5th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Galatians 5:1;13-25 Sermon
July 10, 2004
HYMNS (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
408 "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation"
389 "O For a Heart to Praise My God"
379 "Rock of Ages, Cleft For Me"
520 "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah"
AN OPEN LICENSE FOR FREEDOM
TEXT: (vs. 1,13,16-18,24) “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. You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather serve one another in love. So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.”
In my wallet, I carry a little plastic card. I’m sure most of you have one of these cards as well. I’ve had a card like this one for the past 33 years. It is, of course my driver’s license.
For me in my life, it is pretty much a necessity. It would be extremely difficult for me to serve this congregation if I didn’t have one. For a pastor, a driver’s license is almost a pre-requisite. Besides that, I need it to go to and from work, to go over to mom and dad’s, to go to the grocery store, and generally to do all those tasks which require me to drive from one point to the next. I can’t imagine trying to get along with just public transportation or getting rides from other people.
There’s also a lot of freedom connected with this card. As long as I have this card in my pocket, I can jump in my vehicle and drive to California, or Texas, or New York, or even Canada or Mexico. I can even go overseas and drive in many foreign countries. I have the freedom to do this. I could jump in my Explorer after services today and drive anywhere I want; however time and money and responsibility dictate otherwise, so I guess I’ll just be driving back home to Lincoln today.
But the freedom is great, and I remember the freedom I felt when I first got my driver’s license on my 16th birthday. And I think mom and dad kind of appreciated not having to cart me around anymore. They enjoyed the freedom too.
In our text for today, the Apostle Paul is also talking about freedom—the Gospel freedom we have in Christ Jesus. For those who have been under the yoke and slavery of sin, and for those who were burdened by trying to gain perfection by keeping the code of the ceremonial laws and customs, the freedom of the Gospel was a really big deal. It was almost like that freedom a kid feels on his or her 16th birthday when they finally hold that little card that allows them to operate a motor vehicle.
The Jews that had come into Galatia after Paul’s visit were demanding that the people had to be circumcised, according to the Old Testament command. Their freedom was being threatened. If we examine verses 2-12 of Galatians 5, this is the issue Paul is addressing.
What the Jews were following, is the command that was given to Abraham in Genesis 17 verses 9-14 which read: “Then God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.’”
That was the Old Testament law, the sign of the Old Covenant between God and his people. Christ of course was circumcised under the law and fulfilled this part of the Old Covenant. The New Covenant was established by Christ himself and God’s people, thereby ending all of the regulations of the Old Testament.
Paul explains this in Galatians 5:6, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
Paul was quite perturbed with those who were still out there demanding circumcision, and he uses some very harsh words in dealing with them. In Galatians 5, verse 12 Paul says, “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” Not a very pleasant thought indeed, but the point had to be made. The Galatians had to know that Paul’s message was the one with validity and freedom, and not the message of the Jews who were stirring up trouble and placing unnecessary demands upon the Christians in Galatia.
I can only imagine the freedom these Galatians felt when they found out they didn’t have to undergo the rather painful process of circumcision. It might not have been a really big deal to those 8 day old baby boys, but the older boys and adult men would have to have breathed a huge sigh of relief. I think this rather graphic situation should give us at least somewhat of an idea as to what being free in the Gospel is like.
It’s at this point where Paul now has to deal more directly with the freedom which comes through the Gospel. In verse 13 of our text, Paul writes: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.”
Think about it for a minute. What if you could get an open license to sin freely? You could yell whatever you wanted to at a driver who cut you off, and you could use whatever gesture you wanted—even with grandma and the kids in the car—and just flash that license to sin, and it’s all okay. Or you could lie to mom and dad all day long, or sneak out of the house, or disobey them, and not get into trouble. Or you could ridicule and berate people all the time, or gossip about them—and hey! That open license makes it all okay. Or you could commit adultery with half the town, no problem. So do you think that an open license to sin is a good idea?
Unfortunately, too many people look at the freedom of the Gospel and translate it into some sort of “license to sin.” They feel they can blatantly do whatever they please with God’s blessing.
But Paul says otherwise. Verse 13 says “But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature.” And he goes on to say in verse 16, “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” So I guess that “open license to sin” has been clearly revoked.
At the beginning, I talked about how my driver’s license gave me a lot of freedom. I basically have the freedom to drive anywhere I want to, anytime I want to, unrestricted. But I do not have the freedom to drive down the highway at 140 miles per hour, nor the freedom to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs, nor the freedom to drive through and tear up front yards. There are certain limits to my freedom.
So it is with the freedom of the Gospel. Even though we are free from the eternal consequences of God’s law, yet we are expected to live as God’s people. Paul writes in verses 24 and 25 of our text: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”
Paul knew that there would probably be sort of a “pendulum swing” amongst the Galatians. Since he was driving home the point of being free from the Old Testament rules and regulations, he felt that they might go too far the other way and ignore doing the God-pleasing things in their lives. Paul certainly didn’t want them to feel they could eliminate God’s will from their lives.
Even though we know we don’t have open licenses to sin, yet we are always faced with the stark reality that we in fact DO sin, and sin much. This is a cold, hard fact for human beings living in a world filled with sin.
But we know too, that Jesus Christ died for our sins and for the sins of the whole world. He kept God’s law perfectly in our place, and then died to bear the punishment for our sins. He sacrificed himself for the sins of the whole human race, from the beginning of time until the end. Just as the spilling of the blood in circumcision was a sign of the Old Covenant, the spilling of Jesus’ blood in the New Covenant purifies us from all sin.
Our freedom in the Gospel assures us that we can approach God time and time again, confessing our sins and failures, and know that we stand forgiven before him in heaven. This might almost sound like a license to sin, but it isn’t. It’s God’s grace in action in our lives. It’s God showing his undeserved love for us. Therefore out of love for him, we will lead lives that are pleasing to him—not hoping to merit reward, but to demonstrate even in a small way our appreciation for what he has done for us.
If at any time we are tempted to think that we can earn God’s favor and grace by works of the law like the Galatians, we need only to remember God’s grace and what we have in Jesus our Saviour. Therefore we remember the words:
Not the labors of my hands
Can fulfill thy law’s demands
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone,
Thou must save, and thou alone.
Nothing in my hand I bring
Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked come to thee for dress
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul I to the fountain fly;
Wash me Saviour or I die.