By this late in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he had really whacked the head of the false teachers whose teaching had taken up roots among the Galatian believers. Paul had not been easy either with the church. In the third chapter, Paul expressed amazement and even anger at the easiness with which the Galatians had allowed themselves to be deceived.
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?
It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was
publicly exhibited as crucified! 2 The only thing I
want to learn from you is this: Did you receive
the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by
believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish?
Having started with the Spirit, are you now
ending with the flesh?
These false teachers had added a few things to the gospel. Their teaching was, if Christian men were circumcised, then they would be true believers. If Christians kept certain dietary practices, then they would be God’s people indeed. If the believers were to observe certain feasts and special moons, then they would be rightful children in the lineage of Abraham. The teachers were preaching the cross of Christ plus something else to effect salvation. That kind of gospel is still being preached today. You can only be a true Christian if you are baptized in a certain way. Or, you are a real believer if you affirm a literal and error-free scriptures. Or, you are truly saved if you do you good works, give to charity, or work for peace.
Paul wanted the Galatian congregations (please note that Galatia was a province) to rid themselves from the bondage of those added requirements taught by the false teachers. Paul wanted the Christian Galatians to experience the freedom of God’s grace. Grace is the only means to God. But grace is also God’s invitation to us. Grace is the door to God’s salvation. And there is nothing else required from the believer. Thus, the goal of Paul in writing the letter to the Galatians was for them to remain in the freedom in Christ: For you were called to freedom, writes Paul. It is no wonder why the letter to the Galatians has been called the Magna Carta of Christian Liberty.
What is freedom? Philosophers and thinkers of all times have tried to articulate the meaning of this concept. Freedom is described as the independence from the arbitrary will of another. A more philosophical definition of freedom is to have complete self-control. Being independent from the arbitrary will of another would apply, say, to the bondage of a slave to a master or the subjugated position of a people under a tyrant. Total self-control, as freedom, would be the power an individual has to be true to his/her conscience, thus allowing the individual to live according to his/her convictions. Total self-control can also mean having the strength to overcome the forces of bad habits or spontaneous impulses that often dominate the person’s behavior.
Up to this point in the letter, Paul had insisted that God’s decisive action in Jesus Christ frees every human being from the bondage of sin and death. The crux of Paul’s argument in this letter is Christ has freed every believer from the requirements of Jewish laws. But freedom from the law does not mean “everything goes” type of freedom. Christ did not free us to do whatever we want. Freedom in Christ does not mean idleness nor being independent from others. Freedom in Christ, therefore, is not individualistic, libertarian, go-it-alone kind of freedom. Therefore, if the believer is free from the law, what then should govern his life? If the law does not apply to the believer, what guiding principle does he have? This we will see a little later.
Paul first set the boundaries of this freedom. It is not for self-indulgence. Self-indulgence is what Paul called, “desires of the flesh.” And he gave a list of 15 vices. In contrast to that list of vices, Paul also gave a list of what he called the fruit of the Spirit. (In the following weeks, we will consider at length each of these expressions called “the fruit of the Spirit.”) Yet before that, Paul wanted the Galatians to appropriate themselves of the freedom they had in Christ in order to walk and live in that freedom.
It might seem ironic that in the same breath in which Paul urged his fellow Christians to appropriate themselves of the freedom in Christ that he called them to become slaves. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.
Freedom in Christ means becoming slaves to one another. Paul does not shy away from the harshness of the language familiar to his readers. The Colossian believers knew very well what a slave looked like. They knew a slave’s primary concern is to please and to seek the wellbeing of his or her master. Yet, the context of this call to become slaves is the believing community. And in the likeness of their Master, who gave himself out of love, his followers should also become by giving themselves in service to others. Freedom in Christ means assuming the servant-like character of Jesus towards those who profess faith in him. The spirit of the law is summed in one commandment: love your neighbor as yourself. This commandment Jesus said is the greatest of all. God is love. Out of love God gave his only Son. Jesus claimed he remained in the love of his Father. And love would also define his followers. Love is the new commandment. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” Jesus said (John 13:34-35).
Since the believer’s life is no longer bound by the law, what is his or her guiding principle? If the law does not set the standard for Christian ethical life, what then sets the new standard? Paul told the Galatians the Spirit is what sets the new standard. “Live by the Spirit, I say,” said Paul. In Galatians six, verse two, Paul describes the life in the Spirit as the “law of Christ.” The Spirit is the means by which one enters into life in Christ. It is also the ethical guide to daily existence in Christ. In verse 25, Paul wrote: If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Living by the Spirit and being guided by the Spirit is amazingly visible, palpable, and most of all, possible, through God’s power. The evidence of such a life in the Spirit is what Paul called the fruit of the Spirit, which is headed by love. The fruit of the Spirit is love . . . .
Beginning next Sunday, we will explore in depth each of these expressions of the fruit of the Spirit.
In closing, let us remember the words of Paul: For freedom Christ has set us free (5:1). And in verse 13: For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence. Freedom in Christ is not for self-indulgence, that is, to allow the sinful desires to have control over us. But neither is freedom in Christ individual autonomy, where each person is independent from the other. Often times, freedom in Christ has been misunderstood to mean, it is I and God. I am free to approach God through the merits of Christ and therefore I do not need the fellowship.
Not too long ago I visited someone who was raised in the church. This person began to tell me how much she loved God and how good God has been to her. “God is always with me,” she said. She told me that despite the fact that she does not gather for worship with fellow Christians, she has a strong faith. “Every Sunday, I am with you all in my spirit,” she told me. I as a pastor should tell you, I’d rather have you in person here today than in the spirit, however spiritual that might sound!
To freedom Christ has set us free. But in the manner of Jesus, who gave himself to us out of love, he asks us to give ourselves to our brothers and sister in loving service. Every time you gather for worship or to prayer, you do it out of love for those who also come. You could be doing some fun thing on the beach or spending time with your friends. But you chose to come to affirm your commitment and your love to those who gather. Every time you bring some food item to donate to Loaves and Fishes, you demonstrate the servanthood spirit of Christ in you. Every time you offer to participate in the life of the church, you fulfill Paul’s command of becoming a servant of your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
Offer every act of service to God as a sacrifice of love and know that every prayer on behalf of someone else is an act of love.
Christ has set us free only to become slaves to others out of love. Let us grow in love. Let us serve the Lord as we pray for one another, as we share the work of the church, and as we express concern for one another. And in all of these things, may the Lord be glorified in your life. Amen!