For the last 8 or so weeks we have been talking about what God in Christ has done for us. And it has been one amazing ride from one blessing to the next, going to ever greater heights, and today we are going to look at how those blessings look when they are lived out. What do these blessings mean, and how do these translate into the everyday?
It all starts with breathing in the freedom in Christ. In Christ, all of humanities deepest fears have lost all of their power to enslave. Our sin, Satan, and this world wish to enslave us; they wish to make us subhuman. There is a legal fight for ownership over every soul here. And each soul’s case will go to the supreme court of the universe. For those that have put their faith in Christ, the word of the judge will be, “You are free!” “My chains are gone, I have been set free, my God my Savior has ransomed me, and like a flood his mercy reigns, unending love, amazing grace!” Christ has lived and died for us, so that we might be free from ourselves to live for others.
It is for Freedom that you are free.
- Don’t return to slavery
- Remove the enslavers
Don’t Return to Slavery
In order for us not to return to slavery we must first embrace freedom. As verse 1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Let that ring in the heart. We think our freedom is a way to something else, to do something. But there is a sense in which freedom is the goal of the gospel. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. He has come into our lives, destroyed our bonds and set us free. He is the great emancipator! The Bible says in him we are free from the curse of the law, free from the curse of Adam, free from spiritual death, free from fear of death, free from condemnation, free from the power of sin, free from the authority of Satan, and we are free to inherit all that Christ has purchased for us. You have to breathe in the fresh air of freedom. Fill the lungs, the minds, the heart with it. Enjoy it. Embrace it. Protect it.
“Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” We have to protect our freedom! We have enemies to the freedom we enjoy, both foreign and domestic. We must resist outside forces – “stand firm!” And we must watch ourselves so that we don’t return to enslavement. Slaves tend to adopt the worldview and mentality of slavery. Think of the Israelites, who were in Egypt for 400 years and then God delivers them. And what do the Israelites do in the wilderness? They pine away for Egypt – for slavery. “Seriously?! You were making bricks without straw!”
We have another example of Harriet Tubman, an American slave who ran away and helped others escape. She was called the Moses of her people. She started what was to become known as the Underground Railroad, freeing dozens of slaves. During this time, she often found that the slaves were too afraid to go toward freedom, and would want to turn back when things got hard. Tubman tells the story of one man who was thinking of going back to slavery. Moral was low, things were dangerous, and the food was almost gone. Now you should know, Tubman carried a revolver. She was a pistol packing American. It is said Tubman took the pistol, pointed it at him, and said, “You go to freedom or you die,” A few days later that man arrived in Canada with everyone else.
Galatians five is Paul’s gospel pistol driving us toward freedom, even when our hearts want to return to slavery. Don’t even think about going back to slavery, even for a moment. Paul tells others to do what he did in Galatians 2:5, “To not give into them for a moment.” Don’t give into the enslavers, whether legalistic Christians or the gods of this age, money, sex, popularity.
Verse 2, “Mark my words! I Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you.” Write this down, and take it to the bank, I the apostle Paul – that one sent by God in Verse 1 of this book; me, who is speaking with the authority of the risen Christ, I say to you if you accept circumcision as a sign of worthiness before God – Christ will be of no advantage to you. None – there is no human criteria that will make you acceptable. Circumcision enslaves you to obedience to the law, and it is rejection of the complete work of Christ. It is the handcuffs that will lead you back to prison. Churches have tried this throughout history. You have to do this, dress like this, sing only this to be a Christian. This year we celebrate freedom in Christ. Something that the Reformation won back for the church. Those human traditions enslave, only Christ is the emancipator. This is the challenge for us today, Christ will be your all or he will be nothing. Christ alone, faith alone, Scripture alone, this is freedom.
If we want to go outside of Christ then, when we get the bill for our sin there will be a big fat 0 next to Christ. And where do we go if Christ means nothing? You and I would be majorly in the debt column, in the red. It is not even an equal balance. We were created in God’s image, made for him, but we rejected him, and turned our back and hated him, in the most obscene way possible. That perfectly just, infinite, all knowing, and all present Creator of heaven and earth must punish that. And he did so in Christ, or he will do so in the last day for all those who want to depend on the law.
For as we read in Verse 3, “Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.” He says “again” here, because he is repeating what he said in 3:12, “The man who does these things will live by them.” Circumcision was a mark of the Mosaic covenant. The Israelites were in slavery under the law – they could not escape it. It was condemning them. The old covenant prepares for the new, announces the new, and anticipates the new, but to commit yourself to obeying and living under the old covenant, is to announce that the new covenant in Jesus is inadequate – not good enough. And so, you have rejected Christ, the gift of grace.
He makes this clear in verse 4 where we read, “You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” If you are being justified by the law you are decapitating yourself, cut off from the body, the body of Christ, who is the head, from whom all things have life. By living under the law it’s as if you are jumping out of an airplane, called the grace of Christ at 30,000 feet without a parachute, and let me tell you that fall from grace will hurt. Grace is the plane that will carry you home, you jump out and you are on your own. The law of gravity will get a hold of you. In the same way if you jump out of the grace plane the law will catch up to you and condemn you.
But by the grace of God found in Jesus Christ we will be taken home because we are in Christ, the gift of grace, and so “by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.” Our freedom found through faith in Christ is expressed by an eager waiting; Faith causes us to eagerly hope for the end of this battle against sin. That plane that we are on, called the grace of Christ, will one day take us home. It will land.
We are waiting for that eternal physical home of righteousness, a new heaven and new earth: With no sin - no condemnation. We confess every week, “I believe the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. AMEN.” Faith causes to wait eagerly like a child waits for his 4th birthday. That is the one where they start to get super excited for the birthday, and start counting down the nights before it comes. They know it is coming for sure, and they are eager, and excited. That should be us, when we look at this world and see the hope that we have in Christ.
Are you excited!? I am. Well, not really me, but Christ in me. As Paul says, “We eagerly await, through the Spirit.” By His Spirit I cannot wait for that day when this battle with sin is over, but until that day comes in Christ I will fight in the power of the Spirit against sin, against injustice, against wrong, I will look forward, and hold onto Christ. And at the end of my race we will confess that there is nothing we have done to make us worthy of these promises. It is all because of what he has done. O the beauty of the words “IN CHRIST!”
Verse 6, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.” With all Paul’s focus in this book on circumcision, you could see the church swinging the other way and not circumcising because they thought that would be better. Paul puts a stop to that in a hurry. They are both entirely irrelevant. Both groups were under a form of slavery.
The only thing that has value is the love of Christ flowing through us because of faith or as Paul says, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love.” And these three remain, “Faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love.” Here again we see the three in these two verses. By faith we eagerly await the righteousness for which we hope. And this faith expresses itself in love. Faith without works is dead. Faith without love is dead. Faith has a face, that face is love. There is that old song, “all you need is love (I think it is a Beatles song).” But that is not exactly true; here Paul says “all that counts is Faith expressing itself in love!” You need a love found within the parameters or bounds of faith, in Christ. Over the next few weeks we will look more at how this love looks. But before he goes there, we have to remove the cancer first, before we get put on the road to recovery.
Remove the Enslavers
Verse 7 says, “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?” I am thinking Paul must have loved sports, because he uses so many sports analogies, especially running. I know there are quite a few runners here. Paul is imagining the life of faith in Christ as a race. And man, did the Galatian church ever have a great start. They were running strongly and it was looking good. One thinks of the famous scene in the film, Chariots of Fire, when Eric Liddel, the great Scottish athlete and missionary says, “When I run I feel His pleasure.” The Galatians too knew the pleasure of running free in Christ. From the moment the gun sounded they had been running hard.
But all of a sudden there was someone else there, and instead of running with them, they were running them right off the track! These people were keeping them from “obeying the truth.” The truth here is the truth of the Gospel that Paul talks about in 2:5: it is the truth of King Jesus, who has set us free, through his death and resurrection. Who does not judge according to wealth, ethnicity or worldly power, but who judges the heart, and reigns through grace.
And this truth is to be obeyed – lived out. The Galatians were not doing that anymore, they were more worried about the man- made rules, and because of that they were worried what man was going to think. They were not living freely, and recklessly for their king. They were not looking toward the future of the church; they were looking to hold onto their identity – and then fighting anyone that would threaten that identity.
The truth of these false teachers obviously did not come from God, as he says in verse 8, “That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.” God did not call you to be enslaved to the law, or really any other man- made rules the church may impose – it is for freedom that God has made you free! Remember! Live that way. Live boldly and wholly for Jesus the King!
Because it only takes a little twisting of the truth, or one false teacher to bring us off track; Verse 9 “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” Some may not think it a big deal; it was just a little snip of the foreskin! Just cut it and make sure you are right with God. It only takes one little sin to go unnoticed for the whole body to be infected before long. Leave one cancerous sore behind and it can infect the whole body.
It reminds us of 1 Corinthians 5:6, where the church was boasting about accepting someone that was sinning sexually, and he says, “Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” As it is with matters of conduct there in Corinth, so it is with matters of doctrine here. It is a strong warning to the church to stand on guard against both life and doctrine, because Satan will use the smallest instances. Listen to Gods word and be careful to distinguish between the hiss of serpents and the whisper of God. I am thankful for the elders in this church that have taken the vow to watch their own life and doctrine closely and also be faithful shepherds of the church. And for all who believe in Christ there is never any doubt that God will keep his church.
As we read verse 10, “I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be.” I love this – here is a great pastor, separating the teachers of false doctrine from the church itself, with surgical precision. He warns the church, like a doctor, of how dangerous this small wound is and that it could infect them all, and then he applies the gospel bandage of assurance by saying “I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view.” His confidence is not in the church or how great they are, his confidence is in the Lord – that God will keep and guide his own. That is every pastor’s confidence as he leads the flock of Christ. This is my confidence too, that the Lord will lead you on the gospel road.
And then he says, “The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be.”” Assurance for the saints, and reckoning and judgement for the wolves in sheep clothes. God will find you out, he knows your heart, and you will pay the penalty. With surgical precision he separates the black spots in the church from the church itself. Do not lose hope, the day will come when every false teacher will be judged for every false world. God’s truth will reign supreme. In the meantime, if the false teachers wanted to keep teaching, Paul wishes they would just cut the whole thing off, emasculate themselves.
As he says in verse 12, “as for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves.” Apparently, Paul was a bit agitated too. Cut the whole thing off, if you think it’s such a big deal. We read in Deuteronomy 23:1 that, “No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the LORD.” Paul is basically saying, by circumcising yourself and returning to the law you are cut off from the church. It is that serious. Beloved if you think anything beyond, or other than Christ saves, we are in danger of being cut off from the church. Hold onto Christ, breath the freedom he has won for you. This kind of theology is exclusivist and offensive, and will receive persecution. But truth, by nature, stands alone. There are a million lies for every truth. And the Father of lies will persecute the children of truth.
. Verse 11, “Brother, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished”. Thomas Jefferson said, “I prefer freedom over peaceful slavery.” Why did Paul keep getting beaten, persecuted, whipped, imprisoned everywhere he went? Because he was fighting the battle for freedom. Freedom in Christ.
Circumcision stands for the religion of human achievement, of what man can do by his own good works; Christ stands for the religion of divine achievement, of what God has done through the work of Christ. Circumcision means law, works, bondage. Christ means grace, faith, freedom. Every man must choose. The one impossibility is what the Galatians were attempting, namely to add circumcision to Christ and have both.
So, will it be your work, or the cross, law or grace, works or faith? Often it comes down to this, do you want to be seen by men, do you want to pretend and make a show that you are always doing the right thing, or are you willing to humble yourself and confess sin, because there is freedom in Christ. Do you want to be popular, or be faithful?
The cross stares you in the face and says, ‘nothing you do can make you worthy of God’. And it says at the same time, ‘I will make you worthy’. Don’t feel insulted if I say you deserve nothing. In fact, it is in losing your life that you will find it. Do you see that? He who does not give up all on account of me is not worthy of me. It is in losing our life that we gain it. Jesus said it over and over when he was with us, and he lived it, giving up all, making himself nothing. And taking our place.
Will you walk the way of the cross with me, brother and sister? Do we want Christianity without the cross? There is none. We trust in the bloody Cross of Golgatha for our entire salvation. Everyone loves the false gospel. You get applause from the world if you preach a false Gospel, but Paul will stand with the cross, a symbol of a gruesome death, a symbol of dying to ourselves. Because it is there at the cross where the debt was paid to set us free. The church will not back down. Not today. Not Ever!