At the close of an important speech to Congress on January 6, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt shared his vision of the kind of world he wanted to see after the war was over. He envisioned four basic freedoms to be enjoyed by all people: “Freedom of speech everywhere, freedom of worship everywhere, freedom from want everywhere, and freedom of fear everywhere.”
To some degree these freedoms have been achieved on a wider scale than back in 1941, but our world still needs another freedom, a fifth freedom! Man needs to be free from himself and the tyranny of his sinful nature. This fifth freedom is a freedom not only for the world but for the church.
“Freedom” is on everyone’s lips – today! Our culture is repeating the sins from a generation before and a generation before and a generation before. Yes, we’ve added sophistication and accessibility to our sins and worldliness but in the words of Solomon, “There is nothing new under the sun!” (Eccl. 1:9).
This is because the origin of sin is found inside man’s heart and man’s heart has been constantly sinning and filled with the machinations of sin ever since the first man and his fall. Psalm 51:5 “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Sadly, even after we are regenerated by the Holy Spirit, when we become a child of God, Paul testifies what we know to be true, that we continue to battle our sin throughout our entire life. Romans 7:18 “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”
So, we approach the book of Galatians which has been called the “Christian manifesto for freedom” or the Christian’s “Declaration of Independence!” So far, Paul’s been dismantling one errant path and that is the path of legalism.
- The belief that you can out work your sin or that you can work off the guilt of your sin. Paul has made clear that this path is a dead end, faithless, lifeless, and joyless. This is the path of trouble.
- Verses 13-15 introduce the other side of the coin. A second path to be avoided. This is a path of freedom that appears as promising as the first and is equally another dead end. This second path is the path of license.
- Paul, having crushed legalism rightly assumes the church will swing the pendulum of error all the way to the other side. This is the mindset that defines freedom like the world, saying “I have no constraints.” “Since I am free from law-keeping, I am going to express this freedom with reckless abandon!”
Martin Luther is credited with picturing the avoidance of legalism and license with a drunk peasant. The drunk peasant left the bar to ride home on his donkey. He mounted one side only to slip off the other side and then the other side only to slip off the other side. For Luther, one side was legalism and the other is license. To move forward and get home you have to “Sit on the donkey!”
These two opposite extremes, both found inside the church, have been pictured as two parallel streams that run between earth and heaven.
- The stream of legalism is clear, sparkling, and pure; but its waters run so deep and furiously that no one can enter it without being drowned or smashed on the rocks of its harsh demands.
- The streams of license or libertinism, instead, is quiet and still, and crossing it appears easy and attractive. But its waters are so contaminated with poisons and pollutants that to try and cross it is also certain death. Both streams are uncrossable and deadly, one because of impossible moral and spiritual demands, the other because of moral and spiritual filth.
What I’m doing this morning is defining true Christian freedom. In a culture crying out to be “free” – to do whatever it wants to do – with no consequences – believing there will be no guilt and that nobody will get hurt by his or her actions we need to know and grasp true freedom. As I said last week, “You are a slave to something” – “You are either a slave to sin or a slave to God.” Being God’s slave is true Christian freedom. This section of Galatians defines this sacred golden freedom!
1. Christian freedom is not the world’s freedom (v. 13)
a. Never permission to sin
Paul, affectionately referring to the Galatians as “brothers,” yet again points to the reality that Christian believers were “called to freedom” (v. 13).
The entire purpose of a person becoming saved is boiled down to being “free.” People who aren’t Christians are doing all they can to possess freedom and yet this is exactly what God has granted to people who are in Christ.
The ones he’s “called” out of the world are the ones with the spiritual capacity for freedom! This echoes back to the beginning of Galatians 5, “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5:1). Paul’s diagnosed their problem by thus far showing them that this “freedom” is exactly what they have sacrificed through their exposure to legalism or what’s also called moralism. The Christian life was never meant to be a drudgery or a new form of defeat. It is meant to inspire the joy of forgiveness with unspeakable new capacities to love others.
Having reestablished this, now Paul anticipates and wants to head off another probable misconstrual of the truth. Knowing the human heart, Paul knows people will swing the picket fence too far in the opposite direction. He says, “Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh…” (v. 13).
This is the idea that a person’s freedom or liberty moves inward rather than outward.
Paul’s saying “only” or the reality of “freedom” comes with a single warning label! “Don’t plug this new found reality into the outlet called “your flesh!”
The word “opportunity” has been cast as a military term – what’s been used to defined as “beachhead where the armies of indulgence could gain a foothold on someone’s life.”
“Opportunity” is a rational drummed up in a Christian’s mind to allow for sin to enter in.
Our “flesh” is more than our physical skin, it is the part of us that is still unredeemed. The “flesh” is our nature that is no longer in control unless we give in to it.
- Jesus, rebuking the Pharisees lays out the reality that, “…everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin”
- Likewise, Paul testifies to Titus that, “…we were “slaves to various passions and pleasures.” We know we are no longer “slaves” to sin but we also know we can return to its appetites.
- We are no longer morally bankrupt yet we still struggle with the old age called our flesh.
- What man has made himself in contrast with man as God has made him.
- The flesh is man as he has allowed himself to be.
- The flesh stands for the total effect upon man of his own sin and his fathers and all men who’ve gone before him, save Christ!
- It is human nature weakened, vitiated, tainted by sin.
- The flesh is man as he is apart from Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit!
- Paul’s heart cry as a believer was “…I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Rom 7:18).
- These are the sinful inclinations of fallen man that still remain in a redeemed man.
So, Paul warns against “setting up a base of operations to indulge in sin!”
Believers can set up beachheads rationalizing away any manner of sin habits, patterns, and addictions!
Listen to one rational Paul dragged out before the church in Rome. In his letter to them he’s just laid down sin’s dethronement saying “…where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:20-21).
So, what are these believer’s going to do with this? Worship Christ in righteousness!?!
Well, Paul quotes what their flesh did with this new found freedom in Romans 6:1, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?”
This “beachhead” or “opportunity” says, “Let’s test grace!” Paul cuts the legs out of this shouting, “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:2).
Whole church denominations or “networks” rationalize today, what the Bible clearly defines as sin. Emphasizing freedom genuine believers are enslaved, by viewing movies or media they can’t handle, or becoming enslaved to alcohol, suddenly getting drunk and excusing it. This too with drugs legal and illegal. Some even defend viewing pornography calling it art or a celebration of God’s creation, and this by appealing to their freedom. The siren song of being free in the Gospel has become the platform for the flesh.
John Calvin encountered this licentious attitude during the Reformation in Geneva.
He warned about the kind of man who wants to “extend Christian liberty to include everything…without exceptions…so that nothing may hinder him or prevent him from having a good time…These frantic people without any distinction abolish all the law, saying that it is no longer necessary to keep it, since we have been set free from it.”
We may even liken the church today to Israel before there was a king!
ESV Judges 21:25 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
The world’s freedom is clearly not Christian freedom. “Just because I am Law-less, this does not mean I am Lawless” [Fee].
There is a fair warning to people who claim Christ while living in reckless abandon. Why Spurgeon told people to “Get salvation from sin, not just salvation from Hell.” If you seek salvation from sin, then you will guarantee salvation from Hell. If you seek salvation from Hell and not sin, then you are like a thief who wants to be saved from prison who does not desire to be saved from thieving!
We are not meant to indulge in the flesh. We have totally repudiated the claim of our lower nature to rule over us. Paul says we have “crucified” it, nailed it to the cross! (cf. Gal. 5:24 “…having crucified the flesh with its passions and desires”).
b. A new kind of slavery
Paul’s contrasting one form of slavery with another. Believers must exchange enslavement to the “flesh” to being a “slave” of each other.
“Serve” douleutes from the word “slave” is the command to become each other’s slaves.
The Christian community is built on the foundation of Christian freedom and Christian freedom is practically based on serving one another as if you are owned by each other.
This is the life that says, “I cannot live or do as I please” because your living and doing is in light of others. Christian liberty comes not from looking inward, for gratifications, but by looking outward at the providential needs of others.
The Christian paradox comes by meeting other people’s needs for God while God fills your soul with satisfying joy. This is Christian freedom! So, this liberty is not license to sin but freedom to serve one another in love.
Paul here undoubtedly parallels the storyline of the Israelites to the Galatians. We have been freed to be slaves!
ESV Exodus 4:23 and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.'”
ESV Exodus 19:4-6 You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”
ESV Exodus 20:2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
Don’t miss that the key element for Christian freedom is “love.” Literally, “through love” (v. 13). Your freedom cannot be forced.
- “Liberty plus love equals serving others”
- “Liberty minus love equals license” or being a slave to sin.
The first ordinance given through Moses after the Ten Commandments is a beautiful picture of serving the Lord out of love rather than mere duty.
- The ordinance stipulated that if one Hebrew bought another Hebrew as a slave, the slave had to be freed after serving his master for six years.
- “But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master…and my wife and children, I will not go out as a free man,’ then his master shall bring him to God. Then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently” (Ex. 21:2-6).
Our slavery to each other is our choice to make and the only one we will make when we love each another.
As the story goes Carl had an extra day off one week. Carl told his wife as he walked into the kitchen. “I think I’ll use it to fix Donna’s bike and then take Larry on that museum trip he’s been talking about.” “Fixing a bike and visiting a museum hardly sound like exciting ways to spend a day off,” his wife replied. Carl immediate reply was, “It’s exciting if you love your kids!”
Love has to be the driver for sacrificial service – if you are to experience Christian freedom.
2. Christian freedom is your life’s aim (v. 14)
a. A simple formula
Paul has a way of boiling down a lot with very few words! Seriously!
Paul builds off of his call to “through love be each other’s slaves” (v. 13). And, he’s saying the same thing by quoting a single command from the Law!
“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (v. 14).
- It’s astonishing for Paul to speak here of fulfilling the Old Testament law after his strong emphasis on believers no longer being under the Old Testament law.
- How do we reconcile this?
- In chapter 5:3 Paul states believers better not receive circumcision because if they do they are obligated to keep the whole law.
- Here in verse 14, he turns around and says the entire law is fulfilled in loving one another, citing Leviticus 19:18.
- Is this a contradiction?
- Paul first affirms freedom from the law (Gal. 5:3) and then in opposition to all he’s said thus far in the letter, insist on an obligation to keep the law (Gal. 5:14)?
No contradiction here! Comparing these two verses reveals the striking difference.
In 5:3 the focus is on “obligation” or literally being a “debtor.”
In 5:14 the emphasis is “freedom.”
In 5:3 the point is “doing the whole law” as a burden.
In 5:14 the point is “fulfilling the whole law” in view of being free!
In 5:3 leading to 5:4, doing the whole law is required for your justification which is unattainable.
In 5:14, “fulfilling the law” (“fulfilling” – plnrow, which is the word used for spiritual filling) is the consequence of being justified and the result of the Spirit’s work (cf. Gal. 5:16-26).
In 5:3 the word for “whole” speaks of it in terms of doing all of it in its entirety.
In 5:14, the word “whole” (pas) speaks of it in terms of its full intention.
In 5:3 the context is the threat of judgment in light of circumcision.
In 5:14 the context is freedom in view of fulfilling the entire law through the expression of love – serving each other.
“…the whole law…fulfilled in one word” acknowledges the simplicity life demands! No rule book could ever summarize all that is involved in loving others. Life is too varied and complex to codify how love expresses itself!
Martin Luther said it well: “Each of us should become a Christ to the other.”