Claim your freedom! – Galatians 5:1-15
By Pastor Lee Hemen
August 11, 2013 AM
Freedom has different meanings today. For some, it is the ability to choose whatever you want to do whenever you want to do it. Freedom therefore is having no authority that imposes personal restrictions. Others see it as overcoming all unpleasantness in their past, present, or future. Some believe that because at one time they made a profession of faith in Christ they think they now can do as they please. These reflect a misunderstanding of Christian freedom. They forget Christian freedom is the freedom to obey Christ and reflect His character. Then there are those think that they should perform good works to solidify their relationship with God. They need to realize good works flow from love for God and others and do not earn or ensure salvation or spiritual freedom.
Although Christian freedom has elements of each of these concepts, it differs because it results from salvation through faith alone. This salvation frees us from other requirements for being saved and gives us freedom from sin and death. It also frees us for God’s service, for growing more like Christ, and for following the Spirit’s leadership. God wants us to recognize our freedom as Christians differs from ordinary views and to exercise that freedom. How do you show gratitude for freedom you have in Christ? Let’s discover what Paul shares with the Galatians…
READ: Galatians 5:1-15
As we study Paul’s words on Christian freedom, let’s consider ways each of us can help one another experience the impact of exercising the freedom we have as Christians. Paul had just concluded his allegory of two covenants—the covenant of slavery to the law and the covenant of promise and freedom. In doing so, he used the strong declaration, “We are not children of the slave [Hagar] but of the free woman [Sarah]” (4:31) He then stresses that faith in Christ, not works or the law, makes people right with God. Paul desired that we…
I. Understand our freedom! (Vv. 5:1-6)
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:1-6 NIV)
1. Paul in one brief statement summarized the entire point of his letter: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free!” By His sacrificial death, Christ provided salvation for everyone who would place faith in Him. Therefore, Paul emphasized, “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery!” Because Christ frees believers from legalism as well as sin and death, they are to stand firm in that freedom. They are to keep on living in the freedom that grace provides. The Greek word for stand firm is a strong term that has the force of tenacity, of persistence. It is the image of a deeply rooted tree withstanding strong winds. The term “yoke” evokes the image of wooden collars placed on draft animals used to pull heavy loads. Paul did not want the Galatian believers to miss the full impact of what he wrote next. “Mark my words!’ he commands them. Paul strongly warned against male Gentile believers’ allowing themselves to be circumcised. They had not done so, but they were actually considering it. If believers submitted to circumcision, they would deny salvation comes by grace through faith alone; they would embrace the false teaching that salvation comes through faith plus legalism. If they did such a thing, then Christ would “be of no value” to them! Circumcision was an outward sign of dependence on good works for a right relationship with God, but no one could keep the law perfectly. In fact, folks who rely on works to make them right with God are “alienated from Christ.” They have no relationship with Christ! Paul said, “You have fallen away from grace”, which literally means, “You have forfeited grace.” Paul did not mean genuine believers could lose their salvation; people who try to combine law and grace for salvation are not totally committed to Christ. Partial commitment to Christ is not saving faith. The truth is that “by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope!” A right relationship with God is fulfilled by faith not by legalism. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” That is, God’s love for us through Jesus is expressed by our actions to others! We don’t do good works to be saved; we do good things to express our salvation that was freely given to us! Christians need to understand their freedom!
EXAMPLE: We are free because of what Christ has done for us and given to us. His continuing presence with us empowers us as we face life’s challenges. We need to follow His leading in order to advance toward spiritual maturity. How would you describe your freedom in Christ? How often do you express gratitude to Him for that freedom? In what ways do you demonstrate your faith through practical acts of love for others? We accept our freedom by continuing to trust God and His grace for our salvation. We also rely on Him for guidance in exhibiting our faith through love. We demonstrate that we understand our freedom through acts of kindness.
Now, Paul warns against the false teachers who sought to lead the Galatian Christians back into legalism. These teachers were preventing believers from obeying the truth Paul said they were “confusing” and “agitating” them. With sharp irony, Paul stated his wish that the teachers who advocated circumcision would make themselves eunuchs. He desired that we…
II. Keep our freedom! (Gal. 5:7-12)
You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be. Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! (Galatians 5:7-12 NIV)
1. The Galatian believers “were running a good race” in Christ, but someone tripped them up! Paul asks, “Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?” He knew who the troublemakers were. The question put the spotlight on the Judaizers and presents the picture of a runner cutting in front of another and tripping him. These false teachers were hindering obedience to the truth—that salvation comes through faith in Christ alone. Paul tells them, “That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.” The inference is that it is demonic and ungodly! He reminds them, “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” A little lie infects the entire truth! Some think that doing good things so God will love them is harmless, Paul, however, warned that submission to legalism was a corruptive influence. Doing good to glorify Christ is great, but doing good in order to be right with God is demonic! Yet, Paul related, “I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be.” The Galatian believers had not fallen for the false teachers’ perversion of the gospel, and Paul felt sure they would hold to what he had taught them. Paul was sure that these agitators with false doctrines would “pay the penalty” of God’s judgment. They were lying to the Galatians saying that he preached the necessity of Gentile converts’ being circumcised. If this were true, why would they continue to persecute Paul if he also advocated circumcision? If Paul did this, he would render ineffective Jesus’ death on the cross. “In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.” The “offense” (scandal or stumbling block) of the cross, refers to the false teacher’s difficulty in accepting the concept of Christ’s sacrifice for sins. Paul used biting irony to shock the Galatians believers. Perhaps they should go further and do what pagan priests did—make themselves eunuchs! His sharp sarcasm, “I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves,” expressed the depth of his anger, frustration, and concern. He did not mean any literal harm to the teachers disturbing the Galatians. He believed the gospel was at stake and they needed to keep their freedom!
EXAMPLE: When have you used strong words to address a situation that concerned you deeply as a Christian? With what attitude and motive did you do so? We retain our freedom by resisting all efforts to inject legalism into Christianity. We need to reject such legalistic demands. We easily can fall victim to the subtle conviction that our good works enable us to retain our salvation. Paul would remind us to keep our freedom!
Paul emphasized God’s call to salvation in Christ is a call to freedom. This freedom is not license to sin but freedom to serve others. Loving ministry to people fulfills the law. Infighting among Christians, however, is destructive. Instead, we are to…
III. Use our freedom for others! (Vv.13-15)
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. (Galatians 5:13-15 NIV)
1. God had not called the Galatians to the “yoke” of legalism but to freedom. Yet Christian freedom is not to be equated with permission to sin. Paul stressed that freedom in Christ is not license to do as believers please. They were not to misuse grace as a springboard or launching pad for sinful living. Instead, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” Rather than using the liberty Christ provided as an excuse for self-indulgence, the Galatian believers were to serve one another through love. The word serve literally means, “to be a slave to.” Rather than become slaves to legalism, the believers were to willingly enter a bondage of love! The word Paul used for love is agape, God’s kind of love. Christ commanded His followers to have this kind of love for one another. Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34 NIV) Such love expresses itself in sacrificial ministry to others, including the most menial service. Christ frees believers from sin to serve Him and others. In fact, “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Love, not adherence to rules and rituals, fulfills the entire law. Paul quoted Leviticus 19:18, which Jesus had quoted in response to a question about the greatest Commandment (Mark 12:28-31). Paul contended that believers’ love for their neighbors—all people they encounter—demonstrates love for God and right relationships with others, both of which are reflected in the Ten Commandments. Loving others complies with the law’s intent. Evidently, these believers were fighting with one another, perhaps over legalism! Love for others fulfills the law, but infighting among Christians is deadly. The Judaizers’ teachings had caused conflict in the Galatian churches. At least some of the believers were “fighting like cats and dogs,” as we sometimes say. So Paul finally warns them, “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” The words bite and devour picture wild animals in a deadly struggle, inflicting fatal injuries. The result of such vicious infighting would be the destruction of Christian fellowships. Instead of fighting one another, we are to use our freedom for others!
EXAMPLE: What factors make loving other Christians difficult? By what acts of service do you express your love for other believers in your church? We are to use our freedom to serve others and help our churches. Conversely, we are to refuse to misuse it by doing what might harm others or our churches. We need to cultivate looking for opportunities to use our freedom for others!
1. We are free because of what Christ has done for us and by exhibiting our faith in love.
2. We retain our freedom by resisting all efforts to inject legalism into Christianity.
3. We are to use our freedom to serve others and help our churches and to refuse to misuse it by doing what might harm others or our church.
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 27 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.