For Freedom (Galatians 5:1-12)
Topic: Galatians Passage: Galatians 5:1–5:12
When Jesus Isn’t Enough (Galatians)
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
November 4th, 2012
I. Which Would You Prefer?
Okay, which one of these would you prefer?
To hang out in your backyard on a beautiful Fall day, or to hang out in the ‘yard’ of a federal penitentiary?
Or what about this one: if you woke up one day to find yourself living on a southern plantation in the 1850’s, would you rather be the one giving the orders, or the one receiving the orders?
Which life would you prefer: life now in the European Union, or life fifty years ago in the
Would you rather sit in the corner at a recovery meeting, or sit in the corner at a crack house?
Would you prefer to saddle up a horse and drive a herd of cattle, or be saddled by debt and driven into court?
Would you prefer a whirlwind marriage or an arranged marriage? A sports jacket or a straightjacket? An easy chair or a wheel chair? Which would you prefer?
Your answers to these questions are not at all hard to guess. In each case, I know which one of these you would prefer. How do I know? Because we always prefer freedom. Freedom.
II. The Passage: “Stand Firm Therefore” (5:1-12)
This morning we are returning to our ongoing study in the book of Galatians. We started this study back in March, and we now find ourselves beginning what could be described as the second half, or even the third part of this letter from the Apostle Paul. Galatians 5:1-12.
If you've been with us before, or have studied this letter, you may know that Paul is writing, not to one church, but to what we might call a network of churches in a region called Galatia. Paul was one of the men whom God used to help start this church. But Paul is writing this passionate letter to his friends, to his spiritual brothers and sisters, because they've begun to veer off course spiritually. But look at the truth he reminds them of here in the opening words of verse 1...
For freedom Christ has set us free...
Freedom. There it is. “For freedom Christ has set us free”.
Right at the outset of this chapter, Paul wants to establish the main idea, the big idea. Paul has already mentioned this freedom in 2:4, and he spent a good deal of ink at the end of chapter 4 helping his readers understand that as Christians, we have been born again spiritually through the Spirit, and according to God's promises, and for freedom.
So now, Paul is going to spend some time in chapter 5 spelling out two things about this freedom. In this section, Paul will talk about both the idea “freedom from” and the idea of “freedom for”. We need to understand both of these. We need to live in both of these.
A. Freedom From Slavery (vs. 1-4)
To do that, let's look together at the first four verses of this chapter:
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.  Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.  I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.  You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.
All of us are longing for freedom. Do you recognize that about yourself? Maybe your political freedom comes to mind. In just a couple of days, we will be able to exercise our freedom to vote. But maybe this morning you are longing for a different kind of freedom. Maybe freedom from some struggle in your life. Freedom from a particular relationship. Freedom from a financial pit that seems so deep. Maybe freedom from an addiction, or from a dead-end job, or from bodily pain, or from a past full of regrets.
This morning, whichever kind of freedom is dominating your thoughts, I am so pleased to tell you, God cares about your freedom. He cares deeply about your freedom. He is passionate about setting people free. He is the Lord of liberation!
But God's agenda for freedom always begins with the freedom we need most. It's the freedom that Paul speaks of in verse 1; it's the freedom Jesus makes possible. Did you see that in verse 1? Jesus Christ “sets us free”. And He sets us free, not for a new kind of bondage, but for a life of freedom; ongoing freedom. But what exactly does all this mean? This morning, you might not feel very free. So what is Paul talking about here?
Well, look at these verses again. In talking about “freedom from”, we see from verse 1 that Paul is talking to his readers about freedom from “a yoke of slavery”. Remember, a “yoke” is a kind of harness that animals used when they are working in pairs. But what exactly is this “slavery” from which Jesus has set them free?
Well, that's where verses 2 and 3 come in. The slavery Paul is talking about here is slavery to the Old Testament Law. Now wait a minute. Isn't the OT Law a good thing? Aren't the Ten Commandments a good thing? Yes! Absolutely! But even good things can be misused and abused. You see, the slavery Paul is warning them about here is the slavery of “I can do it”. It's the slavery of “I am good enough”. It's the slavery of “I am strong enough.”. As he has before in this letter, Paul is once again talking about freedom from the 'shackles' of human effort, human performance.
You see, the Galatian churches were beginning to be infected by the cancer of false teaching. And the underlying lie had a Jewish bent. The lie went something like this: if you want to live as a good Christian, you must first live as a good Jew. And to live as a good Jew in that day and age, if you were a man, you first needed to be circumcised.
But as Paul indicates in verses 2 and 3, if you listen to these teachers and accept circumcision, you are choosing the path of human effort. Because if you believe you MUST be circumcised in order to be right with God, then you logically MUST keep ALL of the rules of the Old Testament. As one writer explained it:
“He who submits to circumcision as a legal requirement, necessary for salvation, accepts thereby the principles of salvation by law-keeping, and salvation by law-keeping implies salvation by keeping the whole law.” (F.F. Bruce)
Of course, in the first four chapters of this letter, Paul has already made it clear why this choice is so foolish: because NO ONE can keep all of these rules; because NO ONE can be righteous before God. Not only do we often choose the wrong thing to do, but very often, our attempts to do the right thing are self-serving, half-hearted, and motivated by obligation or pride. Therefore, to make our relationship with God about what we can DO, is to submit ourselves to a form of slavery, that will ALWAYS keep us in bondage.
But notice what else Paul points to in these verses. He describes another “freedom from”. To put yourself under the yoke of slavery, to place ourselves in the 'shackles' of human effort, tragically means “freedom from” Jesus Christ and His grace. Jesus bled and died on a Roman cross in order to DO what we could not DO. He kept all the rules! And then He took the punishment for all of OUR rule-breaking!
And this was the amazing message Paul had first proclaimed to the Galatians. If you believe that you can be right with God through what Jesus DID, not through what you DO, you will be free; you will be saved; you will be delivered, rescued, redeemed, forgiven, accepted.
But this is an “either/or”: either we are right with God because of what Jesus accomplished through His death and resurrection from the dead. OR, we are seeking to be right with God through our own accomplishments, through the Law or some other system. And if you are squarely on that latter path, then you are alienated from Jesus; it means you have fallen from that sphere of grace. It's “either/or”. (series title: “When Jesus Isn't Enough”)
Can you imagine a prisoner who was set free later choosing to return to prison for a more beautifully decorated cell? To the Galatians, this false message seemed very religious (as the message of human effort in most religions often does), but it was simply the same old bondage they once knew as pagans. The message of our DOING is always a form of slavery. Only the Good News of what Jesus has DONE can set us free. (Your Christian life?)
B. Freedom From Slave-Makers (vs. 7-12)
But there is another “freedom from” that Paul touches on in this passage. Look with me at verse 7 through 12, and think about how Paul coming at this same issue from another angle. He writes:
You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?  This persuasion is not from him who calls you.  A little leaven leavens the whole lump.  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.  But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed.  I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!
We see here that Paul is continuing to talk about “freedom from” this slavery of religious performance and human effort. But he is doing so by addressing the issue of “freedom from” the “slave-makers” themselves. He is going after the false teachers here. Look at how he describes these “slave-makers”, these “freedom-robbers”:
They are the ones (v. 7) who “hindered” or “tripped up” the Galatians, who were running so well in their pursuit of God, by grace, through faith. And even though their numbers were few, these teachers were (v. 9) like leaven that can infect and ruin a whole batch of bread. They are the ones (v. 10) who were “troubling” these churches. AND, they would be the ones (v. 10) to bear God's penalty for their twisting of the truth. You see, these teachers were not issuing God's call (v. 8).
But Paul was a faithful proclaimer of God's call. Even if these teachers were claiming that Paul, as a Jew, must also hold to the importance of circumcision, Paul's own experience of persecution from the Jews would easily overturn that idea. Paul was NOT preaching circumcision. No, Paul was preaching a cross and a Christ that offended most Jews. You see, the cross was not only a shameful death to Jews and Romans, but it also offends the pride of those who think they are good enough or can be good enough to be right with God.
Paul desperately wanted the Galatians to stand firm in the freedom of Christ; the freedom of faith in Jesus' performance. And at the beginning of verse 10, Paul declares his confidence that these Christians would respond positively to his letter; that they would 'course correct' and return to the message they first received.
As for these teachers, Paul's desire is expressed in verse 12: that they would no longer remove the flesh of the Galatians in the rite of circumcision, but that they would instead, remove, or literally “cut off” themselves. That the followers of Christ in Galatia would have “freedom from” these “slave-makers”.
To whom are you listening? Do the voices that most often have your ear (those close to you, your favorite writers, your favorite bloggers, your fellow sports-fans, the people at work), are those voices hindering you? Are they, maybe even without knowing it, are they reinforcing the message of slavery, the message of performance, the message of, “you are good enough”?
We need to surround ourselves with people who will help us “run well”, don't we? People who will help us “stand firm” in the freedom for which Jesus Christ has set us free.
III. Freedom For (vs. 5, 6)
But as I mentioned earlier, Paul also wants to speak to the Galatians about “freedom for”, not just “freedom from”.
Listen to what Paul tells them, listen to what God is telling us in the verses we skipped over, in verses 5 and 6:
For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
The Galatians we being told that only through the OT Law could they achieve a righteousness that God would accept. But Paul tells them, NO! Through God's Spirit (that is, not from us), and by faith (that is, the empty hand of the heart), the true follower of Jesus WAITS for the HOPE of righteousness (that is, the perfect righteousness that God will fully give us, through Jesus, when we stand before Him). Right now, by faith, we are DECLARED righteous because of Christ. But one day we will actually BE righteous, perfectly righteous because of Christ. But not yet.
As the Apostle Peter expressed it: But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (II Peter 3:13)
So does this mean a life without the “yoke” of the OT Law is a life of lawlessness? Absolutely not! Being saved by grace alone, through faith alone means not only “freedom from” the shackles of performance, but it also means “freedom for” a life of love. The Galatians were looking for an assurance that they were right with God because they had been or were going to be circumcised. But Paul tells them clearly, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything.
Instead, Paul says, “Here's what counts: that you believe, AND that your faith is expressing itself in love toward others.” Christ sets us free, not so that we can continue to live for ourselves, but so that we can live for God and for others. The Apostle John described this kind of love-based assurance:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (I John 4:7-8)
So we are changed people, not because we are trying to earn God's acceptance through our good works, but because we have God's acceptance through the work of Jesus. Faith that ONLY produces a confession of right teaching is not the kind of faith we're talking about. Through faith, the gift of God's Spirit produces love in us and through us. His love for us frees us to love others with His love.
Do you have this kind of assurance? Is God making you a more loving person because of your faith? If that is not happening in your life, then your faith is suspicious; something's wrong.
In this country, you may have political “freedom from” the oppression of a dictator, but what is that “freedom for”? Is it simply for the pursuit of your own happiness? The freedom for which Jesus Christ sets people free is the “freedom for” living a life of love, genuine love, biblical love, sacrificial love, self-giving love...Christlike love.
The OT Law could only prescribe love, it could not produce love. But the gift of God that we can receive through faith, the gift of life that Jesus died to give us, that gift can transform us from the inside out. (we will talk more about this love next week)
Freedom. What kind of freedom are you longing for this morning? Freedom from pain or pressure? Freedom from him or her? Freedom from your drug of choice, the one you've abused precisely because you were looking for freedom, for escape?
This morning, the Good News of Jesus is the good news of freedom, genuine freedom. And THAT freedom is the very freedom we need to face the other struggles that come our way. And when we know, and are savoring, and are walking in His freedom, God doesn't necessarily give us “freedom from” our problems. No, He gives us “freedom for” His grace and peace and joy and strength to be worked in our lives. Doesn't that sound amazing?
Which would you prefer: a life of trying to measure up to a standard you will never achieve in order to earn something you cannot earn, and therefore, living under the cloud of eventually receiving what you deserve, OR, a life of trusting that Jesus Christ did what you could not do, to give you what you could not earn, to give you the exact opposite of what you deserve, living a life marked by God's love TO you and THROUGH you?
Don't we always prefer freedom? If so, which one of those sounds more liberating to you?