Part 1, from March 4
- Christian freedom is not the world’s freedom (v. 13)
a. Never permission to sin
b. A new kind of slavery
2. Christian freedom is your life’s aim (v. 14)
a. A single formula
Galatians 5:13-15 – Christian Freedom, Part 2
Paul resolves the issue of Christian freedom by confronting the temptation to abuse Christian freedom. Making or keeping yourself right with God was a false label for Christian freedom. Paul called this setting up an “opportunity for the flesh.” The literal “military beachhead” where believers rationalize listening to their “flesh”.
The “flesh” or sarx, again is not what clothes our bony skeleton, but our fallen human nature, inherited from our parents – inherited from their parents. This is twisted self-centeredness is the natural proclivity to sin where believers are not yet glorified!
Paul is giving the answer for how to know and enjoy Christian freedom. It comes “through love” which is the practice of selflessness! What this looks like is the church being “enslaved to each other” (v. 13). So our freedom never exploits but serves.
Practically, we are not one master with a lot of slaves but one poor slave with a lot of masters.
Where the world miss-defines “love” as “lust”, God’s Word defines “love” in the language of self-sacrifice.
The shocking paradox of the Christian experience is that our freedom is slavery. This is the single basis for Christian community.
The natural inclination is to believe you are free when you are still enslaved to your flesh. But the litmus test is always whether or not God has called you into a personal relationship with himself through Christ. When you know Christ, He frees you from yourself. Without this work of grace, you remain enslaved to your “flesh.” A “self” turned inwardly upon itself — Christianity turns a person’s focus from inward to outward.
- The “flesh” is unruly passions coursing through the mind and body, every day, every hour, and sometimes every moment.
- These are “the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). The “passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24).
No matter where a person lives: The U.S., U.K., Afghanistan, or even North Korea, they may or may not feel free but the reality is that when someone has not been freed from their “flesh” they are not truly free.
Knowing this, Paul takes on is this reality that regularly undermines Christian relationships, health, and community.
- Paul’s list of manifestations of unbridled “flesh” in verses 19-21 is sad.
- At least 7 out of 15 of these are sins committed in the church against one another that break up fellowship.
- People may believe they are acting autonomously – free – but each is under a lordship and power stronger than himself!
God calls us to freedom by uniting with his Son. Paul points to the sole resource with which a Christian fights the “flesh.” Our union with Christ!
This is what Charles Wesley spoke of in his classic hymn “O for a thousand tongues to sing” —- “He breaks the power of canceled sin; he sets the prisoner free”
b. The intent of the law
Paul doesn’t precisely follow Jesus’ by seeing the fulfillment of the whole law in terms of God and neighbor (Mt. 22:34-40). Jesus’ response to the Pharisee who was a lawyer asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
Jesus’ response ties directly back to the great Shema passage from Deuteronomy 6. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind….
Coupled with Leviticus 19:18 – “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Moses provides a profound summary of the entire Torah or law including all of the major and minor prophets. In essence, your entire Old Testament. This synthesis is much more than an academic summary.
There is more here that the law according to the 10 commandments. These two tables first point upward regarding God’s holiness and outward in terms of how we treat others as the children of Israel were crossing into the Promised Land.
Deuteronomy 6 was meant to prepare hearts. The law was always intended to be followed or obeyed in terms of the fear of God. This law was given and revered by the Israelites as they crossed into the Promised Land and this “fear” was the key to the health of their new community – a reverence passed down generationally.
- The law was first and foremost devotional.
- The largest chapter in the Bible is Psalm 119 which is David’s testimony as a king who clung to its promises for spiritual life!
- This is why David said, “Oh how I love your law, it is my meditation all the day” (Ps. 119:97) coupled with the challenge to “I have hidden God’s word in my heart that I might not sin against God” (Ps. 119:11).
- Paul’s devotion turns practical in terms of how someone treats his neighbor.
- Assuming the first great command Paul’s concern is on the social relationships within the Body.
- He makes this same appeal again in Galatians 6:2 in the context of restoring fellow brothers and sisters in the Body.
- The mark of true Christian love is the ability for believers to get along.
- Not following a moral code – this is following Christ and his example, by giving yourself to others.
How are we supposed to understand the Law?
- The legal spirit is for expansion meaning multiple commands – laid down as ritual to follow –
- While the gospel makes for condensation, condensing the whole law into a single word.
Paul’s point is not for Christians to throw out obedience to the law but to define obedience in terms of the Holy Spirit’s work in a someone’s heart. In this way, obeying this command from Leviticus for the Christian is a spiritual act.
So how are believers to approach obeying the law by the Spirit? There are few basic foundation points you need to understand about the law taught in the New Testament to obey by the Spirit.
- God’s nature has never changed and neither does God’s standards.
- Although we are not bound under the system of the law, when Christians genuinely love others they fulfill all the law’s moral elements.
- Both the Old Covenant and the New Covenant demanded and demand heart service not mere lip service (Dt. 11:13; Josh 24:23; 1 Kings 8:58; cf. Is. 29:13).
- No New Testament writer including Paul ever separated the law in terms of ceremonial, civil, or moral divisions. The law is the law.
- Some see the law as having passed away in terms of ceremonies of civil government leaving the moral law as still binding. However, Paul clearly teaches that the Mosaic law has passed away. All of it.
- Though believers are no longer under Moses’ law and its prescriptions, believers, by the Spirit still “fulfill” what the law intended.
- The Old Testament law was both done away with by Christ and fulfilled by Christ – by Jesus’ perfect life, death, and resurrection!
- The Old Testament law pointed to Christ and is interpreted in light of the coming of Christ.
ESV Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
- For Paul there is a principle distinction between “doing” the law and “fulfilling” the law.
- Nowhere does Paul tell Christians “to do” the law but at the same time Christians do “fulfill” the law.
- Keeping the law never gains acceptance with God but once someone is accepted, then the Spirit enables the Christian to grow in his or her sanctification.
- Our justification depends on Christ crucified but our sanctification (by the Spirit), consist of “fulfilling the law.”
- Christians have been delivered from present evil age (Gal 1:4) and have received the gift of the Spirit (Gal 3:1-5) and so they can fulfill the law.
- In terms of the law Paul is not prescribing Christian behavior but describing Christian behavior.
- Pre-Christ, those under law cannot “do it” – in this way the “letter kills” – exposes and exacerbates mankind’s sin – while those in Christ – who’ve died to law, fulfill the law.
- There is discontinuity between the Old Testament and New Testament believer, there is still continuity between the moral norms of the Old Testament.
ESV Romans 13:8-10 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
- No one can claim to love and then commit adultery, murder, steal, or covet.
Moral norms help us to discern contours of love so that love does not become a plastic thing twisted to fit selfish desire.
- Applying a law as a New Covenant Christian is never rule book but comes by the prompting of the Spirit.
- At the same time Christians, because of love, never have freedom to ignore moral norms.
- Love stands as the soul of obedience, never codified as some kind of modern day Mishnah.
- Love asks how others can be served and edified in light of one’s love for Christ.
- Love asks how others can be served and edified in a way that accords with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Obeying to law in the Old Testament is like warning your children not to play in the road in heavy traffic. When my older children were younger corporal punishment was at stake if they ran toward a busy, forbidden street. As they have grown older, my kids no longer need as strict requirements for their safety, they have gained or are gaining trust responding to their own consciences. In this way, the Holy Spirit produces love in the heart prompts obedience that “fulfills” this law.
What happens when we fulfill the intent of this law? What’s the result? A strong and vibrant, flourishing Christian community that shares the strongest kind of witness is built! People see this and people want in.
The principle is that there is power in speech. Communities grow strong when the Spirit of God is moving in the hearts of the communicators and communication.
- ESV Proverbs 19:11 Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
- ESV James 4:11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.
- ESV Ephesians 4:28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.
Negative spins on others is damaging. As well has being easily offended. Guarding your heart from being influenced by negative people is essential. Being willing to bring truth to bear on interpersonal situations is essential to “not giving the devil an opportunity” (Eph. 4:27).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his classic work, Life Together advised:
“Thus if must be a decisive rule of all Christian communal life that each individual is prohibited from talking about another Christian in secret.” He goes on explaining that, “Often we combat our evil thoughts most effectively if we absolutely refuse to allow them to be verbalized.” He says, “Where this discipline of the tongue is practiced right from the start, individuals will make an amazing discovery. They will be able to stop constantly keeping an eye on others, judging them, condemning them, and putting them in their places and thus doing violence to them. They can now allow other Christians to live freely, just as God has brought them face to face with each other.”
This is Christian freedom. Living free from the guilt of sins that tear down..
Without this kind of obedience, it takes little time before the church becomes a scene from “The Lord of the Flies.”
Dehumanized technologies like email, become weaponry for the sinful tongue. And Satan suddenly has an inroad to break down the community.
3. Christian freedom builds others up and never tears others down (v. 15)
a. A clear warning
Paul now in abrupt fashion paints the picture of the exact opposite of what happens when a Christian community becomes consumptive.
The abuse of freedom says, we have free reign to tear each other apart with our tongues.
Paul was worried the Galatians were going to eat each other alive.
The words “bite” and “devour” compare the church to pack of wild animals. Beastly behaviors.
- There is a clear progression where first an animal bites its prey then tears at the flesh until finally it is consumed.
- The terror scene of the biting firery serpents from Numbers 21:6-9 comes to mind (cf. Gen 49:17; Dt 8:15).
- Paul is making it clear that there are no winners here. Nobody wins!
- It is a feeding frenzy where everyone dies.
- The church building may still exist and a crowd may attend but the Holy Spirit has removed himself.
The Galatians were faced with a clear decision not to trade their Christian liberty for license. In this case “a license to kill.” Conflict inside a church is a form of spiritual suicide. A church being reduced to a community center instead of a house filled with Christ-worshippers.
John Calvin pleads to remember:
“The devil tempts us to disputes, that the disagreement of members within the Church can lead to nothing but the ruin and consumption of the whole body. How unhappy, how mad it is, that we who are members of the same body should voluntarily conspire together for mutual destruction”
In the context of their legalism you might say, “To destroy love, to preserve a ceremony, is to kill a child in order to preserve its clothes!” [Spurgeon]
Spurgeon said: “If I must be bitten at all, let me rather be bitten by a dog than by a sheep.” Wounds inflicted by godly people are far more painful.
The Psalmist cried out: “It was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it.”
Paul must have known about conflicts within these Galatian churches. These were demonic divisions that arise through false teachers and false teaching.
- This is the reverse scene of a community acting in love.
- This instead is a struggle to the death.
- Christian freedom not equated with dissension and squabbling, that tears the church apart.
- Paul’s clear focus is on social relationships.
- Paul admonished them in colorful terms turning Christians into animals that gnaw at and eat one another.
- Their freedom should never open the door to this kind of fierce criticism and hatred for others.
- If poisonous speech erupts and remains unchecked the church will be undone, destroyed, and internally implode.
- The Holy Spirit liberates believers to restrain this kind of evil not giving free reign to evil impulses like these.
What is the remedy for this?
- When you are living a Spirit-filled life and by grace, you will know it because you will not become angry when you are disagreed with.
- You will not shout or raise your voice to win arguments.
- You never have to prove you are right.
- Though you may firmly state and even restate truth as necessary – biblical truth being the only thing worth contending for – but you can leave the results with God.
- This only comes when you are secure in the gospel and stayed on biblical truth.
- Just look at Galatians 5:22 and compare the difference between these attributes with “biting and devouring each other.”
The remedy is Spirit-filled “love” that which is never greedy and never grasping and never possessive. Love is not to possess him for myself but to serve him for himself.
b. A disastrous result
The result of not being Spirit-filled is sad. Malice, slander, hate, and gossip pushes a church toward spiritual genocide. I said it before that there are no winners in this final act!
When people in the church rationalize that it’s permissible to destroy each other there is ruin. This is when a church has let itself go – indulging in the flesh in the name of anti-Christian freedom!
Spurgeon asks of people who’ve been involved in this sin, “Have you been converted? I pray God undo such a conversion and begin again with you. There are lots of people who need to be unconverted before they are converted to have the rubbish they built up themselves pulled down before Christ can begin.”
Conclusion: What’s the answer? Love Christ and imitate the one you love.
- Never did a single syllable fall from Christ’s lips that would tear a believer down.
- Christ’s indignation came from contending for the truth but never with what Paul warns against here.
- Never out of envy or jealousy or hate.
- If you are an imitator of Christ, you will find yourself being a kind husband and father or an amiable mother and wife.
- A husband will ask himself, “How can I serve my wife to make her stronger?” and a wife with ask herself, “How can I support and affirm my husband to strengthen him in the Lord?”
- Christians will ask themselves, “How can I serve someone in the Body of Christ?” and “What will the Lord have me do?” “Lord how can I spend my life in your service?”
Does this sound like freedom or slavery? When you know and love Christ you understand this is the ultimate freedom as you no longer enslaved to your flesh.