Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
This afternoon we continue to think about the BELIEVER’S RELATIONSHIP TO THE LAW.
We started considering this this morning. We saw from our Colossians 2 passage that BY THE CROSS OF CHRIST WE ARE FREED FROM THE CURSE OF THE LAW. The Law promises blessing to those who obey it perfectly and curses to those who disobey it in any way. So because we all disobey God’s law, we deserve His curse. But rather than treat us as our sins deserve, God sent His Son, the Lord Jesus, to die on the cross in our place. And there Jesus endured the punishment that our sins deserved. And this left God free to forgive us and give us His salvation blessings.
And so, salvation is not by obedience to the law but by faith in the finished work of Christ. We are freed from needing to obey the law perfectly to earn our salvation.
But as we have seen in our tour of Galatians, this left some with the idea that they no longer had any obligation to obey the law. So today we want to consider the words of vv13-18 and take note of THE BOUNDARIES OF OUR CHRIST-GAINED FREEDOM.
To the Gentile believers who saw themselves as free from the law and able to live as they pleased, Paul said, “And you were called to freedom, brothers.”
And freedom is an ideal we all love, isn’t it. Freedom is wonderful! I am sure you have heard about FREEDOM CAMPERS. They don’t want to be in a holiday park, paying $30 p/night and sharing the kitchen and bathroom with every other Tom, Dick, and Harry. No, they want to be free to park wherever they want!
Well, in terms of THE TWO TYPES OF PEOPLE that Colossians and Galatians are about, on the one hand you have those who are slaves to the law and on the other hand you have those who are free from the law and led by the Spirit. Which one sounds preferable to you? It is being free from the law and led by the Spirit, isn’t it.
You can see though how easily this leads to the idea that freedom means having nothing at all to do with the law. But this is not what freedom in Christ means.
Let me ILLUSTRATE this for you:
A good number of us have enjoyed the privilege of hearing our Brother, Stephen Watson, give piano recitals. And sometimes he improvises, which means he is not following a written musical score but just making it up as he goes along. And there you have a perfect picture of freedom. Stephen is free to improvise. Why? Because he has mastered the law of the piano! Now, I know that there will be some who suggest that true freedom is playing the piano without any of the rules of the piano. But we all know that we couldn’t listen to that sort of piano playing for more than 30 seconds while we could listen to Stephen improvising for hours!
And you can pick your topic – Who here truly has freedom to code software? Me, who has no idea what coding is, or Brother James who has mastered the laws of coding to PhD level?
And who do you think truly has freedom to arrange flowers? Me, who doesn’t know a Daisy from a Daffodil, or those sisters among us who have mastered the art of flower arranging?
What we see then is that True freedom comes from mastering the rules.
And this is TRUE ALSO IN RELATION TO THE LAW OF GOD. For consider this: Who is the only person to have ever lived a life of perfect freedom? The Lord Jesus. And is this because He had nothing to do with the law of God and lived as He pleased? Not at all. In John 4:34, He said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work.” Jesus mastered the law of God; Jesus perfectly obeyed the law of God. Even when it was excruciatingly difficult, like in the Garden of Gethsemane when He faced the temptation of avoiding the cross, how did He end His prayer to His Father? “Not my will be done, but yours.”
So if we are in Christ and if we are to imitate Christ, our freedom is not that we may ignore the law but a freedom to master it the right way; the way of the Spirit.
And we will explore what this means under the following three headings: First of all, our Christ-gained freedom is not a licence to KILL, secondly, it is a licence to LOVE, and thirdly, it is a licence to WALK BY THE SPIRIT.
I. So first of all, our Christ-gained freedom is not a licence to KILL. Paul continues, “Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.”
A. The Greek word that translates as “OPPORTUNITY” is actually from the military world, as in a supply base. And there are basically two categories of things that you get from an army supply base – helpful and harmful. For instance, you can get bandages from a supply base; they are helpful. But you can also get grenades from a supply base; they are harmful! So the idea here is that we are not to use our freedom to get and detonate spiritual grenades, because all they do is kill.
1. And the spiritual grenades he has in view are the things he lists in vv19-21. In v13, Paul is taking about opportunities “for the flesh.” And beginning at v19, Paul provides a list of the works of the flesh, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” These are the things that believers should not use their freedom as an opportunity to do.
2. And the warning Paul provides next is deadly serious, “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Christ has freed us from sin but not to sin; we are not free in Christ to sin as we please. Continued behaviour like this, without sincere confession and repentance, kills.
B. Now, let me ask you this: Where does Paul get this list from? Are they his pet hates? Did he make this list up? Are they cultural issues limited to his day? No, they are the law of God. They are the 10 Commandments applied to daily life. You can go through the list and connect each one with one or more of the 10 Commandments. And this should surprise no one because God is a holy and unchanging God – adultery and murder and idolatry will not be OK tomorrow, or ever!
C. Now, this is an appropriate time to mention the fact that we are talking here about what we call the MORAL law of God. There is much more that could be usefully said about this point, but in its simplest form, we are no longer bound to obey what is called the CEREMONIAL law of the OT – things like circumcision and Passover and the Temple sacrifices – and what is called the CIVIL or JUDICIAL law of Israel. Those laws were either just for Israel or fulfilled in Christ. The Book of Hebrews helps us to see this.
D. But in terms of God’s moral law, which is summarized in the 10 Commandments, our Christ-gained freedom is not a licence to do as we please. As Art. 3 of our Westminster chapter puts it, “Those who, on the pretext of Christian liberty, practice any sin or cherish any evil desire destroy the purpose of Christian liberty. This purpose is that, having been delivered out of the hand of our enemies, we may serve the Lord without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life.” Our Christ-gained freedom is a freedom to master the law because it is His law. As He said, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” And how we do that, without becoming a slave to the law again, we will come to in our third and last point.
II. But while our Christ-gained freedom is not a licence to kill, we see in the second place that it is a licence to LOVE. For Paul continues, “But through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
A. Now, there is NOTHING NEW in the command to love your neighbour as yourself. It is not a NT idea that Jesus introduced when He was asked about the greatest commandment. If you have marginal notes in your Bible, you will see that it is a quote from Leviticus 19:18. In OT times also, God wanted His people to see that strict, outward observance of His laws counted for nothing if you did not love your neighbour as yourself.
B. And just in case you are wondering why Paul does not mention love for God with heart, soul, mind, and strength, for didn’t Jesus first mention that when asked about the greatest commandment? Paul’s point here is that love for God reveals itself in love for neighbour; we will only truly love our neighbour if we love God. So love lies at the very heart of the law – we love for our neighbour FOR CHRIST’S SAKE.
C. Now, in the situation here in Galatia, what love for neighbour looked like was that as a Gentile believer you didn’t bring a hunk of pork to the shared lunch after church and slap it down on the table in front of your Jewish brothers and sisters and tuck into it, in their faces, because you were free to eat pork!!! And there are other examples like this mentioned in 1 Cor. 8 and Romans 14-15. We must be careful that we don’t use our freedom in Christ to offend brothers and sisters who may have different principles and practices than we do.
D. But there is MORE IN VIEW HERE than just avoiding causing offence. vv16-17 put the way of the Spirit and the desires of the flesh in opposing corners. We can picture them like two little creatures, one whispering in the ear on one side and one whispering in the ear on the other side. The flesh, which is our sinful nature says, Don’t obey God’s commands; please yourself and do what you want and what suits you and what feels good, while the way of the Spirit says, Obey God; deny yourself and love your neighbour by serving them and honouring them. And the result of a church community where people are listening to the Don’t obey God’s commands and please yourself voice is what is described in v15, “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” When people think nothing about offending others or put themselves ahead of others, the church becomes an awful place to be. And people will leave with wounded hearts.
E. But because our freedom is a freedom in Christ, we need to think about THE EXAMPLE THAT THE LORD JESUS SET FOR US IN TERMS OF LOVING HIS NEIGHBOURS. You see, He could have chosen to remain in heaven and have nothing to do with us hostile enemies of God. He could have refused to come to earth and experience all of the ugliness of life with sinful, hurtful human beings. He could have refused to be patient with the dim-witted and slow disciples, and avoided attending synagogue because the Rabbi was a hopeless teacher. And He could have gone back to heaven at the first sign of opposition and mockery and unbelief. But instead He chose the way of obedience and selfless love; He said, “The Son of man came not to be served but to serve; to give His life as a ransom for many.” So, looking to Christ who loved us and served us, we must master the law of God, by the way of the Spirit, so that we know how to love our neighbour in any given situation.
III. So let’s turn our attention now to how it is that we master the Law of God. For we see, thirdly and lastly, that our Christ-gained freedom is a licence to LIVE BY THE SPIRIT. We read, from v16, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”
A. From v22, we get THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT. So the bottom line here is that the thoughts, words, and behaviour of the person seeking to master the law of God by the way of the Spirit will be characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When you see these things in yourself and in others, you know that the Spirit is at work. But how do we get there? How do we get there, not by the old way of the law, but by the way of the Spirit?
B. Well, in THE PARALLEL TEXT IN THE BOOK OF EPHESIANS, in ch. 4, we read the following: “I … urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit.” It is the Holy Spirit who creates and maintains unity. And He does this in a congregation as we bear with one another through love, joy, peace, patience, etc. And because He is the Spirit of Christ, He does this by supplying us with all we need from Christ, our head. But how does the Spirit supply us with all that we need from Christ?
C. Well, again, let’s THINK ABOUT THE LORD JESUS: How did He respond to and resist the temptations of the devil? Every time He said, “It is written,” and then He quoted the Word of God. And how did Jesus know that He did not need to wash His hands before eating, which the Pharisees said you must do to be ceremonially clean? Because He knew the Law, so He knew that the washing rule was a tradition of men. And why was Jesus free to heal the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath, when the Scribes taught that to do this was to break the Sabbath? Because Jesus had mastered the law of God and He knew that He was to love His neighbour as Himself. And when the Sadducees, who denied the resurrection, came to Him with what they thought was the perfect argument to prove their case (wife with seven husbands), do you remember how He responded? “You are wrong, because you do not know the Scriptures.” The Spirit supplied Christ with all He needed from the Scriptures! It is from the Scriptures, the living Word of God, that the Holy Spirit supplies us with all that we need.
D. So to walk by the Spirit or to be led by the Spirit is to know the Scriptures and be guided by them. I trust it is clear to each one of us that the law cannot save us. But as those redeemed by Christ, the law is the perfect guide for an obedient and thankful life.
1. Think of it like this: God’s law is no longer hanging over us like an executioner’s axe, it is now under us like a pathway.
2. Slightly adapting an illustration suggested by the preacher and commentator, Philip Ryken, think of the law as A PAIR OF ICE SKATES. When we seek to use the law as a way of earning God’s salvation blessings, it is like using ice-skates in a muddy field. And we can sharpen the blades and try as hard as we like, but they are no help. In fact, the more we try, the more we stumble and fall and dig deep holes. But when we use the law as a guide for thankful living, God puts us on ice and the ice skates of His law help us flow in increasingly longer straight lines and to smoothly navigate our way past hurdles and obstacles that try and trip us up.
3. And King David, in the OT already, understood this view of the law when he wrote, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
4. To walk by the Spirit or to be led by the Spirit is to know the Scriptures and to be guided by them.
a. For it is the Holy Spirit who helps us to understand the Scriptures.
b. It is the Holy Spirit who makes us willing to do what the Scriptures say. For its true, isn’t it, that often we know very well what the Scriptures say; we just don’t want to obey. But the Spirit prompts us to deny ourselves and to take up our cross and to follow Christ.
c. And it is the Holy Spirit who supplies us with the power of Christ, for in our own strength we cannot obey.
We may sum it all up in this way then, whenever we believers open the Scriptures, whether it be in private or in public, the Holy Spirit focuses our attention and fills our souls with who the Lord Jesus is and all that He has done for us. And it is because of Christ and for Christ that we choose not to use our freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love to serve one another.
In this way then, as we look to the Lord Jesus as our Saviour, our Lord, and our example, we master the law of God by the way of the Spirit. Is this how you are using your Christ-gained freedom? Amen.