January 27, 2019
I want to start with a question this morning. What would you do for freedom? If you grew up in America, there is a good chance that you’ve never given that question much thought. But let’s imagine that you lived a life of slavery or oppression. Let’s imagine that you suddenly found yourself unjustly imprisoned. What would you do to obtain your freedom? How much is your freedom worth? History is filled with inspiring examples of men and women going to great lengths for their freedom.
*Think about Moses standing up to the most powerful man on the planet: “Let my people go!”
*Think about William Wallace encouraging his beleaguered countrymen: They may take our lives, but they will never take our freedom.
*Think of Patrick Henry’s famous line that defined an entire generation of Americans: Give me liberty or give me death!
*This past Monday I watched Martin Luther King’s famous I have a dream speech. He envisioned a society where freedom would ring from every mountain in America. Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we’re free at last!
These stories are deeply moving to us because we were not meant to live in bondage. We would rather die than be subjected to a life of slavery. As the old spiritual goes, before I’d be a slave, I’d be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord and be free. We value freedom about as much as we value oxygen.
Let me ask a follow up question. What would you do to keep your freedom? That doesn’t seem like a very logical follow up question because if we were willing to die for freedom, certainly we would do what it takes to maintain our freedom, right? As crazy as it seems, history is filled with just as many examples of people going back into slavery once they attained their freedom. This is exactly what happened to the Israelites. Just a few days after their miraculous escape, they were sitting around the campfire dreaming of the onions and cucumbers and melons of Egypt. They wanted to swim back across the waters to resume their hard labor of making bricks without straw! Either Egypt produced some amazing cucumbers and melons, or humans have a major problem and freedom is hard work.
Benjamin Franklin was actually aware of this tension when he signed the Declaration of Independence. The story goes that a certain Mrs. Powell approached him as he exited Independence Hall. “Well Doctor, What have we got? A republic, or a monarchy?” He responded insightfully, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.” He knew how glorious freedom was, but he also knew how hard it was to keep. We would give our lives for freedom, but we would also give it up, like Esau, for a warm bowl of soup.
I bring up these questions because this is one of the major tensions in the New Testament. One of the central benefits of the gospel is that Christ has set us free! Think of Romans 8. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of Christ has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. Christians are free because we do not have to fear God’s wrath. We are no longer crushed under the weight of the law, or our sin, or guilt. We are not in bondage to world, the flesh, or the devil. We can look at the grave and say, “Oh death, where is your sting!” Jesus died so that we can enjoy a life of freedom. Gal 5:1 says it as clearly as possible: For freedom Christ has set us free.
And yet, like the Israelites, we are so quick to walk away from it. Jesus set us free, and yet we try to find our comfort in old sinful habits. We still try to find our approval from men. We still try to impress God through our perfect obedience to the law. The message of the New Testament is – you are free in Christ – why would you ever go back to a life of slavery?
This has been a major problem throughout church history and it was surfacing so early that it was the theme of several books in the NT. We’ve essentially studied this exact problem over the past year in Hebrews. But today, we’re going to consider it from the book of Galatians. So if you have your Bible, turn to Galatians 5. As you’re making your way there, I’ll give a bit of context. Paul visited this region on his first missionary journey, and the people responded to the gospel with joy. But as soon as Paul left town, a group of false teachers slid into town and tried to convince them to embrace the old Jewish ritual of circumcision. Nothing major – just a small symbolic act that would provide them with a bit of extra security and assurance. That’s all. They must have made a compelling case because even Peter was seduced by their bad theology. He started embracing small portions of the law in front of the Galatian church. These false teachers weren’t trying to reject Jesus; they were simply trying to get them to add a few simple laws.
This was one of the first major theological issues in Paul’s ministry. And on the surface it seems like such a small issue. But Paul knew the danger. This doctrine was a tremendous threat to the church’s freedom. He knew that if they tried to justify themselves with one small law, they were bound to embrace the entire law. And that is a life of slavery. These teachers were not giving the church additional security and freedom; they were re-binding the shackles of slavery that Christ had taken off through his death on the cross. Paul knew the threat. Jesus has set us free to enjoy a life of freedom. This is a word we need to hear because we are constantly tempted to return to a life of slavery. And so let’s consider Galatians 5:13-15.
 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
In this text, Paul will remind us how we got our freedom, and he will show us how to keep our freedom. This will be our outline.
First, how do we get Christian freedom?
This text begins with an interesting phrase: For you were called to freedom, brothers. This isn’t how we typically think about freedom, is it? Think about all the examples I mentioned in the example. Freedom was bought. It was demanded. Give me liberty or give me death. If we are enslaved, we will find a way to earn our freedom.
But this isn’t how we achieve Christian freedom. Paul reminds us that we were called to our freedom. Perhaps a better example for this would be the slave that traveled with Harriet Tubman in the Underground Railroad. After several weeks of a long and difficult journey, one of the men on the journey was ready to give up. He said, “Let me go back. It’s better to be a slave than to suffer like this in order to be free.” Tubman pulled out her gun, aimed it at the slave, and said: “Go on with us or die.” He made it to Canada.
This is more like our journey to freedom. We didn’t even want it, but Christ came and bought it for us. He adopted us into his family. As our text says: You were called to freedom, brothers.
As wonderful as the story of redemption is, we need to be aware that our sinful flesh hates it. We would much rather identify with Harriet Tubman than the scared, tired man in need of a savior. We would rather channel our inner William Wallace than the scared Scotsman hiding behind the tree. I want to be the hero. My flesh wants to earn freedom; I don’t want to be called to it. And yet this is the only way to experience true freedom in God’s sight. We must stop striving, and trust in Jesus. Paul spelled this out just a few chapters earlier. Look at Galatians 2:16 –
 We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
The Galatians thought that they could earn God’s favor by obeying the law. But they couldn’t. And neither can we. We are completely helpless. But Jesus paid the price that we could not pay. He gave his own blood to redeem us from a life of slavery. He has freed us from God’s wrath. He has rescued us from the power of sin and death. We are free because God called us to freedom. All the glory belongs to Jesus! If you are enslaved this morning, I want to call you to believe in Christ. There is nothing you can do to earn your freedom. Jesus earned it for you. Believe.
That is how we get freedom. This leads to our second question: how do we keep our freedom? Once again – this is such an interesting follow up question. If you truly grasped the gospel, would you ever return to a life of slavery? I’m not suggesting that we can lose our salvation, but I am suggesting that Christians can lose sight of the power that saved them and begin to live in the power of the flesh. This happened to the Galatian church and it almost destroyed them. And it can happen to us. Look at the text again (verse 13)
 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Paul was very concerned that the Galatians would abuse their freedom. And so in this text he offered two ways to live in the freedom that we have in Christ. The first way is to fight the flesh. Christ has set you free, but that does not mean you are free to do whatever you want. In fact, that is the quickest way to destroy the freedom you have n Christ. Verse 13 says very clearly: do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.
What does this mean? Paul had just spent the first four chapters of this letter explaining how Christ had set them from the demands of the law. This is an amazing doctrine. Christ fulfilled the law for us. We are no longer bound. We can live in true freedom. But he quickly follows it with this warning: you are not free to act out of selfish motivations. Don’t live to please yourself. Christian freedom is not an opportunity for your flesh.
The flesh is a strong word in the Bible. It refers to the part of you that was broken in the fall. It is the part of you that hates God. It is the part of you that loves you. It rejoices when things go well and when you are comfortable and rich and secure. The flesh is your biggest fan. And your flesh is passionately opposed to the gospel. But when you believe in Christ, the flesh must die. This is a real spiritual battle.
And it is very difficult to fight because we really like our flesh. Somewhere deep down, we believe that the flesh can give us more freedom than the Spirit of Christ. And so we keep the flesh around. The flesh always gives us immediate gratification. When you’re feeling lonely, the flesh can find a way to satisfy those longings. When you’re feeling bored, the flesh can help. When you’re feeling wounded or tired or discouraged, the flesh will always provide. But the flesh cannot set you free; in fact, it only leads you into a deeper dungeon.
I have found that lot of Christians have made a deal with the flesh. We allow the flesh to stick around, as long as it behaves. It can put on church clothes and make you look really good. This allows you to follow Jesus and live a selfish, comfortable life.
This is a destructive way to live. It looks spiritual, but Paul would call it a life of slavery. As John Owen said, you must always be killing sin, or sin will be killing you. We need to take this seriously. Do not use your freedom in Christ as an opportunity to indulge in sin. But take every opportunity to destroy your flesh. Paul will say in just a few verses that those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
I believe this is why the Bible speaks so highly of trials. Because when trials come, you can’t hide. Your flesh is exposed. When you get sick, your flesh comes to the surface. When your family falls apart, your flesh is exposed. And when that happens, you can see the true nature of your heart and repent.
I want to call us to repent this morning. Where are you giving the flesh an opportunity? It promises freedom, but it is destroying you. I want to invite you to crucify the flesh with its passions and desires this morning. Bring your sin to Jesus and enjoy a life of freedom. If you do not know what to repent from this morning, I would imagine that you have become very skilled at hiding your flesh. It’s so sophisticated that you don’t even know it’s there. In that case, I want to invite you to fast at some point this week. Skip a meal or two and you’ll quickly find what kind of sins you are holding onto. And when you discover them, you should quickly put them to death. Your freedom is on the line.
And so the first way to enjoy Christ’s freedom is to fight the flesh. The second way to live in Christ’s freedom is to serve the body. In fact, this is one of the best ways to keep the flesh in the grave. Look at the text again:  Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
This is the beautiful paradox of Christian freedom. The life of freedom that you so desperately desire can only be maintained through a life of service to others. Our sinful brains literally cannot process this. How can a life of service lead to a life of freedom?
I would simply remind you of Jesus. He was the freest person our world has ever known. He lived in perfect harmony with God. He perfectly upheld the law. He was not bound by sin. He was perfectly free. And yet, Jesus did not live for himself. He did not come to be served, but to serve. Philippians 2 reminds us that He took on the form of a servant! In his final hours on earth, he took up a washrag and scrubbed his disciples feet. This is what freedom looks like. God has designed us to flourish when we lay down our lives for the sake of our neighbor.
What does this look like practically? Here’s the brilliant part: I don’t have to work hard to apply this truth for you because God has actually woven the application inside your heart. Listen to Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: (Matthew 7:12)
 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Jesus is inviting you to engage your imagination. You have the answer in your soul. What do you want other people to do for you? Dream big. Let me ask it more specifically.
*What did you want someone to do for you when you were a child? What did you want from your mom or dad or babysitter or Sunday school teacher? How did you want them to treat you?
*What did you want from other people in the brutal middle and high school years? Did you just want a friend? Did you want a mentor to take a special interest in you?
*What did you want as a college student? What would have helped you follow Christ?
*What about your first few years of marriage? What would have helped you in that season?
*Or what about your journey through the 20s as a single Christian?
*What did you desire in your sleep deprived days of building a young family?
*What did you desire when you got the diagnosis?
What do you want other people to do for you?
Now do that for other people. That is freedom! When you fight the flesh and serve our neighbors in the power of the Spirit, you are living the life that God designed for you to live. Let me say that again – we will thrive when we fight the flesh and serve one another. That is a life of freedom. Can you imagine what would happen to our church if we embraced our freedom in Christ and laid down our own desires to serve one another? What would happen to your family? What would happen to your office?
Now, before I close, we should quickly look at verse 15. What happens when we invert this? What happens when we serve our flesh and fight one another? Look at verse 15. If you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. When we serve our flesh and fight each other, we create a culture of Christian cannibalism. This was happening to the Galatian church – and it sadly happens in our world far too often. They were devouring one another and Paul was concerned that they would literally eat themselves to death. Christ has set you free. Do not use that as an opportunity for the flesh.
I don’t want this to happen to us. I want us to enjoy a life of freedom by embracing the gospel, fighting the flesh, and serving one another in love. One of the reasons that I wanted to preach this text today is because we are hosting a volunteer fair upstairs. There are hundreds of ways for you to serve the body here at ABF. One of the great things about this new role that I’m in is that I get to see the ministries up close. There are some incredible things going on. There are a lot of ways that you can get involved and use your spiritual gift to serve the body. We want to make that process as easy as possible, and so we have set up tables in the atrium to tell you about the ministry opportunities at our church. This is not the only way for you to serve the body, but it is a great start. Let’s pray.