Christian Liberty
 
Galatians 5:13-26

Do you remember back in your old High School English class studying about a writer named Henry David Thoreau?  He is best known for his book Walden: or Life in the Woods.  At the age of 28, he lived in a little hut close to Walden Pond for two years at a total cost of $16.  He called himself a mystic, a transcendentalist, and a natural philosopher.  In the last chapter of Walden, there is this statement which is often quoted: “Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises?  If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.  It is not important that he should mature as soon as an apple tree or an oak.”  The drummer's beat in the battle would help the soldiers in the army to march together and to march at a certain tempo.  Thoreau is saying that if some person does not keep pace with his contemporaries, perhaps they hear some other drummer, and they should be allowed the freedom to march to a beat different to that of the majority.

Many biblical scholars think that one of the first letters of Paul was Galatians. It has been called the Magna Charta of Christian Liberty and was written in a crisis as false teachers, known as Judaizers, were leading Paul's Gentile converts astray.  These Judaizers were persuading many of the Galatian brethren that besides faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to the Holy Spirit, they should also observe the law of Moses, submit to circumcision, and keep the customs of the Jews (Johnson).  You might think, “Well, following Jewish practices, laws, and customs is no longer a problem for us today, so why even consider this letter?”  It is interesting, however, that new substitutes for Christian liberty have continued to be proposed throughout history.  Wherever people become enslaved to ceremonies and whenever the Holy Spirit's leading is opposed by a code of laws, there Paul's message of Christian liberty and spiritual religion needs to heard once again (Ibid).  Let's look now at chapter 5 where Paul explains three ways that Christians should use their liberty in Christ.

In the first verses of chapter 5, Paul writes, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.  Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing.”  Then Paul argues that those who put their confidence in the external ritual of circumcision must keep all of the law of Moses, have really fallen from God's grace and have annulled Christ’s death on the cross (5:3-12)!  Having addressed the issue of circumcision, Paul then elaborates some more on his theme of Christian liberty. 

 

Before we look at the text, please allow a few more introductory remarks.  One writer, after having described the tremendous buildup of military weapons by the German army in WWII, made this very interesting comment about the possibility of victory for the Germans: “Formidable as German military power was becoming at the beginning of the summer of 1939, the prospect of success in the war which Hitler was planning for in the early fall depended on what kind of a war it was” (W. Shirer quoted by Whitfield).  Well, what does that have to do with Galatians?  Well, Paul let’s us know that “the kind of war which is waged determines whether the weapons employed will be successful.  [You see,] the Law [of Moses] as a spiritual weapon [will be] ineffective because of the nature of the warfare.  Galatians 5 describes a spiritual warfare, a war within the soul, a war between our [human nature and God’s Spirit]. … The problem in Galatians was that a particular group of people came into the church … who believed that the only way to fight sin was with Old Testament Law.  They taught the Gentile Christians in the church at Galatia that to be holy they would have to be circumcised, to keep certain regulations, and to observe feasts].  They attempted to fight a spiritual warfare with weapons for a fleshly warfare.  To seek to subdue sin by means of the flesh is like trying to put out a grease fire with water; it won’t work—it only makes matters worse!   To understand Galatians 5, it is key to recognize that Paul argues in this passage that the Law promotes sin, but the Holy Spirit prevents it (Ibid).”

Now let's examine our text.  Verses 13-15 say:
For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!”  Paul says, “Use your liberty to live lovingly!”  Let’s look at v. 13 closely.  You have been called to liberty.  Christians have been called by the Gospel to a life of freedom!  Praise the Lord!  Jesus came to set the captives free, and not to put them in bondage again.  “Only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh.”  The word “opportunity” is a military term denoting a base of operation.  Don’t let your freedom be the starting point for you to fulfill all the desires of your human nature!  You see, Christian liberty is very different from that which the world exalts.  With worldly liberty, we often think, “Oh wow, no restraints!  I can do whatever my heart desires!  I can indulge myself to the hilt!”  One of the great paradoxes of Christian liberty is that we don’t use it to indulge ourselves and our own human nature.  We use our liberty to become the slave of everybody in the church!  “But through love (or by keeping others' best interest and welfare above our own), serve one another.”  Our human nature expects others to conform to us and often just writes off others, but when we give ourselves over to helping others, too really seeking their good and strengthening them, then we are using a spiritual weapon in our warfare to conquer our human nature!  Isn’t that exactly the pattern shown by our Lord?  He had more liberty than anyone who has ever walked this earth.  So what did He do with it?  He used His liberty through love to serve others—to heal the sick, to seek the lost, to encourage the downcast, to wash the feet of His closest friends and to reassure them on that fateful night, to become the sacrificial lamb for all’s sins, to forgive the fallen after His resurrection, to establish His church!  Good brethren, that kind of service begins right here among ourselves.  The church is place where we can see that Christian liberty is not freedom TO sin, but freedom FROM sin.  Not freedom to indulge ourselves, but freedom to deny ourselves!  Use your liberty to live lovingly by serving others.

Verse 14 is very interesting: “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”  “Alright,” Paul says, “if you Galatians want to get back to keeping the Old Testament, well, here it is in nutshell—love you neighbor as yourself.”  But what does this mean?  It means that just as we naturally take care of ourselves, so we should take care of others around us.   A man told about a lady who was a member of his little country church in Tennessee many years ago.  Every time she came to church, she brought her Bible with her.  In fact, everywhere she went, she took her Bible, all over town.  It seemed like the subject of religion was always on her mind.  She had long forgotten how to carry on a normal conversation with others, and nearly always brought up something about religion.  But whenever she talked about poor people, or the unemployed, or drunks, or divorced people, she had nothing to say but criticism.  She was without mercy and compassion towards these people.  And she was always complaining about how others in the church mistreated her as well.  She may have carried a Bible and talked religion, but she did not obey Galatians 5:14!  Brethren, this sister was in TN, now let me bring it closer to home.  Another member and I were making weekly visits to a member who no longer attends here.  About our fifth meeting, they told us this: “You are the only people in 27 years who have visited with us, shown some concern for us, and tried to win us back!”  Use your liberty to live lovingly by caring for others.

And then comes verse 15, probably the most interesting verse yet: “But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!”  Now who in the world is Paul talking about here, these folks acting so cruelly?  We all know too well don’t we—he’s talking about Christians who have put keeping Law above following Christ!  Imagine for a moment that the Law is a map.  It gives us an indication and points us in the right direction.  It points us to the goal, but the map will never get us to the destination.  In fact, instead of taking us to the righteousness of caring for one another as we should, law keeping only boomerangs and causes us to become more selfish and aggressive against others.  Why is that?  The simple answer is that the Galatians had the Law pointing them in the right direction, but they failed to realize they needed a vehicle to get them to the destination.  They thought that they could make it to the destination on their own personal accomplishment?  And that approach led to pride, and comparisons, and fussing, and putdowns, and would eventually lead to destruction.  Someone has observed: “A wonderful test of our spiritual state is simply how we treat other people.  No matter what spiritual image or status we may have, God deeply cares about how we treat others.  We want to make the measure how much we pray, how much of the Bible we know, how many things we ‘don't do.’  But the measure really is: do we treat our brothers and sisters as Jesus would treat them?  This group at Galatia sounded like a pack of wild animals!  And that's exactly how Christians can act when they use their liberty and their law-keeping as a platform to promote their own selfishness” (Guzik)!  “Use your liberty to live lovingly by honoring and esteeming one another.”  Paul says to serve others, to care for others, and to honor others.  Let’s use our liberty to live lovingly!

Now let’s read vv. 16-23 where Paul challenges us to use our liberty to live spiritually.  I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.  For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.  Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  Against such there is no law.”  “Walk in the Spirit”  Walking is common picture of traveling the “road of life” and making progress upon it.  But who in our culture walks anymore?  Perhaps Paul would tell us: “Travel or ride in the Spirit.”  You see, this is the vehicle that we all need to help us get to the destination that the Law was pointing us to!  The Holy Spirit—isn’t that a Being that’s somewhat difficult for us to understand?  God the Father is not too bad for we read about His work and words all through the Bible.  Christ is even clearer because the Word became a human, and we can watch Him and see how He reacted.  But the Holy Spirit—He’s so different, so ethereal, somewhat mysterious, so hard for us to put in our little boxes and tame.  Why are we afraid of the Holy Spirit?  If Satan can tempt us, why can’t the Holy Spirit prompt us?  As Christians, the Holy Spirit becomes a new tenant and takes up residency in our lives.  Has He done some house-cleaning in your life?  Are we letting Him drive us down the roads that He sees best for us?  How can we tell if someone is walking or traveling in the Spirit?  Well, they will look a lot like Jesus won’t they because Jesus told us that the mission of the Holy Spirit would be to promote and speak of Him (v. 26 of John 14 and 15)!  And Jesus certainly didn’t live for the desires of our human nature did He?  He always put God’s desires above His own didn’t He?  Even if it meant the agony, the scorn, and the shame of a Roman cross!

Let’s notice verse 17-18 again: “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” Yes, there’s our spiritual warfare, and what a great weapon we have in God’s Holy Spirit!  Now here’s a comparison for you who use computers: we are like a computer, and we have two hard drives in us.  One is programmed according to human nature, and the other is programmed according to the Holy Spirit.  In any given situation, it's up to us to decide which "drive" we will access.  The resources of human nature drive are there, and the resources of the Holy Spirit drive are there, but which will we access?  In this illustration, the law is like an error message that keeps popping up on your human nature drive.  It doesn't fix the drive, and it sometimes makes the system crash, but it does tell you something is wrong, and it provide an error message.  Instead, the Holy Spirit drive has programming on it that will take those error messages and  transform them, make all of your applications run better, and never crash your system.  And one day, when we get to heaven, God will replace both drives with a resurrection upgrade (Guzik)!

“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.”
  The weapon in our spiritual warfare is not Moses’ Law, but God’s Spirit!  We don’t need the Law because we fulfill God’s will through the inner influence of the Holy Spirit as opposed to the outer influence of the written law.  God’s will is now written on our hearts, just as the prophet Ezekiel in our reading today said they would be: “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.”  The Spirit enables us to do God’s will!  Use your liberty to live spiritually by walking in the Holy Spirit.

But if we chose to live according to the human nature drive, what will that look like?  It’s pretty ugly because Paul gets very specific here by spelling out sins involving sex, sins involving religion, sins involving animosity, and sins involving substance abuse:
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like …”  Even though our spiritual battle is inward and invisible, the devastating results are seen outwardly.  Use your liberty to live spiritually by avoiding sinful and fleshly behaviors!  But why?  Paul gives us the consequences in no uncertain terms: “I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”  Those who continually do the works of our human nature are in plain rebellion against God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and they will not go to heaven!  My brothers and sisters, we can all commit these sins, but don't STAY in them!  Confess your sins, abandon them, and start letting the Holy Spirit help you to develop different behaviors that are the result of His influence.

And what do those look like?  Paul doesn't leave us in the dark: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  Against such there is no law.”c  Fruit is attractive, fruit is nourishing, fruit is delicious—don't you want to have that kind of character?  But get this, you can't produce it yourself!  It only comes by abiding in the True Vine!  Jesus told us: “I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me, you can do nothing.”  This fruit doesn't require gardening but imitating.  If we live like Jesus, we'll bless others, and we'll be cheerful, steady, patient, thoughtful, generous, reliable, teachable, and very consistent!  You see, if we'll follow Christ, we won't need the Law because we'll already be fulfilling it!  Use your liberty to live spiritually by practicing godly behaviors like Jesus did!  Walk in the Holy Spirit, avoid fleshly behaviors, and imitate Jesus!  Let's use our liberty to live spiritually!

Paul rounds off this section by admonishing us to use our liberty to live radically!  His words beginning in verse 24 are: “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”  Have you put a steam-roller to your human nature's passions and sins lately?  Think about it this way.  “There was one of those traditional, yellow highway warning signs that had only one word: Bump!  And sure enough, 100 feet later, there was a bump in the highway.  Now that's not unusual, but what is unusual is that this particular bump was there for at least 3 years!  Instead of eliminating this bump, the highway department just left up a sign of warning.  Now certainly that's  not good, but isn't it worse when Christians live like this?  You know, they go around to others saying things like, 'You'd better be careful around me because I have a short temper.  Well, you know, I'm prone to say a few bad words every now and then.  I have a problem getting along with certain kinds of people, and you'll just have to accept me for who I am.'  You see, these brethren just announce to everybody that they have a 'bump' in their lives, but they won't do anything about it.  They've put their sign, but they fail to bring out the steam-roller” (S. Shepherd)!  I called it steam-rolling, but Paul even calls it crucifixion—now that's radical!  Use you liberty to live radically by crucifying earthly passions.

Paul then says: “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”  Isn't it interesting that Paul mentions walking in the Spirit, being led by the Spirit, and living in the Spirit?  It's as if he is saying, “We must show the conduct of the Spirit, we must live in conformity to the Spirit's will, and must maintain a vital fellowship with the Spirit (Burton)!”  It's not the Law's regulations, but it's the Spirit's relationship!  Use your liberty to live radically by following heavenly directives.  If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”  The Holy Spirit is our Different Drummer, and His music is not only out of this world but sometimes it makes no earthly sense!  Now that's radical, my fellow saints! 

“Alright, Bro. Paul, I'll put the steam-roller to my passions, crucify my lustful desires, and try to march to the Holy Spirit's heavenly drumbeat!”  Great, but please notice the last warning that Paul gives: “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”  “What a masterful stroke of Satan this can be!  Finally, a child of God is walking in the Spirit again, but then he tempts him or her to be conceited about it!  Soon they are sure that they are always right and everyone else is wrong.  Such an attitude certainly provokes others and leads them open to the sin of envy” (Guzik)!  You see, we have put ourselves again at center stage trying to earn our salvation rather than living humbly in gratitude and mercy for the salvation that we are given each day!  Use your liberty to live radically by keeping humble and showing mercy.  Crucify your earthly passions, follow the Spirit's heavenly directives, and keep living humbly with your brothers and sisters in the Lord.  Use your liberty to live radically!

Someone has written a poem entitled “I Have Been Baptized”:

This is the sum of my religion: I have been baptized.  Sinful as a heathen abroad, but I have been baptized.

Sinful ways I've never forsaken, crooked paths I oft have taken, yet my faith remains unshaken for I have been baptized.

Yes, I chew, seduce, and gamble, but I have been baptized.  On the dance floors quite gayly ramble, still I have been baptized.

I get mad and fiercely battle, drink at times like salted cattle, and my lips profanely rattle, but I have been baptized.

No, I never give to missions, though I have been baptized.  Leave the heathen to perdition if they have not been baptized.

All my money I am needing, so I hear their cry unheeding, disregard the Spirit's pleading, but I have been baptized.

This is all my hope of heaven, I have been baptized.  Though my sins remain unforgiven, I have been baptized.

And when in judgment's light agleeming, on my guilty soul is steaming, then my plea, I'll still be screaming: I have been baptized!

Fellow servants, this poem was not cited to put down baptism.  It is a vital truth in Christ's teaching.  But it was cited to warn about painted Christians.  What's the difference between a paint job and a stain job?  A paint job is applied only to the surface, but a stain job soaks in and goes down deep beneath the surface.  The person in this poem wanted a religion that only changed the surface; their heart remained unchanged and works of their human nature made themselves manifest.  Do you want a relationship with Jesus that soaks in and goes down deep?  Then follow Paul's advice in Galatians 5: Use your Christian liberty to live lovingly, to live spiritually, and to live radically!  Paint or stain?  Law or liberty?  Consuming one another or serving one another?  Human nature or a Distant Drummer?  Road signs or reconstruction?