The greeting.

Beloved, in the Name of Christ greetings. I pray that you might have enjoyed a day of rest for your bodies. We do get weary from our day-to-day work. And I would add, as strange as it sounds, we get weary even from our recreation. That’s why we need one whole day’s rest from work and play. But I especially hope that you had rest for your soul in Christ today. In this hectic world in which we live we especially need to be refreshed in the Lord regularly. One whole day to hear His word, read His word, pray, praise, and do works of mercy. What a blessing. (WLC 117, WSC 60)

The Scripture.

Today we are still in the book of Galatians. A short reading, Galatians 5:13-15. We are going to look at a subject that Paul has already introduced – Christian freedom. Please read along with me. Remember to read in faith, believe every word, and try to listen with a purpose to put into practice everything you learn from God’s word today. Hear the holy word of God, Read.  

Galatians 5:13. For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

The petition.

Let’s go to our heavenly Father and ask His blessing upon our worship today. Remember, we come to Him through the Son and in reliance upon the Holy Spirit. Pray.

We are at war.

Well, in the past few sermons we have spoken a fair bit about the Christian life as a spiritual battle. (I Tim.6:12, Eph.6:10-18, 2 Tim.4:7, Jas.1:12)

Now I want you to stop and think about that for just a moment. Our life as Believers will be spent in a spiritual warfare against the devil, who the Scripture says is the fallen god of this age. He fights against us by tempting us to sin against God. He is the great Tempter. (Mt.4:3) We fight him by resisting him in the Name of Christ. (Jas.4:7) We fight against the world of unbelievers who are captive and deceived by the devil and so they serve his evil purposes. (2 Cor.4:4, Jn.14:30, Rev.12:9, Eph.2:2) We fight them by resisting their temptations, by separating from their company as far as we are able, and by giving them the word of God and by doing good to them as they do evil to us. (Lk.6:20-38, Rom.12:17-21)

Lastly, we fight against our own fallen flesh. For me Beloved I think this is our worst enemy. James tells us that our flesh wages war against the things of the Spirit. (Jas.4:1) Paul says the same thing in Romans chapter seven. (Rom.7:14-17, Gal.5:17) Peter says the same thing in his first epistle. Listen to God’s word.

I Peter 2:11. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

We are at peace.

Given all that we have just said I want you to consider another truth in God’s word about you as a lover of Christ. As a Believer in Jesus the Bible says that we now have peace with God. Christ by His blood has taken away the enmity of God against us for our sins. (Rom.5:1-10) God is now our Father. And we are now His Beloved children. (Jn.1:10-13) Christ by His blood has subdued us to God. We are no longer at war with God. In Christ we now have peace of conscience. (WLC 83, WSC 36) Jesus is our Advocate. He leaves us His peace. (Jn.14:27) We have peace with our fellow man (to the extent that it depends upon us) in that we now have received a dove-like spirit and a lamb-like spirit the moment we became born again new creatures in Christ. (2 Cor.5:14-21, Rom.8:14-16)

Consider then the two seemingly opposite truths we just mentioned. As Christians we are at war. As Christians we are at peace.

This is not Orwellian doublespeak as used by Big Brother Government in the book “1984”, that the department of war is called the department of peace. No, this is a form of Satanic deception, trickery with words designed to enslave.

Christians are at war in one sense. Christians are at peace in a different sense. Christians are at war with certain objects. And Christians are at peace with different objects or subjects. So, then both are true when understood rightly.

We are free.

Now like that we are going to consider today that the Bible on one hand says that we as Christians are free, we are free men and free women in Jesus. Paul opened chapter five with this, it was for freedom that Christ set us free, therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery. (Gal.5:1)

Jesus tells us that He sets us free.

John 8:31. So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33 They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free ‘?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. 35 “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. 36 “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. (2 Cor.3:17, Rom.8:1-4, I Pt.2:16, Isa.61:1)

In our passage we will also unpack this idea of Christian freedom.

We are slaves.

But also, God through Paul tells us that we are obligated to serve others. So, in this way we are servants or more properly – slaves. In fact, the apostles Peter, Paul, John, and authors James and Jude all refer to themselves as bond-servants or slaves of God or slaves of Christ. (Lk.2:29, Rom.1:1, Gal.1:10, Col.1:7, Jas.1:1, 2 Pt.1:1, Jude 1:1, Rev.1:1, 15:3)

This means that like Christ’s slaves we are bound to think, speak, and do what pleases Christ our Master. Free from the devil and sin. Bound to God in Christ to love and holiness.

This is how Paul expresses both of these ideas together in his first letter to the Corinthians.

I Corinthians 7:21. Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. 22 For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. (Exod.21:2, Gal.3:28, Col.3:11)

The fact of Christian freedom.

Let’s see if we can better understand our Christian freedom. Because sadly Christian freedom or liberty is often misunderstood and misused and abused.

Well, in verse one of this chapter God tells us that Christ has set us free for freedom. So, our freedom in Christ is of a particular kind. And the contrast is for freedom and not for slavery. Christian freedom is not a universal freedom to do anything.  (Gal.5:1) Things that God says are slavery we are not free to do. And we know that these things are sin. Sin is slavery. We are not freed by Christ to sin.

Let me say again, we have no liberty from Christ to sin.

God further explains our freedom in V.13 when He gives us both positive and negative instructions about Christian freedom.

Galatians 5:13. For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Negatively.

Christ did not set us free from the law of God so that we could break the law of God freely, without fear of divine reprisal.

You see Paul is warning the people under the sway of the legalist, do not swing the other end of the spectrum and become an antinomian or libertine. Why we humans are prone to this I do not know. But we are prone to extremes. Extremely strict to extremely loose. Paul has been saying we are not saved by our law keeping. But that does not mean we are anti-law. No. We have been saved “unto” law keeping. Not saved by our obeying. Saved by Christ’s obeying. Saved now to obey – out of love.

Positively.

Christ did set us free to love others.  Paul is quoting Leviticus 19:18. Martin Luther says the freedom of the Christian is slavery to love. What a wonderful maxim. Christian freedom is slavery to love! The idea is that Jesus freed us from the wrath and the broken law of God so that we can love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. (Mt.22:35-40)

Let me say a word on love. Sometimes Christians are quick to say, oh I love you, or as we said in my old charismatic church, “I love you man”! 😊 Beloved, be careful to be honest with yourself and with others and with God. Much of what we say is “love” for others is not love. When we walk away and in a nano-second we are angry or peevish or we gossip against them, this is not love. When you think of use the word “love” think of the love of your children or grandchildren or wife or husband or mother or father. When these people are unlovely to us we still love them because we “really” love them. Ask God in Christ to help you really love others.

The purpose of Christian freedom.

Now the connection with this subject of being freed to love and what the apostle has been writing about for the entire book thus far is very important.

To vindicate the gospel of justification by faith alone in Christ alone.

Paul has been inspired by God to write in favor of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, what we might call this free justification and full and free justification at that. And that is to say, justification apart from any of our works of the law, ceremonial or moral, or any of our good works. Our works do not justify us before God. (Rom.5:1, Eph.2:1-9, Rom.3:28, Gal.2:16, Rom.4:5, Jn.5:24, Gal.5:6, Gal.2:21, Rom.3:20, Phil.3:1-14)

Let me give one or two instances of this.

Galatians 2:16. nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.

Galatians 3:23. But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. 24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

Now here the servant of Christ comes to speak about Christian freedom, freedom to love, freedom to serve. Do you see what Paul is getting at? His legalists opponents told the Galatians that that must do works of the law in order to be justified before God in addition to believing in Jesus.  And legalists have a very common critique of the true Gospel of justification by faith alone.

It runs something like this. If you tell people that Christ has paid for all their sins and merited all their righteousness and all they need to do is simply believe in Him then they are fully accepted unto God, well then you have now given them a license to go off and live in sin, without fear of damnation!  And of course, that is exactly what the legalists accused the apostle Paul of. Listen to how Paul states their criticism against his gospel.

Romans 6:1. What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?

Now before I give Paul’s answer to their criticism. I want to say that their criticism reveals something of their spiritual or religious or moral nature. The legalist does not love God. They are not motivated to obey God out of love to God. The are motivated to obey God out of love for self. They trust in their works and not Christ’s works. This is the devil in religious clothes. Hatred for God and selfish pride in religious garb. They are the older brother in Luke 15 that professes perfect obedience. (Lk.15:25-32, Lk.18:9-12, Mk.10:20) God is not deceived.

And so even their objection to full and free justification by the pure gift of God shows their selfish, mercenary, and fleshly heart.

To instruct the Believer in the nature of our freedom.

Our passage is Paul’s answer that justification by faith alone does not produce lazy and sinful Christians. This is very similar to what our Lord’s half-brother James says in his epistle in chapter two of that letter. Faith without works is dead, or dead faith, or false faith.

He goes on to speak about our justification by (good) works and the idea is that our faith is justified as true and saving before ourselves and before others. (Jas.2:8-26)

And what is interesting is that James quotes the very same commandment of God that testifies that we are truly justified by faith and that is to love our neighbor as ourselves. He calls this law the royal law. (Jas.2:8)

Think of it this way, we are declared to be holy by the imputed righteousness of Jesus received by faith, that is our justification. And from that the Holy Spirit infuses the righteousness or the holiness of Christ in us, to be practically and progressively holy like Christ, that is our sanctification.

Simply put, Christ saves us to be holy. To be holy declaratively. To be holy practically. And love to God and love to man in word and deed is the best expression of holiness. Which is why these Pharisee-like legalists for all their outward so-called piety are not really holy. They have no love. Without love our profession of faith is a farse. Without active love we are nothing. (I Cor.13)

I want you to think of this if the life and the death of the Lord Jesus Christ presented to us in His gospel does not move us to amend our lives and love God and love man nothing will.

Now let’s consider these two instructions on our freedom, do love your neighbor, do not gratify your flesh.

Do love your neighbor.

Jesus has set us free to serve one another from the principle of love. 

Galatians 5:13. For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

The government of our freedom – love.

When we are governed by genuine affectionate love for God and love for others then we will not abuse our Christian liberties by hurting other people.

Think of the Ten Commandments. If we love God and man we will treat them lovingly. But if we do not love God and man then we will treat them un-lovingly. Think of each of the Ten Commandments and apply that idea to each. For example, if we loved God we would not abuse His name. (3rd commandment) If we loved our neighbor then we would not abuse his name. (9th commandment)

Remember God here tells us that we have been freed by Christ (God’s Suffering Servant) to serve others. And I stress that word “serve” one another. Gird our loins and wash feet like Christ.

And true love does serve others. Non-love of others serves self because in this case self is the only one loved. We serve those we love. Ouch!

The Bible gives us some examples of serving love with our Christian liberty. And remember Christian liberty is an inward thing, a freedom of conscience, a freedom in our beliefs. To use our Christian freedom is an external thing towards man. The when, where, and how of using our freedom is a thing of graced wisdom and Christlike love.

Paul says in the book of First Corinthians that if eating meat or doing anything not sinful offends his weaker brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ then he will abstain. And the idea is he will refrain in their presence. He is still free to enjoy what Christ has procured for him. He curbs his freedom if it will hurt another Christian out of love, love for Christ and love for fellow Christians. (I Cor.8:1-13, Rom.14:1-23)

I Corinthians 8:8. But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. 9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? 11 For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. 12 And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.

Imagine if we curbed our freedom and served others that differed with us on politics, or the virus, or masks?

The example of our freedom (to love) – Christ.

Think of the Lord Jesus Christ. He laid aside His divine glory and the worship of angels and He became Man to suffer all the indignities and agonies of a man – to serve us – out of love. Let’s imitate Christ by serving others, even to the point of curtailing our rights for a moment.

The usefulness of our freedom (to love) – assurance.

As I use the example of Christ’s love for us to motivate us to love God and to love others remember this, often we prove how much we love God by how much we love others. Or to put it another way when we obey God’s command to us to love our neighbor as ourselves, we reveal that we really do love God. Calvin says that love to God cannot be separated from the love of other people. Read the first epistle of John he says this very thing over and over again. (I Jn.2:5, I Jn.4:1-21, I Jn.5:2)

Listen to what the apostle John says on this.

I John 3:9. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. 11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; (I Jn.3:14-24)

The extent of our freedom (to love) – our neighbor.

By this term “neighbor” God is teaching us that there ought to be no discrimination in our service of love. Think of Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan. The Pharisee asks Jesus, so who is my neighbor. And Jesus says, anyone around you that needs help or need serving. (Lk.10:25-37)

In fact, the Jews hated the Samaritans. Jesus chose an example that would be like telling a democrat to love a Trump supporter! 😊

Remember the book of James in chapter two condemns the Christians for showing favoritism to the rich and for looking down on the poor. (Jas.2:1-8) Unbelievers show love to some and disdain for others. We do this is so many ways. We love/like those in our own denomination, but not those that differ. The same is true with those that differ in politics. Do we really love fellow Christian democrats, libertarians, and republican if they differ with us?

We are called to something infinitely higher. (Lk.6:32-37)

You see these false gospel teachers were all concerned about the circumcision of the flesh, but they did not stress what God stresses – love. 

Do not gratify your flesh.

Now Paul does warn us not to use our Christian liberty to serve our fleshly lusts. Saved to serve Christ and others. Not saved to serve the flesh. (2 Pt.2:13-22, Jude 1:4-13)

Here is so questions we should ask ourselves, in what ways am I gratifying my fallen flesh? Am I making an idol out of food with gluttony? What about unclean looks or thoughts? What about bitter words or even angry countenances? 

Galatians 5:13. For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. 

Notice Paul says to be careful that we do not turn our freedom into an “opportunity” for the flesh. The idea is that our flesh is combustible material, it does not need much of a spark to ignite. Think of our fallen flesh looking, watching, and waiting for an opportunity to serve itself.

For example, can a Believer drink alcohol as long it is not to excess, to drunkenness? Yes. But let’s say this Believer goes to a pub after work, day in and day out to have a drink, might this not to a potential venue for the flesh?

I am thinking of two pastors in the news of late, one living, one dead. The living one is a casual pastor. The dead one was a cerebral pastor-teacher-apologist. They both gave in to the same fleshly desire. They forgot Jesus saved them to serve holiness and not serve sin. Oh beloved, this passage has great practical value to all of us.

In part, Paul introduces the bad results of not loving others in order to motivate us to love others.

One evidence of the flesh is quarreling with others, which the apostle brings up in V.15. Fighting with others is the flesh, it is sin, it is the opposite of loving and serving others. Using our Christian freedom, we ought to be especially on guard against getting into arguments with other people. We ought to remember this as we use social media.

Now the context is with other people in the church. But I would apply this to all people. The Bible says that God’s servants must not be pugnacious, which means apt to fight. (I Cor.11:18)

Fights mostly come from pride, a love affair with self.

It does seem by Paul bringing this particular sin up that perhaps the Galatians were prone with fighting with one another. And Beloved, that is actually not so strange given the fact that they have imbibed a false legalist “gospel”. Pharisees do not love; they are bitter people because they do not enjoy the love of God in their soul. And therefore, they are prone to embitter people that are around them. They stir up strife because their spirit is not at rest.

I will say this, most often fighting among Christians is a great sin. The devil is behind this. He cannot curse the church, but he can corrupt it by instigating fights and disagreements.

How man churches have been destroyed because professing Christians abused and misunderstood their Christian liberty and they did not serve others ought of love, they served themselves out of sin?

How many marriages have been destroyed because the husband would not serve his wife out of love? Of the wife refused to serve her husband out of love? How many churches have been destroyed by Christians fighting with one another? And the church looks on and mocks. They do not care if we say we are perfect five-point Calvinist. They can see our lovelessness for others. Beloved, Jesus says the greatest mark of a true Believer is our love for other Believers.

The conclusion.

Remember we love Christ because Christ first loved us. We have saving faith in Jesus and so we love Him. Faith is the root; love is the fruit. If your love of the Lord is growing cold, then fan your faith in Him in His word and in prayer and your love will grow. Like that, if you lack love for other people, rather than trying to “force” yourself to love them, which I think is impossible or worse to say you love them when in fact you really don’t. The best course is to fan your faith in Christ. The more you grow in the Lord the more you will love others.

And to express your love for others, look to Christ again. Imitate Him. Be happy to be Christ’s servant to them. (Phil.2:1-11, Jn.3:16)

Amen

 

 

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