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Teaching series from Galatians

Christian Freedom

Galatians 5:1-15

Teaching t20284


Review setting.  We come now to the transition point in Galatians.  Paul summarizes his argument thus far, and then begins to explain the practical application of his argument.  He has argued for Christian freedom, and now he begins to apply that freedom to real life.  But what is this Christian freedom?  Both the nature of Christian freedom and its application are counter-intuitive.

Stand firm in your freedom! (5:1-12)

Read 5:1 (NIV).  This is the summary of all that Paul has argued so far.  Christians have been set free by Christ, so we are to stand firm in this freedom and not revert to slavery.  What is this freedom that Christ has given us?  What is the slavery we should resist?  The following verses answer these questions(read 5:2-5).

The slavery from which Christ has freed us is slavery to the Law—specifically, “trying to be justified by law” (5:4).  This refers to trying to earn God’s acceptance by keeping his Law (avoiding sins; doing good works; observing religious rituals).  This is slavery because it is doomed to defeat.  God’s Law was never given to be the means of earning his acceptance; it was given to show us how far short we fall of God’s perfect standard, to show us how impossible it is to earn God’s acceptance by law-keeping.

The freedom that Christ gives us is the freedom of grace (5:4).  He describes this freedom of grace as “by faith eagerly awaiting through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope” (5:4).  When you simply put your faith in Jesus, he justifies you—he declares you to be not guilty, forever free from God’s condemnation.  This is not because you have become righteous in your behavior, but because through his death he paid the full penalty for all of our sins (past, present and future).  This is why Paul says we “eagerly await the hope of righteousness.”  “Hope” does not mean desiring an uncertain future outcome; it means confidence about a certain future outcome.  Because Jesus has paid for all of our sins, we can be confident that at the final judgment God will declare us to be righteous—even though we remain sinners.  So we look forward to that day instead of fearing it, because we are already free from God’s condemnation (cf.Jn.5:24; Rom.8:1).

LUTHER: “For this righteousness comes by doing nothing..., but rather in knowing and believing this only — that Christ has gone to the right hand of the Father, not to become our judge, but to become for us... our righteousness, our holiness, our salvation!  Now God sees no sin in us, for in this heavenly righteousness sin has no place.  So now we may certainly think: ‘Although I still sin, I don't despair, because Christ lives, who is both my righteousness and my eternal life.’  In that righteousness I have no sin, no fear, no guilty conscience, no fear of death.  I am indeed a sinner in this life and in my own righteousness, but I have another life, another righteousness above my life, which is in Christ, the Son of God, who knows no sin or death, but is eternal righteousness and eternal life.”1

This is why Paul is so adamant that they not submit to the Judaizers’ insistence that they get circumcised (5:2-4).  Circumcision in this setting was more than a minor hygienic surgery—it signified a commitment to try to earn God’s acceptance by keeping his Law.  Paul says this is going back to slavery after having been set free.  It is “falling from grace” because it is saying “I can earn God’s acceptance; I don’t need his grace.”  It is being severed from Christ because it is saying “I don’t need to be connected to Christ and his death for my sins; I can stand on my own righteousness before God.”  And Paul says that puts them back under obligation to keep all of God’s Law perfectly—which is to put them back under the slavery of its condemnation.

This is why (like Paul) we must stand adamantly against any counterpart to circumcision today.  The message of Christianity is good news (“gospel”), and it is good news because it is a message of freedom—complete freedom from God’s judgment by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (EXPLAIN).  The moment anyone adds any extra condition to this (EXAMPLES: AVOID CERTAIN SINS; FORGIVENESS ONLY FOR PRE-CONVERSION SINS; OBLIGATION TO DO CERTAIN GOOD DEEDS &/OR PERFORM CERTAIN RELIGIOUS RITUALS &/OR BECOME CHURCH MEMBERS), they have exchanged grace for law, and the moment we accept any part of this teaching, we have reverted from freedom to slavery.

This is why Paul rebukes the Galatians and condemns the Judaizers as false teachers (read or paraphrase 5:7-12).  And we must have the courage to do the same...

Use your freedom to serve! (5:6,13-15)

This radical freedom raises an obvious question: Since I am forever free from the Law’s condemnation, how should I use this freedom?  We instinctively answer this question in one way: “I’ll use my freedom to do whatever I desire.”  But Paul answers it in a very different way (read 5:13): “Use your freedom to serve.”  “Serve” (douluw) means to “do service as a slave.”  This sounds like contradictory double-talk—you are free from slavery, so use your freedom to be a slave!  But this is not a contradiction—it is profound wisdom.  Why should I use my freedom to serve?  Paul provides two reasons: 

First of all, the very essence of freedom is not the absence of all restraints—but rather the ability to live according to our design.  Imagine talking to a free fish who wants to use his freedom to live outside of water.  What would you say to him?  How would you counsel him to use his freedom?  You would probably say: “Sure, you are free to live outside of water—but if you use your freedom in this way you will wind up being completely unfree (dead).”  Why?  Because fish are designed to live in water, not on dry land.  Freedom for fish, therefore, is not freedom to live outside water, but to fulfill his “fishness”—which by definition means living in water.

In the same way, God has designed human beings—so freedom is living according to God’s design for our lives.  And what is this design?  At the very core, it is to love, to be givers.  We are created in God’s image, and God is a community of Persons who give themselves to one another in love.  And since we were created as God’s image-bearers, we were designed to give ourselves to others in love.

This is why Paul reminds us that the very heart of the Old Testament law is summed up by the command to love our neighbor as ourselves (5:14).  If we use God’s Law as the means by which we try to earn his acceptance, it becomes our slave-master.  But if we see that God’s Law is a description of his  design, it can point us to freedom.  So the more we become to love-givers, the more free and fulfilled we will be (Jn.13:17; Acts20:35)
Conversely, our desire to use others to gratify our lusts, though it feels so “natural,” is actually a perversion of our design.  And the more we misuse our freedom to violate our design by using others to gratify our selfish lusts, the more we will damage ourselves and others—and the more miserable we will become.  That’s why Paul gives the warning of 5:13b,15.  And that’s why abundant research confirms that givers are happy, and takers are miserable (NEXT WEEK).

“OK, I buy this, but I still have a deeply ingrained desire to be a taker, and I still live in a culture that constantly entices me to be a taker and promises me that being a taker will make me happy.  Simply understanding (and even believing) that loving others brings freedom and fulfillment is not enough to transform me into a giver.  Where do I find this transforming power, and how do I tap into it?”   Paul’s answer may surprise you—it is God’s grace.  The same grace that sets you free from God’s judgment also provides you with the motivation and power to use your freedom to be a love-giver. 

Paul alludes to this back in 5:6 (read).  The life that God designed for us, the life that makes us free, has nothing intrinsically to do with circumcision (or any religious ritual).  The life of freedom is “faith working through love.”  Faith in what?  Faith in God’s grace, trust in God’s love for us through Christ.  A life that focuses on and relies on God’s love through Christ is energized (energeo) to express itself by gratefully giving God’s love to others.  This is why John says: “We love, because he first loved us.” (1Jn.4:19)

This is the “SCROOGE” phenomenon (EXPLAIN).  When I realize how sinful I am, and what I deserve from God for my sins, God’s mercy and grace blow my mind.  And as I allow God’s love to sink into my heart, a miracle takes place—his Spirit makes my heart well up with gratitude to God and the desire to give God’s love to others.  And the more I live my life focused on the amazing grace of God, the more his Spirit motivates and empowers me to live a lifestyle of self-giving love.

What Paul alludes to in 5:6, he spells out in Titus2,3.

Read Titus2:11-14 (NIV).  It is the grace of God that not only saves us, but also “teaches” (paideuw - trains) us to reject self-centered living and embrace a lifestyle of self-giving love.
Read Titus3:3-8 (NLT).  Why does Paul want Titus to insist on (diabebaiomai - affirm strongly and consistently) the grace of God?  “So that” these Christians will devote themselves to a lifestyle of serving love that is good and beneficial—both for others and for themselves.  It is focusing consistently and intently on God’s amazing grace that motivates us to become grateful givers—and this draws others to God’s grace!

This is why Martin Luther says: “When we receive this Christian righteousness, we consequently can live a good life, naturally, out of gratitude. If we try to earn our righteousness by our many good deeds, we actually do nothing.  We neither please God through our works-righteousness nor do we honor the purpose for which the law was given... (But) When I have this Christian righteousness reigning in my heart, I descend from heaven as the rain making fruitful the earth. That is to say... I do good works, how and whensoever occasion is offered...”2

Is your life increasingly characterized by gratitude to God and freely given love to others?  If not, ask God to open the eyes of your heart to his grace—and meditate prayerfully on what his Word says about his grace (READING LIST?)

1 Martin Luther, Preface to Galatians.

2 Martin Luther, Preface to Galatians