Freedom For What
Scripture: Galatians 5:13–15
Freedom For WhatGalatians 5:13-15
Sunday, August 19, 2012
Pastor Randy Smith
What comes to mind when you think of freedom? Perhaps you recall our forefathers and the freedom they experienced when they declared independence from the tyranny of England. Perhaps you are going to college and freedom is being able to establish your own rules. Perhaps you just paid your final mortgage payment and being without debt is freedom. Perhaps you recall the African slave trade and the freedom granted to them after the Civil War. Perhaps your summer vacation begins tomorrow and you are looking forward to a week or two of freedom.
The Bible speaks of a freedom in a way far greater than all these examples. You see, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, the Bible declares that all of us are slaves not to a person or a job or a government. We are enslaved to our passions and sins and even our religious systems. This slavery brings an oppressive bondage on all humans that leads to guilt, despair, hopelessness, frustration, emptiness and condemnation. As a matter of fact, I would submit that if people were given the total freedom they desire apart from governmental and moral restraint to do whatever they desired, their bondage and subsequent misery would only increase. But this is why Jesus came. He said we are slaves (Jn. 8:34). And He said in John 8, "If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed" (Jn. 8:36). But what kind of freedom was He talking about?
This bondage to sin is our greatest problem as humans. We are so far away from God that we have separated ourselves from His love and acceptance. All of us have dug ourselves into a deep hole unable to reach our holy God who stands on the surface. So we make a ladder and attempt to climb to Him. We create all kinds of religious rules that we feel will successfully get us out of the hole. But in the end all it leads to is more frustration, confusion and self-condemnation. Ironically in our attempt to escape the bondage, we only worsen our condition (cf. Gal. 4:9). In our quest to see the light of freedom, we only sink deeper into the darkness of captivity.
And then God opens our eyes to the truth. We finally realize that the way out of the hole is not the same way we entered. We finally accept what the Bible teaches that salvation is not based upon our efforts, but rather the grace that God provides. We finally realize that we can never achieve God's favor on our own, but receive it only through the work of Jesus Christ who took all our sins upon Himself and paid the penalty we deserved. We come to Christ by faith. All of our sins are forgiven. The guilt is removed. God eternally becomes our Father. We are granted peace and satisfaction. The shackles are broken. Freedom! Remember Galatians 5:1? "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery."
Now for today's materials. As a Christian, how do I then presently enjoy this freedom? If my efforts to please God before salvation brought a curse (Gal. 3:10), should I no longer make any efforts to obey the commandments after salvation? Since God forgives all sins, is my freedom now the ticket to do whatever I please? "Oh salvation, the blessed condition, I can sin as much as I want and still have remission!" What does it means to be "called to freedom" as verse 13 teaches and how does that apply to my life now that I am a Christian? That is the question we will answer this morning through two negative and two positive responses.
1. What Freedom Does Not Produce
Let's begin with what freedom does not produce. Verse 13, "For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh" (stop right there).
Before there is any time to allow our minds to draw a false conception of what Christian freedom is, Paul clarifies what he intends. It is so sad how I have heard Christians use this verse to justify sinful behavior (cf. Jude 1:4) and never quote the remainder of the verse that explains the nature of this freedom God intends us to enjoy! Yes, we are called to freedom, but in that freedom we are to avoid using it as "an opportunity for the flesh."
The "flesh" when used in this context means not our physical bodies, but rather our fallen corrupt condition that opposes God. When we come to Christ, the old man is killed, but the remnants of the old man called the flesh are still active in a weakened sense seeking to draw us into sin. So as believers, every second of the day we have the opportunity to walk according to the Holy Spirit or walk according to the flesh (Gal. 5:15-17).
So when you hear about your freedom in Christ, do you see it as an opportunity for the Spirit or an opportunity for the flesh? Paul in verse 13 says we should not do the former.
Here is the way it goes wrong. I'm free in Christ. That means God forgives me of all my sins. That means I have no restraints because I now live under grace. So instead of battling the desire for sexual impurity, I'll feed the flesh and watch the movie. Instead of loving my neighbor who wronged me, I'll feed the flesh and give her a piece of my mind. Instead of being honest on my tax returns or faithful on my church givings, I'll feed the flesh and keep some money for myself. You get the point.
Even as Christians we all have that inner desire to sin. As we learned last week from verse 5, we are "waiting for the hope of righteousness." So while we long for perfect righteousness in heaven because we all know the present struggle with sin we still face, we all know that sin still seems attractive at times. We can fight it, or we can give in. And if we choose to give in, what better way to justify it than by using the Bible to do so! So for many, when they hear about freedom, they take it to mean an unbridled passport to sin.
Yet this verse tells us to do exactly the opposite. "Do not use your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh." A little further down in verse 24, God calls us to crucify the flesh with its passions and desires. So far be it for any of us to use a beautiful blessing from God that came entirely at the expense of Jesus Christ to justify our sin by giving the flesh an opportunity.
2. What Freedom Does Produce
So if freedom is not a freedom to sin by giving the flesh an opportunity, what is our freedom intended to produce? Verse 13 again, "For you were called to freedom, brethren; [here is the negative] only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but [and here is the positive] through love serve one another." Our freedom is a freedom from sin. Therefore it is not a freedom to sin, but rather a freedom to love! You would think Paul would parallel his former comment and say "righteousness," but interestingly he says to pursue "love." I think he says love because love is the root of all righteousness (1 Cor. 13:6).
Let me see if I can explain this. Before you came to Christ the Bible says you were in bondage. Bondage to what? Answer: your sin. Sinning was a byproduct of your fallen nature. And what is the root of every sin? Answer: pride. Before Christ you were in bondage to yourself. You were number one in your affections. Yet when you came to Jesus He freed you of this love affair to self. He gave you a new heart with new desires. He became your Lord and Master. And He gave you two new commandments that you are to love the Lord first and love others second (Mt. 23:37-39). He gave you faith as we learned last week in verse 6. That faith works and displays itself in love. God is love and when He took up residence in your heart, you were empowered to love as He loves. So the freedom we enjoy is not a freedom to sin. Where is the conversion in that? The freedom we enjoy is the freedom to die to self and consider God and others more important, loving them more than we love ourselves for the first time in our lives.
Being a Christian means more than a decision; it means God radically changing our hearts whereby we take on the very nature of Jesus Christ. And what is the nature of Jesus Christ? It is one of self-giving and self-sacrifice. Was there any greater demonstration of this love than His sacrifice on the cross?
"Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:5-8).
Jesus was able to continually empty Himself because He was (and is) being God, filled with God. He didn't need to use people to fill up His empty love tank. He was only able to love, give of Himself for the glory of the Father and the good of all people. Likewise when God changes our hearts, that past need to be accepted and rewarded and esteemed by others falls away because we have received all that we need from Christ. He dwells within us through the Holy Spirit. He produces spiritual fruit in our lives, namely love (Gal. 5:22). We are filled and then able to overflow that love to serve God and meet the needs of others. It is the difference between being empty and using people and/or God to get what we want and being filled with God and overflowing to glorify God and serve others. That is the freedom we have as Christians, and when it is seen amongst God's people, it is beautiful.
Let me paraphrase a wonderful illustration that John Piper once gave of this principle. The prideful nonChristian living for self treats others like a vacuum cleaner. He or she uses people, sucking as much as they can form others in an effort to fill their own emptiness. Their perceived needs are their god and the true God and others are their venues to get what they want. And they take and take and take and when their sources can no longer feed their pride there people are discarded like a dirty bag from their inner compartment. Yet the Christian is compared to a mountain stream. He or she desires to put God first and in doing so adopts His priorities and His character. They tap into the Spirit by abiding in Jesus Christ. The spiritual fruit of love is produced in their lives and like a mountain stream they overfull to bless all in the valley below with clean and refreshing water.
You may be wondering, why are many of the professing Christians I have encountered over the years nothing like this? I can't be sure of their heart, but here is the greatest possibility that comes to mind. There is a good possibility that they were never truly born-again. Salvation is more than a prayer or church affiliation. It is a radical change of the heart empowered by the Holy Spirit and this is the only way one is capable of producing this kind of God-honoring love.
Unsaved professing Christians (or maybe those very immature in their faith) think being a Christian only means avoiding big sins, attending a church when it's convenient and offering some token prayers before dinner. Unbelievers are perfectly capable of pulling these things off! You see, these are the very people who hear about freedom and then do use it as "an opportunity for the flesh" (Gal. 5:13). But true believers have had a heart transplant. True believers hate sin as much as God hates sin. True believers want to serve the way Christ served the Father. True believers want to love others and not use others for selfish gains. And when the true believer hears that this is available because they are now free to be all that they want and all that God desires, they rejoice and the reality of their conversion is clearly demonstrated through the radical display of love to God and others in their actions.
Now, if this attitude were present in our church, don't you think things would radically change around here? From the way visitors are treated to the way other believers are cared for to the passion to share Jesus with others to the desire to pray for the needs of the body to the interest in spending time together to the yearning to contribute to the needs of this local assembly. You know, the deeds are important, but true love is always measured by the heart. Does this describe your heart?
Paul elaborates this point in verse 14, "For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"
Jesus Christ has fulfilled the law for the Christian. Because of His work on the cross He has met all the demands of the law on our behalf. But what Paul says, if we were to take the entire law of God and boil it down into one word, that word would simply be "love." Therefore as Christians who now love God and His will, how can we not prioritize the need to love? As I said last week, every sin is simply a desire to love myself more than I love God or others. Love is not a work to earn God's favor. It is now the overflow of His Spirit working in me giving evidence that I am saved by grace. Christians must love but it may be better to say they will love if they are truly walking with the Lord.
But Pastor, doesn't the verse teach that I am to love myself? Doesn't it say to love your neighbor "as yourself?" Yes it does. So shouldn't we then teach, as many secularists do that we cannot love others until we learn to first love ourselves? Answer: no. Because everything about the Christian faith is a death to self. All that we have covered in this context teaches this. 1 Corinthians 13:5, "Love "does not seek its own." There is nothing supernatural about loving yourself. Jesus Christ did not deny Himself and give up Himself to make us learn to love ourselves more. He died because we already love ourselves too much! We are experts at putting ourselves first. Ephesians 5:29, "For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it." So this is not a command for self-love. This is an assumption that we already love ourselves (not of which all is evil) and the way we love ourselves already is to be the example of how we are to love others.
Let me put it this way: Think about how much you have already loved and served yourself in just the first few hours of this day? Shower? Make-up or shaved? Dressed yourself? Breakfast? Temperature in the car? Decided to come to church? Favorite seat? That's a lot of time and thought and energy you put into your own needs already! Do you love others that much? The command, so lofty, is to do so!
3. What Freedom Does Not Produce
So we learned that we are called to freedom. Then we learned that this freedom is not an opportunity for the flesh. But rather we are to use our freedom through love to serve one another. If we do so we will love others as we love ourselves, and now the final point, if we fail to do so, verse 15, we will "bite and devour one another" and be "consumed by one another." The imagery is that of wild animals when they are hungry. Without Christ we are empty and will devour one another. With Christ we are full and will love one another.
Christian freedom is the freedom to overcome sin and allow the Holy Spirit to produce fruit in us (verses 22 and 23), specifically love and then "joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness [and] self-control." Imagine a church or a home where all acted with these traits? Yet if we are not in Christ or fail to walk in the Spirit we will indeed walk in the flesh and the result will be things like (verses 19-21), "Enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissentions, factions, [and] envying." Self will be preeminent and the culture (much like we see in the world today) will be anything but that which is identified by love. As I said earlier, people will live only to see their desires met and God and others will be the tools used to achieve them. Anarchy - chaos - disharmony - an environment where God is dishonored and people are hurt and the slavery that people have to their sin or pride is revealed.
It is really rather simple, yet we misunderstand it or try to make it more complex. It is about freedom for the Christian. That does not mean we are free from grace and adopt legalism believing we need to follow a strict code of rules to earn God's favor. Nor does it mean that we are free from law and adopt licentiousness believing that once saved by grace we can reject all of Christ's commands. Our good deeds do not save us, but once saved they give evidence of our salvation by showing the reality of the Holy Spirit in our lives giving us the desire to love God and others more than we love ourselves.