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Free to Obey (Galatians 5)

Galatians 5

1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

2Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

7 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8This persuasion is not from him who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

13For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

25If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

As we come to the fifth chapter of the book of Galatians, Paul is concluding a defense of the Gospel by faith alone in Jesus Christ. He has poured his heart into this letter to the Churches of Galatia because he is firmly convinced that Christ’s death either purchased salvation for those who have faith or Christ died in vain. The Judaizers are teaching a false Gospel.

If someone were to look in and not understand the Gospel then it would seem that Paul is awfully upset over what seems to be a very small addition to the Gospel. It’s not as if the Judaizers were telling men and women to abandon Christ. In fact, they were telling them that they were the believers who were most serious about following the Christ because they were demonstrating their seriousness by the keeping of the Law and that no man could be saved unless he performed the works that God had laid out in the very law that He gave on stone tablets to Moses.

I know it seems like I’ve been a broken record lately, covering ground and then walking over the same ground again but I have simply been teaching you the Book of Galatians as Paul presented it. Why did he keep repeating himself? Get to the point Paul. Our attitude about things reveals sometimes that we don’t know the deceitfulness of our own hearts. We are too proud to think that we stand and that what happened to the Galatians can’t happen to us. We need to read and re-read and re-read what the Gospel is because the man of flesh that still abides in us, that we should be putting to death, has this strange longing to go back into the Law. In the Law are the basic principles of the world. I can save myself. We don’t want to admit that we’re thinking it but it is a constant pull of our flesh in that direction.

But when the Gospel gets into our bloodstream we can’t get enough of it so I hope some of you have not grown weary of hearing the things that God has done for you in Christ.

You see, what Paul is really telling us is sort of summed up in verse 1 of Chapter 5: 1For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

It’s sort of odd to state that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. It’s sort of like saying: “You’ve been set free to be free.”

Well, yeah. That’s what being free means. If I’m set free then I’m free. Duh.

But the dumb one here is not Paul. The foolish one is not Paul for stating the obvious. The foolish people are the Galatians. It’s all of us who have to be reminded to stand firm in the Gospel. We have not been set free so that we can go back to some elementary principles where we become enslaved again to the notion that we can do things that will earn salvation from God. Our eyes need to remain fixed on Christ as the ground of our salvation. The forces of the world, the philosophies of men, will pull our attention away if we let it but we need to fix our eyes on Him.

Paul asks in verse 7: 7 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? The idea here is that we’re in the middle of a race. We’re running straight. We have our eyes on the prize and some other guy comes and cuts in on us. He breaks our stride and we lose our focus. Worse, in some cases, we somehow completely forget where the finish line is because somebody cut in on us. Seems crazy but that’s us.

Paul has completely destroyed any notion that man can contribute, even in the least bit, to his salvation. Christ has either become a Curse for us and redeemed us from the threatening and judgment of the Law or the curse still rests upon us if we’re trusting in ourselves. Everything we add to Christ and His sufficiency is worthless. Worse than that, if we aren’t trusting in Christ and Him alone then adding even the least amount of leaven of works, spoils the whole lump and it is another Gospel. It’s not Christ and circumcision, it’s not Christ and a second blessing, it’s not Christ and re-dedicating our lives to Jesus. It’s all Christ – and the benefits of His death and resurrection are laid hold of by faith. Our works add nothing to the perfection of His work.

Paul concludes this section in verse 12: 12I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

Paul is basically saying that, if you’re going to add a little bit to the Gospel and destroy it then you might as well be serious about it. Why just remove the foreskin of the flesh? If you’re going to destroy the Gospel by going back to Moses then be serious like the pagan priests and castrate yourself. Don’t just remove the tip. Go all the way!

Is that shocking enough for you? Does it make the point? I am quite certain that if Paul was preaching today then there would be people telling him that he needed to learn how to be nice. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar Paul. Telling your opponents to castrate themselves is not nice. Telling people that they’re going to hell if they listen to them is mean. Be nice, be tolerant.

It might shock you but, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul uses this language and other expressions that would be like a preacher using a cuss word in the pulpit. He just sort of said one if I said out loud, in a crude way, what Paul just said about his opponents. Telling a man that he might as well castrate himself hits below the belt.

Beloved, this Gospel thing is serious business. I know that this world is not accustomed to taking things seriously like this. I remember a couple of years ago some people who said that the most important thing is Jesus and that arguing about whether or not people were teaching a true Gospel takes the focus off of Jesus. Remember, though, when you hear people saying this that the Judaizers talked about Jesus. They said they were serious about Jesus. But not everybody who claims Christ is of Him. Not every man who claims to teach the Gospel is teaching the true Gospel. There are Churches on this island that teach a false Gospel. Be on your guard and don’t think, for a moment, that this stuff is something you can take for granted. You’ve been set free for freedom. Don’t ever let yourself be enslaved to another Gospel. Get the correct Gospel inside of you. Let it be your meat and drink. Let it pulse through your bloodstream so you can see when men are corrupting the Gospel and you can tell them that you’ve been set free from such principles.

The end of Chapter 5 beginning with verse 13 now transitions to what the response to the Gospel is in our lives. It points to the fruit that the Gospel produces.

Before we get started on this, I want you to notice something very obvious. Paul just spent four and a half Chapters talking about how God saves us in the Gospel and then spends a mere one and a half talking about how we are to live in light of it. Ask yourself this: “Is this the amount of time I’m usually taught about the Gospel?” In other words, how many men today spend a majority of their time talking about the Gospel or are you usually being told, over and over and over again what it is that you must do if you want to be blessed.

Don’t get me wrong: Paul is going to be teaching us about how Christians ought to behave but he does so first by establishing us in the Gospel. The problem today is that men simply receive sermons on the list of do’s and don’ts. They receive Law. Some of you were probably itching for me to just “get on with it” and move off this “boring” stuff about what God has done for us in the Gospel. I sure hope not because you will never, ever understand the motivation for obedience if you have not first heard and believed the Gospel.

If the Gospel is boring news for you and what excites you are “practical” matters then Christianity is not the religion for you. Christianity is, first, last, and foremost about the Gospel – both how it saves men from sin and how that salvation transforms men to live in newness of life. If the Gospel never transforms you then you cannot live a transformed life. Belief in the Gospel comes before any activity. The Prodigal Son had to be accepted into his Father’s house as a son first and then he was able to live as a son does who loves his Father.

Paul states in verse 13: 13For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

I read an interesting observation the other day and it’s this: Christianity is like a narrow bridge that crosses two dangerous rivers that converge. On the one side of the bridge is legalism. Men who fall into legalism leave the Gospel and deceive themselves, as the Judaizers did, that they can earn salvation from God’s hand by being serious about His law. They deceive themselves about how serious the law is and also about how righteous they are.

The other river is the river of license. Men who fall off the truth fall often in the opposite direction in thinking that it doesn’t matter what we do. As long as we sign a decision card and say we believe in Jesus then nothing we do matters. Such men have no concern at all for the things of God and see Christ as some sort of fire insurance.

But the freedom that the Gospel provides is freedom to obey. Again, the fleshly ideas of the man who wants a license to sin asks: “What kind of freedom is that? Real freedom is the ability to do anything I want.”

But that’s not what Gospel freedom is. Gospel freedom is freedom from the curse of sin and death. It’s freedom from the wrath of God. We are made alive for a purpose. We are made alive that we might live unto Christ.

Make no mistake yet again. Don’t fall off the bridge back into legalism and think I just gave you a “save yourself by obeying” program. Remember, first, that you are made alive in Christ out of sheer grace. You cling to His feet in faith. As you feel the touch of a Savior where the Judge once stood, and as you hear the loving words of a Father where slavery once reigned, your heart is transformed to desire the things that please your heavenly Father. Your life, your affections, your wants, and your desires ought to be fixed on pleasing God. You are not pleasing God in order to be accepted by Him. NO. That’s the Law. You strive to please God only after you have been accepted by Him. That’s the Gospel: God’s acceptance comes first and then our gratitude and lives of love come second.

This is why Paul states: 14For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Do you see what changed? The law earlier was said to bring a curse to us because its perfect righteousness condemned us. After we place our trust in Christ we die to the Law and are raised in newness of life. We die on the one side of the Law that condemns us and rise again with Christ on the other side of the law where we see the things that please our heavenly Father. The law, in our immaturity, could only be viewed as “Thou shall or thou shall not” but the law in our maturity, in our newness of life, is “I love the things that my heavenly Father delights in.”

I love working with computers. It’s my hobby. I can sit for hours at a computer screen. But that’s work for some people. It’s slavery to them. It’s law to them. The Ten Commandments are the words of a slavemaster to those in the flesh but to those of us who have been born again, we don’t just stop at not killing men but we uphold and love life. We don’t stop at not coveting a man’s property, we rejoice in what God has blessed our neighbor with. We don’t stop at not lying or gossiping about men but we go out of our way to uphold our neighbor’s good name.

Verse 15: 15But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

Paul is describing what is happening in the Galatian Church. Isn’t it interesting that a Church that is trying to be serious about the Law is marked by people caring only about themselves. It is marked by people gossiping, talking behind people’s backs, taking sides, and literally trying to destroy one another? When you abandon the Gospel for “moral reform” according to good deeds you always get selfishness and destruction because you’re in the way of the flesh and not in the way of the Spirit.

Paul states: 16But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

You have not been redeemed to live according to the flesh. You have been redeemed to put to death those things. This is one of the reasons Paul commands us to stand fast in our freedom because moral programs will provide no power to overcome the immorality, idolatry, backbiting, jealousy, division, and other fruits that flow from our sinful human hearts. Religions of self-improvement put a band-aid over the solution by the appearance of righteousness but the inside are dead man’s bones and the stench of the rotten corpse inside the pretty exterior is smelled by all.

Remember, our love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are all fruits of the Spirit that God has given us. We don’t make the fruit. He does. It begins with the Gospel that transforms our lives and, as we abide in Christ and His work, the fruit flourishes.

And so, Christian, what fruit are you bearing in your life? Is your life marked by deeds of the flesh? Do you care about the things of God? Does the idea of pleasing and worshipping God bring you delight or do you desire other things first?

Yes, I know you and I are falling short but please, after all this, don’t turn this into a program of “…maybe if I start to obey the law then God will bless me….”

No. Stand firm. The work on the Cross is completed. Believe the Gospel and stand free from the curse of sin and death. Be converted by the Gospel that you might desire the things of God so that His law becomes sweet to you because it reflects the character of the One who accepts you and adopts you into His kingdom.

Let us pray.

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