Freedom in Christ and the Fruit of the Spirit Ė Galatians 5
For you have been called to freedom, brothers. Only do not let freedom become an opportunity for the flesh. But through love serve one another.
To those who are free from the power of sin in Christ, and to those who need to be, glory be to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
I pray you might realize the spiritual slavery that weíve all been born to, that you might understand there is no human effort that will gain your escape from this camp of death, that Christ gave His life to rescue us, and that the result of this freedom is the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.
"Can Christians have fun?" That was a question posed to me by a student who was struggling with the many sinful temptations on the college campus. Another student asked, "How bad can a Christian be and still go to heaven?" These were both very honest and sincere people asking about a problem that all Christians face. We know that sin is bad. We know that God has forgiven us of our sin. We know that sometimes we still sin. The question is "How much can we sin and still consider ourselves to be Christian?" God wants us to avoid two very great problems. One is to think that we actually are keeping Godís commandments on our own. The other is to think that because our sins are forgiven, it doesnít matter how much we sin. The first is the way of pride and presumption Ė living by the law. The second is the way of indulgence and debauchery Ė living by cheap grace. Instead God has called us to the freedom of faith, a work of the Holy Spirit that changes us on the inside and produces the fruit of the Spirit on the outside.
I. The Works of the Flesh (Galatians 5.16-21)
As beautiful as this world might seem on the surface, the closer you look, the more you will understand the way God sees this world. In these verses Godís word describes the real world in terms of the "works of the flesh." To live according to the flesh is to live with your backsides to God. You spurn the Spirit that gives you life, and the filthy results are easy to see. Paul lists 15 "works" that we humans will actively pursue when we live in opposition to God.
The first of these come directly from our twisted passions: sexual immorality, uncleanness, and sensuality or lewdness. God gave us a holy passion designed for marriage, but sin explodes it like a grenade in a manure pile. The splatter is all over: Marriage is abnormal, virginity is unbelievable, restraint and self-control are deemed pathological. Pornography is praised, homosexuality is sanctified, divorce and living together apart from marriage are not only condoned, they are expected.
With two words Paul exposes the religious sins of those turned away from God: idolatry and sorcery. Idolatry, or literally "service to idols," paints the picture of every form of worship, praise, honor, and glory that is given to man or to the works of man instead of to the true God. Idols are the things to which we attribute greatness apart from God. No idol has ever been so prominent in the world as the idolatry of humanity. From the Tower of Babel to the ivory tower, man glorifies himself and assumes that all the universe revolves around him. Sorcery is the next step. As man, apart from God, seeks to know more than his reason will allow, he turns to the spiritual world and seeks those hidden and hideous things of which the Bible has said, "I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil" (1).
Of the fifteen works of the flesh that separate us from God, Paul devotes no less than eight to the nature of our broken human relationships: "hostility, strife, jealousy, anger or rage, selfish ambition, division, factions, envy." Whatever you want to say about humanity, no one can ignore the fleshly frenzy of hatred that permeates every society in the forms of domestic disturbance, racism, persecution, class envy, oppression and so on. From the kitchen table to the United Nations fury and frustration never cease.
In addition Paul mentions drunkenness and carousing. In the end humans living without God, (and unwilling to recognize their self-inflicted pain) will give themselves over to senseless stupor in whatever form it might take from mindless hours in front of the TV to drinking and drugs.
II. The Failure of Morality
The first reaction to the sins of the flesh from the human point of view is morality. "We need more rules around here." "We need to get our act together." "What we need is more discipline." But the Apostle of God warns us that there is no human remedy for the sins of the flesh. This cannot be glossed over with morality. There are no taboos, there is no philosophy, there is no law that anyone can follow to overcome these things. Paul, as a Jew, knew that. No one had more and better laws to follow than those who followed the law of Moses. It just doesnít work, and it was never intended to be the solution to sin. This is why Paul rebukes some of the Galatians for returning to the "yoke of the law" by being circumcised. They needed to know that in attempting to overcome sin through morality, they needed to keep the entire law. This is impossible.
Have you ever jumped across a puddle to avoid getting your feet wet? Maybe youíve even jumped across a very big puddle, perhaps even a small stream. But eventually you will reach a limit. I recall horsing around with my sons in a woods in Texas. One of my sons decided he was going to jump a small stream that meandered through the timber. He ran, he jumped, and he was able to clear 90% of that stream. But that last 10% was pretty wet. Manís first effort to resist the works of the flesh is morality. But morality by itself wonít work. It never does.
III. Godís Answer is the Messiah
Godís ultimate answer to this world and the sins of the flesh is not morality by itself but the Messiah. God could have snuffed out this world sooner than He had planned, but out of His love for His own troubled creation He acted to redeem the sins of the flesh. To "redeem" does not mean that God simply decided to make them all disappear. The sins of the flesh will disappear on judgment day when they will be forever destroyed in hell. To "redeem" means that God took the punishment that these sins deserve. He took that punishment into Himself. This was the purpose of Jesus Christís life and death. God told us that Jesus was "born of a woman." He was born into this flesh with all its temptations. But He didnít sin. He was "born under the law in order to redeem those who are under the law" (2). Jesus lived the morality we couldnít. He then suffered the punishment we deserved. "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us, as it is written, Ďcursed is everyone who hangs on a treeí" (3). Having this curse lifted from us gives us a new life. Again Paul says, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me" (4).
There is nothing more dehumanizing or demoralizing than guilt. Some may recognize their guilt, others may deny it; but it is still there. It pushes us further and further away from God, and it continually destroys all that is good on this earth and in our lives. I was mowing the lawn yesterday, and my mower quit. It was full of fuel, but it gradually slowed down and quit no matter how high I kicked up the throttle. I started it several times, and finally it wouldnít start at all. Iíve owned that mower for 13 years. Iíve dutifully changed the oil and air filter. But in thirteen years I had never cleaned the fuel filter. Well after 13 years that mower had had enough. It wasnít going further no matter how hard I pushed it. After cleaning the filter, it ran fine.
Our lives can run down like that to. Unrepented sins and guilt clog up our lives. I donít have to go over that list of Paulís again. You know your sins. The question is, are they just sitting there ruining your life? Or, are you willing to present them to Jesus for forgiveness? You can be cleansed and forgiven. That is exactly what Jesus came to give to us. "For the Son of Man did not come to destroy menís lives but to save them" (5).
I canít say enough about how wonderful it is to be cleansed in heart and soul by faith in Jesus. Paul calls this our "adoption as sons" (6). One of my best friends by the name of Teddy lived in an orphanage when we were in elementary school. I felt so sorry for him. The orphanage was a good place. But nothing could replace the love of a family. One day Teddy told us he was being adopted. What I remember most about that was that his new family had a partyólike a birthday party for him. It really was a kind of birthday for Teddy. It was a new life, just as we also have a new life by being adopted into Godís family. All the weak substitutes for love are overwhelmed by the perfect love of God, before whom we never have to be ashamed to poor out our hearts. We can cry out "Abba, Father!" (7)
IV. The Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22-26)Letís go back to something I said at the beginning of the message: God wants us to avoid two very great problems. One is to think that we donít sin or that our sins are so insignificant that they donít really matter. The other is to think that because our sins are forgiven, it doesnít matter how much we sin.
A father and mother gave their two daughters each a credit card. The rule was that they could only charge those bills that they themselves could pay off that month. One daughter disrespected her parents and continually over spent on personal items and created a huge debt. The other daughter loved her parents and carefully followed their guidelines. But one day this second daughter was far from home when she was in a car accident. Tearfully she called her father and apologized. But what should she do now? Without hesitation the father told her to repair the car and charge it to the credit card. He would take care of the bill. Do you see the difference between the two girls. One is careless and tries to take advantage of her parentís love. Their relationship would soon come to an end. The other girl is sorry about the "accident" and she is readily forgiven.
The same is true in our relationship with God. Are the sins we commit "accidents" for which we are very sorry and against which we struggle constantly? Or, are our sins "normal events" for which we are not sorry? If morality wonít work, and if God forgives sins, wonít people take advantage of that? Yes, unfortunately some will try. But "those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God" (8). Think of the difference between sheep and pigs. The pig loves to wallow in the mud and lives a muddy, messy life. And the sheep, when it slips and accidentally falls in the mud, it too becomes muddy and messy. But the difference is that the sheep makes every effort to get out of the mud and does not spurn the help of the one who would clean it up and take care of it. The sheep wants to be clean; the pig doesnít.
This is what the Apostle Paul means when he says, "If we live by the Spirit, let us walk in the Spirit" (9). That is to say, if we have the life of faith in the redemption of Jesus given to us by the Holy Spirit, then let that same Holy Spirit guide and direct every fundamental aspect of our lives. Paul said it another way in his letter to the Romans: "For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit" (10). What are those things? Paul calls them the fruit of the Spirit: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control" (11). We have been set free from the slavery of sin so that we may live by faith in Christ. Such faith will produce the fruit of the Spirit.
Indeed, this is a beautiful life, this life of Godís grace in Christ and the Holy Spirit. How do you wake up in the morning? Are you numb with the meaninglessness and futility of your lifeís labors? Are you angry and frustrated about the way things have happened in your life? Do you work Monday through Friday just so you can go carousing on the weekend? Or, could there be more to this life? Why do I see people who have more problems than I do, and yet they are so happy? Why are they not burdened like I am? The answer is freedom, freedom in Christ. They have the same futility and frustrations that you do. The only difference is that they donít wallow in them. They take them to a new Master, their Lord Jesus Christ. They know that He gave up everything for them. They know that He took all the muck and mess of sin in this world upon Himself and destroyed it in His death on the cross. They ask for forgiveness and strength. They ask for the Holy Spirit to guide and direct their lives. Amen.
(1) Romans 1.19 (2) Galatians 4.4-5 (3) Galatians 3.13 (4) Galatians 2.20 (5) Luke 5.56 (6) Galatians 4.5 (7) Galatians 4.6 (8) Galatians 5.21 (9) Galatians 5.25 (10) Romans 8.5 (11) Galatians 5.22-23
Pastor Michael Walther
The Sixth Sunday of Pentecost, July 15, 2001
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Collinsville, Illinois
Michael P. Walther, Copyright, 2001
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