Sermon: What is Freedom?

I invite you to open your bibles with me to Galatians 5:1-15. Galatians in the New Testament — after Romans and the Corinthians, and before Ephesians and Philippians. Galatians 5:1-15. If you haven’t been with us recently, we’ve been hearing God’s word to the Galatians through the Apostle Paul throughout the summer. Paul has been teaching us that there is only one true way of salvation, given by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. There is only one gospel, and it is the gospel of grace. Through Jesus Christ we are given freedom, and it’s that freedom that we will be looking at more closely this morning. But before we hear God’s word this morning, please take a moment to pray with me.

Father, may your Word be our rule, Your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.

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 the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith 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 to keep 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, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. Brothers and sisters, 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 and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

These are the very words of God. Thanks be to God.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.

What is freedom?

What is freedom?

Freedom is a word we use quite frequently, but perhaps it doesn’t mean what we think it means. Our understanding of freedom should be shaped by the gospel and not the world’s understanding of freedom.

And so, this is the question that stands out for me this morning as I grapple with this passage. What is freedom?

If it is for freedom that Christ has set us free, than we need to know what that freedom looks like.

To answer this question, I think we need to begin where Paul begins — and that is, to understand what freedom is not.

First, Freedom is not bondage. Paul writes, stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

We have been set free from sin through Jesus death on the cross, but that is not primarily the slavery Paul speaks of here. Paul is emphasizing that we are also free from the burden of the law. We must not slip into the idea that we need to win our acceptance with God by our own obedience. We are not saved by our good works in obedience to the law. We are saved by the grace of God through Jesus Christ.

Paul then goes on to talk about circumcision. He writes,

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 the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.

Why does Paul make such a big deal about circumcision?

It’s a theological symbol. It’s not just a physical operation or a ceremonial rite. It’s communicates something bigger than that. As a theological symbol it has doctrinal implications. Circumcision, in the time of Paul, stood for a particular type of religion — a religion that believed that salvation could only be achieved by good works in obedience to the law.

If you’ve been with us over the past several weeks as we’ve gone through this letter to the Galatians, you will know that Paul has been emphasizing this over and over. Salvation is by grace alone, through Christ alone. Salvation is not by good works. Over and over we hear Paul speaking against this particular group of leaders who have been teaching the Galatians that the grace they have been given in Christ is not enough. The slogan of these false teachers was: ‘Unless you are circumcised and keep the law, you cannot be saved’ (cf. Acts 15:1,5).

Paul says, “No!” Salvation is not by works, but by grace. Through Christ, we are now free from the law.

Freedom is not bondage. Freedom is not salvation by good works in obedience to the law.

What is freedom?

First, freedom is not bondage. Second, freedom is not permission. Freedom is not blanket permission to do whatever we want or feel like.

Paul makes it clear that, though we are free from the law, we need to be careful.

Our freedom in Christ is not freedom to sin.

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

Freedom does not mean we can do whatever we want, and live and act as we please. It does not mean that good works and obedience to the law simply do not matter.

In my experience though, this tends to be the understanding of freedom that the world around us emphasizes. For us, I think that this extreme is the bigger challenge. Worldly freedom teaches us to do what is right for us. Worldly freedom encourages us to indulge in the flesh. And what are the acts of the flesh? Paul writes,

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.

Worldly freedom loves the acts of the flesh. We see it everywhere. If you were to go home and turn on the TV I doubt you would have any difficulty finding something that flaunted and even praised these acts. I mean, sure, it might be wrong to hate someone or be jealous of what they have, but worldly freedom still teaches that it’s your right to feel those things. If you want to drink so much you can’t remember what you did the day before, go ahead. That’s your choice. You’re free to do so. If you want to give your body over to whoever comes along, go for it. Freedom’s all about love, right? Freedom is all about doing whatever you want, as long as that’s what’s best for you.

NO!

No. This is not freedom. Worldly freedom is simply another form of bondage. It isn’t true freedom at all. Freedom is not unrestricted liberty to wallow in our own selfishness.

But what makes it so dangerous is that this form of bondage disguises itself as freedom. The world promises us freedom if we never let anyone tell us what to do, if we break every shackle and every chain. If all restraints are removed, then we will have true freedom. But what the world cannot tell us is what to do with the freedom. It is for freedom that Christ has set you free, Paul says. We have been freed from the shackles of bondage. We have been freed from slavery to the law, but that freedom was not given to us so that we could go around serving ourselves, which is really just another form of slavery, which is really just changing one slave master for another.

So, I ask again, ‘What is freedom?’ What does being truly free look like?

Let’s go back again to verse 13:

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

What a radical statement. Freedom, true freedom, is found in serving one another humbly in love. True freedom is found not in trying to do everything at once, paralyzed by the fear of missing out. True freedom is found not in doing what feels right in the moment. True freedom is not found in the YOLO lifestyle (You Only Live Once), which glorifies risk-taking for selfish gains. Instead, true freedom is found in serving others. Freedom is about love, but not selfish love. Freedom in Christ is about serving one another humbly in love. It’s not about ourselves and what we want. It’s about loving one another, as Christ first loved us. Freedom is about sacrificing oneself for the sake of another.

True Freedom has a shape to it. It has a form.

Do you want to be free? Do you want to live a free man? a free woman?

Serve somebody. Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Love sacrificially by putting someone else first.

Do you want to live free?

Love your spouse. Be gentle to your children. Have integrity and humility. Keep your promises.

The world might laugh or mock, but that, my friends, is what true freedom looks like. It is a life guided by the Holy Spirit of God, not our selfish hearts.

The Christian life is not only a life of faith; it is a life in the Spirit, and the Holy Spirit who lives in us produces good works of love.

And the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

That is the freedom for which Christ has set us free.

It is not just freedom from sin and all its consequences, but Christ has freed us so that we can live with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It was for this good, true, and beautiful life that we have been set free.

Freedom means we don’t need to do good works in order to gain salvation, but good works will come out of our freedom, showing forth in love. Freedom does not mean we can do whatever we want, but rather loving others as Christ first loved us. And this is not something we do alone. We live a life of freedom with the help of the Holy Spirit, and that Spirit bears fruit — good fruit, fruit that will last and have an impact on all those around us. Fruit that seeks out the best for others.

Freedom means serving one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

It is for this freedom that Christ has set us free.

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