Recap Galatians…..Paul spends a few chapters talking about his own position…. both in Christ and his authority in the church…building his pedigree to deal with the difficult topic to come…..
I’ve been an engineer….. I am an authority on….
Then he spends a few chapters talking about the theology behind the difference between those born under the law and those born again through faith in Jesus Christ….. specifically he has been concerned about the issue of circumcision and that Christians were being required to be circumcised by some in the church… This on its own was quite an issue, I am sure, but it was also a proxy for a greater trend back towards legalism….towards religion….towards celebrating festivals….. towards taking control of their own salvation… leaving Jesus’ sacrifice out of the picture……
He refers in Chapter 4 to the difference between Abraham’s son with Hagar being conceived through human actions and awful consequences…. and Isaac being born out of God’s miraculous plan and provision, with an eternal consequence….bringing life to all men…..
This shows us the difference between following the glorious life which God intends for us as opposed to the life we sometimes live under the law and religion….
And then we get to chapter 5….
Read Galatians Ch 5
So what do you notice? Anything jump out at you? Any questions swim around in your head?
Firstly… it seems that Paul is writing in CAPS…he is shouting…….he is passionate about this subject…… he seems almost aggressive about his argument….
Then, we see that the chapter is divided up into two parts and the editors… have done a good job….12,5 verses of low level theological discussion and then 13,5 verses of practical guidance..
What is the chapter about?
There is no messing around here… Paul gets straight to the point “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free”…and then… “Don’t let anyone take it away from you”
The whole chapter is summed up in this one line….we were saved from bondage and are now free…… We know this right? We sing about it. We hear about it from the pulpit…………….Do you feel free?
There are two parts to this first clause…. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free “……. The fact that “Christ has set us free”….. and then there is under lying exhortation to behave like free people…… almost like these free people have refused to leave the masters accommodation…. They still follow his orders….. they subject themselves to the old slave master…..
“I bought you a soccer ball boy, so that you would play outside”…implies that someone is not playing outside….. they have missed the point of getting a ball…they still sit watching TV with the ball propping up their feet…….
Christ has paid for the Galatians freedom, yet they choose to remain enslaved….in fact he says as much in the rest of the sentence…. ‘do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery”… they are letting it happen…
I would be upset if I had spent all that money on the soccer ball and the boys just sat inside….. and Paul feels it too… in fact he gets worked up….
2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. 11 Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. 12 As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!
I wouldn’t want to get onto Paul’s wrong side…. If my children spoke like this they would get into trouble……
We get it?....It is for freedom that Christ has set us free…… are you free?
Am I really free?..... to do whatever I want??….is that not what freedom is?????
I must admit that like the Galatians and perhaps you, this concept of freedom does confuse me a bit…. I know of course that Christ has set us free from the power of sin…
Romans 6:6-7 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin
That is overwhelmingly amazing to hear….I am not a slave to sin…. But this does not explain the whole story…
Here in Galatians Paul is taking it a step further… Christ has set you free Hallelujah!... but He has set you free for a reason…..so that you can live a life of freedom…..
As Christians we have been saved to live life and to live it abundantly….not to be tied down by a bunch of restrictive laws…..
The fact is that like the Galatians we still have a basic misunderstanding of God’s plan for us… we see God as this morally correct being who wants us to live a certain way and we must follow a long set of rules in order to win His approval… in order to prosper… to gain a reward even… I must beat myself up in order to meet all the expectations that are set out for me in order to win the right to God…. We can deny it as much as we like…we all fall into that trap….
Paul is warning us against it… he has freed us so that we can be free!!!!! You get to do what you want…….??????
I know what you’re thinking….. “We are not really free to do whatever we like. We must follow God’s rules”… Paul disagrees with you…..he says in verse 13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love.
Paul’s understanding of freedom is ‘complete’ freedom to decide what we want to do……if this was not so he would order us to follow the rules…. Somehow threaten us… instead … he is only ‘advising’ us to use our freedom wisely,….. but the freedom still exists…
Let this sink in….
God’s plan has always been that man should live a life of freedom… he didn’t even ask Adam to wear clothes…
So then why the law? Why were a list of rules given? We read ch3:19 two weeks ago…… 19 Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.
The law was an interim measure to keep God’s people on the straight and narrow until Jesus, the messiah came and restored a life lived by the spirit.
Through Christ this freedom has come ….we are free…..and yet the Galatians still returned to the law…yet Christians the World over still return to the law…..
The part that has got my mind spinning is…freedom? To do what I want?.....what is this concept of freedom ….. Surely freedom is not really doing whatever we want….and if I can’t do whatever I want then am I free?…. If I was truly free could I not walk around like Adam?...not that I want to..
Even in this very chapter Paul gives us a list of good and bad things to be involved in… is this really freedom? How is it different to the law?
Maybe freedom does not mean what we all assumed it means…. That would be disappointing….
Some of History’s greatest minds have had an opinion on freedom. Albert Einstein said, “ Freedom by any case is only possible by constantly struggling for it”
Mr Wikipedia and the apostle Paul share a similar definition for Freedom and not surprisingly, the definition makes a whole lot of sense of this chapter in Galatians….in 1 Corinthians 9:19 Paul says, “Though I am free and belong to no one,……. I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.”
Mr Wiki says, “Freedom is having the resources and the opportunity to fulfill your purpose.
When you are enslaved you don’t get to choose what to do…you follow the rules… when you are a slave you don’t possess anything of value…you are at the whim of the master to give you what he wishes to give….
The free person gets to fulfill their own…personal purpose and not that of the master…
Paul’s freedom gave him the resources and the opportunity to fulfill his purpose in Christ. And his purpose was ‘to win as many as possible…..’
On a personal note…. .I find this overwhelmingly powerful…. My life actually has a purpose….because having no purpose, is no life at all…it is at best just existence …. Having no purpose leaves us enslaved to passing whims…. It is a great fear that I would spend my life chasing my tail with no purpose?..... The fact that Christ gives me a purpose…. My years, which are passing so quickly, actually mean something…
God has given us ‘new life’…Lawrence spoke about us being born ‘again’….a life with renewed purpose…..we have an amazing opportunity to leave behind us the mistakes of the past….and to fix our eyes on something new… a purpose that is worthwhile….
Lawrence also spoke at length about us being joint heirs with Christ…. We have access to God’s resources…..
We have both opportunity and resources to fulfill our purpose…. We have freedom….
Christ’s sacrifice has not just saved us from sin and given us a spot in heaven…. He has given us the opportunity and resources to fulfill our purpose in life……
And Paul is very upset that the Galatians are giving up this opportunity in order to be tied down again to makeshift set of rules which were put in place to tide the Jewish people over until Christ would give us life of freedom in abundance through the spirit..… no wonder he is upset..
How is it going with you and me? Are we fulfilling our purpose or do we slip back into religion and rule following?
If, as Christians, we are just drifting through life, going to church surviving from day to day then we are not living the life that we were freed for… Paul expresses his disgust for Christians who are not fulfilling their purpose.. What a challenge!!!!
Why do Christians fall back to following the law?.... Because if I just - go to church - don’t swear - be quite conservative, then I have ticked enough boxes…. Now I can take it easy…….but living by the spirit ‘in love’ demands that I am involved in church and that I take an interest in growing and supporting other people….that I place others first …and all those difficult things…God is not just about Sunday mornings..
What proportion of Christians are not fulfilling God’s purpose for them?……How many of us are drifting through life unfulfilled and use our resources and opportunity to ‘indulge the flesh’ rather than to live a life of purpose?
Indulging the flesh is easy…… what did Einstein say?
“Freedom by any case is only possible by constantly struggling for it”
Paul does not leave the Galatians there …. He is concerned enough to give some solid advice....a solution
How do I do this?????…walk by the spirit… in vs 16-18 Paul puts together an argument which goes something like this….indulging in self-satisfaction and walking in the spirit are mutually exclusive… they cannot exist simultaneously. ….. when it comes to freedom and doing what you want …..living a life of self-indulgence means that what you want is not useful and only destructive and sinful…..it will enslave you… you will be controlled by your desires…
A person living their lives in the spirit will want to do what is good… so they get to do what they want….. the only free person is therefore the person who walks in the spirit, because the very nature of indulging in the desires of the flesh means that they will enslave you…..
You want to be free? You want to do what you want? ….Live by the spirit…says Paul
When I live by the spirit then I desire what the spirit desires… when I live by the flesh then I desire what the flesh desires….
Live by the spirit? This sounds great…but what does it mean practically?
Paul explains it to us in vs 6: For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
Again Vs 13-14 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
Living by the spirit is quite an abstract concept…..but Paul says that if we are living in love then we will be living by the spirit… if we are without love then we are not living by the spirit….
He breaks it down even further….if you are not living in love then…The indulgence of the flesh is self-serving … it leads to sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.
This is a good indicator that you are not in the spirit…..
The opposite of indulging the flesh is Love for each other….leading to joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.
This still leaves me a bit ….. I am still left a bit on my own here…. I can see that these things are great for judging after the fact whether we are being led by the spirit or by the flesh….for self assessment….. But what about every day…as I walk step by step…. To add some more extremely valuable Christianese onto this…. The more time we spend in God’s word, in prayer and in fellowship…the more we can be led by the spirit… all beautiful and true…
But me.. being a free man… free to do as I wish…. Without a set of laws…. How do I decide each day what it means to be led by the spirit? I know that when I gave my life to Christ that I was indwelt by the spirit…God’s spirit is in me, but I am also aware of the pull of the flesh….. How do I distinguish between the two? After all Christians make incorrect choices every day….
This has been on my mind all week….. And it does come down to choices….
Some things are easy.. sin is sin…..clearly these are things that are not from the spirit…. I am very comfortable with the fact that sin is addictive and that if I allow myself in my freedom, to indulge in what just makes me feel good.. For the sake of feeling good then I am not choosing these things, but rather, I am enslaved by my animal desires….this is not freedom
But there are a myriad of everyday situations which could go any way….how do I walk in the spirit?
How do I deal with a difficult personnel situation at work? I have a job to do, but I also have to love…
What if I am offered a promotion….???? This could be about selfish pride or it could be God’s provision….
Disciplining my wayward child….what is just anger and what is making a point…in love?
Am I making this decision because of fear of losing my stuff? Or because God is warning me/.
Then I noticed that Paul’s word choice in vs 25… keep in step with the spirit…..
Having God’s spirit in us is not a guarantee that we will make good and wise decisions, but it is a powerful resource….If we want to walk in the spirit….we need to be considering… evaluating every decision each step of the way….”Is this direction or that, me indulging my pride, my desires, my good feelings… or is it what the spirit wants… for God’s glory…..
Every decision every reaction, every conversation needs to be evaluated against whether it is about being enslaved to my desires or am I making the decision of my own will….. What do I really want?
I am not foolish enough to think that we are always going to get it right, but the more we make this evaluation process a part of our lives the more we will make better choices… choices which will lead to us fulfilling our purpose…
We are Free people… not just freed from sin…but free to live our purpose… with both opportunity and resources provided by God…..
Let us be people who use our freedom to live fulfilled lives….