This morning I want to draw your attention to a text that’s been on my mind because of current trends that I kind of feel out in the Christian community. Turn in your Bible to Galatians chapter 5. Galatians chapter 5. And I want to read you verses 13 through 16 as a setting for a lesson that I want to share with you this morning. And this is not really like a sermon, more like a lesson just reminding you of a very, very important principle regarding the scripture.
In Galatians 5:13, we read this most important statement, “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. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”
Now, the main section of that scripture that I want to focus you onto is in verse 13, “For you were called to freedom.” And I want to talk a little bit about the Christian’s liberation. What is really involved in that? What has stimulated my thinking, among other things, is a book that was recently published, and that book suggests that there is a movement of freedom among Christians. And certainly, if the book is popular, it will generate a movement of sorts as well, or contribute to whatever movement there is.
The author suggests that there is a joyful release among Christians from the things that have bound us too long. The book, in fact, calls for giving Christians permission to be free – absolutely free in Christ. Not relatively free, but absolutely free. The author calls for – quote – “freedom and fun to be reinstated in our faith so that outsiders will be attracted to Christianity.”
And the major premise of the book is the idea that grace has not only saved us from sin, but has freed us to live free. Set us free. The author goes on to say that we don’t get to live as free as we would like because there are all around, in the church, people he calls “grace killers,” and they are the narrow-minded, legalistic, judgmental, intolerant bullies who want to put us all in bondage and don’t want to allow us to enjoy our freedom in Christ. He suggests that they kill freedom; they kill spontaneity; they kill creativity; they kill productivity; they kill joy. In a word, they rain on everybody’s parade, and believers must resist this and enjoy their freedom in Christ.
Now, I certainly agree with that, that there is true freedom in Jesus Christ, magnificent freeness from bondage as Scripture clearly indicates. But it is not an unqualified freedom. On fact, a blatant, open, uninstructed expression of freedom would result in disaster, and the true freedom of Christ would be turned into evil.
It also seems to me that the church today is having very little problem exhibiting freedom and rather is running the risk of too much freedom rather than too little freedom. But nonetheless, there is a place for an understanding of Christian freedom. Calling, however, for a greater freedom could pour gasoline on the fire of the flesh unless we’re careful to qualify that freedom.
We live in a culture where all authority is under attack, where all restraint is resisted, where individual satisfaction is the goal of life, where pleasure and prosperity are the supreme achievement, where self-centeredness is the common motive, and a cry for greater freedom could be frightening unless we understand that it has some limits.
I, too, agree that there are grace killers out there and freedom robbers. Paul would even agree with that. Chapter 2 of Galatians and verse 4, He says, “But it was because of the false brethren who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour.” Paul says, “Look, I’ve met the grace killers and the freedom robbers. I’ve met them, those artificial brethren who want to put us in an artificial bondage. And I resist that,” says Paul – and so say I. We are free in Christ, and we must enjoy that freedom, but we must also understand that freedom lest we be guilty of pouring gasoline on the fire of the flesh.
What is our freedom in Christ? What does it mean? What is it not? How does it operate? Those are the essential questions that I want to help you to answer this morning. Back to chapter 5, for a moment, of Galatians. The question initially is what is Christian freedom? If we say we’re free in Christ, we have to have some kind of a definition for that. We have to understand what that means.
Back in verse 1 of chapter 5, we have this most important statement, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore, keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” You were saved to be free. You were set free to enjoy your freedom, and you don’t want anybody putting you back into bondage. Very clear. And as I read you in verse 13, “You were called to freedom, brethren.”
The question comes, then, what is this freedom? Let me see if I can’t give it to you as clearly as possible in a general statement and then dissect that a little bit so you’ll understand it. Christian freedom – freedom in Christ – is freedom from the Law, the rituals, ceremonies as a way to merit righteousness and salvation from God. Did you hear that? Christian freedom is freedom from the Law, rituals, and ceremonies as a way to merit righteousness and earn salvation from God. That is a terrible bondage.
There are only two ways, theoretically, in which God can accept you. One, He can accept you because you’ve acknowledged your sinfulness and inability to keep His Law, and you’ve come in faith to Jesus Christ and received salvation, and on the merits of Christ and Christ alone, God can accept you.
The other way, theoretically, that God can accept you is if you perfectly keep His Law. If you perfectly obey His Law, He will accept you.
Now, if you do not come by way of Christ, you are left, then, to come by the way of Law. You are left, then, to try to reach God through perfect performance. That would be the only theoretical way. However, that’s impossible, for by the deeds of the Law shall no flesh be made right with God. But there is a sense in which the unbeliever is still a slave to such an effort. Whether you’re talking about Judaism or any other religion of human achievement, which is everything but Christianity, you have people endeavoring by their own effort – either religious effort through rituals, sacrament, ceremony, or by moral efforts through good deeds, good works, good thoughts and so forth - to gain salvation.
So, unbelievers, you see, are in a slavery. That slavery is bondage to a system which can never achieve what they want it to achieve. They are imprisoned and can never escape. They can’t scale the wall; they can’t break the bars; they can’t get out by their own effort.
Now, when you come to Christ and receive salvation through Jesus Christ, you are freed from all of that, from that terrible, fatal, ultimately damning bondage of attempting to achieve something you can never achieve. What a horrible bondage that is.
Now, let me dissect that a little bit. Freedom in Christ, then, means freedom from the tyranny of an impossible legal system with demands you can never meet. It means freedom, then, from the terrible, frustrating pressure of struggling to keep the Law out of fear. It means freedom from an endless search for a solution to this dilemma. It means freedom from an ever-accusing conscience that heaps guilt upon guilt upon guilt without resolution. It means freedom from laws which, instead of saving you, stir up your sinfulness by activating sinful passion. It means freedom from damnation and eternal judgment.
That’s what Christian freedom is. Freedom from the tyranny of an impossible legal system, the demands of which you can never meet. Freedom from the terrible, frustrating pressure of struggling to keep the law out of fear. Freedom from the endless search for a solution to this terrible dilemma. Freedom from the ever-accusing conscience which piles guilt on us. And freedom from the effect of the Law stirring up sin in us rather than doing the opposite. And freedom from damnation and eternal judgment.
When you come to faith in Jesus Christ, you’re free from all of that. You are delivered from all of that totally, and then you enter into some positive freedom. The freedom of loving God. The freedom to do what is right, energized by the Spirit of God. The freedom of being accepted by God and knowing it. Through Jesus Christ, we have that freedom. Those who believe, then, are free from the struggle of human achievement. They’re free from fear. They’re free from guilt. They’re free from condemnation. They’re free to take all that Christ provides and all that God promises without earning it, without deserving it. They’re free to fellowship with God. They’re free to please God. They’re free to worship. They’re free to rejoice.
When you came to Christ, you entered into freedom. Paul preached this, as he should have. Paul preached that we’re free in Christ, but some Jews had a major problem with that because they felt that if you ever take away the external restraints from people, they’ll go crazy. You see, they had all grown up in the Jewish legalistic system which basically, for most Jews, other than the remnant, was just an external code of conduct, and it sort of squeezed everybody into a little box of behavior. And they performed within that little box, trying to earn their salvation. The fear was that if you take away the walls, then everybody will run amok.
And so, some people began to develop a pattern of following Paul around. They became known as Judaizers because what they said was, “You can’t accept this free-in-Christ concept, folks. You’ve got to keep the Law. You’ve got to keep the ceremonies. You’ve got to keep the rituals. You’ve got to keep the circumcision. We can’t let that fence down or everyone will run amok. We have to have all these rules or everyone will just go crazy in a sinful sense.” They were frightened by freedom because all their lives they’d lived under bondage to a legal system, and everything was predetermined, cut and dried. They prided themselves on being accepted by God because of their religious performance, because they kept all of the external rituals even though their hearts weren’t right. And they feared that when restraints were taken away, only indulgence was left; only passion was left. And that could never be pleasing to God.
So, like all legalists, they thought righteous living is attained by external restraints. Now mark that down. They thought righteousness was achieved by external restraints. So, if you remove the restraints, people will go wild. What legalists didn’t understand, and what they still don’t understand, because they’re the same today – they’re the same exactly today – they still think that if you take down all the walls, and remove all the external restraints, people will run wild.
What they fail to understand is that the Law’s gone inside. In a word, they fail to understand Romans 8:4. Romans 8:4 says, “That the requirement of the Law is fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” All of a sudden, the Law’s gone inside. They do not trust the internal Law. They do not trust – follow this – the Holy Spirit. They do not trust the new creation. Legalists do not trust the new nature. They do not trust the Spirit of God to apply the Word of God. They want to prescribe every detail of life. Not just the moral details; that’s not even arguable. They want to prescribe all kinds of extrabiblical things that confine people in hopes that if they’re confined tightly enough, they will perform the moral elements of the Law.
And so, they come up with their long list of prescriptions. For the Judaizers, you have to be circumcised. You have to keep all the ceremonies, all the new moons, all the feast days, all the festivals, all of that stuff that had passed away, all the dietary laws, etcetera. And of contemporary legalists, they’ve got their own sets of rules. To one degree or another, probably we’ve all been exposed to them. They are going beyond the Bible. They do things the Bible doesn’t talk about to try to constrain everybody within their own manmade limits, in hopes that if they’re stuck in there somehow, they will perform and achieve a better pattern of righteous conduct.
Let me give you some examples. This is a little list of some of modern legalists’ rules. Don’t ever allow something like guitar music or drums in the Sunday service. Don’t grow a beard. Don’t ever take classes at a secular university. Don’t ever show affection or kiss your fiancée until after you’ve married her. Women may never wear trousers or slacks/pants. Don’t drink coffee. Coca-Cola’s okay. Don’t read any modern translation of the Bible except the King James Version. Don’t vote for a non-Christian for any public office. Don’t ever marry someone of a different race.
An innocent woman, divorced by an adulterous spouse, may never remarry. A woman must never speak to a church group on anything if men are present in the audience.
Spiritual people don’t ever listen to secular music on the FM station. Spiritual people don’t practice artificial birth control. Spiritual people don’t play card games except Rook. Spiritual people are those who are baptized with the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues. Spiritual people would never read modern literature like novels. They might, however, subscribe to The L.A. Times.
Spiritual people do not wear any makeup. Spiritual people do not wear any jewelry. Spiritual people do not ever get their hair down. Lord help these spiritual people who are in this category. Spiritual people never see a movie; however, they watch a lot of football. Spiritual people never attend any kind of theatrical performance, even to see a musical.
Spiritual people never invest money in the stock market. Spiritual people never buy anything on installment credit. Spiritual people pass out tracts, and the number of tracts they pass out each week will determine their eternal reward. Spiritual people don’t buy groceries at Safeway because the Mormons own it. Spiritual people are measured by the degree of their busyness, activity, and how many meetings they go to. Spiritual people tithe 10 percent of their income, even though the Jews tithed 33-1/3 percent.
Spiritual people have their quiet time before breakfast every day. After breakfast doesn’t count, I guess. Spiritual people don’t ever by Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider because people will think they’re drinking liquor. Spiritual people memorize verses; that’s the only right way to learn the Bible. And on and on and on it goes. It’s amazing how – and that’s just a few.
Spiritual people are determined by how they dress, how long their hair is, how short their hair is, this, that, and the other thing. And there are the grace killers and the freedom robbers, and they’re around, and they’ll do everything they can to make up their little rules. And the sad thing about it is they never come to the understanding that even with all those rules and people living inside all those rules, they may have still massive sin in their hearts.
I have to confess to you the time that I was involved in attending a school that was this way was the most carnal time of my entire life because no one was doing anything to help me learn how to live a godly life from the inside out. Everybody was simply trying to control me from the outside. And legalism cannot restrain the flesh. And if the truth were known, the legalists who are living within their own self-imposed boxes are battling the flesh, and horrendous warfare is going on because they don’t know how to live either. Legalism can’t restrain the flesh.
Now, on the other hand, you have these libertine people who come along, and they say, “Yeah, we reject all that; we’re free in Christ, and we have absolutely freedom.” In fact, they would even go so far as to say, “Just do whatever you want in the expression of your freedom. Do whatever you want, and if you happen to sin, back up and confess it.” So, it’s retroactive spirituality. It’s spirituality in reverse. I go as far as I can to extend my freedom. And if my freedom happens to get into sin, I can always confess it. But I certainly don’t want to worry about it until I’ve hit it.
How are we to express our true freedom? How far do we go? How far are we to be closed in? There’s a sense in which the Christian life resembles walking on a bridge – a narrow bridge. And it’s a narrow bridge over a place where two streams meet. One is the rapid torrent, impossible to stay afloat in, and the other is a polluted, filthy stream that drowns its victim in muck. And there is the believer, as it were, on the bridge. One is legalism, that rapid torrent impossible to stay afloat in. The other is libertinism, that polluted mucky stream. And as a believer, I can’t lose my balance lest I tumble into the refined rapids of legalism or into the gross vices of libertinism.
Now, what is the strategy for staying on the bridge? Paul gives it to us in our text; let’s look at it. And three simple approaches will give us, I think, what will help us in a practical sense this morning. And I want to approach it negatively – what Christian liberty is not. And we know we’re free in Christ. We’ve said what it is; we’ve defined it for you.
Now, what isn’t it? What is it not? That’ll help us round out our definition. We have been called to freedom; verse 13 makes it abundantly clear. That is unarguable. We have been called to freedom, but there are limits. It is a qualified freedom. It is not an absolute freedom; it is a relative freedom. It has some constraining features.
Number one, Christian freedom is not to indulge the flesh. Christian freedom is not to indulge the flesh. Verse 13, “You were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh.” Paul knew, and the Holy Spirit knew that the first great warning regarding the expression of being free in Christ had to be a reminder that we still possess the fallen human flesh. He’s not talking about what our clothes cover that hangs over our bony skeleton. He’s talking about our fallen human nature; our twisted, self-centered proneness to sin that is in us by virtue of the sin of Adam; that we are Adam’s progeny. We are sinners by birth, by nature. And the flesh remains with us until the redemption of this body in the future when we are glorified. And he knows that when you say freedom and liberty, you always run the risk of someone going with that freedom to the point where they begin to indulge those evil propensities, those sinful longings.
So, first of all, freedom is not freedom to indulge your flesh. There are people who would say, you know, that their sexual activities, and their worldly amusements, and their smutty reading, and their seeing wicked movies and all of that kind of thing – drinking booze, and etcetera, etcetera – are all a part of Christian liberty.
But Paul stops and says, “Wait a minute. I jerk the chain at that point. It’s not freedom to indulge your flesh.” And here’s how he says it. He uses the word there, in verse 13, “opportunity.” That word – aphormē – is used in a military sense as a base of operations. So, what he is saying is don’t use your flesh as the base of your operation. Don’t operate out of your flesh – your fallen flesh. Your freedom does not imply this. You do not have the right to sin. You do not have the privilege of doing whatever you want, whether it’s right or wrong.
That, by the way, is the lie of the false prophets in 2 Peter 2:18 and 19. Second Peter 2:18 and 19, the false prophets come along to people who are looking for a way out of their bondage. I don’t believe they’re Christians, but I think they’re looking for moral reform in that text. They’re trying to find their way out of their moral morass. And as they are about to emerge, some false teacher comes along and promises them liberty. But, of course, his life is controlled by lust. And so, he pulls them down into the deeper pit than they were in before. The false teachers somehow present a freedom that knows no limits, a lustful freedom.
You look at a false prophet and a false teacher, and you will find out that while they may preach a morality with their lips, they tolerate an immorality with their lives, and they drag their people deep into it. So, the apostle Paul says, “Your freedom is not a freedom to do whatever your fallen flesh wants to do.” So, my freedom ends where my flesh begins to get involved. That’s just as basic as it can be.
As Christ indicates, His soldiers are to be those who are not entangled with the affairs of this world. So, a believer who is, in fact, that soldier is to stop short of any entanglement that affects his sovereign leader’s control of his life. I want to be under the control of the Spirit, not the flesh. I want to walk by the Spirit, not by the flesh. So, my freedom is Spirit-controlled. When I start to be controlled by the flesh, I’ve overstepped the bounds of my freedom.
“Jesus Christ” - it says in Romans 15:3 – “did not please Himself.” The passion of the flesh is to please itself, but we must not do that. We must run from that. Romans 13:14 puts it this way, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh.” Don’t let the flesh be fed anything; starve it out. And that is tantamount to putting on the Lord Jesus Christ. What does it mean? Conduct yourself like the Lord Jesus Christ would, not in the flesh. The two are mutually exclusive.
So, in Christian freedom, we’re not talking about doing whatever you want; we’re not talking about doing your own thing. We’re not talking about free love, liberty; we’re talking about a limited, qualified, bounded freedom. And the first boundary is freedom is not to indulge the flesh. It is – let me take it a step further – it is compelled motivationally, not so much by a code of conduct as by responsibility to a person. That’s why I read you Romans 13:14, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” The way I control my flesh is not by gritting my teeth and trying to stay within some code, but the way I control my flesh is by yielding to a person, the indwelling Christ.
My motivation, I guess you could say, is not the stiff upper lip of painful duty, but the loving response, the gratitude to the One who set me free and lives within me. I’m not governed by unfeeling rules; I am governed by a loving, living person with whom I commune every day and whom I want to please more than anything else.
I’m not looking at a flaming Sinai; I’m looking at a loving Calvary. I’m saying I want to control my flesh not because I have to, but because I want to. I want to control my flesh not b I don’t want to break a rule, but because I don’t want to violate a relationship. Right? You have to see all sin as the violation of a relationship.
So, if I put on the Lord Jesus Christ, if I want to be like the One I love, then I want to follow the pattern that He established. Then I am compelled by love; I’m compelled by His honor, and His glory, and His dignity, and His majesty to be like Him. My flesh is restrained much more readily than if I’m trying to stiffen up my lip, grit my teeth, and hang on so I just don’t break a law.
It boils down to what we’ll see in a moment. The keeping of the whole Law is bound up in love, isn’t it? If I love, that fulfills the Law, and I’ll explain that in a moment. Today we have even infiltrating Christianity the advocates of free sex, taking for granted that sexual love is the most important thing and the only way to express yourself; we’re free in Christ to do that. Even homosexuality is now excused by Christianity. Some churches have homosexual groups all in the name of freedom in Christ. Those are self-pleasing, not Christ-pleasing. His ethics have never changed. Those are freedoms to indulge the flesh which is contrary to true spiritual freedom. We are free not to indulge the flesh, but to please the Lord out of love for Him, which will stop short of indulging the flesh.
Secondly, Christian freedom is not only not freedom to indulge the flesh, Christian freedom is not freedom to injure others. Here’s another restraining element in Christian freedom. He says, in verse 13, “But through love serve one another,” and then goes on to explain how. “The whole law is fulfilled in one word in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another.”
And I don’t have time to develop all of that. Suffice it to say, at this point, that Christian freedom does not allow you to violate somebody else but through love to serve, to be a bond slave. The word “serve” here means to do that which is for the advantage of someone else. Yes, I am free, but I’m not free to do whatever I want no matter how it affect you.
There is a certain sense in which you are more important than me. I ought to think more highly of you than myself. Right? And because I think more highly of you than I do of me, I’m going to be very careful how I conduct myself around you, because I don’t want to do anything that could offend you in any way.
We have people who, today, want to express their freedom, and they could care less what anybody thinks. They could care less how it affects anybody else. When quite, on the contrary, we must be committed to serving the needs of others sacrificially. The word “love” there, the love of the will, the love of sacrifice, this is our commitment.
In Romans 14 and 15, Paul perhaps is as specific on this subject as anywhere else – maybe 1 Corinthians 8 to 10 would give you some more instruction. But look at Romans 14 for a moment. Let me draw your attention to a few verses. You had, in the early church, for example, people saved out of Judaism. And the people who came out of Judaism were, you know, still sort of hung up on their past habits: kosher foods and dietary laws, and certain feasts and Sabbaths, and all of that. And so, when they became Christians, they couldn’t just violate that. They couldn’t just eat anything, on the spot, immediately and do whatever they wanted on a Sabbath day. They still felt compunctions. They felt conscience about those things which they had been raised in because they always associated them with things that pleased God.
So, in the early church, you had some Jews who had some restraints about the Sabbath, even though the church didn’t meet on the Sabbath, and you had – and they had some restraints about certain foods.
And then you had Gentiles – Gentiles who had been saved out of paganism – and they couldn’t eat the meat that was offered to idols, which was then sold in a local butcher shop. And there was nothing wrong with eating it. Nothing at all because an idol is nothing Paul said. But they couldn’t do it, because to eat that would sort of cause them to be reparticipating in pagan feasts.
So, you had Jews who couldn’t eat certain things, and Gentiles who couldn’t eat certain things. You had Jews who wanted to maintain a Sabbath observance on Saturday, and Gentiles who could have cared less about that. The potential for conflict was great. So, what does Paul say to resolve this? Summing up the whole argument of chapter 14 and verse 15, it says, “If because of food our brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love.” In other words, if you will go ahead and eat, even to the offense and hurt and wounding of the conscience of your brother, you’re not walking in love.
Now, you have the right to eat. It isn’t wrong; it isn’t sinful. The dietary laws of Judaism are null and void, and who cares about meat offered to an idol? And idol is nothing. You have a right to do that morally, but if you do it, and your brother is hurt, you are not walking in love. “Please,” he says, “do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.” Don’t devastate somebody else because of your liberty. Your liberty is restrained by virtue of how it might impact someone else.
Look over in chapter 15, verse 1. “We who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.” And so, I say I’m free in Christ, but I will never do anything that might offend another believer, that might lead another believer to stumble, that might devastate another believer, that might lead him into sin, that might violate his conscience.
First Corinthians 10, Paul makes an absolutely graphic illustration of this. He says two Christians go to dinner at the house of an unbeliever. The unbeliever’s invited them over. They have a strategy; they want to win this unbeliever to Christ. Right? So, they go over there, and the guy brings out his food. Now, one of the Christians is a mature Christian. He looks at the food – fine, no problem. The other one’s a new Christian who’s come out of paganism. And he says, “That food was offered to idols; I can’t eat it.” That’s the scenario at the end of chapter 10.
Now, the mature Christian’s got a problem. He says to himself, “If I don’t eat this, it’ll please my younger Christian brother. If I do eat this, it’ll please the unbeliever. If I eat this, it’ll offend my brother and not the unbeliever. If I don’t eat it, it’ll offend the unbeliever and not my brother. Who do I offend?” Good dilemma. The answer is you offend the unbeliever. That’s the point.
You say, “Why?”
Because if the – for one thing, it’s never right to offend a believer. But the point there is if an unbeliever sees that you will offend your brother for his sake, he may conclude it’s better to be an unbeliever than a brother. But if the unbeliever sees that you would offend him before you would offend your beloved brother, he would conclude it’s better to be a brother. You never do anything to offend a brother in Christ.
Jesus said, in Matthew 18, that if you cause another of the ones who believe in Me to stumble, you’d be better off dead. It’s very, very important that your liberty never be used to injure someone else.
Now, look what He says in verse 15, how he kind of expands this thought. He says, “But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another.” If you think you can use your liberty to just do whatever you want – the word “bite” is primarily used of snakes and animals, but also it means abuse – if you just abuse each other in the expression of your own freedom, doing whatever you want with no thought about how it affects anybody else, like some half-wild scavenger dog who’s going to do whatever he’s going to do, well, you better take care because you’re going to get devoured yourself. Because if that’s the way it works, it’s going to work that way on you. You’re going to get devoured or gulped down, consumed as well.
Paul says, “Look, Christian freedom isn’t intended to have Christians biting each other, and chewing on each other, and consuming each other in the exercise of their freedom while they wound each other. Dissension, strife - Christian freedom isn’t to start that, but it does.
You get people who want to exercise their liberty to the degree they don’t care what anybody else thinks. They grieve the consciences of many; they cause many young Christians to stumble. No, your freedom is not to indulge the flesh, and your freedom is not to injure others.
Lastly, briefly, Christian freedom is not to ignore the Law. Christian freedom is not to ignore the Law. In verse 14 we read, “The whole Law is fulfilled in one work, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Now, love fulfills the law. What do you mean? Well, take the first half of the Ten Commandments which are all about how to respond to God. If you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, you’re going to do them all. The second half of the Ten Commandments are how you are to relate to other people. If you love your neighbor as yourself, you’re going to fulfill all those commands. Why? You won’t lie to them; you won’t covet from them; you want murder them; you won’t commit adultery with them, whatever. So, love fulfills the Law, as Romans 13:8 to 10 says. If I love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, I’ll obey every command related to Him. If I love my neighbor as myself, I’ll obey every command related to them. So, love fulfills the Law. The point of verse 14 is the Law is not replaced. The Law is not set aside. God’s moral, ethical Law is not set aside. Ceremonial rituals and all of that? Gone. Moral Law? Not changed.
Listen to 1 Corinthians 7:19. First Corinthians 7:19 says, “Circumcision is nothing” – that’s right – “uncircumcision is nothing” – that external stuff is nothing – “but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.” That’s 1 Corinthians; that’s New Testament. We are still obligated to the Law, now called the royal Law, the Law of liberty by James, but it is still the Law. The New Testament calls it the Law of Christ, 1 Corinthians, and also in Galatians 6:2. And it calls it the Law of life in the Spirit in Romans. But it is Law. Don’t think that because we’re under grace we’re free, there’s no more Law. No, no. The moral Law is still in place. The requirements haven’t changed morally. We are still called to the obedience of faith.
Jesus said, “Go into all the world and make disciples and teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” “If you love Me,” He said, “you will” – what? – “keep My commandments.” We are not under the Law anymore as a condemner. We are not under the Law anymore as an agency which stirs up sinful passion to control our lives. We are under the Law as a moral and ethical code for living and pleasing God. And when God gave the Law in the Old Testament, it was a Law to please Him and those who obeyed its precepts did as He desired them to do.
We’re still under the Law. The New Testament law – listen to some of the New Testament commands, just to remind you. And this is but a small spattering. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Mortify the deeds of the flesh through the Holy Spirit. This is the will of God, your sanctification, abstain from sexual immorality. Pray without ceasing. Pray for all men. Be tenderhearted and forgiving. Do not give the Devil and opportunity. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God. Love God with all your heart. Never pay back evil for evil. Love your neighbor as yourself. Present your body as a living sacrifice. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Be hospitable to one another. Be in subjection to governing authorities. Pursue after things which make for peace. Husbands love your wives. Wives be subject to your husbands. Children obey your parents. Content earnestly for the faith. Handle accurately the Word of Truth. Regard one another as more important than yourself. Rejoice in the Lord always. Stimulate one another to love and good works. And on and on and on.
We’re still under Law. We still are to fulfill that Law through love. We are free in Christ. Free in the sense I explained, but not free to indulge the flesh. Not free to injure others. Not free to ignore the Law. Free to control the flesh. Free to serve others by love, and free to fulfill the Law. That’s our freedom. Our liberty, then, is bounded by self-control, love for others, obedience to God. All three dimensions: self-control, love for others, obedience to God.
You say, “How is that possible?”
Verse 16, “Walk by the Spirit, and you’ll not carry out the desire of the flesh.” As your life is lived in the control of the Holy Spirit, He restrains your freedom properly – properly. I trust the work of the Spirit. I trust the work of the Word. I trust the new creation. The new creation, receiving the Word, applied by the Spirit, has controlled liberty. I don’t worry about putting up artificial fences because even if you put them up, there’s no guarantee at all that those externals can have any impact on the heart. They may confine the way I appear to behave; they cannot change my life. I trust the Spirit; I trust the Word; I trust the new creation - working in harmony together to produce the virtue that honors God and the truest expression of freedom in Christ. Let’s bow together in prayer.
Thank You, Father, this morning for the beauty of this day, and more than that, the beauty of this occasion, the dignity and glory of worship. And, Lord, I stand with those who celebrate our freedom. I stand against the freedom robbers, and the grace killers, and those who would put us in bondage to an external system which cannot restrain the flesh.
But, Lord, as well, I stand against those who would take freedom to excess; who would indulge the flesh, abuse others, and disobey Your Law. Father, that’s not freedom. Help us to stay on the bridge in balance and not fall into the torrent - the impossible torrent of legalism – nor into the filthy muck of an abusive liberty, but walking in the Spirit to cross that bridge in spiritual balance, living our liberty to the fullest by self-control, love of others, obedience to God, all produced by the precious Holy Spirit whom You have given to us. That’s our prayer in Christ’s dear name, amen.
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