Freedom for What?
6-30-19  Galatians 5

I recently heard a comedian joke about world religions, and when he got to Christianity he said Christianity is a liberal religion that for some inexplicable reason keeps attracting conservative people.

I wonder why that is.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus often raised the ire of the legalistic Scribes and Pharisees as he challenged the social boundaries that labeled some people as “in” and scorned others as “out” – unclean and offending God

Throughout his ministry, Jesus gave witness to the Kingdom of God as greater than any earthly power, even at the risk of his arrest and execution.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus taught that you can’t earn God’s love.

So, isn’t it ironic how quickly his followers re-erected the walls Jesus had knocked down, cozied-up to the kind of kings who had crucified him, and concocted ways to either earn God’s approval or lose God’s love?

That incongruity is what Paul addressed with the church in Galatia and it describes the Christian landscape in America today.

The drift toward legalism and judgementalism explains why a national survey about ten years ago revealed that 87% of non-church going Americans consider Christians as judgmental, hypocritical and insensitive.

The study’s authors concluded, “Many of those outside of Christianity … reject Jesus because they feel rejected by Christians.”

Paul’s message of the grace of Christ Jesus had attracted a congregation of both Jews and Gentiles to form a cluster of churches in the Roman province of Galatia in Asia Minor.

But soon after Paul moved on to continue his ministry elsewhere, some outside Christian Jews called Judaizers challenged his teaching by saying that some Old Testament laws and ceremonial practices were still required of Christians.

The particular issue for the Galatian church was whether Gentiles wanting to join need be circumcised.

But Paul understood that this challenge was bigger than circumcision – it was the insidious impulse to return to the legalism that was contrary to all Jesus had done.

When writing to the Galatian church, Paul resorted to some of his most intense language as he vented his frustration.

Galatians 5:2 I am emphatic about this. The moment any one of you submits to circumcision or any other rule-keeping system, at that same moment Christ’s hard-won gift of freedom is squandered.

Galatians is sometimes called “Luther’s Book” because the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther leaned so heavily on its teachings as he confronted the corrupted Roman Catholic Church’s practice of selling indulgences.

The Catholic Church taught that indulgences are works a person does to reduce time spent in Purgatory as they undergo punishment for their sins.

The indulgence may be a prayer repeated a number of times as prescribed by a priest, or a visit to a holy place, but during the Middle Ages, indulgences became commercialized and so could be purchased from a priest.

Luther’s eyes were opened as he meditated on Galatians 2:16 … a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So, we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

The core question was whether Christ’s grace is for real, or are we saved by good works.

The flip side is, are we condemned because of something about who we are or what we do that is contrary to the old purity laws?

This Thursday is the 4th of July when we celebrate our nation’s freedom.

In a special promotion they’re calling “God, Guns and Freedom”, Chatom Ford in Alabama is offering a Bible, an American flag and a 12-gauge shotgun with every new car purchase.

And sales are already up.

Sales manager Koby Palmer says, “(Our people) lean on their religious beliefs, their pride in America and they love to hunt”.

Again, my opening question: How does an essentially liberal religion inexplicably attract conservative followers?

If you want to stop the average American in their tracks this 4th of July, just ask them what their freedom is for.

We’re really good at saying where our freedom came from and what we are free from … but Jesus tells us what our freedom is for.

Why did Jesus free us from the shackles of the old purity laws?

Why did Jesus free us from the shame of past failures?

Why did Jesus did free us from the obsession to point fingers at anyone and everyone who isn’t measuring up to our litmus tests of faith?

Freedom isn’t free, and Jesus sacrificially bought our freedom for a reason.

Jesus had said that he didn’t come to abolish the Law and Prophets but to fulfill them – to reveal their heart rather than just look at their window dressing.

Referring to Old Testament passages, Jesus said our purpose is to (Luke 10:27) “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

And he went to great length to show that our neighbors are not just members of our family, tribe or nation.

Galatians 5:13 It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. 

When Paul proclaims that Christ sets us free, he’s implying we are most assuredly not free on our own.

Why?

Because our impulses are bound to sin, self, and the world.

Paul reminds the Galatian churches that a behind-the-scenes, unending battle is being waged in every person’s soul – it is so constant that we often don’t even notice.

Remember the old country song that says, “How can it be so wrong when it feels so right?”

With just a little life experience you learn that are a lot of things that are wrong that feel so right at the moment.

Our feelings and impulses lie.

They lie to you all the time!

Have you ever gotten six months into a relationship and wondered, “What was I thinking?”

Or maybe you’re a few weeks into what you thought would be a dream job and you think, “How in the world did I get caught up in this?”

A quick decision that felt harmless at the time can leave you broken and scarred years later.

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight

Here’s the rub.

We may teach people to pray before making a relationship or job decision, but beyond that, we need to stop and pray about why Jesus came to earth and sacrificed for us in the first place because otherwise, we risk dressing our human impulses of tribalism, xenophobia, and anger with religiosity and call ourselves Christian.

Galatians 5:13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh.

The flesh symbolizes our pull toward idolatry, jealousy, anger, addiction, gossip, self-aggrandizement, racism, homophobia and such.

Our only hope is to be liberated by the grace of Jesus and through the power of God’s Spirit.

Once free, it’s not so we might do as we wish, but so we might then bind ourselves freely and joyfully to God to do God’s bidding.

As John Wesley put it, “My life is no longer my own.”

Holiness is not a matter of gritting your teeth and trying diligently to do what God requires.

We may grit our teeth, and we do try hard, but a changed life is the gift of God’s Spirit.

I don’t know about you, but there are some attitudes that I have tried and tried to change over the years – but in the end, I repeat the same old habit and then feel guilty for blowing it again.

But when I stop before I act or pause before I open my mouth and ask, what would Jesus have me do at this moment … with that, everything changes.

Paul experienced for himself a new life once Jesus broke through to him.

What’s the evidence of this new life in Christ?

The life for which we were made is evidenced by “the fruit of the Spirit.”

Not “the fruit of my best efforts.”

Galatians 5:22 but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

One of the traps that snares some Christians is that they make these nine fruits into law, as if Paul said: “You must be joyful, patient, faithful, and so on.”

After all, didn’t Jesus say You will know them by their fruits (Matthew 7:16),
and My Father is glorified when you bear fruit (John 15:8)?

Rather, if we just calm down and let the Spirit work within us, we discover to our delightful surprise traces of joy, peace, and gentleness growing in our lives.

Just look at Fox News or your Twitter feed and you’ll see that the exact opposite of these traits is on the rise today.

But when we look at the life of Jesus, we see him model a life of grace – a life rooted in prayer, seeing beyond the slavery to ceremonial and purity laws, joyfully reaching out to those reviled by the legalists of his time.

The Good News is that he empowers those who give their lives to him … the one who gave his life for you, the one who is the real hope for our lives and for our country.