Be free! – Galatians 5:1-13
By Pastor Lee Hemen
September 4, 2016
It is interesting to see how many hospitals have become aggressive advocates for certain things regarding pregnancy, birthing, and the care of newborns. So much so it sometimes borders more on being politically correct rather than the actual health of the child or the concerns of the parents. For some hospitals and how they handle circumcision is a good case in point. In our day and age where circumcision is a personal choice and does not have any actual health benefit due to greater medical research and societal cleanliness. However, whether one wants to try and make the theological argument that it is healthier or not it is no longer spiritually necessary.
Jesus put an absolute end to anyone having to follow the law in order to be saved and to go back into the law one is willingly enslaving themselves to a system that will eternally condemn them. Paul knew this to be true and desperately wanted the Galatians to understand what the danger was from them disregarding their faith in Jesus and returning to a way that would condemn and enslave them. He wanted them to understand their spiritual freedom in Jesus. He would tell them to be free; let’s discover what he meant…
When one goes back to trying to please God instead of living by faith they are enslaving themselves to trying to please God with just one more action. Paul tells the Galatians…
I. Be free in Jesus! (Vv. 1-4)
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.
1. Why would anyone want to deliberately enslave themselves after experiencing freedom? Yet some of the Galatians were willing to do just that. And sadly there are those today who are willing to do it as well. They forget what Paul wrote so many years ago that “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” This is one of the most tremendous spiritual statements ever written. Paul understood exactly what the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus meant for all mankind. Freedom from false gods, freedom from mindless idols made of wood, stone, and metal; and freedom from trying to please God by doing things. Paul therefore writes, “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” They needed to choose between bondage and freedom and to persevere in their faith. They were getting tangled up all over again with their old spiritual habits and so Paul warns them “Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.” They would not lose their salvation but they could nullify or weaken their faith by becoming dependant on doing things! “Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.” Would they really want that; to reburden their selves to the whole law after experiencing freedom? If they did those “who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” Again, for Paul the issue here is not the possible loss of salvation, Paul uses the word “grace” in reference not to salvation itself but rather to the method of salvation. They would be entangled again in the tentacles of the Mosaic Law instead of the freedom of faith in Jesus alone! Paul wanted them to be free in Jesus!
EXAMPLE: When folks decide to go back into the confines of ritual, the smoke of incense, or the chanting of meaningless words instead of Jesus alone they have fallen away from the grace God has richly given them. This is exactly where the Galatians were headed and where even some today go back to ceremony over grace. I am not trying to sound harsh here just truthful. The slavery of sacraments and sacrifices can never replace the freedom of faith in Jesus alone! Paul wanted them to be free in Jesus!
All parents understand that when their children begin to hang around friends that are a bad influence they can be swayed by those friends to do things they would not normally do. Paul tells the Galatians we are to…
II. Be free in our faith! (Vv. 5-9)
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. 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.”
1. For Paul it boiled down to what a person was willing to put their trust in and so he reiterates that it is “by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.” Faith is only tangible when one is willing to trust. Paul would write his young friend and fellow pastor Timothy concerning this kind of trust: “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12 NIV) Paul and every believer can absolutely know whom they have placed their faith and trust in because we have the Holy Spirit living in us! Our righteousness is in our hope our faith in Jesus! Whether one did extra things truly did not matter nor does it today because “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.” So for Paul we discover that “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” which God displayed for us by coming and dying on the cross! Can you imagine Usain Bolt stopping in the middle of a race during the Olympics in order to allow someone else to run for him? That’s the picture Paul was verbally painting here! “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?” Personal effort can never replace personal faith. It might make you feel good for a time, but it is based on nothing but your feelings and not faith! Paul knew where this kind of confusion comes from and it wasn’t from God! “That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.” We show our faith by what we do after we believe; we do not depend upon our works to save us. If one begins to allow one small thing to ease one’s guilt then what would be the next thing or the next? “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” Dependence upon one’s feelings always infects a person’s religion instead we are to be free in our faith!
EXAMPLE: I have been asked over and over as a pastor to define faith and the writer of Hebrews does it best when he writes, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV) Faith is based on who you are willing to trust with your life. The quantifier of faith for the believer is first and last found in Jesus Christ; either you believe in what he did or you do not, there is no in between. We are to be free in our faith!
Whether one is trying to add to their faith in Jesus by doing things or disregarding Jesus and trying to live in the world they are playing a dangerous game and Paul would tell the Galatians…
III. Be free and not sin! (Vv. 10-13)
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! 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.
1. Paul was so certain that his argument made spiritual sense that he tells them “I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view.” It was inconceivable that the Galatians would not wake up and come back to their faith. Yet he also knew those who were trying to get them back into following the Law were doing so for their own sinful pleasure and they would be judged. In fact Paul writes that “The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be.” There may have been someone who had tried to tell the Galatians that Paul was still preaching they should follow the Law and circumcision. This simply was not true and Paul tells them, “Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted?” However it may have been a counter argument by Paul, namely why was he still being persecuted by those who preached following the Law if the Law could save anyone? “In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.” Jesus died for nothing! Yet, Paul knew otherwise and he firmly believed that the Galatians did as well. However he had strong words for those who were trying to spiritually stir them up and bluntly writes, “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” If they believed so vehemently in circumcision then why don’t they just go all the way physically? Paul reminds them, “You, my brothers, were called to be free” and not enslaved again by the Law Jesus completed. There were those who evidently realized they were not winning the argument and so evidently were saying Paul was encouraging that his message of grace allowed them to sin, which was not true. In the believer’s freedom they were “not [to] use [their] freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” which is the basis of grace! We are to be free and not sin!
EXAMPLE: I have written about this and I have preached on the fact that there are those Christians who think that because Jesus loves them and forgives them they can do whatever they want whenever they want and there will be no consequences for their ungodly actions. Nothing could be further from the truth. Simply because we live by faith and not by works and are saved by the grace of God’s love for us does not mean we can live however we want. Peter would write, “Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.” (1 Peter 2:16 NIV) Paul says it best: “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.” (v. 13) — We are to be free and not sin!
Be free in Jesus! Be free in our faith! Be free and not sin!
This article is copyrighted © 2016 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.