May 22nd, 2022: Freedom, Love, and Faith- Galatians 5: 1-15
Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. (ITim4:1-3)
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. (2Tim 4:3-4)
God’s word is true and unchanging. It is complete and self-sustaining. The Gospel of Jesus Christ can be trusted. Yet, adding to and taking from the word by legalists and power-hungry opportunists has occurred since the beginning of the New Testament Church. Paul writes letters to early believers about their freedom and liberty in Christ. Those letters speak to our generation as we recognize the damage that has been done by those who would put a stumbling block in the way of those who would come to Jesus. Churches have placed their own requirements and obligations ahead of the pure gospel of Christ, and the result has been catastrophic. The Bible predicts a great falling away in the last days. We are seeing that today in part because when those who seek answers come to the church, they are often given nonsense and religiosity in place of the life-giving message of the cross and the solid security of the word of God. The Bible will stand under all scrutiny, challenge, and attack. It doesn’t need to be improved or made more acceptable for each generation, we need to believe it and never compromise it.
5 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
Stand fast. In modern language, we might say don’t waver, be strong, stay faithful. It is the stance of a warrior you are being called to. Christians are given a peace that passes all understanding, and we are known by our love for each other and for the lost. However, we are called to war against the spiritual attacks that come against the doctrine of Christ. How were we in bondage? Before becoming Christians we were in bondage to sin, we were in bondage to pleasing the people and pressures around us. We were in bondage to our own corrupt thinking and the destructive messages that flood our society. We have been transformed and as new creatures in Christ we need to be vigilant, in the way a soldier is vigilant against those ideas and lifestyles that we are tempted to fall back into. The most important thing that the Law of God does is to show us how sinful we are, how far apart our minds are from the mind of God. Also, we are confronted with the reality that our work to fix ourselves is powerless to overcome the distance between the two. Only Christ, only the cross, only the power of an empty tomb is strong enough to give us liberty.
2 Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.3 For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.
Circumcision is a physical and spiritual act that identified old testament believers with God. It was the unmistakable mark of a committed life set apart for the purposes of God. Christ is the fulfillment of that picture. A complete surrender to Christ separates the believer in mind, body, and soul from the deadness of this world. New Testament believers were tempted to add physical circumcision to the new gentile (non-Jewish) believers as a requirement for salvation. It was as if they were saying, Jesus is good, but just in case, you need to follow the old testament rules, just in case He is not enough to save you. If you enter marriage but keep a lover on the side just in case, you have not done a holy thing. You have committed a great evil and also have never truly entered into the covenant of marriage. In the same way, you are not a Christian if you convince yourself that Christ is almost enough to save you, almost enough to keep you, that he has almost enough power to help you and that maybe he can heal you. That’s not having a little faith, that is damnable heresy. Jesus Christ is the Creator of the world, the almighty, all knowing, all merciful son of the Father. He is more than enough.
Who does God want in the church? Who is he able to save? Everyone. The most profound and unthinkable word in the new testament is “whosoever.” “For God so loved the world that “whosoever” believeth on Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” Consider the people that you know who do not adhere to social protocols that you think are important. Their lives are lived differently, rough, calloused in the world. We like to think, there but for the grace of God go I, but we don’t really try to associate. We all know that they need God, but we also hope they find him without too much of our help. Does God want them in the church? Does he love them, as much as he loves you? Paul and Peter both agreed that God did indeed want both the Jews and the Gentiles in the same family of God. They also concluded that there was no reason to add additional qualifiers, especially the things that the Jewish people had never themselves been able to obey and do completely to the gospel. And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? ( Acts 15:7-10)
5 For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.6 For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.
Salvation changes us, not once, but continually for the rest of our lives. Circumcision or not circumcision, long hair, short hair, or no hair, actually any of our outward shows of holiness will not take us to heaven. It is Faith in God which produces love toward God and love toward our neighbor that is the obvious sign of change that comes from the inside out. Mankind may be a respecter of persons, esteeming some higher than others. God is not. He is no respecter of persons. He is not impressed with an outward show of religious behavior, he looks straight into our hearts to our real selves, and instead of being repulsed by us, he will stay and make us over if we surrender our lives to Him. This is a hard thing for many to accept; it requires humility. Socially accepted, physically strong, highly intelligent people get to heaven the same way as the homeless or drug addict - through Christ. Paul is saying these very things to the hardest to convince.
7 Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?8 This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you.9 A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.
Have you ever hit a wall spiritually? Maybe you started out well, but gradually you let yourself down, have you felt distance grow between you and the Lord? Paul wants to know, what stopped you? The Christians of Galatia started with enthusiasm eagerly following Christ. Then they were deceived by holy-sounding people into doubting Christ. Sin separates, but Christ unites. When Christ is not the focus, the center, the headline of our story there is no joy, no enthusiasm, everything is a burden, and you can find fault with everyone around you. It's not God that changes. By His mastery the universe is held in order, your salvation is not too hard for Him. We change our focus, we put ourselves front and center, and inevitably we grow colder and colder trying to warm ourselves by our own feeble flickers instead of God’s consuming fire. Jesus says “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” If your burden is crushing you, recognize it for what it is, a burden you have created and you have the power to put down. Paul is trying to point out that adding burdens, mixing law with grace, just like mixing the world with the gospel, we don’t add to our relationship with God, we create distance from Him. It is not in his plan, it will not bring joy and it will not allow progress.
10 I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be.11 And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offense of the cross ceased.12 I would they were even cut off which trouble you.
To those who would corrupt the gospel and to those who would separate the church by inserting their own rules and requirements, Paul says, he would like to see them dead. That’s how serious false doctrine is. In a later chapter he writes, “to those who would keep the law, have you read the law?” Most of the people who create mayhem in the church are not even aware of the meaning of the scriptures they misuse. Israel was never able to keep the law, and yet jewish christians were calling for Gentiles to suddenly be able to do just that. Christ has fulfilled the law. He is also sharing that if all it took was circumcision to get into heaven, then he could stop preaching and his persecution would stop. How wonderful would it be for the denominations to realize that there is liberty in Christ. Petty differences don't matter and we would should all stop requiring people to satisfy our list of requirements for Heaven and trust God’s word as the final word,
13 For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.15 But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.
Christians think differently. We can’t use liberty in Christ to sin. Liberty is Christ is freedom from sin. Our highest calling is to please the Father, by honoring the Son, made possible only through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are the light of the world. If the world sees us trying to one up each other or exclude others who don’t agree with us, how can they recognize the power of Christ? We are told to bring ourselves under subjection to Christ and one to another. We should be prepared to guard our words, actions, and attitudes. We will answer for every idle word spoken in haste, anger, hatred, or rudeness. It is not ok that the lost witness our complaints, constant gossip, backbiting and proud whispers. God’s word has stated plainly that He considers sowing discord among the brethren an abomination (He hates it!). Even here Paul says that doing so has consequences, it will consume us.
Humility is appropriate, gratitude is appropriate. Chritianity is not about your goddess, it is about the Goodness of God. We should be real. When we make a mistake (and we will), we should quickly say “I was wrong?” We don’t need to think up things to add to or take away from the Word of God, it is perfect and it is powerful. We are called to love God and love our neighbor, and that will keep us busy enough. Christ is enough. Living in the freedom He gives allows faith to produce in you loving works.