Back to the Basics: Finding Freedom Being Saved by Grace (Gal. 5:1-12)
We have been working through our church’s statement of faith, i.e. our core values or you could even say, the non-negotiable tenets of our faith. Today we will be looking at #6:
That humans are saved by grace through faith in Christ in response to the Gospel preached, or otherwise presented, in the power of the Holy Spirit, through whom ransomed sinners became the sons of God and heirs of eternal life.
We started with Bibliology, the doctrine of the Word of God and moved into Theology, the study of God looking at the Trinity and some of God’s attributes. After that we looked at the doctrine of sin, or Hamartiology, in the Fall of man in Genesis 3. This brought us to Christology, where we spent the last few weeks studying Jesus Christ’s humanity, deity, crucifixion and resurrection. Today we will look a little bit closer at Soteriology, or salvation. Steve introduced this topic in Romans a couple of weeks ago. Again, like all of these topics, we will look at just one facet of the diamond with this message.
What is the hardest part of salvation? In my opinion, I think the hardest part is to truly believe that Jesus’ work on the cross is completely finished. It is hard to fathom as Tullian Tchividjian says, that God’s math equation for salvation is Jesus nothing = everything and everything – Jesus=nothing. If I truly believed this, why do I still act like I am trying to earn my way to Heaven?
Let me ask us some heart questions. How do you react if you don’t do the things you feel you should do or need to be doing in order to be a “good Christian”? Do you feel condemned? Do you feel like a failure in God’s eyes? Are you driven to redouble your efforts in order to do better “next time”? Do you tend to evaluate your spirituality by how regularly you are keeping up with or measuring up to certain standards? Do you feel God loves you more when you perform certain Christian practices? Do you seem to feel a disheartening sense of disapproval from Him when you don’t?
If you feel like I am talking about you and you are saying a loud “yes!” in your heart right now, God’s Word is for you today. Perhaps the gospel, like the candy that gets stuck in the vending machine, has not completely dropped from your head to your heart. In the next couple of weeks, hopefully the Lord can shake us a bit and let that gospel truth fall a little bit more.
Paul is writing to a group of churches in modern day Turkey, Galatia back then. Paul had preached the gospel in those churches. However, he was saddened to find out that that certain teachers called the Judaizers were in these churches teaching them that what Jesus did on the cross was not enough. They needed a ritual, namely circumcision, for God to truly accept them. So these teachers changed God’s math equation. It was now Jesus ritual of circumcision= salvation. And some even started thinking that they were more spiritual because they had been circumcised. And now the gospel was no longer, “Jesus did,” but now it was “you do.” You do and God will accept you. For Paul, this teaching was a slap in the face of Jesus Christ. That is why Galatians is the only epistle where unlike typical Pauline fashion, we do not get much of a greeting or a prayer. This idea that Jesus’ work was not sufficient to save and keep believers in salvation bothered Paul so much he wastes no time getting to the point.
In the coming weeks, we will talk about how to walk in the fact that Jesus’ work was accomplished, but today let’s look at the dangers of adding to Christ’s work and the delight of accepting it. For the Galatians, they had perverted the true gospel by applying it in extremes. Paul will tell them don’t add to it, but don’t cheapen it either by being careless in your walk either. What does freedom in Christ look like Paul? One commentator notes, “Some were using their liberty as a pretext for license, to the gratification of their sinful nature. Others were “Lone-Ranger” Christians, having forgotten the mandate to bear one another’s burdens. Still others had fallen into discord and faction, backbiting and self-promotion.”
This is the classic struggle of legalism versus license. Satan never invents new truth, he perverts old ones, by taking people away from the center of truth to the extremes. This is how he works since the Garden (Gen 3) because subtle perversions of the truth are difficult to spot as opposed to blatant falsehood. How can we find freedom in the salvation that Christ has accomplished by His grace?
Let’s start with this:
I. Jesus saves us from slavery for freedom (v.1)
Galatians 1-2 is Paul’s personal account of why he is a legitimate apostle. Chapters 3-4 is his doctrinal section of why Jews and Gentiles alike can enjoy complete salvation by faith in Christ alone. Now in the last two chapters, Paul begins to flesh out how the gospel of grace leads to true freedom and godly living in Christ. Notice Jesus does not save us from slavery for independence or slavery for slavery. It is to find freedom in Christ.
Galatians 5:1 is the thesis statement for Galatians 5 and 6. Paul says two things here basically:
a) We have been set free
Here Paul says that when we believe on Jesus Christ for salvation, we are not only freed from something, we are also freed to something. This freedom is not just an exit from slavery, but an entrance to salvation. What were we slaves to? Look over to Gal. 4:3. We were slaves to the world. When the world said, “Jump!” We said, “How high?”
When I hear unbelievers say that they don’t want anybody (especially religious folks) telling them what to do and that they want to be “free,” they do not see that they are deceived. For when you leave the One you were made for, you become a slave to yourself and everything else whether that is power, possessions or pleasure. As the Apostle John would say, “the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions” (1 John 2:16).
Also, these former Jewish believers were once slaves to the law. Supposedly they had close to 615 some laws they had to follow. They had laws to make sure you kept the law. It was burdensome. They could never keep them all perfectly. As a result, they felt guilty all the time. How can they please God? So it was revolutionary when Jesus said, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden!” (Matt. 11:28). He’s not talking about praying after a long day at work. He’s talking to good moral religious older brothers (Luke 15) to come to Him, not a system or institution. Likewise, so many people today do not want to be Christians because they think they will have to read 10 chapters of the Bible a day, pray two hours at least and complete a list of do’s and dont’s. They don’t want to feel guilt when they try and fail, so they avoid Christianity altogether. So thinking they can’t do all of that, they say no to Christ. We will see that actually the opposite is true.
Notice here you didn’t free yourself. Christ set you free. He set you free from the guilt of your failed attempts to please God. He is the Great Liberator. We have all broken the law of God. We are sinners. The law says the one who sins shall die (Eze. 18:4; Rom. 6:23). We are imprisoned in sin (Gal. 3:22). So imagine a huge prison full of prisoners chained up. Jesus stepped in and took the blame as our Substitute and died for our sins. We take His perfect record and make it ours and He takes our failed record and make it His. Upon resurrection, He enters the prison block of slaves and fills the dungeon with His light. He goes and sets us free and calls us to come forth and follow Him in relationship with Him. We have been set free! Then he says:
b) We need to stay free
Notice the command here to stand firm and not to submit again. The command comes after the fact. We stand firm (continuous tense meaning ‘”keep on standing firm”) in response to Christ standing firm for us. All of Christianity is a response. We do because of what Christ has done.
Why does he tell us to “stand firm”? Because our freedom will continually be attacked. Even as you serve in church your freedom will be attacked. Satan will tell you that God is the one putting you in bondage. He will tell you God wants to restrict you and not want to give you anything good. He will tell you that you are not any good...that you are inadequate and not good enough. He will make God seem like a taker and not a giver. In actuality, it is Satan who is the taker and not a giver. Satan actually wants you in bondage and disillusion us in ministry.
So Paul tells us that we need to stay free. Become what you are. Notice the mention of a yoke. This was a wooden harness placed around a working animal, like an ox, to steer it to go where the owner wanted it to go. What he is saying is “Do not be confined, loaded down, and oppressed by the burdensome restrictions of performance regulations again. In other words, “Don’t be a like an working animal, and let those religious slave-drivers put the religious yoke upon you in order to drive you to perform according to their expectations.” Remember Jesus told us to take His tailor-made yoke? (Matt. 11:29). Be yoked with Him instead! This yoke is a yoke of relationship and intimacy not based on rules.
I think many times we submit again to the yoke of slavery. Our freedom is always attacked. Perhaps people have criticized us or put us down. Maybe you feel ignored or unwanted. So we think, “I can’t do anything right. I am not good enough. I need to measure up to a certain standard of performance to feel valuable.” We become a slave; a slave to people and their opinions and a slave to our performance. When we do that, we take the yoke of slavery and it weighs us down again. Or we think, “I’m not wanted” or “I’m incompetent” or “I am weak and inadequate” or “I’m unlovable” or “I’m guilty.” Satan says, “Right! Get out of the yoke with Christ and be free!” In actuality, he’s actually telling you to take his yoke of slavery instead. Take the yoke of self-pity. Take the yoke of self-hate. If you can hate yourself, maybe then you can hate the God who made you and saved you as well. In the end, we go back to prison and sit there in self-pity, withdrawal and seeking hard to gain attention. And when we do, we are saying what Jesus did on the cross was not sufficient. It was not enough to free me from my bondage to myself. I need Jesus people’s approval or Jesus my performance in order to be accepted.
See, when you are yoked with Christ and you think, “I can’t do anything right. I am not good enough,” Christ says, “I was good enough for you. Come and enjoy me. I have set you free.” When we think, “I feel ignored and unwanted.” Christ says, “I was unwanted by my Father on your behalf. But now you are my son/daughter. I have set you free.” I was weak for you, unlovable when I became your sin and guilty too. I have set you free!” But Paul then says, not grasping this truth will be dangerous. So Secondly,
II. The dangers of slavery (vv.2-4, 7-12)
Paul lists several dangers of reverting back to slavery to religion and performance.
a) Detachment (vv.2, 4)
Paul says, “Look,” in Gal. 5:2. In other words, Mark my words! Pay attention to what I’m about to tell you. He first asserts his apostolic authority with an “I Paul.” Notice: “If you accept.” So it’s a condition, they have not yet done so, but were contemplating it. If you want to be circumcised and think God will happier with you if you do, then this is what you lose: Christ.
“No advantage” here means no benefit, value, worth or profit. Paul presents the either/or equation: circumcision or Christ, which will you "bank on"? If you put stock in circumcision (or any other act of performance), then the "finished work" of Christ is not finished. He did not really set us free (5:1) from performance; and He died needlessly (2:21). In that case, who Christ is and what Christ did is worthless, useless, and of no benefit or value. John Stott adds, “…You cannot have it both ways. It is impossible to receive Christ, thereby acknowledging that you cannot save yourself, and then receive circumcision, thereby claiming that you can.”
Go down to v. 4. There he says you will be “severed,” which means one who is estranged, put away, or released from association with another. You will also be “fallen away,” referring to classical literature, used of pedals fallen from the head of the flower signifying separation from the source of life. So this warning goes to the Christian and non- Christian. For the non-Christian, if you think just because you got baptized in water or you raised your hand at a retreat or walked up to a pastor and said a prayer or because you go to church every Sunday, that God is pleased with just the external act, you are deceived. Christ is of no advantage to you. You lose Him now and in the end when he says, “I never knew you!” (Matt. 7:23). You cannot save yourself by doing good thing. Isaiah says our good works is like “dirty rags,” literally, “menstrual cloths” (Is. 64:6). It only comes from fully believing in the what Christ has done. Salvation is by faith alone.
But the danger is here to the Christian as well. You lose intimacy with Christ when you move from relationship to religion. When your life is about “I’m supposed to,” or “I have to” instead of “I get to” and “I want to,” you are detached from the life source like a rose sitting on the table, which soon withers and dies. Although there are days in our walk we get into the Word and prayer and wait for the feelings to warm up, but if your entire walk is about your performance for Christ and not feuling from the face that He performed for you on the cross, this will burn you out in the end. Serving Christ will become a burden. I don’t think “the falling from grace” here is that you will lose your salvation, but that you will lose intimacy with Christ.
God gets to our heart by His grace. We get to God by getting self off the throne and throwing ourselves helplessly upon the cross, hugging those timbers and saying, “there is nothing in me that deserves anything but wrath, have mercy on me.” It is He who then pours grace into our soul and we follow Him and serve Him joyfully. But when we yoke ourselves to religion again, we miss Him.
Former president of Moody Joe Stowell tells the story of meeting Billy Graham for the first time. He asked him what his favorite part of his amazing ministry has been all these years. Stowell said he was thinking Graham would say it was meeting the many presidents, or receiving the keys to many cities or preaching to millions of people all around the world. But do you know what Dr. Graham said? Much to Stowell’s surpise, Graham said, “The greatest thing I have enjoyed all these years more than anything is my fellowship with Jesus. Hearing Him speak to me, having Him guide me, sensing His presence with me and His power through me. This has been the highest pleasure of my life!” Loved ones, what do we have if we lose intimacy with Him? Secondly,
b) Failure (v.3)
Paul uses logic here to explain the futility of adding to Christ’s work. He “testifies,” which is a word that means “witness.” We get the word martyr from this word. Paul is trying to explain the serious gravity of where the Galatians are going. He is willing to lay his life down for the Galatians to get this.
If they want to say Jesus circumcision = salvation, they are also obligated to keep the whole law. He’s using economic terms. If you fall into legalism, you become spiritually bankrupt, but you also now have a huge debt of following the entire law. It cannot be a buffet line of picking and choosing which one you are going to follow. Like I said, some 615 laws have to be followed. You have to keep all of it, at all times, in all ways perfectly.
Do you really want to do this Galatians? Suppose, while driving through town, you saw a flashing red light in your rearview mirror. You pulled over, and the policeman said, “You were driving fifty-five miles an hour. You broke the law.” If you said, “Oh, come on now, Officer. Lighten up. I never robbed a bank. I never shot a person. I never was involved in drugs. So don’t give me this ticket,” he would say, “I don’t care how many other laws you haven’t broken, you did break this one. You’re guilty.” The same is true of the law.
If you’re seeking justification by keeping the law rather than by accepting grace, breaking the law in even one point means you’re guilty—regardless of how many “good things” you’ve done in other areas. No amount of obedience can make up for one act of disobedience.
Again if you are a non-Christian, if you think God is going to look at you and weigh your sins saying, “the good in my life outweighs the bad, so, I’m ok.” You are deceived. God doesn’t grade on a curve. It’s pass or fail. And only Christ has passed and everyone else has failed.
For the Christian, if your walk is about quantity of chapters you read and quantity of time you spent in prayer and not the quality of your heart, you are destined for failure and disappointment as the yoke of religion will be placed on you again because you made it about your performance instead of your heart being transformed and your motives being purified.
c) Judgment (vv.7-12)
Paul has a word for these false teachers. It’s not pretty. Paul uses an athletic image of running. Paul always uses the image of running never as a picture of how to get saved, but how you live your life once you are saved. Notice he cares more about your present progress than your past progress. They were running with Christ, yoked with Him, and He was taking them to places spiritually they never had gone before.
However, someone came along and cut you off. The idea of “hindered,” here is that they cut in on you and made you stumble and fall. Then as you are trying to get up and run, they put the heavy wooden yoke on you and told you to run again. Now you lost your way, got off course and you can barely run again. Interestingly, he is saying, “In an effort to obey Him better and more, you’re not obeying Him after all.” Obey Him when He says you can’t save yourself. Obey Him when He says come just as you are, without one plea. Obey Him when He says, get caught and I will clean you instead of cleaning yourself and then trying to catch him with how clean you are.
Paul says these teachers are not from God in v.8. Remember how God called you? You were pagans, had nothing to offer God and with no contribution except your sin, God accepted you. How can you now say you want to bring a contribution for salvation? Their teaching is inconsistent with how God called you.
Then he uses a cooking illustration that he likes to use a lot: yeast/leaven and dough (1 Cor. 5:6). He is warning them that this teaching of Jesus plus works contaminates the church like how yeast makes the dough to rise. It is pervasive, permeating and penetrating. What is small can do a lot of damage. Yeast is small and if left alone, grows and permeates the whole. The spirit of legalism does not suddenly overpower a church. Like leaven, it is introduced secretly, it grows and before long poisons the whole assembly.
When I was at Wheaton College, I went back home to New York for summer break having really having experienced a real revival in walking by grace. I spent a lot of time with the youth group, who were constantly feeling guilty for not living up to the standards of the church. The church taught you had to be holy, which is correct (1 Pet. 1:16) except for them, holiness meant mostly external behavior like not watching television, not listening to certain music, praying a certain way, etc. Anyway, I spent a lot of time with the youth preaching walking by grace. It was really powerful to see God moving in these kids. They actually did more for the Lord and were more like Christ than before. They were set free!
Later that summer, a preacher came along. He asked the youth group at one meeting: “How many kids have come to Christ since last year?” And the answer was “none.” And he lectured us and said that we were not saved if we bring no one to Christ. I was incredibly angry. Soon one by one, these kids reverted back to guilt and shame. Leaven contamination!
Paul is angry with these teachers who teach salvation is Jesus plus anything. Notice in v.10. He is praying hard that these Galatians will come back to the gospel they came to believe. He then points to the false teacher, the one particular one out of the many (or perhaps there was only one teacher) and warns that he will one day have to answer to God for leading people astray. Salvation by faith alone is a non-negotiable for the Apostle Paul and how can we believe any less? It is not a minor issue. And God will call you into account if you teach otherwise (James 3:1). Please carry me off the pulpit if I start preaching other than salvation by Christ alone!
Apparently the false teachers were telling the Galatians that even Paul preaches circumcision. Paul says this is nonsense and him being persecuted for his preaching proves it. Stott explains this clearly when he says, “They were preaching circumcision; he was preaching Christ and the cross. To preach circumcision is to tell sinners that they can save themselves by their own good works; to preach Christ crucified is to tell them that they cannot and that only Christ can save them through the cross. The message of circumcision is quite inoffensive, popular because flattering; the message of Christ crucified is, however, offensive to human pride, unpopular because unflattering. So to preach circumcision is to avoid persecution; to preach Christ crucified is to invite it. People hate to be told that they can be saved only at the foot of the cross, and they oppose the preacher who tells them so.”
Paul is pretty angry at this false teaching. Then in one of my favorite verses of the Bible in v.12, Paul says, “If you Judaizers are so insistent on circumcision as a means of pleasing God, why don’t you go all the way and castrate yourselves as the supreme act of religious devotion?” Hey, don’t stop at the skin! You can really please God if you go all the way! Wow. One commentator adds, “Perhaps the resulting physical impotence pictured Paul’s desire that they also be unable to produce new converts.”
These are the dangers of preaching and living a gospel that insults Christ by saying His work was not finished, that there is human achievement divine achievement for salvation. Tucked here in these verses Paul also give us:
III. The delights of freedom in Christ (vv.5-6)
I want to avoid the dangers of legalism and adding to Christ’s work on the cross for me. However, what am I free to? Does this mean I don’t do anything? How am I supposed to live? Well the rest of Galatians 5 and 6 will answer that question. But here he briefly mentions a few delights of freedom in Christ:
a) We are set free to live through the Spirit
One of the changes the Gospel and the New Covenant brings is divine enablement to live and do all that God asks us to do. Christ lives in us now, so we have an engine propelling us. Have you ever gone paddle boating? Basically, it is two people trying hard to steer, exerting a ton of effort to go just a short distance. However, compare that to driving a speed boat. The difference: it has an engine! The image Paul will use is walking (Gal. 5:16). We will go into what this looks like in a couple of weeks.
b) We are set free to wait in hope
Paul says we are set free that instead of working anxiously to make sure we can get to Heaven, we are not waiting for it. Stott says, “We do not strive anxiously to secure it, or imagine that we have to earn it by good works. Final glorification in heaven is as free a gift as our initial justification. So by faith, trusting only in Christ crucified, we wait for it.” Lastly,
c) We are set free to live in love
No you don’t do as you please once you accept Jesus’ free gift of salvation. Christ sets you free, but not to be independent. So it is not faith works, but it is a faith that works. As Christ lives in you, you cannot but help to live a life of love and serve others like He did.
You become what you love. I had a friend growing up who loved Michael Jordan. He had his posters, watched his tapes and wore his shoes. Then I started noticing that he would dribble like him and even stick his tongue out as he went up to the basket, just like Jordan! You become what you love. That is what Jesus cares about. What are you becoming?
Notice faith, hope and love, Paul’s favorite virtues mentioned here (1 Cor. 13:13). So God cares more about the motives of your heart than the quantity of your work. He cares more that you are growing in love for Him and people than how many chapters you read or how long you prayed. How is the quality of your faith, hope and love? How quickly do I return to the Lord when I fail Him?
I have been thinking about a scene from C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader where Eustace, a selfish, greedy, self-centered, arrogant, skeptical and critical little boy, who ends up finding all this treasure and in a moment of uncontrollable greed, he tries to gather it all for himself. He ends up falling asleep with a dead dragon and when he awoke, he sees his hideous reflection in a pool and shockingly realized that he himself had turned into a dragon! Lewis says, “Sleeping…with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.” Up to this point, he had been blind to the true condition of his heart.
Author and Professor Devin Brown wonderfully elaborates on this:
“Eustace tells of his dream-like meeting with Aslan and their journey to a garden on the top of a mountain. There Aslan shows Eustace a well and—in a way that does not use words—tells him that he must undress before bathing in the healing waters. As a dragon who is not wearing clothes, Eustace understands this to mean that he must remove his scaly skin, like a snake. And so he peels off a layer of his dragon hide and starts to go down into the well only to find that there is another layer of dragon skin beneath the one he has removed.
Eustace then reports:
“Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this under-skin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.
“Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good. “Then the lion said—but I don’t know if it spoke—‘You will have to let me undress you.’”
Lewis shows us that on his own, Eustace is, in some measure, successful in ridding himself of several layers of his dragonish nature. He is partially able to “undress” himself—but only partially. He frees himself of one dragon skin, then a second, and then a third. Thus Lewis seems to suggest that humans, after they have seen the error of their ways, may be able to improve somewhat on their own, but not at all to the degree needed. Lewis shows that Eustace can shed the surface layers of his dragon nature somewhat easily, without much pain, and without Aslan’s help. The deeper layers will be just the opposite. Lewis’s point is that man’s unassisted efforts to change himself may result in a limited success, but not one that goes to the heart of the problem.
In The Letters of C. S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves, [Lewis] says, “I have found out ludicrous and terrible things about my own character. . . . There seems to be no end to it. Depth under depth of self-love and self-admiration.”
In the chapter titled “Faith” in Mere Christianity, Lewis describes the process of transformation and notes that in one sense the road to God is a “road of moral effort” that consists of “trying harder and harder.” But Lewis points out, “It is not trying that is ever going to bring us home. All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, ‘You must do this. I can’t.’”
Thus we see that while Eustace can make some surface changes, ultimately he needs Aslan to change him completely. It is also significant that Eustace has a choice of whether to remain as he is or be transformed. Aslan will not act without his consent, as he tells Eustace, “You will have to let me undress you.” Eustace tells Edmund, “I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.”
In the transformation of Eustace into a dragon and back into a boy, we are given a moving account of salvation. Lewis makes it clear that Eustace can say no to Aslan’s offer to undress him, and if so, he can expect the same fate as the old dragon he replaced—to live as his own little god, to follow no law beyond his own dragonish desires, and to die alone.
Eustace’s ordeal is equally painful. He tells Edmund, “The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart.” After this initial painful tear, there comes a second, more horrible pain of “pulling the skin off”—which Eustace describes as hurting “worse than anything I’ve ever felt.” Once the skin is off, there will come yet a third pain of being thrown into the water, an action Eustace claims “smarted like anything.”
The hardest work in growing as a Christian is to work at accepting Christ’s work on the cross for your justification and your sanctification. How much are you letting Him “undress you”? Are you about trying harder or trusting more? How many layers have you been able see of your heart? The more you see, the more you can grasp the gospel of grace and the more you can be transformed, one layer at a time.
From http://www.aboutmyfathersbusiness.net/2011/02/pure-gospel-mathjesus-plus-nothing.html accessed 28 April 2011.
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Stowell, Joseph (2002). Simply Jesus (13-14). Sisters, OR: Multnomah.
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Brown, Devin. “Further up and Further In: Narnia as an Introduction to Lewis’ thought and theology,” http://www.narniafaith.com/teach/study-guides-and-youth-resources/further-up-and-further-in-five-lessons-from-c-s-lewis-lesson-4/ accessed 30 April 2011.