MESSAGE FOR September 14, 2008 FROM GALATIANS 5:1-6
As we return to our study in the book of Galatians, we meet Paul where we left him last week, calling the Galatian believers to live out the spiritual freedom they have in Christ. As we left chapter four last week, we saw that if we are in Christ we have been liberated from spiritual enslavement of living under the law, but we must continue to oppose the fleshly pull to be acceptable and loved by God on the basis of what we do for him. This week, Paul continues to trumpet our need to live free in Christ. Before we explore this morning’s text, we want to clarify what Paul means by freedom. What does it mean to be free in Christ? We know that this freedom is not freedom from spiritual authority in our lives. Freedom isn’t spiritual autonomy to do and say whatever our sinful flesh wants to do. That is not freedom; that is simply exchanging enslavement to the law for enslavement to our own sinful desires. God did not create humans to be without authority or to live independently. As a race of people, we humans are hard wired by God to be servants. Adam and Eve were created to serve God on earth as his vice-regents on earth. We are a servant race of people.
In John 15:15, when Jesus said to his disciples, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends…” he was not saying that they were no longer his servants. He was saying that they were no longer only servants, but also his friends. They would not be serving Jesus as a peasant serves an unknown king; they would be serving their king as his friend. Paul himself never stopped thinking of himself as a servant of Christ. How does he refer to himself at the beginning of some of his letters? “Paul, a bond servant of Jesus Christ.” Spiritual freedom according to the New Testament isn’t freedom from servitude. It’s freedom from the tyranny of the controlling power of sin, it’s freedom from the murderous bullying of Satan and (here in Galatians) it’s freedom from the enslaving rule of living under the law—trying to gain acceptance from God by being good enough for him. This freedom in Christ liberates us to relate to God, not in the estrangement of a slave serving his master, but with the intimacy of a child loving his/her father. This is the freedom of the Spirit that comes under the New Covenant in Christ and that is what Paul is talking about in the first verses of chapter five.
Paul writes, “For freedom Christ
has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.
testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.
are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.
through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.
in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” The main idea Paul communicates here is: Believers
in Christ must guard their freedom against the enslavement of living under the law.
That’s his theme
in verse one and the rest of these verses simply support that truth.
The truth in verse one is the foundation upon which the rest of these verses
are built. “For freedom Christ has set us free…” That is
a statement of fact. A
grammarian would say that is an indicative statement.
Christ set us free from sin, Satan and the law so that we might live in freedom. His redeeming work
Notice that after he lays down this indicative statement of truth, he follows close on its heels with two imperatives or commands. “…stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” The imperatives to “stand firm” and “do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” are rooted in the indicative truth of what Christ has done for us. Paul does this all the time—he tells us what Christ has done for us, or he tells us who we are in Christ—indicatives--and then follows that indicative statement with an imperative or a command to live in a way that reflects what has been done for us and who we are. This is a very important pattern for us to see in the Scripture.
The commands of God are never rooted in some arbitrary or capricious whim of God—God’s
commands always are built upon, and flow from, some act of grace he has done for us.
God says to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 5:6, “'I
am the Lord
your God, who brought you out of the
In this context, Paul is saying—you are free so live free in Christ. When Paul calls us to freedom, although he knows it’s a fight to stay free as we battle against the lies of our flesh and the devil, he is implying that we can indeed choose to be free and that living in freedom is an expression of who we are in Christ. If you are trusting in Christ, you are free to live over the tyrannical control of sin—you are free to live above the enslaving realm of Satan—you are free to live well beyond the reach of the enslaving pull of the law. You have been set free to live free, so live in freedom. That’s the main idea. Again, the truth of that statement is not in doubt. The question is whether we believe it. We must get this. We must believe we have been set free if we are to actually live in freedom. When we find ourselves living in bondage to the law, the first thing we must do (after confessing our sin of unbelief) is to assert by faith that we are living in a way that is thoroughly inconsistent with what Christ has done for us and who we are in him. Paul supports this call to our freedom with three reasons why we who are in Christ must live in this spiritual liberty.
The first reason is found in verses two through four and is: Living in Christ’s freedom and living under the law are mutually exclusive to one another. Remember, the lie of the Judaizing false teachers to the Galatians was, “to be saved, you must believe on Christ and also be circumcised.” They taught a trust-in-Christ plus trust-in-works doctrine of salvation. They had wrongly joined these two opposites together. A crucial truth Paul emphasizes throughout this letter is—these two should not be joined together—trusting in Christ for your salvation and trusting in your works for salvation are opposed to one another. Paul in Galatians is saying in effect, “What God has separated, let not man join together.” Trusting in Christ to save you and trusting in your performance to make you acceptable to God are violently opposed to each other and Paul gives two ways they are mutually exclusive. The first way is in verse two. “Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.”
This first way is simply—if you live under law, Christ and his work become irrelevant to you. This is true because, among other reasons, circumcision is part of the Old Covenant of Law. That covenant was temporary, put in place to show God’s people their need for a Savior to rescue them from their sin. Jesus came and perfectly lived out the law, fulfilling its demands including the demand to be circumcised. That Old Covenant with its demands has been met in Christ as it relates to our salvation. If you go back and begin to live as if you were under that covenant, what advantage will Christ be to you? None, because he lived a righteous life and died to establish a new covenant—a new and much better way to relate to God, not under law, but under grace in the power of the Spirit of God.
Think of it this way.
On February 17, 2009 all the television networks will begin to broadcast
at full power a new digital television signal.
It’s a new and better signal than the old analog televisions where the picture
is less clear (only in
Where this illustration meets the truth is here: if you were insistent upon watching an analog set without a converter after February 17th, the new, improved digital technology would be of no advantage to you because you can’t watch unconverted digital signals on an analog television set. A new kind of broadcast signal has come onto the scene rendering the old way obsolete. Likewise, if you try to be acceptable to God by observing the Law, then Christ, who died to make you acceptable to God, will be of no advantage to you because you have chosen to go backwards into the Old Covenant which he came to replace. One difference between digital and analog and the Old Covenant and the New is there is no converter box that will take the Old Covenant way of relating to God and make it fit into the New Covenant way of relating to him. That’s what the Judaizers were trying to do and it was wicked. All that means by way of application that, as foolish as it would be to keep your obsolete, unconverted analog set around after February 17 in a futile attempt to receive television signals that are no longer being broadcast, it is far more foolish to try to be acceptable to God through the Old Covenant of law when Christ has made it obsolete for salvation through his work on the cross. God is not (if you will) “broadcasting” on the law frequency, but only on the “Faith” frequency. That means that if you are living under the law, then Christ is no good to you. We saw a parallel truth to this in 2:21 where Paul says, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” If you could be acceptable to God through the Old Covenant, there would have been no reason for the New Covenant in Christ’s blood.
Paul elaborates on why Christ is of no advantage to you if you are seeking to be acceptable to God by what you do in verse three. He says, “I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated (literally, “is a debtor”) to keep the whole law.” Paul here repeats part of what he said in 3:10 where he quotes Deuteronomy 27, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them." Paul is giving a thunderous implication of living under the law. Paul emphasizes a crucial difference between the law and living under grace. When you place yourself under the law—the terms of that covenant stipulate that you are required to keep it all perfectly. The law and grace are mutually exclusive because--once you try to be acceptable to God by your performance; the law indicates you have placed yourself in the spiritual indebtedness of having to keep the whole law to perfection. That is simply the legal terms of that covenant. That’s the standard of the law—perfection. Those who are under grace have already met that standard of perfection through Christ as he came and perfectly kept the law as they have through faith been united in him, receiving his perfect performance of the law as their own.
In verse four we see a second way in which living in Christ’s freedom and living under the law are mutually exclusive. Paul writes, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” A second way that living under law and living in the freedom of grace are mutually exclusive to one another is: If you live under law, you become severed from Christ. Paul wants these Galatians to see how mistaken they were in thinking that they could trust in Christ and also trust in their performance of the law. You can’t have both—you can have either your fallen, sinful works to trust in or you can have Christ, not both. They are mutually incompatible--so much so that if you seek to be justified or made righteous or acceptable before God by the law, you have cut yourself off from Christ. Christ has only one message for any person who earnestly seeks to be justified by what they are doing. That is—“believe on me and be saved.” One reason is simple. When we live in spiritual bondage by trying to win God’s approval by our performance, what are we saying to Christ is, “You didn’t have to live a perfect life, completely fulfilling the law to make me good enough for God. You didn’t have to shed your blood to set me free from the tyranny of the law because I can keep the law. I want to be good enough for God on my own.” That is what we are saying to Christ when we seek to be justified by the law.
The statement, “you have fallen from grace” is an explanation of what it means to be severed from Christ. Saving grace comes only through faith in Christ. If your faith is not in Christ, then there is no grace. When he says, “you have fallen from grace” he is not saying you have lost your salvation. He is saying that when you trust in your own works, you are not walking in grace—you have fallen from grace—you are living as if Christ hasn’t come. Grace and trusting in your own works are incompatible because grace comes only to those who are trusting in Christ’s work. Living in Christ’s freedom and living under the law are mutually exclusive to one another.
A second reason why we must live in this freedom Christ has purchased for us is: Living in Christ’s freedom by faith enables us to live in the hope of future righteousness. We see this in verse five where Paul says, “For through the Spirit, by faith we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.” At this point, you might ask Paul, “What do you mean about this waiting for the hope of righteousness? I thought that in Christ we were already declared righteous when we believed. Why do we need to wait for it?” Paul is talking about the last judgment here. It’s true that all those in Christ have been justified—declared legally righteous in God’s sight. But in this life, we take that by faith—that verdict has been announced to us through faith, but Christ the Judge has not publically declared it. That will happen in the future at the last judgment. The great challenge for us in this life is to believe that we are righteous in the face of all our sin. Every time we sin, there is a temptation to question our righteousness. “That wasn’t righteous—that was sin—how can I be righteous when I sin so much?” We can easily begin to look at our performance and question whether what God has said is true about us. And Satan is right there to accuse us—“you call yourself righteous in the face of that sin—you’re about as acceptable to God as Judas Iscariot—you spiritual traitor.”
Its one thing to say that the believer is, as Luther said, “At one and the same time, both saint and sinner” we can grasp that mentally, but it’s hard to believe in our hearts. In fact, it’s impossible to believe that truth apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit enables us, in faith, stoked by the promises of the gospel, to believe what God has said about us in the face of the temptations to believe otherwise. That’s what Paul means when he says, “For through the Spirit, by faith we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.” One way you can tell if you are living by Spirit-empowered faith in the righteousness of Christ is to ask yourself—what is my attitude toward the final judgment? If your attitude is one of quaking in your spiritual boots in fear, then you are not walking in Holy Spirit-energized faith. Because if you were walking in Spirit-enabled faith, you would believe what God has already said about you being righteous. And if you believe that you are righteous in Christ, then the final judgment will be only a glorious confirmation of what you already believe through faith. Hence, you will eagerly await the righteousness that is our future hope in Christ.
Don’t miss this--the degree to which we look at the final judgment with fear is the degree to which we are trusting in our performance to justify us. We know that our wretched record of sin could never inspire any sane confidence and so we fear. Do you want to have that attitude toward the final judgment? Paul says having an eager, hope-filled attitude toward the judgment is part of what it is to live free in Christ. Christ came to set us free from the fear of final judgment. He gave us the Holy Spirit so we could steadfastly believe we are righteous in Him, which liberates us to anticipate our final judgment, not with fear and trembling, but with eager expectation. This is not because we are good enough, but because Christ is good enough and we are in Christ in whom we are justified. When those doubts about the judgment come in, the command of God is “stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” Use the promises of God to think through the source of your confidence and the Spirit will produce faith in you through the word of God.
A third and final reason why we must live in the freedom Christ purchased for us is in verse six. Paul writes, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision or uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” A third reason to live in freedom is: Living in Christ’s freedom enables us to rise above the unimportant externals and live out the essential virtue of the Christian faith. One of the symptoms of a life that is not free in Christ is a tendency to major on what is unimportant and totally miss what is central. The Galatians, with the help of the Judaizers had reduced relating to God to being circumcised-removing a man’s foreskin. Is that what being in Christ is about? That was tunnel vision in the extreme and it wasn’t even the right tunnel—it leads to nowhere. When you get hung up on the law, you miss the main thing and the main thing ethically for the follower of Christ, as we know from First Corinthians 13 is love. Paul says in First Timothy 1:5, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” Paul tells Timothy that the goal of everything he taught is—“love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” When you become enslaved by trying to be accepted by God by your performance, that stress on your performance results in you becoming nit-picky about things that don’t matter, critical in your spirit and self-absorbed. The reason is because your life is about working to be acceptable to God. You have made the Christian life, not about looking in faith to Christ, but about looking to yourself—how you are performing. That pulls us away from the love Christ produces in us and into the black hole of performance which sucks away all our love and joy.
This is one reason why the Pharisees in Luke 13 witnessed the healing of a woman who had been bent over by Satan for 18 years and instead of rejoicing with this woman, they criticized Jesus for healing her on the “wrong” day of the week. They were so bound up by their self-righteousness that came from living under the law; they weren’t free to love this woman by rejoicing with her. Instead, they were critical. Within the Christian ethic, love is the main thing and we miss it when we become enslaved to the law. Paul says in Romans 13:10, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” The law should always direct us to some expression of love—either love for God or love for other people. Love is the sum of the law and the prophets according to Jesus.
The Judaizers had made relating to God all about circumcision—about becoming a Jew externally. Is that what it’s all about? In a radical departure from the Jews of his day Paul says in effect, “it’s not about circumcision—being a Jew, or uncircumcision—being a Gentile. It’s about faith that expresses itself through love.” The ironic thing is that love is what every law points toward. That means that the degree to which you, in the power of the Spirit are living out Biblically defined love, you are fulfilling the spirit and letter of the law. But when you try to be acceptable to God by keeping the law, you will never fulfill the law in love—you will only live in the lovelessness of self-righteousness.
Paul tells us something very important about the relationship between faith and love when he says that faith works through love. Faith is the conduit or channel through with love flows—no faith, no love. To think of it another way, faith is the root, love is the fruit. It’s as you believe the promises of God in the gospel and trust in Christ that the Spirit produces love in your life. This is so important to know because it combats a deadly lie about living in faith instead of living under the law. That lie could be stated: “living by grace through faith only leads to sin and apathy. I want to be pleasing to God, so I must DO something active, faith works nothing.” This verse destroys that lie because it tells us that faith works—it works through love. Faith shows itself in love. This is just what James says in chapter two. James 2:18 says, “…I will show you my faith by my works.” Paul and James agree that saving faith is not a dead thing—it produces works. In fact, Paul says faith produces the ultimate work—the work that captures the very essence of Christianity, the work that is the foundation of every other work, love. The application for us from this passage is--if you are not free in Christ, you will not be free to live a life of radical, selfless agape love. Under the law, you will be so bound up—you’ll be much more like the Pharisees, casting self-righteous judgments on others than showing the love of Jesus Christ.
We must live in the freedom Christ has purchased for us. If we live under law, then we cannot live in Christ because those two ways of relating to God are mutually exclusive. We must fight for our freedom because if we are living in freedom we are able to live without fear of the judgment but in the steadfast hope of future righteousness. Finally, we must stand firm in our freedom because if we don’t we will be forced to a life filled with petty concerns about things that don’t matter and will miss the heart of what it is to live like a follower of Christ, love. For these reasons and others, may God give us the grace to live out our freedom in Christ.
Page last modified on 09/15/2008
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