Preached at Northwest Christian Church
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning, July 24, 2011
Galatians 5:1-18, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love. You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in you, in the Lord, that you will have no other mind; but he who troubles you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is. And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased. I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off! For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”
What does it mean to be truly free? During this month that we might call 'Freedom Month', we have been exploring and investigating this question, “What does it mean to be truly free?” The words of Jesus in John chapter eight, the teaching of the apostle Paul delivered by letter to the church in Corinth, located in 1 Corinthians chapter six, the joyful proclamation of the good news to the poor, the oppressed, the enslaved that Jesus preached at His 'home church', the synagogue in Nazareth, recorded in Luke chapter four. These passages of Scripture and what they contain related to the subject of true freedom, have been our study focus up to this point. If you happened to miss any of these messages and want to learn more about the subject, I suggest that you go to those places for more information and insight.
Today, however, we come to Paul's words in what some have called the 'Epistle of Liberty', the book of Galatians, and to what may very well be some of the most practical teaching in all of the Bible pertaining to the issue of true freedom. Before we examine these words of Paul which he wrote as the Holy Spirit enabled and inspired him, we need to sort of set the background for them, so that we might understand them accurately.
When the apostle Paul preached the gospel, whether he was preaching to Jews in a synagogue, or to Gentiles in the market place, he always, ultimately, came around to the fundamental fact of the Christian religion, and that is that salvation, deliverance from one's sins, from their guilt, from their condemnation, from their deserved punishment, and even from their life-controlling power, was to be found and realized always and only by faith in Jesus Christ. No amount of works on my part, not even works of the highest quality, could be added to my simply trust in Christ, and what He did for me at Calvary, to sort of tip the scales in my favor, when I stand before God. Whether he was preaching to the Jews in one of their synagogues, or to the Gentiles on their 'turf', Paul's message, the gospel he proclaimed, was always the same: “For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast...” (Ephesians 2:8-9) Or, as he put it right here, in the Epistle of Liberty, the letter to the churches of Galatia, “we who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.”
This was Paul's message, the gospel he proclaimed wherever he went. But, like people often do, there were some who misunderstood what he intended by what he said. Some who even twisted what he said to fit their own distorted, and selfish ends. And, here's how they did so: they took Paul's words, and ran with them in one of two different directions. Can't you just imagine the dialogue between these folks who had heard Paul and misunderstood him, and Paul, as he tried to correct their errors? “Paul, hey Paul, you said that through faith in Jesus Christ, I am forgiven, set free. But, listen, I still need some rules to guide me. In fact, I need some rules to keep so that I can TELL everybody about what I'VE done. Paul, what do you think about my 'Legalism' and my pride in keeping the law?” That's one wrong direction people went with Paul's words. Then, there's the other direction that some others went with Paul's teaching. “Hey Paul, you say that through faith in Jesus Christ I am forgiven, set free? Yippee! Now I can live like I've always wanted to live! Now, I can pursue every passion and pleasure I've always wanted to indulge in, because, like you said, I am 'free in Christ...' What do you think, Paul?” In logic, I believe they call this a 'false dichotomy', a situation where two options - you know, 'door number one': legalism, and the self-centered pride that goes with it, and 'door number two,' license, and the self-centered, fleshly indulgence that goes with it. In logic, they call this a false dichotomy, because what you're doing, if you go this way, is that you are setting up two options, and only two, as if there is no other possibility out there, no 'door number three,' if you will. But, what does the apostle Paul do? How does he deal with this apparent 'either/or', 'legalism' or 'license' dilemma? Is there a 'door number three'? And, if there is, how does it set us straight on the issue, our key question for 'freedom month': “What does it mean to be truly free?”
Take a look at what the Holy Spirit directed Paul to write, here in the Epistle of Liberty, Galatians chapter 5. What does it mean to be truly free? Before we discover Paul's answer to that question, the 'door number three' to which he points us, notice what he describes what true freedom is not. Verse one, and really a large portion of the rest of this letter, the message is: “Christ has not set us free only to be enslaved again...”
Read it again with me, will you?
Galatians 5:1-6, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.”
You see what Paul's saying here, don't you? You get the point, right? True freedom is not a doorway into another form of bondage, an indebtedness to keeping the whole law! An estrangement from Christ, a falling from grace! Why? Because true freedom, you know, “If the Son sets you free, then you shall be free indeed...” True freedom is not a doorway into another form of bondage because true freedom because true freedom keeps you connected to Christ and what He has done for you at Calvary! To restate what Paul says in verses one and two, when we stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, Christ profits us EVERYTHING. What He has done for us benefits us in every way!
What does it mean to be truly free? Well, using Monte Hall's terminology again for a moment, true freedom is NOT an invitation to see what's behind door number one, the one that's marked self-centered, pride-oriented 'LEGALISM'. Nor, is it a call to explore what is behind door number two, the one that is marked self-centered, lust-driven, 'LICENSE'. Take a look again at verses 13 & following:
Galatians 5:13-21, “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Door number one – My, oh, my, how the Deceiver wants to use that 'other way' to lead us away from the One who IS the Way. “Jesus, look at me! Look at what I've done! I've attended every service, been one of the first ones there, in fact. I've studied my lesson, memorized my verses, carried my Bible, prayed my prayers, put my money in the offering plate, Jesus, did you see all of that?” Galatians 6:13, “Not even those who are circumcised (who walk through door number one) keep the law, rather, their desire for you to walk through that door with them, is so that they can boast in you, in your decision to walk through door number one!
And, door number two, the one marked 'LICENSE', self-centered, FLESHLY lust-driven LICENSE. My, oh, my how the Deceiver wants to use THAT 'other way' to lead us away from the One who IS the Way, also! Think of it! “Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, all kinds of sexual 'freedom', idolatry, sorcery, all kinds of religious 'freedom', hatred, contentions, jealousies, out-bursts of wrath, all kinds of relationship 'freedom'. Where does a decision to live on the other side of that 'door,' ultimately, take you? Galatians 5:21, “those who practice such thins will not inherit the kingdom of God!
But, now I have to ask you, is there another way? Is there another 'door' to pass through to real freedom? There is, it's called Christ-like love. Take a look again at our text, the Spirit-inspired words, the infinitely wise words of the Apostle Paul. You think that law, legalism is the way to go? Don't look to door number one again. Look no further than love, door number three. Galatians 5:6, the apostle Paul, using the language of lawyers, “in Christ (key phrase there) circumcision and uncircumcision have no legal validity, no legal significance as far as being in Christ is concerned! What does? Are you concerned about keeping the law? Do you remember the parable Jesus told when asked by a lawyer what he must DO to inherit eternal life? Jesus described for that would-be-legalist the story of a Priest and a Levite, who passed by a beaten and bloody man laying on the side of the Jericho road. Two letter-of-the-law people who had forgotten what the law said about loving one's neighbor! Jesus also depicted for him the tender compassion and generous need-meeting ministry of a Samaritan, who did stop to help the beaten and bloody man. Then, what did Jesus say? Are you concerned about keeping the law, including the one that says, “Love your neighbor as yourself?” Go and do likewise! Put your faith into action, through tender-hearted, others-focused, love! Christ-like love! That's the way to true freedom!
Or, maybe you're enticed by the fact that, in Christ, there is no no condemnation, no more punishment, no more judgment, no more guilt. I am free! I can do as I please! Don't misunderstand true freedom in that wrong-headed! Don't mis-use your 'in Christ liberty' by transforming it, by twisting it into self-centered license! No! Galatians 5:13 – Rather, use your freedom, this gift of God, this high and holy calling in and through Jesus Christ, use it as a starting point, a base of operations, a resource reservoir for the most life changing expedition you'll ever make, the expedition through a door marked “loving service to others!” A door marked “walking in, living by means of the Holy Spirit” not self-oriented, sin-directed, flesh...
What does it mean to be truly free? Powerful question, isn't it? But, you know something? There is a question behind that question. A question whose answer unlocks, throws wide open door number three. I'm talking about this question: How can I know and experience this true freedom?
Galatians 6:14-15, “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.”
In front of door number three, that door to true freedom, stands a cross, our statue of liberty! Through Christ, and what He did for us at Calvary, the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. In Christ, circumcision, keeping the law, uncircumcision, living like there is no law, those 'doors' no longer have a hold on me, they have no validity in my life. Why? Because in Christ, I am a new creation!