Galatians Sermon Series # 6

by   |  03.26.19  |  Sermons

A Single Command

Galatians 5:1,13-15

Focus: God’s freedom expresses itself through us in love.

Function: To exhort the church to be slaves to one another.

Plotline: Freedom is a word tossed about a lot these days and means different things to different folks. So, what is the nature of Christian freedom? Let me repeat, Paul says Freedom is not to be used to satisfy our flesh. Furthermore, Freedom is not to be used to exploit or take advantage of others. Therefore, Freedom is to be used to serve one another in Love.

Freedom is a word tossed about a lot these days and means different things to different folks. Liberty fundamentally means something different to a Libertarian than it does to a Socialist. Often these days the freedom defined by “individual rights” and “the rights of others” is oddly polarizing. Both groups hold the words “freedom” and “liberty” in the highest esteem. We tout freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and the right to bear arms, but we argue about the specifics. We see freedom as an inalienable right not just for the individual but also for the “least of these” among us. America not only stands for liberty at home, but also defends human rights internationally. Yet we argue about freedom and the extent we are free to exercise it. Individual freedom and the rights of the autonomous self to make decisions often conflict with the larger human community. That is at the heart of the FBI’s desire to access your iPhone and the battles over assault rifles, handguns, and the NRA. You are taxed in order to support local law enforcement. That tax is a restriction on your freedom that we as a democratic society support. Our laws are communally discerned restrictions on our freedom. Overwhelming majorities on both sides of the aisle vote for laws that restrict our freedoms. And ironically, the flip side to the whole debate about freedom is that we also take freedom for granted. Liberty—one of the most prized virtues of a democratic society. And while debatable, freedom is primarily defined by how we think of the individual and the autonomous self.

Last month we begin with Gal 1:3-4 as Paul’s definition of the gospel.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever.

So What is the Nature of Christian Freedom?

What does Paul say?

  1. First, liberty is not legalism.

5 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

  • A yoke of slavery of rules and regulations that some want to add to the gospel. And I have talked about that in previous weeks.
  1. But also, second, liberty is not license. A yoke of slavery to the flesh.

For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love. …13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

So, how does liberty not legalism and liberty not license connect in Paul’s thought? If someone does not need to adopt a Jewish way of life and all the Law provides in order to belong to the Christian community, then how in the world can one live a moral life? Isn’t the only way to live a moral life is by following rules?

Let me repeat, Paul says Freedom is not to be used to satisfy our flesh (Gal 5:13a).

  • Liberty is not a license to sin. Freedom should not be an unrestrained opportunity to engage in sin. The Gospel alone provides true deliverance from sin’s power. The first responsibility of freedom is to say “NO” to the desires of our old sinful self.
  • Galatians does not use “forgiveness” as its term to talk about God’s remedy for sin. I know, I know, forgiveness is a key term in other texts. All I’m saying is that the word is not found in Galatians. Paul, here in this text, talks about righteousness in terms of freedom. It is Christ’s victory that has set us free.
  • Desires of the flesh are listed in 5:19-21. “Fornication, impurity licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.”
  • Just in case your way of participating in sin does not make the list, your excellent ways of avoiding God are covered when he says, “and things like these.” And if your list is less spectacular than those that made Paul’s list, do not be deceived, they are no less deadly. And it is an impossible request to “not gratify the desires of the flesh” on your own And apart from the Holy Spirit, you cannot.
Missionaries Paul
Law—not license Liberty—not license
Law was needed for moral guidance Spirit is needed for moral guidance/development
Law enhances the power of the flesh Spirit enhances the virtuous life—fruit that is an evident expression of the life of God.
  • If you walk by the Spirit (5:6), are led by the Spirit (5:18), live by the Spirit, and are in step with the Spirit (5:25), there is no need for you to do the works of the Law, to adopt Jewish practices, because the Spirit will produce its fruit in you, thereby fulfilling the law. It is not automatic but will require you to crucify the flesh with its passions and desires (5:24).

Furthermore, Freedom is not to be used to exploit or take advantage of others (Gal 5:15).

  • Paul gives a concrete example. He speaks of “Biting” and “devouring” one another. He speaks of destructive talk and destructive actions.
  • The word “consume” pictures two snakes who fought over a hot-dog that the zookeeper placed in their pen. They both began to devour the meat, one on either end. When the two meet at the middle, the one with the larger mouth kept on going and consumed the other! People are often like these snakes, consuming one another with unkind words when they disagree on an issue.
  • This congregation has had a history of people being bitten and devoured by others. This fellowship should be the place of refuge, yet at times our own “friendly fire” is more damaging than anything the world throws at us. We worry more about who is right or who hurt who first than we do about making things right no matter the cost. It doesn’t matter who is right or who hurt who first or who sin the most, all that matters is making things right.
  • As the old campfire song says, “Guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride.” To do so, often I have to be willing to allow my own ego to be bruised and crushed. To do so I must forego my own rights, pride, and autonomous self. Christianity is not a democracy. It is a theocracy. Jesus sits on the throne. Compared to the cross, that cost is insignificant. Compared to the unity we can share in Christ, that cost is negligible.

Therefore, Freedom is to be used to serve one another in Love (Gal 5:13b-14).

  • Keeping in step with the Spirit can be wrapped up for Paul in a single command. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Those who are no longer under the law are led by the Spirit that produces its fruit in their lives (5:22) so that their faith expresses itself in love (5:6). Even though believers are not under the law, they fulfill the law through the love commandment (5:14).
  • The Gospel delivers us to freedom and manifests itself in our community. It is demonstrated in our loving service, not competitive striving (5:26). We live in an age obsessed with personal freedom. We want to protect our rights. In such an age, it is far too easy to hear Paul’s proclamation of freedom as a license for the indulgence of individual desires and interests. The freedom of which Paul speaks is not autonomy, a word that means “self-law” or “independent moral agent”. Freedom in Christ is a freedom that says, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (2:20). It is freedom for life together in community under God in order to serve one another in love. Especially a love that is expressed in the Fruit of the Spirit.

So, what are some practical ways my freedom makes a difference?

  • The cosmic perspective of 1:4 and 6:15 … free from the present evil age and I live into a new creation. The standards of the world around me are not restricting me. Our deep attachment to corrupt systems of measurement (education, attractiveness, 401k, etc.…), our distorted quest for identity, our malformed relationships with men and women, Christians and Muslims, Whites with other ethnicities, etc.… all of these are more than an attitude adjustment. They are symptoms of the persistence of the present evil age with which the gospel collides. No social agenda or political correctness will solve the situation, and no pedagogical strategy will suffice, because the power of evil is such that is can corrupt even the purest of motives and the sternest of resolves.
  • Paul proclaimed the good news that the release that cannot be secured by human effort has come through the action of God in Jesus Christ.
  • Therefore, we are no longer slaves to sin but slaves to one another.
  • Similar to the ropes and harness strapped to my body as I repel over a cliff face. Without the harness, I would fall to my death. The restriction of the harness gives me the freedom to experience rappelling and provides me a path forward to continue down the trail.
  • The harness of the gospel is love. Listen to the text again.

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love. …13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The illusion of freedom is to do what I want. The reality of God’s freedom is entering into the realm of God’s love that transforms me.