people base their favor before God based on a prayer they prayed or a hand they raised, or tithes they give or good works they do.
How about you my friend, what are you thinking about if you do that God will have favor upon you?
Here's the deal: No matter how small or big, if we put anything that we do as the means by which favor before God is earned, then we're undercutting or undermining the gospel. It's legalism, no matter how small or big, we're undercutting.
A. The Effect of Legalism
The effect of legalism is contamination. Paul says in verse 9, "A little leaven leavens the whole lump.." What Paul is saying is, “Legalism spreads.” Just a little bit spreads and spreads violently. It's like Paul’s saying one drop of poison, just one small drop, can destroy the whole body.
This is the picture in the church. This is why he’s so forceful here about addressing circumcision, because of the contamination that was running throughout the church. That’s why in the church today we have a responsibility. Us, in this zoom meeting, New City Imphal, we have a responsibility to vehemently oppose anything - any teaching in any small group, any large group gathering, that is not gospel-centered, gospel-saturated. Any teaching that’s not gospel, needs to be weeded out completely, because it contaminates the whole church. Things that we may not even think are big deal.
B. The Result of Legalism
We've got to be careful to guard the gospel in the church. That's what Paul is saying. Because the effect is contamination, and the end of it, the result of legalism, is condemnation. This is when Paul gets really serious. He says in verse 10, “I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one ... " listen to this, "the one who is troubling you...” who’s promoting legalism, “... will bear the penalty, whoever he is." You promote legalism in the church, you will pay a price, Paul says.
Then, he gets down to verse 12. “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!” Paul is basically saying that he wishes these Judaizers who were talking about circumcision, who are so forceful in pushing circumcision on believers, would go the whole way and castrate or “emasculate” themselves. I love the way John Stott put it. He said,
If we were as concerned for God’s church and God's Word as Paul was, we too would wish that false teachers might cease from the land.
My friends, be passionate about protecting gospel truth in the church, Paul says, because any small bit of legalism contaminates the whole church and ultimately brings condemnation. So, this is the first enemy of Christian freedom: legalism.
C. License: Don’t abuse gospel freedom. (vv13-15)
Second enemy of Christian freedom is license. Now, a license is the opposite of legalism. Legalism says, “Obey the law and earn favor before God.” License says, “Forget about the law altogether.” To fall back into rule-keeping means we lose our freedom, but to fall into permissiveness means we abuse our freedom. Paul knows that such language as “freedom” can be very misleading to people. He knows that when he speaks of being “free from the law,” some immediately think he means that people are now free to determine their own standards of behavior.
This is what Paul's opponents would say to him. They would say, “If we're saved by faith alone, we don't have to do anything. Well, then, people are just going to live licentious lives. They're just going to indulge in themselves all the time.”
Paul knows that that’s a possibility, a possible perversion of the gospel. Freedom in Christ, all of a sudden, becomes a basis for all kinds of loose living, licentious actions, drunkenness and this is not the gospel. People say, "Well, I believed in Christ. I prayed the prayer, and now I know I’m going to heaven, it doesn't matter what I do."
So, he addresses it here in verse 13, and it's so important. Paul says, “Gospel truth is never intended only to be believed. Gospel truth is always intended to be obeyed.” Gospel truth is never intended only to be accepted in our heads. It's always intended to be applied in our lives.
This is the language Paul uses when he says in verse 13 “Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh”.
Now, this is so huge when we talk about freedom. We talk about freedom all the time. We protect our freedoms; we fight for our freedoms; we cling to our freedoms, debate our freedoms. But what do we mean when we say “freedom?”
At the core, in today’s modern or postmodern time it means, “I'm free to do whatever I want? I'm free to live however I want”.
Now, I want you to think about how we take that and we bring it into the church and we say,
I'm going to follow Christ, but I'm going to live however I want. I'm going to follow Christ, but I'm going to follow Him on my terms. I'm going to pick and choose areas of life that fit best with me according to Scripture, and that's what I'm going to live according to.
That is not New Testament Christianity. It's slavery to ourselves, and it's what we've been freed from. The picture is, we are free not to indulge ourselves in selfish sin. We are free now to serve each other with selfless love. He says, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
As John Stott put it: “Christian freedom is freedom from sin, not freedom to sin”.
Let me ask you this, how are you using your freedom? Are you using your freedom to sin?
Or are you using your freedom to serve? As Paul mention next
3. So What Does It Mean To Be Free?
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”
That is such a monumental phrase: “Faith working through love.” Paul is not saying, “We are justified by faith and love.” Justification is by faith alone, but it’s a faith that expresses itself through love.
Paul says in verse 13:
“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another."
Now, this is where it gets really interesting. Paul has just spent five-plus chapters telling us that we're free and we're no longer slaves. Then, he gets to verse 13, and the second half of this verse, he says, “but through love serve one another". The word for “serve” there is literally the New Testament word for “slave.” That’s weird. You are free; you're not a slave anymore, and now he is saying, you're free to be slaves; now be a slave. Paul, what do you mean, we’re free to be slaves?”
Here's what Paul's saying. Don't miss the difference: slavery to the law, involuntary, burden walking under it, trying to earn favor before God. Slavery to love is joyfully living for the sake of other people out of love for them. The slavery of love.
For Example: A fish, because it absorbs oxygen from water rather than air, is only free if it is restricted and limited to water. So what is the environment that liberates us if we confine ourselves to it, like water liberates the fish? Love. Love is the most liberating freedom.
One of the principles of love - either love for a friend or romantic love - is that you have to lose independence to attain greater intimacy. If you want the freedoms of love - the fulfillment, security, sense of worth that it brings - you must limit your freedom in many ways. To experience the joy and freedom of love, you must give up your personal autonomy. As Tim Keller writes, “Human beings are most free and alive in relationships of love”.
In today’s culture, freedom is defined in strict negative terms, as the absence of confinement and constraint. But in fact, in many cases, confinement and constraint is actually a means to liberation.
When you picture the slavery of love, just picture Christ. Picture Mark 10:45: "The Son of Man did not come to be..." what? “...to be served, but to serve.” He came to serve. Why? Because He desired to. Not because He was obligated to? Not because He had to? Not because He was burdened to?
He came to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. When you think of the slavery of love, think of the passion, the death of Christ. The cross...think of the cross when you think of the slavery of love, and here's the reality: When the Christ who came not to be served but to serve and to sacrifice His life for us, when that Christ is living in you, that radically changes the way you live in relationship to the people around you.
How can you live for yourself when Christ is in you? It's not possible. You live for other people; you live to serve. You're a slave to other people. You sacrifice yourself for other people. That's the picture. It's the New Testament community, it's the New Testament church. We're free to the slavery of love.
This is an unnatural way to live, and it's exactly what Paul's saying. You can’t manufacture this kind of love. That's the point. How does it come? How do you have that kind of love? Verse 5, By faith through the Spirit. It's faith expressing itself through love. We need Christ to give us this kind of love. It's the fruit of the Spirit, right?
Next week we will see: The fruit of the Spirit is what? Love. That's where it starts...love. Spirit produces this kind of love, and so we need to go to Christ and to say, “I need you, I need the gospel, I need the Holy Spirit”
That's the only way we're going to fulfill the whole law:
14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
And we are not going to bite and devour one another:
15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
Instead laying down our lives and sacrificing everything for the sake of the glory of Christ and for one another. It's a faith that expresses itself through love.
The gospel does free you to live any way you want. But if you truly understand through the gospel who Jesus is and what He has done for you, then you will ask: How can I live for Him? And the answer will be—look at the will of God expressed in the law. The gospel frees us from the law, and for the law.
It does away with our old, selfishly motivated and unloving law-obedience. And it motivates us to obey the law out of love.
Once we realize what Jesus has done for us and gave himself for us, we aren’t afraid of giving up our freedom and therefore finding our freedom in him.