St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

Christian Liberty

Sermon on Galatians 5:1, 13-25

Text: It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Many of us are familiar with the phrase, “Give me liberty or give me death.” It was quote from a speech given by Patrick Henry before the Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775. That speech is credited with swinging the balance in convincing the convention to send troops for the Revolutionary War. That speech left a mark on those who were there. One man called it, “One of the most bold, vehement, and animated pieces of eloquence that had ever been delivered.” Another man, when he heard it, asked that he be buried at that spot when he died. The idea that was proclaimed touched people’s hearts and moved them to action. This morning, we are reminded of another liberty. It is a freedom that is very dear to us. It is a spiritual freedom that far surpasses any freedom from political tyranny. It is a freedom from a guilty conscience that is far greater than freedom from taxation without representation. Paul speaks of CHRISTIAN LIBERTY. 1. Christ Won It For Us. 2. It Is Not Freedom To Live As You Want. 3. It Is Freedom To Love As You Want.

Our text begins with the words, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Verse 1) Christ has set you free. What have we been set free from? We have been set free from our bondage to sin. We were trapped in our sins. We couldn’t help but sin. Left on our own, we would have been in sin’s bondage for all eternity in the fires of hell. However, Christ came to set us free. His perfect life was the first step in setting us free. Where you and I have sinned times without number, Christ did not. He lived perfectly for us. Then, to paraphrase Patrick Henry, Jesus said, ‘To give them liberty, give me death.’ Death is the penalty for sin. Jesus stepped in and took our place. His death was the payment necessary for all our sins. He died to set us free. But, unlike all the heroes throughout our history who died to give us and protect our liberty, death was not the final chapter in Jesus’ life. He rose from the grave, showing that the victory was won. His life, death, and resurrection have set us free. We are free from the terrors of hell. We are freed from the guilt of our sins. We are freed from having to obey God’s law to earn our salvation. This was the focus of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. He reminded them, and us, that we are saved by faith in Christ alone and not in any way by what we do.

Unfortunately, when my sinful nature hears these words, it gives them a different meaning. It takes the freedom from having to obey the law to be saved and turns it into a license to sin. ‘Since I don’t have to obey the law, I have the freedom to live however I want. Besides that, Jesus has paid for all sins, so I can go ahead and sin.’ Paul gives us several examples of the acts of our sinful nature. He writes in verses 19-21, “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” The acts of the sinful nature are not hidden. You can see them every single day. It would take far too long for us to look at each of these acts that Paul lists. Let’s just highlight a few of them. Paul mentions “idolatry.” We might think to ourselves that this is no temptation at all. We have never been tempted to bow down to an idol. Yet, as Dr. Luther reminds us in his Large Catechism regarding the First Commandment, “That upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god.” What do I allow in my life to take the place in my heart that God should have? Is it money, recreation, family, or myself? Paul mentions “fits of rage.” This is that sudden flare up of my temper. Does this ever manifest itself in my life? What about when someone cuts us off in traffic? What about when you have had a hard day and that last thing puts us right over the edge? Paul speaks of “selfish ambition.” Have you ever noticed that you never have to teach someone to be selfish? Put a number of toddlers in a room full of toys and it won’t be long before two of them a clutching at the same toy and crying out, “Mine!” Unfortunately, we don’t outgrow selfishness. We just learn to hide it a little better. We are selfish in our relationships with our family, at work, and in the store.

The fact is that we are all inclined to do all these things, though some of them hold a greater temptation than others for each individual. Take a look again at what is listed there. Take that list and examine your life. Which of these do you find yourself doing? We might be tempted to dismiss the things on this list as ‘just the way we are.’ To this thought, Paul concludes the list by saying “I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Verse 21) Here, Paul is not talking about the Christian who has done something on this list and is repentant. Rather, he is talking about those who have made these things a way of life and continue in them. Those who use their freedom to indulge their sinful nature are forfeiting their salvation. As Paul put it in verse 13, “Do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” Freedom from the law does not mean that we are free to live however we want.

However, this freedom does mean that now we are free to live however we want. Wait a minute. How can that be? We just said that this freedom does not give us the freedom to love as we want. Now we are saying this freedom does give us the freedom to live as we want. The reason we can say this is that we are now talking about our new man, which wants to live in a way that pleases God to thank him for all that he has done for us. Paul references this in verse 25, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” We live by the Spirit refers to the fact that we have been brought to faith. We see through the eyes of faith what God has done for us. Now, we cannot help but want to thank him for all that he has done for us. How is this done?

Just as the acts of the sinful nature are obvious, so are the acts of the new man. They are observable in the life of the Christian. Paul enumerates some of them in verses 22&23, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Just as an apple tree produces apples because it is an apple tree, so the Christian produces these fruits because they are a Christian.

We might split the fruits into three categories. The first three are love, joy, and peace. These reflect our relationship with God. We live in love: love for God and in the love of God. We continually feel his loving presence in our lives. It was a love that sent his Son to be our Savior. It is the love that takes care of us every day. We live in joy. We have every reason to be joyful because God has rescued us from sin and has promised us eternal life. We live in peace. We know that our sins have been forgiven. When our conscience dredges up some sin from the past, we have the assurance that that sin was also paid for on Calvary’s cross. We live in the peace of knowing that, whatever may be going on in our lives, our God is still in control and will always make everything work out for our benefit.

The second group, forbearance, kindness, goodness, deal with our relationship with other people. The word forbearance means that we have patient endurance when dealing with other people. We do not have to be first all the time. This word also means that we are patient even when others cause us some sort of suffering. We don’t feel the need to retaliate in one form or another. The next fruit is kindness. This has the idea of having a kind disposition to those around us. We are nice to them, even if the world would say that we have no reason to do so. The next fruit that is mentioned is goodness. We are good to those around us. We are helpful when given the opportunity. We seek their benefit above our own.

The third group reflects how we conduct ourselves in view of the duties, opportunities, and obligations that come to us in our stations in life. They are faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We are faithful at work, doing the best job that we can do. We don’t do this so that we get a raise or just when the boss is looking. At home, we carry out the tasks that are assigned to us. We carry out our roles as husband and wife, parent and child. We don’t do this so that someone notices and praises us. We do this because it is an opportunity to praise God. We are gentle with other people. We don’t run roughshod over people’s feelings. We care about them and their opinions. We are willing to let them have their way. This is the thrust of what Paul is talking about in Philippians 2:3, “In humility value others above yourselves.” Finally, it says that the fruit of the Spirit is self-control. When we give in to our sinful appetites and passions, we end up hurting someone else, whether physically or emotionally. Out of love for God, we keep them reined in. Because of all that God has done for us, we now have the freedom to look at his law as a guide for showing him our thankfulness. In speaking of our relationships with others, Paul notes, “The entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Verse 14) When we do it this way, God is praised and we are blessed. Contrast that with what happens when we follow the desires of the sinful nature, “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” (Verse 15) There really is no joy in serving yourself. Our greatest joy comes from serving God and those around us.

The cold, hard truth of the matter is that you and I are locked in a state of conflict between the sinful nature and the new man. Paul says in verse 17, “The flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” The sinful nature comes in with its desires, demanding that they be met. The new man directs us to God’s law, not as something that must be done, but as something we delight in doing because of our Savior’s love for us.

How can we strengthen our new man so that he wins in our lives? We read in verse 16, “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” When we are connected to the Holy Spirit, we are strengthened in our struggle against the sinful nature. We receive our strengthening when we go back to our baptisms. It was there that the sinful nature was put to death. Even though our baptisms may have occurred more years ago that we would like to think, we still go back to that event and put the sinful nature’s head under the water. We are strengthened every time we read and hear God’s Word. There the Holy Spirit strengthens us in our daily struggle against the sinful nature, as he reminds us of what Jesus has done for us. We receive strength every time we receive the Lord’s Supper. Through that life-giving food, our faith is strengthened so that we can meet the sinful nature and, with God’s help, defeat him. Don’t go into this conflict on your own. You will lose every time. Go with the strength that God offers, and you will be victorious. Then, you can live exactly the way that you want to. You can live in true Christian freedom.

This past Monday, we celebrated the Fourth of July. One of the things that we do that day is think of all those people who gave everything that they had so that we can enjoy our liberty. We thank God for those who today are protecting us. Yet, as wonderful as that liberty is, you and I enjoy a liberty that is even greater than this. We live in the liberty that Christ won for us. We are truly free: free from sin, death, and the devil. We praise our Savior who gave his all so that we might enjoy this freedom. We also pray that God would help us to live in that freedom, the freedom to do exactly what we want. We praise him for this liberty in which we live. Amen.