Do you ever feel like your life is out of control? Does it seem like you spend so much time trying to please others that you have no time left for yourself? Do you sometimes feel like you can never measure up to the expectations of others?
If you answer yes to those questions, then you are like a majority of people. You are tired, but you can’t seem to find a way to get off the treadmill. This morning Paul’s words will speak to this desire.
When it comes to the Bible, we are told that we are free. Jesus told us that “the truth will make us free”. And in the book of Galatians we are told that we are free and should guard that freedom from those who would take it away (and they are many). If we have genuinely put our confidence in Christ, we cannot lose our salvation (because it is something God did for us), but we can lose our freedom if we surrender to fear. We can lose freedom if we do not stand guard over that freedom. This is where Paul begins our text in Galatians 5:1
So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. (5:1)
Hold On to Your Freedom (5:1)
Paul is not talking here about religious freedoms we possess in America or anywhere else. People who use this verse to rally political followers are distorting the message of the Bible. Paul is talking about a personal freedom. God has given us freedom from guilt, from the burden of trying to be perfect (by obeying the law), and freedom from having to live up to the expectations of others. He has given us freedom from the power of sin in our life and freedom to become what God created us to be. Our freedom is wonderful and life-altering.
This freedom in Christ is the realization that we are loved even though there is nothing in us that deserves God’s love. We are set free from the condemnation of the Law because Jesus has already paid our penalty! No more looking over our shoulder. No more beating ourselves up over failures. No more leaving church feeling like we have more to do than we did when we came in.
Some of you remember the tearing down of the Berlin wall in Germany. It was an incredible picture of the effect of freedom in the lives of people. The freedom that we have in Christ is just as dramatic. Author and Pastor Steve Brown puts it this way,
You really are and truly and completely free.
There is no kicker. There is no if, and, or but. You are free. You can do it right or wrong. You can obey or disobey. You can run from Christ or run to Christ. You can choose to become a faithful Christian or an unfaithful Christian. You can cry, cuss, and spit, or laugh, sing, and dance. You can read a novel or the Bible. You can watch television or pray. You’re free . . . really free. (A Scandalous Freedom p.12)
Think about taking your dog out to a field where you take the leash off of them and let them run free. They jump, they run and they joyously mark their territory. Your dog doesn’t run away. They know who their master is . . . they simply are enjoying life with the freedom that has been given to them.
That is the picture of what the believer is supposed to look like. We are supposed to be the most joyful, and enthusiastic people around because the Lord Jesus has set us free! We don’t live recklessly . . . we just live as those who have had their leash (the bony finger of the Law) removed.
Unfortunately, this liberating freedom is often absent in the church. The church is sadly filled with people who are burdened with guilt and made to feel that they are miserable failures who need to do “just a little bit more.” This is a perversion of the gospel.
Be On Guard against That Which Destroys Freedom (5: 2-12).
There are two things that destroy freedom: Things that are added to the gospel and those who add them.
2 Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3 I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses. 4 For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.
5 But we who live by the Spirit eagerly wait to receive by faith the righteousness God has promised to us. 6 For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love.
7 You were running the race so well. Who has held you back from following the truth? 8 It certainly isn’t God, for he is the one who called you to freedom. 9 This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough! 10 I am trusting the Lord to keep you from believing false teachings. God will judge that person, whoever he is, who has been confusing you.
11 Dear brothers and sisters, if I were still preaching that you must be circumcised—as some say I do—why am I still being persecuted? If I were no longer preaching salvation through the cross of Christ, no one would be offended. 12 I just wish that those troublemakers who want to mutilate you by circumcision would mutilate themselves.
Here is Paul’s argument: if you think you have to be circumcised (or any other requirement) before you can be saved or made right with God, then you don’t understand the gospel. If you feel that there is something you have to DO to gain salvation, then, says Paul, Christ is of no benefit to you.
In fact, if you feel you have to obey one of the laws before you can be made right with God, you are putting yourself back under all of the laws. You are once again following the faith where you have to earn your own way. The reason for this is that when we make salvation contingent on what we do, we trust ourselves rather than Christ for salvation. We will never be an adequate savior.
This is why Paul goes into this discourse on circumcision. It is not that circumcision as an act is bad (it is not . . .one of Paul’s companions (a Jew) was circumcised . . .one was not), it is that circumcision as a requirement for salvation is wrong! He says, if the people give in to this requirement (in order to be saved) they have abandoned the liberating truth of the gospel. Yet . . . much of the church has requirements that must be met in order to receive the grace of God!
Steve Brown asks,
How did we get so religious? Where did we go wrong? Where did all the layers of rules and regulations come from? How is it being forgiven has made us feel so guilty, being loved his is so uptight, being free is made us so bound? How did sinners who have been forgiven repeatedly become judges? (Ibid p. 78)
The requirement of circumcision for salvation is no longer a debate in the church but there are a host of other things that have taken the place of circumcision. When we say something additional is needed for salvation, we are saying the sacrifice of Christ was not sufficient for our salvation. We are saying we are saved by Christ + (fill in the blank).
I am going to step on some toes here but the most popular substitute for the requirement of circumcision today is baptism. Let me speak very carefully here . . . Christians should be baptized. The Bible commands this public profession of faith. But saying we should be baptized and saying we can’t be made right with God (saved) unless we are baptized, are two very different things. Those who require baptism for salvation are leading people into a works-based relationship with God. To proclaim baptism as necessary to salvation is to put the leash back on the dog.
But baptism is just one of many things:
- Church membership
- Speaking in tongues
- Reading a certain version of the Bible
- Holding to a particular theory of the end times
- Saying a particular prayer
- Walking an aisle
- Here’s a popular one . . . The elimination of various “vices” (you need to stop smoking, dancing, drinking, playing cards, living together, going to the movies and a whole bunch more). Many of these things can siphon our joy AS believers but they must not be required for us to BECOME a believer.
These false messages come from False Messengers. We must always be on guard for teachers who are leading us astray. Here’s the difficulty: many of the people who are leading us astray are well-meaning and even sincere lovers of Jesus. I think I can even go so far as to say, “We likely have all been guilty of teaching falsely on this issue. We will take an issue that matters to us and make it the test of a person’s faith.
So how do we guard against this? First, you need to understand the message of the gospel. We have hammered away at this message in these sermons in Galatians. We are saved by grace (God’s gift) ALONE and we appropriate that gift by faith alone. In other words, we are saved by putting all our confidence in what Jesus has done for us. It is a gift. A staggering gift, to be sure, but a gift.
Second, study under good teachers and keep your Bible open. You want to make sure that verses are used in the context in which they were written. Anyone can string together a bunch of Bible verses and make an argument look Biblical. However, we must always look to see if the argument the speaker is making is actually the same argument the Biblical writer is making. Look for teachers who can help you understand clearly what the Bible is saying. Hang around with other believers who are eager to grow and unafraid to ask questions. The best part of adult Sunday School is the spirited conversation! It is a rich learning environment.
Third, watch for some telltale signs of false teachers.
- They emphasize laws and rules. Every time you leave these teachers you feel like you had better start doing better or you are in trouble
- Theytry to control your life. These teachers love talking about the responsibility of church “submit to authority”. As a result, they feel they can tell you what you should do, can’t do, and need to stop doing . . . or else!
- They use teaching as a means to some other end (politics, protests, social crusades, or even pursuing the “vision” of the Pastor!).
I like this illustration,
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 every Christian. You know, but you don’t know. You know that you’ve been saved from slavery to sin and that you should be free. If you really believed in your heart what you know with your head (i.e., that there is no condemnation for you because you are in Christ Jesus, and God regards you as perfect because of Christ’s righteousness), then you would not still be a slave in your heart to success or to what other people think of you.
We are like those freed slaves. We can stand in freedom or we can cave in to the pressures of those who seek to control us and act like we are still imprisoned. We must act on what we know is true.
III. Freedom Is About Service Not Indulgence (5: 13-15).
13 For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. 14 For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.
Paul says we have been set free. But freedom needs to be respected or it turns into anarchy. God gave us freedom not so we could indulge all our appetites or recklessly romp through life. He gave us freedom not so we could sin. He gave us freedom so we did not have to sin. Sin is bondage to our desires and ultimate to the Devil. Living in freedom is following Christ.
Paul contrasts freedom that is selfish, versus freedom that has been able to cast aside selfishness and truly itself to others.
We understand this from our freedom as Americans. If we truly appreciate the freedom that we have, we do not simply do whatever we want. This would turn freedom into chaos. It would result in the strong victimizing the weak. We instead work to keep our freedom by voting, paying attention to what is going on, enacting laws that protect the society, and even raising our voices in protest when it is necessary. There are responsibilities to maintain freedom.
Paul says there is responsibility with our spiritual freedom as well. Our responsibility is to use our freedom in a way that honors the One who made us free. As Jesus loved us, so we should love one another.
The danger of freedom is that it can make us reckless. That’s why Paul warns the church. If they are biting and devouring each other they destroy each other and play right back into the hands of Satan who is looking for a way to enslave us once again. If he can get us to surrender our freedom to engage in pettiness, bitterness, and selfishness, he will have successfully enslaved us once again. The first step to living free is to see past ourselves to see the richness God has created in others.
The Balance that Must Be Maintained
As followers of Christ we have been set free from the slavery that governed our life. We have been set free of the anxiety, the guilt, and the burden of trying to please God and other people. The Lord dealt with all of this decisively on the cross. As a result, we are free to worship, to dance, to raise our hands, to life our voices, and to love one another with abandon. We are free to get back up after we fall. We are free to rest and to enjoy life. We are free to be honest in our prayers, our worship, and our service.
In living spiritually free we must guard against two dangers: the first danger is to understand freedom as license to sin without consequence. True believers will still sin. Those sins are all graciously covered by the blood of Jesus. However, the consequences of those sins; the repercussions are still there. Our task is to be responsible in the way we handle our freedom.
The second danger is to siphon off the freedom of others by playing spiritual policeman. This is when we set up all kinds of laws that people must follow in order to be considered a true believer. The minute we do this . . . we become a false teacher.
David Platt and Tony Merida give this telling application,
A real test for a teacher is whether or not he or she teaches like a Pharisee or like Paul. Jesus said that the Pharisees tie up “heavy loads” with their list of rules, putting a yoke on the hearers (Matt 23: 4). That teaching crushes people. It is lifeless. It offers no hope and no security. Paul, on the other hand, takes people to Christ as their final resting place. In Christ, we find our peace, liberty, joy, and security. If you are a mother, are you taking your kid to Mount Sinai’s laws and leaving him there? Or are you taking him from there and going to Calvary for grace? Let us point our children to the Liberator and Redeemer. The default mode of the heart is self-justification (working for your salvation). Every child is a Pharisee in the making. We must teach them the gospel, which is counter-intuitive. Say, “You can’t, but Jesus did!” Give them grace. Give them Galatians. (Exalting Jesus in Galatians p. 99, italics mine)
We have been given an amazing gift. It is so amazing we keep thinking we have to pay for it somehow. That attitude only offends the generous giver. If you are feeling beat up or that you can’t measure up, then you are not hearing the gospel clearly. You and I have been given freedom! As a result, we can dare to live boldly, risk failure, and be completely honest and genuine. We don’t have to pretend any longer.
In this freedom we can admit our struggles and doubts without feeling God is going to kick us out of His Kingdom. We are free to learn deep lessons by our failures and experience humble joy in our blessings.
Freedom is a wonderful thing. It would be foolish to give it away or to squander it.
 Platt, David; Merida, Tony (2014-08-04). Exalting Jesus in Galatians (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (p. 98). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.