Set Free to Love - Galatians 5:1-15

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Children dismissed
If you have your Bibles, you can turn to Galatians chapter 5, we will be looking at verses 1-15 this morning
I don’t know if you’ve ever watched a televised track event
a lot of times, especially at big events like world championships or the Olympics, they will have the runners lined up and they will take the camera down the line introducing each runner
and you see the runners in their track uniforms, getting loose, ready to run
did you know, by the way, that there is a whole lot of research that goes into the actual design of the uniform and the shoes that the runners are wearing?
This is especially true for sprints - every effort is made to make sure they are able to run as fast as possible
Imagine how odd it would be if the camera was going down the line, all these high tech uniforms and shoes and at the very end is someone wearing a backpack, a snowsuit, and snow shoes.
That person isn’t going to be moving very fast, and probably won’t make it very far.
And, as silly as that is, I’d like for us to keep that picture in mind this morning
Because, in that picture, we can see the problems immediately
But, as Christians moving through life, we can be like that person on the end, weighed down and tripping over all kinds of things…but, here’s the problem - we might not know it.
We might feel it
In our Christian life, it might FEEL like we are running in snow shoes with a snowsuit and a backpack on
we might feel tired, frustrated, annoyed, empty, like we aren’t getting anywhere
But it might be harder to put our finger on WHY we feel that way
It might be harder to know exactly WHAT is weighing us down.
I think that is pretty common, and I think the passage we are looking at today will shed some light on this for us.
Let’s begin by looking just at verse 1 - this is kind of a transition between chapter 4 and chapter 5.
In chapter 4, Paul focuses on this idea that, as God’s people, we ARE free people
And here, now, in verse 1, he drives that idea home:
5:1: For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
In other words, Christ took on human flesh, lived a perfect life, then suffered and died on the cross for us, so that we could know true freedom.
And here is the absolute beauty of this freedom: Through Christ we are fully accepted and fully loved by our Heavenly Father. That’s real freedom!
And God wants us to guard that freedom so that we can continue to grow in it and experience it
But, in order to soak it in and enjoy it, we need to know some things about our freedom in Christ and how it might come under attack.
This passage is going to help us with that today
And the first thing we need to know is this:

I. Christian freedom is built on justification in Christ alone. (5:2-6)

we see this in verses 2-6, let’s look at verses 2-4 first:
Galatians 5:2-4
2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.
Now, when Paul talks about circumcision and keeping the law, he’s calling out the idea that we need to do something in order to earn God’s acceptance
There were some teachers coming to the church in Galatia saying that people needed to be circumcised in order to be justified before God.
To be justified before God means to be declared forgiven before God and to be declared perfectly obedient before God.
So, these teachers were reaching back to some commands that God had given the nation of Israel, and they were bringing these commands to the church in Galatia, saying, These are the things you need to do if you want to be justified before God.
Or, maybe we could say it this way, if you want God to accept you, here are the things you need to do.
And Paul makes it crystal clear - this idea that we can get God to accept us by doing something - is not the gospel. In fact, this teaching is extremely dangerous. We could summarize Paul’s point like this
We could picture Paul’s point like this: There are pathways to pursue God’s favor and acceptance.
One path is the path of working really hard to obey all of God’s commands, keeping God’s law.
The other path is faith in Christ as the one who has kept the law perfectly for us, and who gives us his perfect obedience.
Paul’s point here in these verses is this: If we choose the path of the law, if we hold the belief that we can earn God’s favor and acceptance by what we do
We are outside of Christ and we are outside of God’s grace.
In other words, we are lost, we have not been set free.
Now, as Christians, that’s NOT what we confess.
As Christians, we believe that Christ has kept the perfectly for us, and he gives us his perfect obedience while paying the penalty that we owe for our disobedience.
But there are at least 2 reasons why it is good for us as Christians to here this firm warning from Paul.
First - it’s always good to triple check the safety harness - do we confess Christ alone as our Savior? Do we believe we are made right with God based only on what Christ has done for us?
And second - while we may not hold to this teaching that our works can make us right with God, this teaching has a lot of tentacles - and these tentacles can find their way into our lives and disrupt our freedom. Using God’s commands as a way to earn ANYTHING will leave us bogged down, frustrated, and empty.
God wants more than that for us, God wants us to trust that he has fully accepted us in Christ, he wants us to be free to rest from trying to earn his favor.
We can here Jesus our Savior calling to us in Matthew 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
And this rest is what Paul points us to in verses 5 and 6:
Galatians 5:5-6
5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
Look at this contrast Paul gives us - instead of working hard to earn God’s favor, we as Christians are in a state of waiting.
Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we have faith that we are already declared righteous, and we eagerly wait for the day that God will bring us into glory.
We don’t have to do anything else, we CAN’T do anything else to earn God’s favor, we are fully accepted through our faith in Christ.
And, this faith in Christ that allows us to rest from trying to earn God’s favor is the same faith that expresses itself in love toward others.
Look again at verse 6: 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
In God’s kingdom, this is what matters - Faith working through love.
Do you see that - faith in Christ that gives us rest is the same faith that moves us to love others.
When we are trusting in Christ alone as our Savior, when we believe that we are fully accepted by God through Christ
We are free to rest as we wait for God to bring us into his eternal presence
And we are free to love while we wait
not worried about our standing before God,
but instead, focused on serving others with the love of God given to us in Christ.
That’s the freedom that our God wants us to experience and enjoy
And, Paul is writing this letter because that freedom has come under attack at the church in Galatia:

II. Christian freedom under attack. (5:7-12)

we see this in verses 7-12 - Christian freedom under attack - lets start by looking verses 7-9
Galatians 5:7-9
7 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion is not from him who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump.
Our freedom is attacked when people try to poison the gospel with false teaching (7-9)
The Galatians had started well
they were trusting in Christ alone, they weren’t concerned about earning God’s favor with their actions, they were looking out for each other
but someone cut in and was tripping them up with a message that was not from God
Picture the race again - here is the idea that someone started the race in the right uniform, with the right shoes, running well
But someone has cut in on them, someone is tripping them up,
starting to bog them down with things that are robbing them of their freedom
Teachers have come in with a teaching that is not from God.
God calls us to faith and freedom in Christ
This teaching had nothing to do with Christ, and was all about bondage to the law
This teaching was subtle, but it was powerful, it was having an impact - that’s why Paul warns - a little leaven leavens the whole lump
He is saying, a little bit of this teaching will poison the entire Gospel.
It doesn’t matter how much a message might be dressed up with the name of Christ - if there is any thought that we earn God’s favor by what we do, the gospel has been poisoned and emptied of it’s saving power - as Paul says in chapter 1, this is not the gospel at all.
This teaching is dangerous, but Paul confident that the Galatian church will see through this false teaching, look at verse 10
Galatians 5:10
10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is.
Paul has confidence that God will guard his people, and I want to focus in on that last phrase “whoever he is”
this false teacher or these false teachers are nameless - and I don’t think Paul really cares who they are, which is actually one of the ways that we can stand firm:
In order to withstand the attacks, we need to see and evaluate the message, not the messenger (10)
Back in chapter 1, Paul said, when it comes to the gospel,
I don’t care if it’s us, or any other man,
or even an angel from heaven -
if anyone ever poisons the gospel of Christ, let them be accursed.
And I think it’s good for us to hear this because we are usually quick to judge on outward things.
We might like the way a person looks, or they way they talk, or the energy they bring to the room
But, at the end of the day, we need to make sure we are evaluating someone’s message according the truth of the gospel.
In this case, the false teachers might have even been saying — look, our message isn’t even that different than Paul’s -
maybe they were trying to make their message look like Paul’s a bit
maybe they weren’t getting rid of Christ, just adding things to Christ…just a little drop of poison
But Paul calls them out for this in verses 11 and 12
Galatians 5:11-12
11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!
Paul saying this - their message is not the same as mine, no matter how they might dress it up.
If we were preaching the same message, they would stop coming after me, but they are still coming after me...
Because they teach against the gospel, and they teach against freedom in Christ
And Paul says - I wish they would emasculate themselves - I wish they would mutilate themselves
And there are a couple of points that Paul might be making here
This kind of mutilation - like this would disqualify someone from being a Jewish priest
AND pagan religions were practicing self-mutilation
Regardless of how they may look or sound
these teachers are disqualified because of their message is anti-gospel,
A message that uses God’s law as a way to earn Gods’ favor has more in common with pagan religions than it does with gospel of Christ.
APPLICATION: If we allow that kind of thinking to creep in, it will rob us of our freedom in so many ways.
We can easily become anxious, afraid - am I doing enough, does God accept me, I messed up again, I feel so guilty, I just need to try harder, why do I keep failing?
Or, we can become arrogant, looking around at others and looking down on them for not getting to the level that we are at, while failing to see that we are so far below the actual requirement
This teaching can creep in, it can be subtle, but it is extremely powerful, it poisons the gospel, and it robs us of our freedom.
Be picky when it comes to the message you hold on to - make sure you are holding fast to the gospel that points you to faith in Christ alone!
That’s where true freedom is found! That is where we will find rest for our weary souls!

III. Christian freedom is faith being expressed through love.

Use your freedom wisely (13)
Galatians 5:13
13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
God calls us to this freedom in Christ, he wants us to experience it, enjoy it, soak it in
God doesn’t want us to use our freedom as a way to serve the flesh - that would be to be set free from one kind of bondage only to fall into a different kind
God wants us to use our freedom to serve each other in love
In fact, loving each other actually fulfills the heart of the law (14)
Galatians 5:14
14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The law applied externally can curb our behavior, but it can’t make us love each other
But by the power of the Holy Spirit, through faith in Christ, as our faith expresses itself in love for God and for each other - that kind of living is aligned with the heart of the law in a way that external actions could never accomplish
Loving each other leads to harmony and joy both in the church
as a result, this harmony and joy in the church will have a direct impact on those in the church, as we love, serve, help each other
and this love, harmony, joy, peace create an environment where we can work through things like life challenges and sin issues together
On the other hand, if we use our freedom to serve ourselves, to indulge the flesh, we will destroy each other (15)
Galatians 5:15
15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
The church might look ok to those on the outside, but inside it will be hurting - we might not even know the cost that is being paid
But there is a cost - and Paul lays it out clearly here - if you bite and devour each other (the opposite of loving and serving) be careful, you are headed down the road of destruction
This is the other side of the road, the bondage of carnal living, not using our freedom wisely, but being released from the condemnation of the law only to spring into the other ditch of carnal living
There is a heavy price for this on multiple levels
WE will pay the price
The next generation will pay the price
And ultimately, we are involved in tearing down the Bride of Christ that Christ died for, so that we could enjoy our freedom

Conclusion

Looking to the law - robs us of freedom and dismisses what Christ accomplished
Serving the flesh - robs us of freedom and dismisses what Christ accomplished
BUT - faith in Christ (free from bondage to the law) expressing itself in love (free from bondage to the flesh) — that is real freedom!
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