Sunday, July 26, 2015
Pastor Joe Wittwer
The Gospel of Grace in Galatians
Ch. 5—The Gospel of Freedom


ILL: Have you ever downloaded a free app for your phone, only to discover that it was worthless unless you made in-app purchases? The first time this happened to me was a magazine app—I think it was Golf Digest. I thought, “This is awesome! Golf Digest for free!” I downloaded the app, and discovered that you had to subscribe to the magazine to use it. It wasn’t really free. They got me to download it for free so that I’d pay to use it.

Something like that had happened to the churches in Galatia, a region in what is modern central Turkey. The apostle Paul had planted churches in the major cities on his first missionary journey. After he left, Jewish Christians came in and said, “That Jesus app that you downloaded for free—well, it only works if you pay up. You have to keep the Jewish law if you want to be accepted by God. Jesus is good, but He’s not enough. You need Jesus—that’s the free app—and you need to become good Jews who keep the Jewish law—that’s the subscription.” Paul writes this letter to remind them that the gospel is Jesus plus nothing. The gospel is DONE, not DO; it is the good news of what God has DONE for us in Christ, not what we DO for Him. (Read this together.)

The Big Idea: The gospel is the good news of what God has done for us in Christ, not what we do for Him. We are saved by His grace through faith.

In this chapter, the theme is freedom in Christ. In the first half of this chapter, Paul says that we are free in Christ from legalism—free from the need to keep the Jewish law to win acceptance from God.

In the second half of the chapter, Paul says that we are free in Christ to live a new life in the power of the Spirit.

  1. Freedom in Christ from legalism. 1-12

Galatians 5

1 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.

Here is the topic sentence for this chapter. Christ has set us free and wants us to live in freedom. What is the freedom that Paul has in mind? First, Christ has set us free from the Jewish law. This doesn’t mean that we have no moral boundaries. It means that we no longer try to keep the Jewish law as a means of salvation, as a way to make ourselves acceptable to God. In other words, we know it’s not DO, but DONE. It’s not about us doing enough to be righteous on our own, but it’s about what God has done in Christ to make us righteous.

The circumcision party wanted to “burden them again with a yoke of slavery”. What was the yoke of slavery?

Acts 15:1 Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.”

The circumcision party said that you had to be circumcised and keep the whole Jewish law to be saved. Paul disagreed and traveled to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles to decide this issue. During the discussion, the apostle Peter said:

Acts 15:10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?

This was the “yoke of slavery,” a yoke or burden that Peter admits even the Jews couldn’t bear. It was slavery to works rather than the freedom of grace. It was slavery to DO rather than the freedom of DONE. It was slavery to achievement rather than the freedom of full acceptance. Don’t be burdented by this yoke of slavery, but stand firm in the freedom of Jesus! Paul continues:

2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t receive Christ and acknowledge that you’re a sinner unable to save yourself, and then receive circumcision and claim that you can save yourself. You can’t have it both ways.

ILL: A few weeks ago, I compared it to trying to swim to Hawaii (DO) versus getting a free ride on cruise ship (DONE). If you insist on swimming, you miss the boat.

I also compared it to trying to jump across the Grand Canyon, versus walking across a bridge. If you insist on jumping, you miss the bridge.

Paul says that if you insist on circumcision, you miss Jesus. Christ is of no value to you. You have been alienated from Christ, you have fallen away from grace. You can’t have it both ways. Understand the choice before you: DO or DONE. Swim or sail. Jump or Jesus. Your works or God’s grace.

Paul says that if you let yourself be circumcised you are obligated to keep the whole law. What did he mean? Circumcision was the mark of the covenant for the Jewish people. When you were circumcised, you became part of the covenant community and took on all the obligations and duties that came with it.

ILL: If you become a naturalized US citizen, you take on all the obligations and duties of a citizen. You can’t say, “Well, I want to be a US citizen, but I won’t pay taxes or obey the law.”

In the same way, if you were circumcised, you took all the obligations and duties of the Jewish religion.

So in Paul’s letters, “circumcision” came to stand for a religion of human achievement—what man can do by his own good works. The “gospel” or “Christ” came to stand for a faith in divine achievement—what God has done for us in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. “Circumcision” means DO. “Christ” means DONE.

You can’t have it both ways. If you add anything to Christ, you lose Christ. Salvation is in Christ alone. It’s Jesus plus nothing. If you try to add your own goodness to Jesus, you’ve missed the boat and you’re back to swimming on your own. You’ve missed the bridge and you’re jumping into thin air.

Paul gets personal and passionate.

7 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? 8 That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. 9 “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” 10 I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. 11 Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. 12 As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!

Paul uses a race metaphor: you were running a good race, and someone cut in on you.

ILL: Mary Decker was the United States’ premier female distance runner and was the favorite for gold in the 1984 Olympics. She was running a good race until Zola Budd cut in on her, tripping Decker and knocking her out of the race. I can still remember the outrage!

This is the image Paul uses—and it’s a double entendre: the circumcisers cut in on you. Cut, cut, cut—that’s what they did. And Paul gets really indignant about it and says, “They to cut? I wish they would go all the way and cut everything off! Just castrate themselves!” Wow! Was this just a fit of temper?

ILL: Many years ago, I was talking with a young couple who had been dating a couple months. She wanted me to know that they had slept together. I already knew that this guy had been in bed with another young woman only a few months before. I got so mad that I looked at him and said, “Right now, I wish I could castrate you!” I calmed down and apologized for what I said, but not for the passion behind it. I cared about this young woman and I didn’t want her to be used. And I cared for this young man and wanted the best for him. My statement was an expression of my love for them—a little wonky but genuine.

That’s what’s in play here. Paul loves these people and wants to protect them. You can hear and feel his passion.

Look again at:

11 Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.

Evidently Paul was being misrepresented as “preaching circumcision”. If that was so, he wouldn’t be persecuted by the circumcision party and the Jews. Read the book of Acts and you’ll see that the main opposition Paul faced wherever he went was from the Jews. If he was still preaching circumcision—that is, telling everyone not only to believe in Jesus but to keep the Jewish law—these folks would have cheered him on. And the offense of the cross would be abolished.

What is the offense of the cross? The cross says that we’re sinners in need of a savior; that we’re not good enough on our own; that we can’t save ourselves. The cross offends human pride.

The word “offense” translates the Greek word, skandalon, meaning “a trap or snare; an enticement or temptation; a stumbling block, something that causes offense and results in opposition.” We get the English words “scandal” or “scandalous” from it.

The gospel is still scandalous, offensive. It offends human pride. It tells us that we are sinners under the just condemnation of God and we can do nothing on our own to save ourselves. We’re not good enough. We can only be saved by what God has done for us in Christ. This message is still an offense to many. The message of “circumcision” is that we can be good enough on our own, that we can be saved on our merits; this is the popular message even today. “You can do it.” Popular. “You can’t do it; but God has done it for you.” Offensive.

So what will it be for you? You can’t have it both ways. Are you going to trust your own efforts, that you can be good enough on your own, that you can swim to Hawaii or jump across the Grand Canyon? Or are you going to trust God, and what He has done for you in Jesus?

  1. Freedom in Christ through the Spirit. 13-26

Paul shifts gears here and changes the focus to how to live this new free life in the Spirit. Christ set us free from something: from bondage to the Jewish law. But Christ set us free to something: to live a new life in the power of the Spirit.

Paul’s gospel of grace, of Jesus plus nothing, ran one great risk: people could say, “It doesn’t matter what I do. I can’t earn it—it’s a gift, so I don’t have to try to be good any more. And if I blow it, well, God’s grace covers that. So I can do whatever I want and it doesn’t matter.” Paul is going to address that now.

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.

You are called to be free. We are called to be free from the burden of our guilt and shame; free from the burden of having to earn our way to heaven, of trying to be good enough on our own; free from the burden of our human pride and selfishness. Jesus sets us free! So many think of Christianity as a burden, as stifling or restrictive, when it’s really freedom.

ILL: One of my best friends in high school was a pastor’s son named Dwight. He was on fire for Jesus, but later, he abandoned his faith in college. So I looked him up and tried to encourage him to come back to Jesus. He told me, “I don’t want to be a Christian. I want to be free—free to do whatever I want to do. Christianity is too restrictive—too many rules and regulations. I’m done with that. I want to be free.”

I think Dwight speaks for many who think of Christianity as a rules-based religion, rather than freedom in Christ.

A couple weeks ago, I defined freedom like this: freedom is not just the right to do what you want, but the power to do what you ought. Christ has called us to be free. But we must use our freedom not to indulge our selfish and sinful desires but to serve one another humbly in love. It’s freedom to serve, to love, to do good. Our freedom is not an opportunity or pretext for selfish indulgence. It’s never an excuse to sin.

ILL: I knew a young man who had stopped following Jesus and was living like hell. I confronted him one day, and he told me, “It doesn’t matter what I do. I’m saved, and ‘once saved, always saved.’ I’ve got my ticket to heaven punched and now it really doesn’t matter what I do—I’m in!”

What do you think Paul would say to him? “Don’t use your freedom to indulge the flesh, but serve one another humbly in love.” Christian freedom is freedom from sin, not freedom to sin. Our freedom is not a pretext for sin or selfishness; it’s freedom to serve. It’s freedom to live a new life.

Notice that God calls us to be free. He calls us. Your relationship with God didn’t begin with you, but with Him. He called you. God took the initiative. Our salvation doesn’t begin with our faith, but with God’s call—His grace. Our faith is a response to His call, His grace. Grace initiates, faith responds. Our faith is always a response to His grace.

I love verse 14:

14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

This is one of several places where Paul says that when you love you fulfill the law! Where did he get this idea? From Jesus! Jesus said that the greatest and most important of all the commandments is to love God with all you’ve got—all your heart and soul and mind and strength—and to love your neighbor as yourself. Do this and you’ll fulfill all God’s law.

Focus on one thing: love God and love people. I love this simplification. I need simple.

ILL: I play golf—well, I play at playing golf. I’m not very good. I have taken lessons—I need help. My coach gives me things to work on, but he always tells me to clear my head before I swing. You can’t have more than one swing thought. So here’s my swing thought: smooth. One of my friends calls me “J-smooth.” I wish it was true.

So here’s our swing thought as those whom Christ has called to be free: love! Love God, love people. I can only do well when I focus on one thing!   So here’s your swing thought: love. Augustine put it this way: “Love God and do what you want.” If you love God with all you’ve got, you’ll want to do the right things. Love is the fulfillment of the law.

Here’s the irony. We can’t keep the law to be accepted by God—we’re not good enough. But in Christ, we are already accepted by God, and we end up doing what He wants out of gratitude and love. Our obedience is a response to grace.

ILL: I recently sponsored an online campaign to raise money to help one of my daughters with some medical expenses. That campaign is now over and we raised the needed money—my thanks to those of you who saw this on Facebook and contributed so generously! I can talk about it publicly now that it’s over, and I want to tell you a story.

Some long time friends of mine saw this on Facebook and called me. This is a couple that was part of Life Center in the early days. They consider me a father in the faith. I officiated at their wedding. I helped them through some very difficult issues with their kids. He eventually worked on our staff. And for many years now they have pastored a church in California and are doing extraordinary work with the poor and with addicts and ex-cons.

He told me over the phone, “I’ve waited all my life for you to ask for something, and when we saw this, we thought, ‘Here’s our chance.” They gave the largest single gift—by far. And they said, “When the campaign ends, if you haven’t reached your goal, let us know and we’ll send the rest.”

I got off the phone and could hardly tell Laina because I was crying. I was so moved by their kindness and generosity.

Here’s the thing. They have been after me for years to come down and visit their church, speak, and see what they’re doing. I’ve wanted to, but I’m busy—I travel more than I want to—so I’ve never made it. Guess what? I’m going to California to see them. Why? Gratitude—plain and simple. Their grace motivated me!

Did you know that “grateful” and “grace” come from the same roots, in both English and Greek? When we are the recipients of lavish grace, we can’t help but be grateful. And that gratitude motivates us to do what we otherwise might not do. Grace initiates; faith responds. When you understand what God has done for you, grace motivates you to do what God wants.

We are motivated by grace and empowered by the Spirit.

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.

Paul says, “don’t use your freedom to indulge the flesh.” By the flesh, he means our selfish and sinful human nature. So how do overcome our sinful selfishness? By walking in the Spirit. If you walk by the Spirit you will not gratify your selfish sinful desires.

Paul describes a battle that every Christian understands. Our sinful selfishness desires what is contrary to the Spirit. And the Spirit desires what is contrary to our sinful selfishness. There is a conflict, a battle going on inside us.

ILL: You’ve all seen this corny depiction of the battle: an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other.

Have you ever felt like you were in a tug of war? An angel on one shoulder whispering, “He must be really hurting to act like that,” and a devil on the other shoulder whispering, “Sock him in the mouth!” Or a devil on one shoulder whispering, “Go ahead and look at that porn site; no one will know,” and an angel on the other shoulder whispering, “Don’t do it; God knows.”

We’re in a battle, and here Paul says the battle is between your sinful selfishness and the Holy Spirit who lives within you. And the way to win the battle is to walk in the Spirit. Later on, in verse 18, he says we should be led by the Spirit. And in verse 26, he says we should keep in step with the Spirit. I think all three are related. To be led by the Spirit means you are letting Him lead and you follow. As you follow, you are keeping in step with the Spirit and walking with Him.

What does that mean? God sends His Spirit to live in us and to fill us. When we live in the Spirit or walk in the Spirit, it means that we are choosing to follow the Spirit’s lead, rather than our sinful selfishness. It means we are living in relationship with the Holy Spirit, and depending on His power and presence in our lives. Jesus sent the Spirit to take His place—the Spirit is “another helper”, meaning another like Jesus. So I imagine that just as the disciples lived with Jesus, followed Jesus, walked with Jesus, that’s what we’re to do with the Holy Spirit. We are not doing this on our own. This is we, not me!

Do you remember those ads that said, “Here is your brain on drugs”? Here is me on my own:

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.

This is me; this is what I do on my own. This is our sinful human nature apart from God, our sinful selfishness. This is why we can never be good enough on our own. This is me, on my own. I am not going to take the time to go word by word, but you get the picture. Me on my own is not a pretty picture.

But as Christians, it’s no longer just me; it’s we! Have you ever done something bad and said, “I’m just human”? Well, I’m not just human any more! The Holy Spirit lives inside me and is empowering me and producing something much different. Me is a mess; we is a new story. Here is we:

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. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Here is what the Spirit produces in us: let’s read the list together.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.

How many of you would like that list to describe you? How many of you would like to be more loving, more joyful, more peaceful, more patient, more kind, more good, more faithful, more gentle, more self-controlled? Me too. But me can’t do it! We can—the Holy Spirit can produce that in me as I walk in the Spirit.

Would you be a different person, a better person, if you were living with Jesus 24/7? You are! That’s what it means to walk in the Spirit. We live with Him 24/7.

We’re going finish by praying, and asking the Holy Spirit to fill us, to remind us to walk with Him, to follow His lead, to keep in step with Him.