This is the manuscript for the sermon I will preach this Sunday at 2 churches. I thought I’d go ahead and post it. I will add audio link after Sunday.
I think freedom is one of the deepest longings of the human heart.
Wars have been fought, songs have been sung, philosophies developed – all for the cause of freedom. So it should not surprise us that when Jesus entered into human history — some of his earliest public words in a synagogue came from the book of Isaiah — and Jesus said he was fulfilling it: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me…He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners…to set the oppressed free.”
In the John passage read earlier, Jesus said “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” And in Galatians, freedom is the theme. Galatians has been called the charter of Christian liberty. Chapter 5:1 says:
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then,
and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
When I was here Memorial Day weekend, I spoke on Romans 5 and the great doctrine of justification. Galatians is also about justification but Paul’s approach and reason for writing is different. Galatians is a corrective letter. There is a crisis.
Paul is astounded and even outraged at times as he writes this letter to the Christians in Galatia. So what is going on?
Galatia is located in what is now modern day Turkey. These gentile Christians (not from a Jewish background) had been gloriously saved by grace though faith in Christ. And Paul, after a brief greeting, jumps right into it! Galatians 1:6-7 says:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.”
False teachers had arrived telling them that faith in Jesus was not enough, and that they also had to be circumcised and follow the OT Law – meaning different rules and rituals of the Old Testament.
At first, we could think that this has nothing to do with us today –
but there are modern parallels. It is the conflict between grace and law, or faith and deeds.
Because the Galatian Christians had gotten confused, Paul had to take them back to the starting line. Their spiritual journey was drifting off course, because they deserted their gospel beginning. Paul goes to great lengths to clarify the gospel. Galatians 2:16 says, “know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.”
Paul is repetitive! Three times in that verse he says that we are not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Christ. Do you sense, perhaps, some frustration on Paul’s part – that he goes so overboard to make the point.
Remember to be justified is to be seen as just or righteous in God’s sight. How does a person come into a right relationship with God? How can we be seen as justified or righteous in the sight of a holy God? There is no more important question in this world than that one. Your eternal destiny depends on it.
In Galatians 2:20-21 Paul continues: “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
Wow. That verse ends in an exclamation point by the way. It is hard to get clearer than that. If our good deeds could gain us God’s favor and make us righteous, then Christ died for nothing.
— So, what about the law? The 10 Commandments are part of the Old Testament law and certainly these are a good code by which to live.
We should not lie, steal, commit adultery, murder, and so on. Society is a better place when people are honest, honor their marriage vows, respect life, and so on.
But the law is NOT good if we are relying on it to make us right with God. In fact, Paul calls it a curse. In Galatians 3:10-11 states: “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’ Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because ‘the righteous will live by faith.’”
— Paul is repeating himself again, isn’t he? He doesn’t want us to miss the point. Why is the law a curse? Because it puts us in bondage. We are a prisoner that can’t break free. The law condemns. The law knows no mercy. James 2:10 says “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”
The law is a cruel master – holding us to a standard that we cannot keep. The law reveals our sin, but cannot remove it. That is why Jesus came to this earth for us. Paul continues in Galatians 3:13 “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” — Jesus bore the penalty for our sin on the cross.
The law is a cruel master, but Jesus is a merciful and kind one. Galatians 3:26 says: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith” and Galatians 4:7 says: “So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child.” When we sin and seek God’s forgiveness, Jesus is merciful. Our inability to keep the law is precisely why Jesus died for us. Jesus has freed us from slavery to the law.
Nothing you do can make God love you more, and nothing you do can make God love you less.
Perhaps you feel uncertain about that statement? But that is grace. Grace is God’s undeserved favor. We cannot earn it. We cannot deserve it.
— In many of the verses in Galatians this morning I hope you noticed something. There are statements such as “called to live in the grace of Christ” , “I live by faith” , and “the righteous will live by faith.”
We not only begin by faith, we keep living by faith. Paul does address the Christian life – how we are to live out this new found freedom that we, as believers, have in Christ.
And this is where we can drift off course, just like the Galatians did. We are not emphasizing OT Law like they did, but nonetheless we can drift from God’s grace. It has been said that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
Satan wants to get us focused on ourselves and our works, instead of on Jesus and his all sufficient work for us on the cross of Calvary.
We need to be alert. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus. No matter where we are in our spiritual journey, we never outgrow the good news that got us started.
— If you are able, I’d like you to stand as I read Galatians 5:1 —
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
In the book of Romans, we find our standing. Remember my sermon last time was entitled: Are you standing in grace?
In Galatians, we take our stand. Are we going to live free?
We can all too easily revert to performing for God. We can begin to think of our Christian life as a self-improvement program. We can become self-reliant and self-righteous. We can turn our spiritual life into a formula, or a series of steps. Worse yet, we can think we are doing things to keep or gain God’s favor.
But that puts us back under the curse of the law! Remember the law is a cruel master, holding us to a standard we cannot keep.
Imagine if someone, out of the blue, gave you a brand new car as a gift. Wow. You begin to drive and enjoy the car, and then the person who gave you the car presents you with a long list of rules and regulations you must follow in order to stay in their favor and keep the car. I’m not so sure that car was actually a gift after all. You may even decide to give the gift back.
— There are types of Christianity that teach that we can do things to get special favor from God. A book by a very popular Christian pastor has this title: It’s Your Time: Activate Your Faith, Achieve Your Dreams, and Increase in God’s Favor.
Call that what you will, but it is not Christianity. There are multiple problems in that book title. But I think Paul would have the same words for this type of Christianity today as he did for the Galatians back then. Remember that Paul was upset, even angry in this letter, at how the Galatians were abandoning the Gospel.
We cannot lose the gospel – that good news of salvation by grace through faith. If you have trusted Christ as savior, you already have God’s favor.
We need to live in light of that favor – in light of God’s amazing grace. We are not living for favor from God, but because we already have favor from God.
A theologian said this: “the essence of theology (that is, our beliefs) is grace; the essence of ethics (that is, how we live) is gratitude.”
Are we really thankful for all God has done for us through Christ?
In Galatians 5:6 it says “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Other versions word it as “faith working through love.”
Maybe that sounds familiar to you?
The idea of “faith working through love” was an emphasis of John Wesley. We are Methodists, and Wesleyanism is our denominational heritage. Faith does and should work. Grace is NOT against work and effort, grace is against earning and deserving. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action.
“Faith expressing itself through love” –
Do we grasp the full significance of this challenging phrase?
In Galatians 3:11, it said “the righteous shall live by faith.” Remember that we were given this righteousness – we were justified by placing our faith in Christ – and now we should live in light of it. The apostle John said that “We love because Jesus first loved us.”
–Paul was fully aware of the danger that people would use freedom as an excuse to do whatever they wanted. Paul addresses this concern in Romans, as well as here in Galatians. Freedom can be abused. Galatians 5:13 says, “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.”
This phrase “the flesh” is used in the New Testament to refer to our sinful tendencies. If we use our freedom to indulge our flesh – that leads us back into slavery. Sin too can hold us captive. You are free in Christ, but if you keep going down certain paths, indulging in sin, you will no longer be free. Freedom requires restraint.
And God’s grace does not mean there are no consequences in this life. Actions lead to something, and there is a clear cause and effect in life. Galatians 6: 7-9 says: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
– I believe that in these verses, Paul is referring back to chapter 5 which talks about the Holy Spirit in our life. The life of faith in chapter 5 is described as walking in the Spirit, being led by the Spirit, and producing the fruit of the Spirit. And, by the way, there is also a contrasting list of the fruit of the flesh – characteristics of our sinful nature. And now in chapter 6 it says we need to sow to the Spirit.
It is a farming illustration, and there are two fields – the field of the flesh and the field of the Spirit. Which one are we going to tend to? Which field are we going to plant, water, and fertilize? Giving our attention to the field of the Spirit helps create an environment where Christian freedom can thrive. We don’t want to end up a slave to the law or a slave to sin.
Remember “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Unlike the law and unlike sin, Jesus is a merciful and kind master.
–And I want to close with the words from a song by Tenth Avenue North. They are a contemporary Christian band, and that may not be your style of music. But I am always touched and challenged when I hear this song on Christian radio. And in these lyrics, it is as though Jesus is speaking to us:
Why are you striving these days?
Why are you trying to earn grace?
Why are you crying?
Let me lift up your face
Just don’t turn away.
Why are you looking for love?
Why are you still searching
As if I’m not enough?
To where will you go child
Tell me, where will you run?
Because I’ll be by your side, wherever you fall
In the dead of night, whenever you call
And please don’t fight these hands that are holding you.
Look at these hands at my side
They swallowed the grave on that night
When I drank the world’s sin
So I could carry you in
And give you life.