Text: Galatians 5: 25 “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”
The Letter to the Galatians is a powerful defense of Grace as the essential component of salvation. William Barclay begins his comments on Galatians with this paragraph: “Someone has likened the letter to the Galatians to a sword flashing in a great swordsman’s hand. When Paul wrote it both he and his gospel were under attack. If that attack had succeeded Christianity might have become just another Jewish sect. It might have become a thing for Jews and for Jews alone; a thing which was dependent upon circumcision and on keeping the law, instead of being a thing of grace. It is a strange thing to think that, if Paul’s opponents had had their way, the gospel might have been kept for Jews, and we might never have had the chance to know the love of Christ.”
There is no doubt that Paul was emotionally upset when he began writing this Epistle. In the other letters to churches that Paul wrote he began with words of praise, complimenting them on their faith and obedience, but not so with the letter to the Galatians. In it he begins by expressing his alarm, saying in Galatians 1: 6, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the One who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.”
We are told by historians and commentators that the big challenge to Christianity at this period of time was that there were Jewish Christians who were saying that in order for Gentiles to become Christians they had to fully convert to Judaism, be circumcised, and keep all the law and traditions of the Jewish People. Salvation according to them was based on keeping the Law. In contrast, Paul argued that no one could ever completely obey the Law. The purpose of the Law was to define sin. And, in the terms of a covenant, if one or the other parties failed to keep the whole agreement, then the covenant was nullified. Paul would go on to point out that the father of Judaism was not Moses. It was Abraham. Of Abraham, the Bible pointed out that he was “Justified because of His Faith.” Therefore, the person who was/is truly saved, is not the one who works at keeping the Law (because no one can possibly do so). Rather, the one who is saved is the one who accepts the gift of Salvation by putting his or her faith in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice to pardon our sins.
We have been celebrating our freedom in America. Independence Day—the Fourth of July—marked the anniversary of our official proclamation that we would be an independent Nation no longer under the rule of England. And we celebrate the freedoms that are outlined in our Constitution and Bill of Rights—such things as the Freedom of Speech, the Freedom of Religion, the Freedom to own and bear arms.
And while we celebrate those freedoms we should paid close attention to Paul’s words about freedom as he defended the Gospel of Grace that comes through Faith in Jesus Christ and acceptance of the gift of Salvation bought with the Blood of our Lord and Savior.
Let us consider God’s Inspired Word as presented by Paul in his Letter to the Galatians and see how it applies to us today.
I. WHAT DOES “FREEDOM” REALLY MEAN?
a. My Google Account gives these definitions of “freedom”: (1) the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint; (2) the absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government; (3) the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved.
b. Can you imagine a world where there were absolutely no restraints, no boundaries, no accountability for anyone? I would submit that such a world would be utter chaos and could never survive. Phillip Brooks was right on when he said, “No man in this world attains to freedom from any slavery except by entrance into some higher servitude. There is no such thing as an entirely free man conceivable. (Phillips Brooks (1835- 1893), Perennials.)
c. Our freedoms must have restrictions that not only protect us from ourselves, but also protects others from being victims of our so-called Freedom!
d. Freedom, then, must be defined in such a way that it can realistically exist in our world. God’s Word teaches us that we really only have two choices: We can remain slaves to sin, or we can choose to become slaves to God. The second choice, slaves to God, is the choice we have to accept the gift of Salvation and to be set free to live as God intended us to live–as His Holy People. And Paul in Galatians points out that such a life is the one that chooses the Law of love: “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5: 14).
e. With an understanding that true freedom then means “Loving your neighbor as yourself,’ and understanding that love is based on our relationships with Jesus Christ, then our Freedoms as Americans should take into account how it affects others and how it reflects God’s love!
f. Freedom, then, must be defined as having the power to choose. We can choose to do good or to do evil, to obey or disobey, to believe or to not believe, etc. And, as Christians, those decisions are made with the Love of Christ and the Love for others guiding our choices.
II. THE FREEDOM TO CHOOSE MUST RECOGNIZE THE CONSEQUENCES OF THOSE CHOICES.
a. “You, my brothers and sisters, are called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge in the flesh…” (Galatians 5:13 a).
b. The frightening truth is that while we have the freedom to choose, once we make our choice we have no control over the consequences of our choice. For example, I can ignore the laws of nutrition and eat all the junk food I want, but, if I do, I must suffer the consequences of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and so many other nutrition related problems. I can ignore the traffic signs, run stop signs, speed in construction zones, etc. But if I do, I must suffer the consequences of car wrecks, damaged lives, speeding tickets, etc. If I choose to smoke cigarettes, I set in motions the strong possibility of lung cancer, COPD, emphysema, and other conditions that are related to the use of tobacco. If I choose to drink alcohol or use illegal drugs, I subject myself to the possibility of becoming an alcoholic or addict and to cause other damage because of my impaired judgment. If I choose to cheat on my spouse, I set in motions the possibility of damaged relationships, divorce, estrangement from family, and hurting a lot of other people. I could go on, but you get the message.
c. Choices have consequences. So, “ I must be careful not to use my freedom to indulge in the flesh.” You do understand that “Indulging in the flesh” means doing whatever your body desires., don’t you? And the consequence of doing whatever your body desires is that you become a slave to your passions. Instead of controlling them they control you and make you their slave.
d. Paul defines consequences of the misuses of those passions in Galatians 5: 19-20: “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealous, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 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.”
e. Much better are the consequences of those who choose to obey God and be Spirit led. Examples of those consequences are found in Galatians 5: 22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
f. In life, we must be careful to consider the consequences before we exercise our freedom of choice.
III. SO, HOW DO WE MAKE CERTAIN WE USE OUR FREEDOM OF CHOICE CORRECTLY?
a. Galatians 5: 24-26 gives us the answer: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”
b. What does Paul mean by the phrase, “Crucified the flesh”? Earlier in Galatians Paul gave this testimony: “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing” (Galatians 2: 19-21).
c. Does this mean I no longer have desires? Of course not. But it does mean I have accepted Christ’s death on the Cross as payment for my sins. And as a result I now allow Christ through the Holy Spirit to direct my desires in a manner that honors God rather than controls me.
d. In the early 70s an evangelist friend of mine preached a revival in the church where I was pastoring. In one of his sermons he reported that before he accepted Christ he had been an alcoholic. And when he accepted Christ he had been forgiven and that he had not taken a drink of alcohol since his conversion. But, to the shock of many, he said that even though he was saved and he no longer drank alcohol, there was not a day that passed when his body did not crave another drink. The point was, even though he had been forgiven and was no longer drinking, the consequences of his abuse of alcohol created a constant battle. He went on to say, that it is true that often God completely delivers a person by removing the desire. But sometimes He chooses to give daily strength so that a person can live in victory over the desire each day.
e. My friend Steve Baughan, who heads up “Standing by the Door” Ministries, said that the battle with addiction is like a battle to stop the screaming. The Addict is overcome with the screaming for attention of whatever it is to which he or she is addicted. When we live in the Spirit, the voice of the Spirit drowns out the voice of addiction.
f. And the key to that victory is found in verse 25: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” When temptation rears its ugly head, we can choose to resist and just keep on walking with our hand in His.
When Jenna and Justin were in school I gained an appreciation that I had not really considered beforehand. Both of them were in High School Band, went to summer band camps, and practiced those marching drills that I had never paid much attention to beforehand. Before the kids came along, for me the half time at the football game wasn’t a time to watch the band, it was the time to go to the restroom and to the concession stand. But after watching my kids spent long hot hours in the summer band camp, and then see the precision of those band members as they stayed in step and keep time to the music, I was really amazed. The band director gave them instructions. The drum major led them and gave them the signals they needed to march into the correct formation they were performing. Each one had to stay focused on the drum major.
In a much more intimate way, Paul tells us that we are to “keep in step with the Spirit.” The path to freedom, the power to make right choices that set in motion good consequences that release us to live our lives to their fullest potential as God intends, comes from “keeping in step with the Spirit.”
To what drum beat are you walking? The way of the flesh is the drumbeat of selfishness and self-indulgence. The drumbeat of God is the march of victory and freedom!
You have the freedom to choose….