Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Our sermon series is working its way through Galatians, a book that changed Luther’s life. The title for our sermon today comes from Luther’s preface to his lectures, five hundred pages and more on Galatians, he writes, and I quote, “‘For in my heart this one article reigneth, even the faith of Christ’” – the Gospel, the faithfulness of Jesus – and he continues, “From whom, by whom, and unto whom, all my divine studies, day and night, have recourse to and from continually. And yet I perceive that I could not reach anything near … the height, breadth, and depth of such high and inestimable wisdom;” He says, for me, it is enough that I could not even reach the bottom of what this means. What does it mean, this grace, and how are we saved by grace alone?
Imagine something with me: a man commits a crime. He’s convicted and clapped in irons in the lowest prison, without light, dark and dank, for years. He wastes away longing for sunlight and freedom. Then, after 10 years, the jailer comes in, unlocks the shackles, opens the door, and says, You’re free to go… If that was you, what would you do?
Verse 1, For freedom Christ has set us free… Paul starts his Gospel-centered approach on Christian living here. He says, You were enslaved but now you aren’t. Live like someone who’s been set free. You were in shackles and now you’re not. Don’t put them on again. You were tangled up and now you’re not. Live as one who can walk without stumbling. Do you remember Paul’s argument so far? He says, you weren’t saved by the Gospel so that you have more hoops to jump through. No! Your salvation is completed in Christ and you are justified only and ever by grace. God didn’t set you free to clap you in the chains of the law again. He set you free so you could be free.
So then, what should we do? Paul’s asking the Bob Bailey question. Do you remember it? I was hemming and hawing, talking with other young theologian types, up in the clouds, when Bob broke in… – Are we going to talk about it, or are we going to do something about it? What are we going to do? Or in our text, what does it mean to be free?
We aren’t going deep into the grammar tonight… it’s pretty simple… instead, we ask the question, what does it mean to be free?
Two answers for tonight. First Paul says what it DOESN’T mean to be free. Then he says what it DOES mean to be free.
First things first. Paul says, verse 17, the desires of the flesh are AGAINST the Spirit, and then he lists 15 sins. The first three are sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality… these first three are sexual sins. Paul puts them first, mostly likely because the Galatians struggled with them the most. They are sins held close. Lenski writes, it’s all about restraint removed. Especially in the last word, sensuality, the image is like a runaway horse restraints removed, running and plunging forward heedless of the danger, these sexual sins are a freedom that leads to danger.
Now, the next two: idolatry and sorcery. The ancient world all the way up to today closely connects the sexual experience with worship, transcendence, and the innermost being. Luther’s definition of an idol is that which you look to for love and trust in times of distress.
Then in verse 20-21 we see the next ten are social sins. They “share a common feature: They are behaviors that disrupt Christian fellowship” (LSB). Enmity, strife, jealousy, they are inward attitudes that distance you from your brothers, the fault lines that can stay hidden under the surface. Fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, division, they are the outward signs, the obvious signs of broken relationships. Envy – to be resentful, drunkenness and orgies, the outbursts of hot passion and anger, and the like.
But we’re not talking about a “They.” When I read this list I’m talking about me. Self-sabateur extraordinaire, I’m the one who needs to read this text. I think, why do so many fall into the trap of sexual sin? Why is it so easy to mishear what people say? Why is it so easy to assume the worst of others, to get angry when we didn’t need to, to grow impatient, when from the outside it seems so easy, so common sense, to avoid all these things? That’s the mystery of sin.
Paul says, we who do these things are clapping irons around our own arms. We put the millstone around our necks and wonder why it’s hard to swim. We carry a backpack of burden around and wonder why it’s tough to move. Thinking about our opening story, we look at the open door; we rub our wrists, and we struggle to leave the room.
And then Paul moves to what it DOES mean to be free, he asks, “What does freedom look like?” and he says that these are the fruit that blossoms out of your salvation. Verse 22 There are three groups of three: Love—the agape love of “intelligent purpose” that chooses to sacrifice itself for the sake of another. Joy -- “This is what freedom looks like; this is not fatuous joy such as the world accepts; it is the enduring joy that bubbles up from all the grace of God in our possession.” Peace – that’s the way the Grace God has given you starts to restore your relationship with those around you.
Next, patience, kindness, and goodness. Patience – that’s the word “long-suffering” to stand underneath pain and not waver. Kindness– that’s looking always to the benefit others. Goodness -- remember, that’s the word the God used when he created the whole world. He looked at the world and called it “Good.” Complete. Done.
Finally, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Faithfulness – following through on commitments and imitating how God is faithful to us. Gentleness, knowing that God is God and we are not, and Self-control, holding our passions in check.
These are the ways, Paul says, that a human was designed to function best. These are the ways that crucify that destructive desire in us to tangle ourselves up in sin. These are the ways that the Spirit blows us forward.
A few thoughts on our text: First, it’s in our sinful nature to self-destruct. It’s in our nature to just do enough to get by and no more, to sabotage. It’s easy to create either burn bridges for the sake of burning bridges, or to live in false peace instead of honesty. But the life of the Spirit isn’t about dividing people, and it’s not about false peace.
It’s about all kinds of folk honestly struggling together in their weaknesses, not distracted by their divisions, nor telling themselves the lie that they have no problems.
Second, there are two ways to overcome that kind of a life marred by sin. The first is from this point on to be perfect, to never admit fault, and to live up to the letter of the Law. The second is to let forgiveness flow over all kinds of faults. I had a professor tell me in seminary school, you better say this at least once a month, at least that much because people will need to hear it often. Forgiveness is looking someone in the eye, saying, you did me wrong and it hurt me. But for the love of Christ, I choose not to hold that hurt against you. These are the words Christ has said to you. These are the words that bids you take joy to say to others.
Third, in any and every society, there is no law against these things. They aren’t specific to any vocation, time, or location. They can be done by the old and the young, the worker and the homemaker.
Fourth, that these are the fruit of salvation, the fruit of the Spirit. They are what happens when Christ in the Gospel works in your heart and life. They answer the Bob Bailey question, What are we gonna do about it? You don’t do these things to earn salvation; you do them so that your Savior can work through your hands and feet to bring others to saving faith and keep them there.
Amen and amen.
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