We value political freedom in the United States. On Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and the Fourth of July, we pause as a nation and celebrate that freedom. We remember the sacrifices made in order to make freedom a reality for us.
You and I know from history that it takes a great deal of vigilance and responsibility for a nation to maintain their political independence. This is just as true in regard to the spiritual freedom Christians have in Christ. We are told this in today’s passage. It is the gist of Galatians 5. The apostle Paul is waving the flag of Christian freedom, and in the first twelve verses he tells us not to lose our gospel freedom. You see, Paul has spent the first four chapters of this letter proclaiming our freedom in Christ Jesus.
• Freedom from the fear of wondering if I have done enough to receive salvation from God.
• Freedom from a sense of condemnation that I will never measure up. Therefore, God can never love me.
• Freedom from the power of death. What’s going to happen to me when I breathe my last breath in this world.
• Freedom from disappointments, which come from worshiping idols that cannot deliver life. Christ’s whole ministry, Paul points out, was to liberate us and set us free from sin and its consequences.
Jesus sets us free from trying to earn our way into a right relationship with God and the guilt that comes with that.
Paul begins his passage today by saying, “For freedom, Christ has set us free. Stand firm (in that freedom.)” That phrase, “stand firm,” is a military term. Be diligent, be alert, stand strong, because you can lose your freedom. That was Paul’s fear for the Galatian Christians who were listening to false teachers who were telling them they needed to do certain things in addition to trusting in Christ for salvation. Paul told them that if they gave into circumcision and other Jewish rules, they would cut themselves off from grace by living under the law, and Christ would be of no benefit to them. Paul tells them, Standing firm means not losing your freedom. Do not give it up by adding something onto it. Christ Jesus plus Nothing Equals Everything – that is the gospel. Don’t get caught up in legalistic rule keeping. Instead, keep believing the promises of the gospel. Keep the faith.
Then Paul describes the true expression of faith: wait eagerly for the hope of righteousness in the future. It means we were meant to live with hope, confidence, and assurance. We know where we’re headed – heaven. We know the righteousness of Jesus Christ is ours now, and when God looks at us, He sees us as His sons and daughters.
True expression of faith also means being active in love. Our faith in God’s promises frees us up. It produces and energizes within us a love for God and all He’s done for us. We want to serve Him. We want to live under Him in His kingdom. We want to please Him out of gratitude for what He has done for us. But it is also a faith active in love for others. We are no longer in competition, no longer in need of manipulating others in order to make us feel better about ourselves. Because we are sons and daughters of God, we are free to love others as a result of the security we have in Christ.
Paul tells us to keep the faith! Jesus plus Nothing Equals Everything. You are free in Christ! Stand firm in that. Don’t let anyone take that from you. Trust in it. Live by it.
I came across a wonderful story that captures Paul’s sentiment. On January 28, 1945, as World War II was coming to a close, 121 elite Army Rangers liberated more than 500 prisoners of war – mostly Americans – from a Japanese prison camp near Cabanatuan in the Philippines. The, prisoners, many of whom were survivors of the infamous Bataan death March, were in awful condition, physically and emotionally. The primary Japanese guard unit had left the camp because of Japan’s massive retreat from the Philippines, and the new situation was precarious. Japanese troops were still around and in the camp, but kept their distance. The prisoners didn’t quite know what to make of their new freedom, if freedom was in fact what it was. Then, without warning, the American Rangers swept upon the camp in furious force.
One of the most interesting facets of the story was the reaction of many of the prisoners. They were so defeated, diseased, and familiar with deceit that many needed to be convinced they were actually free! Was it a trick, a trap? Was it real?
One prisoner, Capt. Bert Bank, struggling with blindness caused by a vitamin deficiency, couldn’t clearly make out his would-be rescuers. He refused to budge. Finally a soldier walked up to him, tugged his arm, and said, “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you want to be free?” Bank, who was from Alabama, recognized the familiar southern accent of his questioner. A smile formed on his lips, and he willingly and thankfully began his journey to freedom trusting in that voice.
That is what we are called to do as followers of Jesus Christ. Trust in the voice of that Gospel. You are free in Jesus Christ. Trust the promises.
Paul goes on to say in verses 13 through 15, Don’t abuse your gospel freedom. In the first section, Paul clearly told them, You can lose your gospel freedom by adding something on to the gospel, by living under the law as you follow a bunch of do’s and don’ts. The gospel, however, is not simply good advice, it is Good News. It tells us what has been done for us. Now he’s pointing out that we can actually mess up our new lives in Christ by abusing our freedom, not through legalism but through license, by exercising a lack of restraint or control, or acting permissibly.
Some people think that after they receive the gospel, they are free to determine their own standards. Now I can live anyway I want! But Paul tells us not to use our freedom to indulge our sinful nature, which resides inside of us. Gospel freedom is meant to lead us to obey God, not to simply please ourselves for the rest of our days.
The Christian is freed from the law, the Ten Commandments for instance, as a way to win merit from God. But, we are not freed from obedience as to way to gratefully please God. The Law is an expression of God’s nature and heart, and it pleases Him when His people follow them.
What better way to bring God pleasure than to delight in His will and walk in His ways! The gospel frees you to live anyway you want, but if you truly understand who Jesus is and what He has done for you at the cross, then you will be asking how you can live for Him. And the answer will be to look at the will of God expressed in those Commandments. The gospel frees us from the law. We are motivated to obey out of our love for what Christ has done for us.
A good illustration is to ask the question, Why does a child obey his parents? Some children obey out of a sense of fear of punishment. Some obey out of a sense of duty. It’s one of the demands of being taken care, of being watched over, looked over. Others obey for the reward. They are trying to earn their parents’ love and some favors along the way. Still others might say, Example. I see other children obeying their parents, so I know I should likewise obey mine.
Finally, we obey out of love. LOVE. We want to please those who have done so much for us. Likewise, for the saved sons and daughters of God who have tasted His grace. We obey out of love for the One who has done so much for us.
A story from the Civil War days before America slaves were freed tells about a Northerner who went to a slave auction and purchased a young slave girl. As they walked away from the auction, the man turned to the girl and said, “You are free!”
With amazement she responded, “You mean, I’m free to do whatever I want?”
“Yes,” he said.
“And to say whatever I want to say?”
“And to be whatever I want to be?”
“And even go wherever I want to go?”
“Yes,” he answered with a smile. “You’re free to go wherever you’d like.”
She looked at him intently and replied, “Then I’m going to go with you. I will go with you.”
So it is for the Christian who has been set free by the gospel of Jesus Christ. We want to go with Him. He is the life giver.
So, if true Christian liberty and freedom expresses itself in faith, loving service of our neighbor, and obedience to God, then how are these things possible in our lives? The answer is, by the Holy Spirit whom God has given us. He alone can keep us truly free.
Paul then spends the rest of chapter 5 telling us the best way to live is by the Holy Spirit – be guided by the Spirit, march in line with the Spirit. Our sinful desires still reside in us as humans. Paul refers to them as the flesh. When the Spirit moves into our lives, a battle takes place within us between the old and the new self, and it’s quite a conflict.
Carl Sandberg once wrote, “There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud.” The old nature is a garbage dump of negatives that shows itself in various sinful activities, behaviors, and realms, such as sex, religion, society, drinking, partying, and so on. Paul warns us that those who get caught up in those kind of things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Left to ourselves, we could not do what we would want. We would succumb to the desires of our old nature.
But the good news is we are not left to ourselves. We have the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the living Christ to help us. Paul tells us to live by the Spirit, be guided by the Spirit, march to the Spirit, and amazing growth will take place in you. This growth is referred to as the fruit of the Spirit.
After the Spirit helps you see Christ for who He is and what He has done for you, then He wants to grow in you some wonderful qualities: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, generosity, and self-control. All these character attributes reflect the character of Jesus Christ Himself. How can the Spirit work that in us? By committing ourselves to participating in the community of faith, by yielding ourselves in prayer to the Spirit’s care and direction, by committing to being worshipers, by being fed by the Word, and by partaking of the Lord’s Supper.
Finally, as we read and study our scripture on a daily basis, the Holy Spirit works within us the fruit of the Spirit as we interact with God in those means of grace. If you have placed your trust in Jesus Christ, the message today is, YOU ARE FREE! Stand firm in that freedom. Rely on it and be guided by the Holy Spirit whom God has given you. Enjoy your freedom.