Galatians – A call to freedom
– 14. Freedom is love not license
Galatians 5:13-25New International Version (NIV)
Life by the Spirit 13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your Neighbour as yourself.”[b] 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[c]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.
Man, this passage is so thick with stuff we can talk through; we could literally spend about 4 weeks on this passage alone. So, I will definitely be preaching from this passage again in the future. However, for the sake of time we will pick on the main theme in this passage which is a continuation of what we stated last week. So, we are continuing the same thought that we started last week. Which is if I am saved by faith alone, if it is all about the free gift of God, doesn’t that mean, essentially, it no longer matters what I do. Last week we looked at it from the perspective; how does the gospel’s freedom from consequences create moral excellence, and we concluded that it does because it is only when we bring nothing to God that we can do anything for him. Essentially free grace fixes the human’s heart that makes everything about me. Tonight, we continue with this same train of thought (because Paul continues it in Galatians) however we ask the question; if I am freely forgiven to be free, then, what does that look like? And how do I move forward in that freedom without it becoming all about me again. How do I now walk in this freedom, and obey God without it becoming a works based righteousness? I need to warn you; the heart always longs to earn God’s love and always wants to slip back into works-based righteousness because then we feel God owes us! Just a warning. So, let’s dive in and start with.
1. Understanding freedom
Paul starts with this idea that we are called to be free and so we must ask the question; what is this freedom? How does it look? And how does it work itself out? When I ask you, what freedom is; most of us would answer; being able to do whatever I want. However, let’s ask if that is honest and if it is even possible. This idea of freedom has its roots, for us at least, in the existentialism philosophy of the 19 and 20th century. The idea can be traced back as far as Epicurus; who was a Greek philosopher who essentially taught that the gods were either evil or irrelevant therefor all that exists is for us to seek happiness. The idea that we have adopted as a society is, “As long as I am not hurting anyone, I am free to do whatever I want.” Now we should ask the honesty of this statement; Am I truly free to do whatever I want, as long as I am not hurting anyone? Now there is a lot that we can go into in terms of the failure of this idea of freed, however, we simply just don’t have the time. However, on two levels this fails, firstly if everyone is free to do whatever they want, how can we ever hope to give guidance and correction to people; even people we love? You can see this with the crisis of modern parenting; I am not allowed to give my children absolutes because they need to grow up free. The problem is what if their idea of freedom is wrong, I mean, it won’t hurt them, but it is not idea for their life. how can we correct them? We can’t! And that is a problem! Secondly, it is incompatible with who we are in our nature. Man was made to live in boundaries; we thrive within them, and children especially are constantly seeking the boundaries that are enforced for them. Freedom is incompatible with who we are at our core. An idea of complete freedom leaves us desperate.
So, real freedom is found in limits, that needs to be understood. But now there comes a problem, we fight against those limits, and often find ourselves rejecting the best life that God has called us to live; so how do we fix this? Essentially, how do we live a life that God wants us to live (a free life) without falling into the trap of doing whatever I like or works-based righteousness? Fortunately, Paul tells us how in this passage; and to get this we need to start by…
2. Understanding walking in the sinful nature
Paul says in verse 16; 16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh The word he uses for desires is a very interesting word and essentially; I must say “desires” is a bad translation here. The Greek work epithumia means over-desires. Literally the problem we have of making good things ultimate things. Essentially the problem with the human heart is that it takes things that are good and then turns them into gods. And all sins have their root here. So why do I find myself going back to the same old sins, because in my heart I have taken something good and have now made it the hope of my life, the hope of my satisfaction in life, the meaning of my life and so it enslaves me. Paul then also, very purposely connects this to the Law, and in verse 18 states that if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the Law. Essentially saying doing what I want and that enslaving me, is the same as trying to earn my salvation through good work, because that will enslave me as well. Have you ever tried to overcome a sin by shear will, and what you discover is that you fall into that sin even more? This is because we have failed to understand the nature of sin. Our will is not the problem, it is our heart! We are caught in self destructive behaviours not because we lack self-discipline, rather we lack self-discipline because, we believe that something other than God will make us happy, and fulfil our deep longings. So how do we overcome this?
3. Understanding the power to overcome
Paul gives two things in this passage that help us overcome our sinful nature and walk with God in freedom. The first is that Paul calls us or at least tells us in verse 24; 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Now it must be said that Paul uses the same word again; epithumia. And now you might be asking, how does this help? Surely killing our desires is simply an act of will. The exact thing we have been trying to talk against for this whole message. But we must ask the question; why the term crucify? Paul could have used any other word to men the same thing; kill your passions, stab your passions, decapitate? Paul uses the term crucify, because the cross matters. I have heard many people say crucify your passions, in a way that we are self-willing these evil desires to go. Paul is not asking us to do this; he says in Christ we have crucified the flesh. In other words, we must take our over-desires; our epithumia to the cross, almost ask in light of the act of love of Christ and his loving death for us on the cross; does what I am over-desiring (what I am putting my hope and love etc) compare to the love I have in Christ Jesus and his death for me on the cross? Take your over-desires, those things that have your heart to the cross, to the love of Christ on the cross. It is in the cross that we know someone loves us; not sentimentally; but so much that they actually died for us; and not for what we can give Him, but because of who we are. This is the first step; take your over-desires to the love of Christ on the cross. The second thing that Paul calls us to do is to walk in the Spirit. In fact Paul, says live by the Spirit. And then tells us exactly what that looks like in verse 17. . 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[c]you want. Pauls says that the flesh “desires” the opposite of the Spirit. Guess what word Paul uses here? If you guessed epithumia you are right. Now pick up what Paul is saying here; the flesh over-desires the opposite of the Spirit “over-desires.” Now, I love the way Paul puts this; because he never actually says that the Spirit “over-desires”; but he does imply it by saying that what the flesh over-desires in the Spirit is the opposite of this. So, we have to ask; what does the Spirit “over-desire”, or to use a more appropriate word for the Spirit what does the Spirit perfectly-desire? Or rather who does the Spirit perfectly-desire? Jesus! It is when our hearts are filled with the love of God in Christ Jesus and we truly love Him; we “Over-desire” Jesus we will find that our “over-desires” will become hollow. It is only as we fill our hearts with the love of Christ, that we will discover an inner wealth of power to change, and the change will come not because of guilt, or because we long for the reward of change; the change will come because it is who we are; we will find that the things that we used to do have no meaning for us in light of the love of Christ. Therefore, as Paul says; “you, are called to be free!” I wonder if you have discovered that freedom! A place where your heart feels right and you feel as if this is truly why I have been made. I will encourage you that you will be permanently enslaved and discontent until you discover the love of Christ; because as Col 1:16 reminds us 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. So, church, live by the Spirit; long for the one who the Spirit longs for and you will not gratify the over-desires of your flesh. Let’s pray! [PRAY]