Christian Principles in Relationships Lesson 13 THE TRUTH ABOUT CHRISTIAN LIBERTY Lesson Text Galatians 5:12-21 12 I would they were even cut off which trouble you. 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. 16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. 18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Focus Verse II Corinthians 3:17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. Focus Thought God has called us to a life of liberty, but we are not to use it as an excuse for compromise. CULTURE CONNECTION No Liberty without Responsibility by Richard M. Davis It seems we live in a time in which those who enjoy liberty have a diminished measure of appreciation for the necessary responsibility that always accompanies liberty. Responsibility and liberty are inseparable and necessary companions. In a 1995 article written for The Freeman, a publication of the Foundation for Economic Education, Max More discussed the inseparable nature of liberty and responsibility. In the article titled “Liberty and Responsibility: Inseparable Ideals,” More wrote, “The founders of the American political and economic system felt a burning desire to establish a country of unprecedented liberty. . . . Americans’ enthusiasm for their country has declined. Though still an inspiration to those seeking escape from or reform
of their own country’s political arrangements, America’s example no longer seems to shine as brightly. Still we see numerous examples of creativity, entrepreneurship, and invention. Yet we also see more criminals, more hopeless people, more dependents and outright parasites. Too many people spend their energy and money engaged in legal battles rather than in producing. A vast bureaucracy has grown: a bureaucracy devoted to controlling productive activity and to growing ever larger. . . . “Over the course of this century the ideals of liberty and personal responsibility have increasingly drifted apart. This means both ideals, liberty and responsibility, have become distorted. Personal responsibility cannot exist without liberty, and liberty will not persist without responsibility. Liberty without responsibility is license. . . . The survival of liberty requires personal responsibility.” In our liberty as Christian believers, we have an inherent responsibility to others; we cannot avoid it. It matters how our actions affect fellow believers. May we exercise our liberties with the most cautious and careful sense of brotherly duty toward others. CONTEMPLATING THE TOPIC Reading the entire Book of Galatians will provide the context that surrounds Paul’s instructions in the lesson text. Without this backdrop one could misrepresent his teaching regarding Christian liberty. Immediately after his salutation to the Galatian churches, Paul expressed his utter amazement that they had veered from the message of salvation by grace into a message other than the one he had delivered to them. He reminded them of his background, his calling, and his connections that authenticated his message of grace. First, though he had persecuted Jewish Christians who professed salvation apart from the works of the Law, he converted to Christianity by divine revelation. Second, he confirmed his revelation by intense study of the Old Testament Scriptures that pointed to the new covenant in Christ. Third, he visited Jerusalem and conferred with Peter and James (the Lord’s half-brother) to affirm that the message he had received, studied, and now proclaimed was the same message the apostles had received from Christ. And finally, he recounted his visit to Jerusalem fourteen years later when he discussed the message of grace with the apostolic council. He again received the apostles’ blessing, even though they knew he did not teach Gentile converts to obey the Jewish ceremonial laws—specifically the law regarding circumcision. In our lesson text, Paul catalogued the behaviors that would surely result from the Galatians’ mistaken beliefs. Many of them had left the message that had liberated them from the guilt and bondage of sin through the work of the Holy Spirit. They began to wander toward deceitful teachers whose message lured them into bondage under the works of the flesh, which soon would unravel their relationships with God and with each other. There are at least three applications of this message for us today. (1) We dare not try to gain salvation through our own fleshly works and apart from the work of the Holy Spirit within us. (2) A lifestyle of Christian liberty does not grant us the freedom to sin. Rather, it leads to a keen understanding that the gospel sets us free from the bondage of sin and gives us a new freedom in Christ: freedom from the shame and condemnation of past sins, freedom to choose righteousness, and freedom to serve Christ instead of our
former master, Satan. (3) Christian liberty does not free us as believers to live for ourselves and do what we want, but it frees us from the bondage and power of Satan so we may do what we ought to do according to God’s Word. Contrary to our carnal nature, Christian liberty causes us to consider the feelings and the level of Christian maturity within fellow believers. Paul admonished, “Use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). Under the old covenant the rules of law dictated these considerations; under the new covenant loving consideration for others derives out of the work of the Holy Spirit within believers. SEARCHING THE SCRIPTURES I. LIBERTY MAY BE EXPOUNDED Paul explained to the Galatians that one could sum up the Law in one word: love, which we manifest in our love for God and in our love for one another. Though the Law was cumbersome, God intended that the Israelites should obey the rules out of love, not coercion. Moses exhorted the people: “The Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart . . . to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul. . . . [Then] thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes” (Deuteronomy 30:6, 10). Although some Israelites tried to develop a genuine relationship with God, many others perceived the rules as merely external demands to be obeyed out of fear and manipulation. Such laws inevitably would be ineffective if not connected to the heart. Without the Holy Spirit this engagement of the affections was impossible; so the guardrails became prison bars, observers of the Law became prisoners to regulations, and Moses became the warden of the prison. Old Testament prophets recognized that Jewish culture as God had intended it had instead evolved into one of trying to earn God’s favor by following the rules by rote. By the dawning of Jesus’ day the load of bondage to the Law had become so hefty the Jews scarcely could bear it. Religious leaders had taken the law of Moses and added extra bulk in the form of more than six hundred additional rules and regulations. Paul grieved when he realized the Galatian Christians incredulously had fallen under the influence of Judaizers, Jewish teachers who argued that salvation came not only through Christ, but also through keeping the ceremonial laws such as being circumcised, observing Jewish holy days, and conforming to Jewish dietary restrictions. At the first church council, Peter warned against salvation through the works of the Law, claiming the Law brought bondage rather than liberty: “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? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they” (Acts 15:10-11). The law of Christ was not carved upon tables of stone; it was imprinted upon the hearts of mankind. And the Holy Spirit baptism brought liberty to serve both Christ and fellowman out of love rather than mandatory regulations. Much of modern teaching regarding Christian liberty promotes carnality. Many present-day proponents of Christian liberty improperly construe it to mean that Jesus forgave their sins, so they now can walk a few steps behind the world yet not share in the condemnation of the world. Loosely defined, they suggest it is guiltless sinning by the
“saved.” This grossly misinterprets salvation by grace. Many who profess Christianity overlook the fact that liberty never excuses sin. Galatians 5:19-21 enumerates many works of the flesh, which are sins, reinforcing the biblical teaching that those who participate in such “shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21). A. There Is Recognition of Its Value The liberty of the gospel allows us to live under the grace of God rather than under the impending judgment of God. God does not judge us according to the rules we broke in the past, but He judges us according to Christ’s sacrificial death that paid for our sins. Because we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, we are no longer bound to earn salvation by good works; in fact, it is impossible to do so. Rather, salvation sets us free from our sins and gives us liberty to manifest good works through the power of Jesus Christ that works within us. For the first time since the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden, the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ set mankind free from the guilt of sin and the bondage of the flesh and enabled him to serve Christ through righteous living. The strength of the sins of the flesh could no longer overpower him. Paul warned the Galatians they were in danger of forsaking this favored position in Christ by trying to earn salvation through the works of the Law. On the other hand, the apostle did not want them to gravitate toward a lifestyle of sin and attempt to justify their sin by proclaiming liberty in Christ. Christian liberty never justifies sinful living. Matthew Henry addressed the responsibility believers have regarding their liberty in Christ Jesus: “The liberty we enjoy as Christians is not a licentious liberty: though Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, yet he has not freed us from the obligation of it; the gospel is a doctrine according to godliness.” Paul hoped his strong teaching regarding Christian liberty would result in the Galatians pulling themselves out of the reach of these Judaizing teachers. Some scholars suggest that Paul, by his repeated use of the word anathema (Galatians 1:8-9), wished on the teachers God’s judgment and destruction. The product of a strict Jewish background, Paul well understood the importance of the Christian freedom he had experienced, and he could not accept the possibility of his converts sliding back into the bondage from which both he and they had been delivered. B. There Is Restraint in Its Exercise We must look to the Scriptures to define sin as Paul did when he appealed to the Galatians. Previously, the Gentiles had been unfamiliar with such teaching, but Paul asserted that the works of the flesh would prevent them from inheriting the kingdom of God. But they should not despair. The Holy Spirit working within them would produce the fruit of the Spirit if they would cooperate with the Spirit. False teachers had attempted to place on the shoulders of the Gentile church the same burdens the Jews had been carrying. They insisted that the churches of Galatia incorporate these teachings into the message of salvation. Paul contended they did not have to subscribe to the ceremonial laws; instead, their liberty in Christ freed them to serve the Lord out of dedication and love. However, Paul knew human nature in general
and he also knew the people of Galatia. He knew they might press the issue too far by living the way they had always lived and calling it liberty in Christ. So he cautioned that they should not flaunt their liberty in the face of necessary restraints. C. There Is Responsibility in Its Possession Paul instructed believers that they should never use their liberty to satisfy personal desires at the expense of unity among believers. In his first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul expressed the responsibility we have one to another: “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend” (I Corinthians 8:13). Earlier in his discussion of Christian liberty in I Corinthians 8, Paul had stipulated that if a believer ate meat offered to idols, he did not sin. Paul pointed out that the believer should be spiritually mature enough to realize there is but one God and the sacrificing of food to idols means nothing. However, Paul also recognized that an immature believer might construe this exercising of personal liberty as encouraging him to do something he feels is wrong. When he partakes of the meat offered to an idol, he feels as if he is reenacting his former worship of that idol, and guilt begins to gnaw at his conscience. Therefore, a believer should not exercise such liberties if it adversely impacts a fellow believer in Christ. D. There Is Regard in Its Service Cain’s murder of Abel showed his lack of regard for anyone other than himself. Indeed, most sins emanate from selfishness. In his appeal to the Galatians, Paul referenced this ageless teaching of selflessness; they should not use their newfound liberty in Christ as a means of having their own way. Instead of focusing upon self, they were at liberty to serve one another. They now had the resident power of the Holy Ghost to give them the ability to truly “be their brother’s keeper.” He admonished them to fulfill the moral law of God to love one another. 1. The Law is fulfilled. One can divide the Mosaic Law into two equally important parts: the commands pertaining to our relationship with God, and the commands regarding our relationship with our fellowman. Though some have tried to live up to the demands of the Law, all but Christ have failed. Jesus Christ was the only human to completely fulfill these commands. Jesus Christ rightly claimed He had not come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it. The Book of Hebrews explains in detail the incompleteness of the Law in that the sacrificial blood of bulls and goats could not redeem mankind. Christ, through His perfect obedience to the heavenly Father and perfect sacrifice for the redemption of mankind, fulfilled or completed the Law. Therefore, the Galatians’ adoption of the law of Moses was in effect a denial that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was sufficient to save them. 2. The love is manifested. By laying aside the right to please themselves, the Galatian believers fulfilled the law of Moses—love God and love your fellowman. This alleviated Paul’s two major concerns. First, he was concerned that they understand they no longer needed to follow the ceremonial laws, for the ceremonial laws were incomplete, insufficient, and fulfilled through Christ’s sacrifice. Instead, they should fulfill the moral law of God by loving their fellowman. His second concern was that they would serve one another and allow God’s true love to shine forth in the world.
E. There Is Respect in Its Outlook The ceremonial laws were stringent: circumcision, attention to minute details, relentless rituals, burdensome and bloody sacrifices, and exacting demands of time and energy. By the time Jesus walked the earth, after Jewish religious leaders had been tampering with the law for hundreds of years, its nature had become harsh and rigid. The severity and sheer number of laws showed the leaders’ lack of respect for the hardship they had thrust upon the Jews. Instead of being the intended schoolmaster to lead us to Christ, the Law had become a taskmaster. These shapers of the Law resented Jesus’ demand for change and His teaching that the Law was made for man’s benefit. Paul’s concern was that, like the heartless religious leaders of the Jews, the Galatians would exercise their newfound liberty with neither restraint nor consideration of others. He challenged them that their liberty and love for Christ ought to restrain their desires and inspire respect for others. There is no such thing as disrespectful Christianity; to be Christ-like is to prefer one’s brother. II. LIBERTY MAY BE DEMONSTRATED Although this newfound liberty is readily observable, Paul cautioned that this freedom is not devoid of conflict. Conflict arises from the battle between the flesh (the old Adamic nature) and the Spirit (the nature of the Second Adam in the Spirit-filled believer). Giving in to the flesh in the name of liberty can cause constant failure. Being led by the Spirit not only removes a believer from the condemnation of the Law, but also produces in him the fruit of the Spirit. A. It Involves Control Wavering between yielding to the flesh or the Spirit causes constant struggle in the believer. He must remain aware that he is still human, that his reception of the nature of Christ did not eradicate his carnal nature. His Christian life still involves choices, and right choices take effort. The Christian must turn his desires away from the flesh and redirect them toward living in the Spirit.
B. It Involves Warfare One could compare the Christian walk to a man hacking a path through a jungle. Peter wrote, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8). Walking in the Spirit can be difficult not because the Spirit is weak, but because the flesh is weak and Satan is cunning and full of hate for the Christian. 1. The contestants. The flesh (nature of Adam, acquired at conception) and the Spirit (Christ’s indwelling nature, acquired through the new birth according to Acts 2:38) are the contestants. The battlefield is within the believer. His involvement has to do with choice. 2. The contest. There can be no compromise between the flesh and the Spirit, as a gaping dichotomy exists between the two natures in will, purpose, and desire. The flesh seeks to serve the lusts brought on by the Fall, but the Spirit urges the believer to be like
Jesus Christ. Each of these opponents desires a different path, and each path has a different destination. 3. The conquest. In order to please Christ, a person cannot do the things the flesh desires. Christian liberty does not grant him the right to fall back into fulfilling the pleasures of the flesh but demands he confront the enemy and overcome the flesh by the power of the Holy Ghost. C. It Involves Discharge Under the Law, people offered perpetual sacrifices to appease God’s judgment of their sin, but the blood of these sacrificial animals had no power to remove the condemnation of sin. Therefore the people lacked the ability to overcome sin. In order to win the battle between the flesh and the Spirit, the believer must let go of the works of the Law in an attempt to gain spiritual victory. Paul expressed that to be led by the Spirit one had to leave these futile traditions and instead turn to follow after Jesus Christ. III. LIBERTY MAY BE DISTORTED In the early stages of Christianity, the doctrine of antinomianism maintained that Christ’s obedience and sacrifice on Calvary completely satisfied God’s demands against sinful mankind and therefore Christians were not obligated to obey any moral law. This teaching suggested they could live any way they wanted. This attitude distorted the doctrine of grace in that it suggested the more a person sinned the greater became the grace of God. Paul refuted this false teaching in his writing to the Romans. (See Romans 6:1-15.) “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid” (Romans 6:14-15). A. Distorted Liberty Is Repulsive Living any way one desires while justifying it by proclaiming “Christian liberty” brings to the fore the works of the flesh, a lifestyle that is repulsive to God. Even though one may manifest some characteristics that seem godly, these are merely self-righteous acts that will have no merit on judgment day. B. Distorted Liberty Is Destructive To produce the works of the flesh brings not only the sorrow associated with such a lifestyle, but it will prevent one from entering Heaven. “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works” (Revelation 20:12). INTERNALIZING THE MESSAGE Many people often view conservative churches as legalistic. However, from a purely scriptural perspective, legalism has to do with Jewish Christians trying to force the ceremonial laws on believers in order to be saved. These laws focused on rules such as being circumcised and observing holy days and dietary restrictions. Paul proclaimed
freedom from the ceremonial law for the Christian, but the moral laws of God are still in force. Our holy God requires holiness: “Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (I Peter 1:16). Paul discussed two aspects of the subject of Christian liberty. First, Judaizing teachers attempted to seduce the Galatians into looking to the ceremonial traditions of Judaism to find some means of remission of sins other than the sacrifice of Jesus Christ at Calvary. Paul emphasized that Christ’s sacrifice once and for all is powerful enough to free all believers from their sins and from the bondage of Jewish ceremonial laws. However, it is important to note that Paul never indicated Christians are free to sin or break the moral laws of God. The second area of Christian liberty Paul addressed was that believers should reject any type of instruction that proclaims they are relieved of any restrictions because Christ has set them free from legalism. Paul cautioned believers not to use their freedom in Christ as an excuse to give in to fleshly desires. The means to overcome sin is to walk in the Spirit. This is not an easy task; it is a battle that lasts a lifetime. Our choices either to give in to the flesh or to allow the Holy Ghost to reign in our lives will determine the outcome. If we give in to the flesh, we will produce the works of the flesh, which repulses God. If we walk in the Spirit, we will produce the fruit of the Spirit, which pleases God. The end result is either eternal life or eternal damnation.