God’s Free People

In our text this morning we see a very personal word from Paul to the Galatians. Luther said these words “breathe Paul’s own tears.”

In this passage Paul asks three questions:

  • Why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world? (9)
  • Where is that joyful and grateful spirit you felt then? (15)
  • Have I now become your enemy because I am telling you the truth? (16)

These questions will lead us to principles that can help us have a strong and intimate relationship with God.

Religious Observance is not What Pleases God (8-11)

Before you Gentiles knew God, you were slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist. So now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world? 10 You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. 11 I fear for you. Perhaps all my hard work with you was for nothing.

Notice something here. Paul describes the Gentiles as people who observed certain days, months, seasons and years. They engaged in spiritual principles of the world. In other words, they were religious. However, Paul said this was “before they knew God”.

Paul contrasted the way the Galatians used to live with the gospel of grace. He says it was not so much that they did not know God . . . God did not know them (in terms of relationship). I can claim to know lots of people. I can know lots of information about lots of people. But, the question is does the person you claim knows you, actually know you? The Galatians had been religious (they did religious things and knew the “lingo” but they were not part of God’s family.

One of my favorite introductions is this one: “Bruce Goettsche is the person of whom Billy Graham once said, “Who?”

Jesus warns us that there will be many on that final day who will hear these awful words: “Depart from me, because I do not know you.” (Matthew 7:23)

All the time they spent trying to please gods that really were not gods at all. Though they were religious, they were idolaters.

If you put your hope and confidence in anything other than the work of Christ on your behalf, you are guilty of idolatry. An idol is anything that takes the place of God in your life. It is the thing that has first priority on your time, the thing that has first claim on your money, or the thing, person, or system you turn to when you are in a bind. These things are your idols. When you trust your wisdom, your understanding, or your ability to fix things, you are guilty of idolatry. When you trust your religious devotion to make you right with God you may look Christian but you are really worshipping the idol of self-sufficiency. The Galatians had seen the truth but now they were slipping back into the idolatry of religious behavior.

Pastor Timothy Keller wrote,

Paul is saying you can either be your own lord and savior through your work, make an idol out of your work or make an idol out of sex or make an idol out of your body or make an idol out of your family, you can do that. In all those ways, you’re being your own lord and savior. You’re refusing the gospel of grace and you’re trying to earn your own salvation. You don’t think of it that way. You don’t think of it as religion, but you’re out there being your own lord and savior.

Or you can get moral, you can get very religious, and do the doggone same thing. Instead of following Christ, you’re following Christianity, and you’re actually seeking to be your own lord and savior through obedience to the law[1]

We can be very religious and still be trying to be our own lord and savior. We can do religious things and trust in the religious things we are doing rather than trusting the Lord Jesus.

The Gospel Was Meant to Set Us Free

This is just the opposite of what most people think. Most people believe that they are free and when they turn to Jesus they give up their freedom and become servants of Christ. As a result, you hear people say, “I will come to Christ, but I want to have some fun first!”

12 Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to live as I do in freedom from these things, for I have become like you Gentiles—free from those laws.

Paul says his relationship with Jesus has allowed him to live in freedom. He asked the question: where is the joyful and grateful spirit you used to have? Contrary to public opinion, The Christian faith is not meant to make us miserable. It is supposed to set us free to enjoy life.

The freedom that Christ gives us is

  • Freedom from guilt and condemnation
  • Freedom from uncertainty about our eternal future
  • Freedom to be what God has created us to be
  • Freedom from futility
  • Freedom to enter into God’s presence with intimacy rather than fear
  • Freedom from worry about the future (because we know we are in God’s hands
  • Freedom from the fear of failure that paralyzes so many people.
  • Freedom from the oppressing fear of death

In verses 8 and 9 Paul contends that we are all serving someone. He contends the Galatians were leaving the freedom that is found in Christ to go back to the bondage and emptiness of the way of the world!

We have this mistaken notion that serving the Lord is something you want to do later in life. Some say they want to “have a little fun first”. Children (and some spouses) are famous for saying, “Why do I have to go to church? It’s boring!”  They have this notion that worshipping the Lord is some kind of punishment!! It is not that we have to worship . . . we need to worship. Better yet, we get to worship. Trying to enjoy life without the Lord is like baking sugar cookies without the sugar! Or, being married without a spouse! The Lord is the author of life! He is the source of joy!

We make a serious mistake when we excuse our children from worship, Sunday School and youth group because they say they find it boring. We are trying to keep them happy but we are really handicapping them and keeping them from joy. We don’t’ take this approach with homework, medicine, going to school, brushing your teeth or taking a shower. If our children said these things are boring we would counter by saying, “these things are necessary so you can enjoy life in the future.”

Our children go into a hostile world when they head off to High School and college. They will face people who are antagonistic to the Christian faith. If we do not equip them now . . . they will be unprepared then and they will be led away from the Lord. In our attempt to “keep them happy” we are actually leading them away from happiness and sadly, away from Heaven.

Every choice is a choice to serve the Lord or to serve the Devil. We pursue Him or we pursue an idol. Sin is fun for a season but only for a season. It is kind of like getting drunk. You may feel you are having a good time while you are drinking (even though you may in reality be making a fool of yourself and completely destroying your reputation) but you sure don’t feel so jolly the next day.

Freedom is not license. We must be careful to define what we mean by freedom from the Law. Some believe freedom is being able to do whatever you want to do. But that kind of freedom does not exist. Every choice has consequences.

Do you remember when you could not wait until you were an adult? You wanted to be free from the rules and regulations of your parents. You wanted to be able to “do your own thing” and buy whatever you wanted to buy. You wanted to be free, to travel, and to have some fun! It sounded so appealing in the advertising!

But what happened? When you became an adult you no longer had to live by the rules of your parents but . . .you traded those rules for many others. You now had rent to pay, groceries to buy, and a car to maintain. You had to get a job! And that job had more restrictions than your parents! Your employers expect you to be to work on time, to take responsibility for your mistakes, and to turn in your work on time! And guess what happens to all that money you were going to use to have fun? There are bills you had to pay and something called “withholding” and some organization named FICA took huge chunks out of your check. Once you purchase a home there is always something that needed to get done. After a while you look back on your youth as the “good old days” when you were FREE and carefree!”

When we become a Christ-follower we are free to serve God as part of His family rather than as one trying to earn God’s favor. We are free to enjoy Him rather than fear Him. We are free to know peace rather than churning; confidence rather than tentativeness; hope rather than despair. We serve the Lord joyfully, out of love, rather than out of fear.

Paul gives one more principle in this text:

People of Grace Are Outward Focused/People of Law Focus Inward (12-20)

You did not mistreat me when I first preached to you. 13 Surely you remember that I was sick when I first brought you the Good News. 14 But even though my condition tempted you to reject me, you did not despise me or turn me away. No, you took me in and cared for me as though I were an angel from God or even Christ Jesus himself. 15 Where is that joyful and grateful spirit you felt then? I am sure you would have taken out your own eyes and given them to me if it had been possible. 16 Have I now become your enemy because I am telling you the truth?

17 Those false teachers are so eager to win your favor, but their intentions are not good. They are trying to shut you off from me so that you will pay attention only to them. 18 If someone is eager to do good things for you, that’s all right; but let them do it all the time, not just when I’m with you.

19 Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives. 20 I wish I were with you right now so I could change my tone. But at this distance I don’t know how else to help you.

Look at the contrast that Paul draws. When he came to them and they embraced the message of salvation through Christ alone they warmly embraced him. Paul had been faithful in the proclamation of the message of grace but he was apparently not well.

He said they would have given him their own eyes if that was possible. This leads us to think that Paul had some vision issues. It may have been the result of malaria or some other disease. It could have been macular degeneration or cataracts. It may even have the result of being beaten and pelted by rocks! The point is that these people were overflowing in kindness and generosity because of their relationship with Christ. Christ changes the way we relate to each other.

The gospel, when rightly understood, brings joy into our life and that results in generosity and love. We want to embrace others. We want to care. We want to see the Kingdom of God grow. We seek God’s glory and not our own.

The false teachers who emphasized earning salvation led to an entirely different end. They created division rather than unity. They sought to isolate the people (to control them). They were territorial. They excluded anyone who was not part of their group. Faith was a competition.

This same kind of thing can happen in the church. We can forget that the church belongs to the Lord. We serve at the pleasure of the King. Other churches are not the competition, they are allies! As soon as we become competitive and territorial we will judge people rather than love them. We will compromise what we believe to get people to join us. Eventually the message we proclaim will no longer be the gospel.

Paul said these teachers put on a “Show” advertising themselves as one thing but were in fact something quite different. They played to the crowd. It is a consumer-focused faith instead of a genuine faith. It was a game.

When rightly understood, the gospel makes us open, loving, honest, and generous. It is no accident that many hospitals, orphanages, schools, and outreach ministries had their start from churches and Christians who wanted to show the love of Christ to others. When we truly belong to Him we act toward others in the same way He has treated us.


I hope you have seen this morning that the message of Christ is meant to lead us to the freedom to be who God created us to be. He does not call us to drudgery but delight. The barrier that stands in our way is our addiction to idolatry. We get distracted by the temptations of the world. When that happens, we get lost and often end up miserable.

Let’s do a personal inventory with some questions: First, do you still have the joy of when you first came to faith? The new believer is joyful and eager to serve the Lord and share the message of the gospel with anyone who will listen.  They rejoice at the reality of forgiveness and new life. The only person who is more joyful than a new believer is the believer who has grown in their relationship with the Savior. They have discovered a sweetness to the intimacy of walking with God regularly. Does this describe you?

Are you encouraging your children that faith is boring or are you teaching them to love the things of God? Are you equipping them for the hostile world or have you (be default) surrendered them to the world?

Are you becoming more generous and more faithful? Are you more involved with others or more isolated? Are you competitive or gracious? Are you constantly criticizing other churches or are you looking for ways to build a bridge with other believers? Do you see only the problems in others or do you see their potential, and their strengths?

Everywhere you go, every commercial you see or Ad you pick up, is calling you to put your hope in something other than the Lord. These voices call us to serve the idols of our day. They are everywhere! They appeal to our desire to be good parents, good citizens, good friends, and even good church people. They are good things that have become ultimate things.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones ended a sermon this way,

“When Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China, died, they found a piece of paper in his diary. It was a loose piece of paper, and it was clear he would move it every day so that whatever else he was reading he was still looking at this very day.” It was just these verses.

O Jesus make Thyself to me

A living, bright reality,

More present to faith’s vision keen

Than any outward object seen,

More dear, more intimately nigh,

Than even the sweetest earthly tie.

Every day, Hudson Taylor was asking for Jesus’ reality. He says, “That’s the only way I’m ever going to get the freedom from idols.” If you take that prayer and you go to him every day with it, he’ll meet you. He’s not going to drag his feet. Don’t drag yours.[2]

Paul’s initial question is the one we should ponder over and over: After discovering the wonderful truth of the gospel, why in the world would we ever choose to follow someone or something else?

[1] Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).

[2] As quoted in Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).

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