The Gospel in Galatians
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

12 – True Christian Freedom

Galatians 5:13-15:

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.  For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 

While working as a missionary in Uganda, a young Ugandan once approached me with a question.  “Are you saved?”  Obviously he did not realize who I was and, bless his heart, he wanted to witness Jesus Christ to me.  So, I responded to his question with, “Saved from what?”  And he said, “Are you saved from sin?”  My response was, “Can you be more specific?  Are you talking of the guilt and punishment of sin, the slavery and power of sin, or the nature and the presence of sin?  Which one?”

After looking at me for a long time, he said, “You sound like a pastor.”  I said, “Yes, I am a Pastor.  In fact, I am a missionary to your country.  Can I ask you the same question.  Are you saved?”  With great enthusiasm, with his arms lifted up in the air, he shouted, “Yes, I’m saved.  I was saved three months ago.”  I nearly responded with, “Then what on earth are you doing here if you are already saved?”  As mentioned in our last study, it is threefold so that the Christian can say, “I am saved” but should never stop there.  “I am saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved.”  But the question I posed to this young man was, “If you are saved, why do I smell beer on your breath?”  He turned to me and said, “Pastor, you know we are saved by grace and not by what we do.”

“Oh,” I said, “you mean to say that Christ lived a perfect life for us?”  He said, “Yes.”  “And He died instead of us?”  The young man in excitement said, “Now you have it.”  I said, “No, one more step.”  He said, “What’s that?”  I said, “He also went to heaven instead of you.”  Oh, he didn’t like that.  He had a New Testament in his pocket and I said to him, “Would you please read 2 Timothy 2:11?”  I gave him this passage because Timothy was a young man like this young man.  I could have given him many other passages but this one said it very clearly.  This text says:

Here is a trustworthy saying:  If we died with him, we will also live with him....

This young man had turned freedom in Christ into license.  In church history, wherever the true gospel has been proclaimed, there were always some who abused their freedom in Christ.  This is the danger of the gospel.  A famous German martyr called this “cheap grace.”  Legalism is the enemy of the gospel but the danger of the gospel is antinomianism or cheap grace.  Paul is fully aware of this problem.  He spends all of Romans 6 dealing with this very issue.  Romans 6:15:

What then?  Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace?  By no means!

Shall we keep on sinning because we are under grace, because grace abounds?  The answer is, “God forbid.”  Shall we keep on sinning because we are not under the law but under grace?  And the response also is, “It is unthinkable.  God forbid.”

Here, in our study, Galatians 5:13-15, Paul shares this very concern with the Galatian Christians.  He does it for two reasons.

  1. Because of the danger these Galatians faced in moving from legalism to antinomianism.

  2. The other reason is because the Judaizers accused Paul of this very thing.  The Judaizers said to Paul, “If you tell the world, if you tell Christians, that they already stand justified in Christ, that they are perfect in Christ, they are complete in Him, they have already passed from death to life, you have removed all incentives to live a holy life.”  The Judaizers said this because they really did not understand true justification by faith.

As we turn to Galatians 5:13-15, we will look at true Christian freedom.

How are we to define true Christian freedom?  First we need to understand from what the good news of the gospel has set us free.  Then, we can understand what Christian freedom is not.  In our last study, which was Galatians 5:1-12, Paul reminds the Galatian Christians and us that Christ has set us free and we must not allow anyone to rob us of this freedom.  What is the freedom we have in Christ?  Basically there are four areas.

  1. Christ has set us free from all condemnation.  In Romans 8:1, we have a wonderful statement, made in the context of the Christian’s struggle to live a holy life.  Paul says:

    Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus....

    Do you know why?  It is because, in Christ Jesus, we have been set free from the law and its curse.  Christ has set us free from the condemnation of the law.

  2. Christ has set us free from the fear of death.  This death is the wages of sin, good-bye to life forever.  Let us read a beautiful statement concerning this in Hebrews 2:14-15:

    Since the children have flesh and blood, he too [referring to Christ] shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil — and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

    Every human being is born a slave to the fear of the wages of sin, the grim reaper, death.  The saying is correct that there are in a war, no atheists in foxholes.  Jesus came to set us free from this fear of death.  That was accomplished by His life, death, and resurrection.  All of this was based on His love.  Man was redeemed because of God’s unconditional love.

    In 1 John 4:16-18, the apostle John tells us that perfect knowledge of God’s love and His redeeming activity in Christ, sets us free from the fear of the judgment:

    And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.  This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment:  In this world we are like Jesus.  There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

    This is what made it possible for the Christians in the early church, for the Christians in Communist countries, to be willing to die for their faith.  Why?  Because they knew in whom they believed.

  3. Christ set us free from our slavery to sin.  Sin is not only an act.  Sin is also a force.  It is a power that dwells within our very nature.  Paul brings this out clearly in Romans 7.  He says the law is spiritual in verse 14 but we are carnal, sold as slaves to sin:

    We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.

    Christ also made this very clear to the Jews.  Read the words of Christ recorded in John 8:32-36.  Jesus, talking to the Jews, says:

    “...Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
    They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone.  How can you say that we shall be set free?”
    Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 

    We don’t know how the Jews could say they’d never been slaves, because right then, when they were speaking those very words, they were under the bondage of Rome.  But Jesus was not talking to the Jews about political freedom.  He was talking about mankind’s slavery to sin.

    Now read verse 36, for here Jesus defines what He meant by the word truth:

    So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

    Christ has set us free from the slavery to sin.  In Romans 6:18 and 22, Paul tells us that, because we Christians, we justified believers, have been set free from sin, we have a way of holy living and the end result, eternal life:

    You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.  ...But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.

  4. Finally, Christ has set us free from under the jurisdiction of the law.  In Romans 6:14, Paul tells the believers:

    For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

    In Romans 3:19, Paul tells us the whole world stands condemned, guilty under the law:

    Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.

    But in Romans 6:14, talking to believers, he tells them they are no longer under law but under grace:

    For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

    This means that one of the freedoms a Christian has received is “from under law” to “under grace.”  No longer can the law come to us and say, “Obey and live; if you disobey, you will die,” for a Christian is no longer under law.  He doesn’t live under that system.  He is under grace and grace brings salvation on the basis of the doing and the dying of our Lord Jesus Christ.

These are the four areas that constitute true Christian freedom:  freedom from the condemnation of sin, fear of death, our slavery to sin, and the jurisdiction of the rulership of the law.

But the gospel does not set us free to sin or even to live a life that is in harmony with the desires of our sinful nature.  In the heart of every human being is an inborn desire for freedom — political freedom, economic freedom, social freedom, and spiritual freedom.  Most of the world that we see today displayed on our TV sets is a result of this desire for freedom.  Man cannot save himself spiritually; he is bankrupt, but, too often, when we receive our freedom in Christ, this freedom is often misused and misunderstood.

An example of this happened one day while taking my wife to the African market in Kenya, in the Highlands.  I saw a group of old men, handcuffed and guarded by a policeman.  While my wife was shopping, I decided to comfort these prisoners.  I didn’t know what crime they had committed, so I said to them in Swahli, “Why are you in handcuffs?  What is your problem?”  One of the older men said to me, “When is independence coming to an end?”  He meant independence from the British rule.  I said, “Coming to an end?  No, your freedom now is permanent.  You have obtained independence.”

Now this old man was concerned that when Kenya was a British colony, the British government was not so strict about these national Africans paying tax.  If they failed to pay the tax, they were required to fix the road in front of their houses so that it would not cost the government so much to fix their roads.  But, when they fought for freedom, many of the Africans of Kenya thought that freedom meant no more tax to pay.  So, I had to explain to these poor Africans who were being handcuffed for failing to pay their tax, that when you have independence it means responsibility.  I asked these men, “How on earth do you expect the king and government to run the country without money and how are they to get the money if they don’t charge you tax?”

Likewise, Christianity, while it sets us free — free from this whole area that we have mentioned — does not set us free to do what we please.  Some years ago this country, the United States, decided to give its people freedom.  We called this “new morality” or moral freedom.  But, since man is a slave to sin, this moral freedom, this new morality, has produced endless problems to this country.  Premarital sex has increased, abortions have increased, all kinds of problems have increased so that we have reached the point where crime and sin have so multiplied in this country that many theologians are desperate to solve the problem.  They have come up with an idea that is basically legalistic.  It is called reconstruction theology.  These theologians want the leadership of this country to fall into the hands of Christians who will then legislate morality.  This is legalism, because morality cannot be legislated.  It doesn’t work.  Countries that have tried it have ended in corruption.  The only way that man can be set free from his slavery to sin is the gospel of the Lord, Jesus Christ, the cross of Christ.

Paul is aware of the Galatians’ problem of moving from legalism to antinomianism.  In this passage of Galatians 5:13-15, he is talking of what Christian freedom is not.  Before we look at the passage in detail, let’s read it.  It is a very short passage but full of significance:

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.  For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

  1. Christian freedom is not freedom to indulge in the flesh.  This is in the first part of verse 13:

    You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.

  2. Christian freedom is not to exploit our fellow believers.  This is the second part of verse 13:

    ...But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.

    The gospel does not give us the license to live as we please.  The gospel does not give us license to exploit our fellow man as some were doing.  Let us look at a passage that gave tremendous help in the mission field when beggars who could work, who could earn their living, found it easier to beg than to work.  The passage is 2 Thessalonians 3, especially verses 6-10.  Read the counsel that Paul gives these Christians at Thessalonica.  Keep in mind that many of the Christians in Thessolonica believed that Christ was coming soon.  They stopped working in their gardens and were taking advantage of their fellow believers.  Paul says to them:

    In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.  For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example.  We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it.  On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.  We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate.  For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule:  “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

    Here is the command, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”  Too many people take advantage of Christian love and hospitality.  Paul says don’t allow that to happen.  Christians must serve one another, but anyone who takes advantage of this charity, then we must apply what Paul tells us here.

    Christian freedom is not freedom to exploit our fellow believers because they happen to be people of wealth.

  3. Thirdly, Christian freedom is not freedom to disregard God’s law.  There are many people who think that Paul is against the law.  No, Paul is not against the law, but he is against the law being used as a method or as a means of salvation.  When it comes to the law as a standard of Christian living, Paul always upholds the law.  The law, especially the spirit of the law which is love, must be upheld as a standard of Christian living but condemned as a means of salvation.  Read Galatians 5:14:

    For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

    Because of our sinful nature, we are born egocentric.  We are born with unchangeable love towards self.  We love ourselves when we are good; we love ourselves when we are bad.  The love that God instilled in Adam at the creation made a U-turn at the Fall so that it became self-centered.

Christ said also in Matthew 19 to the young man who asked, “What good thing must I do to get eternal life?” that just as we love ourselves unconditionally, we must likewise now project unconditional love towards our fellow man.  This is impossible through human effort.  This is the result of the power of the gospel in our lives.  Paul says that when we stand under the umbrella of justification by faith, not only do we have peace with God, but we also have a transformation of life.  We have a life which, in terms of our human relationships, is a life of love.  When we love one another, then all the law is fulfilled because now we are reflecting, producing, and experiencing the fruits of the Spirit which is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, temperance, and so on, against which the law has nothing.

Finally, Paul ends in Galatians 5:15:

If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 

But “if you bite and devour one another” — this is what legalism produces.  The moment we go under the umbrella of legalism, we no longer look at Christ for our salvation, we look at ourselves.  Under grace, all of us are one hundred percent sinners, saved by grace.  Therefore, there is nothing for us to compare ourselves with each other.  We are all in the same position, totally depraved, saved by grace.  Our hearts are full with joy and gratitude but legalism looks at our performance.  Our performances are not the same.  We discover that when a person is a legalist, he tends to judge himself or compare himself with those who are less successful than he is.  We have a lot of controversy, a lot of devouring each other, a lot of judging.  Paul says, if we go back to legalism, our church will cease to be a loving church.  It will be a church full of jealousy, backbiting, gossip, and judging each other.  This is the fruit of legalism.

What is our conclusion regarding this passage?  The Christian life is neither the life of legalism, works of the law as a means of salvation, nor a life of license (do as we please).  It is a life of liberty, but true Christian liberty has certain responsibilities motivated by love.  These responsibilities are twofold.

  1. Do nothing that affects your relationship to God.  When we look at Paul’s counsel to Christians from Romans 12 onwards, especially chapter 14:7-8, we will realize that we, as Christians, should do nothing that affects our relationship to God:

    For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.  If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord.  So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

  2. Christian responsibility means doing nothing that will cause a fellow believer to stumble.  On the one hand, we live a life that is pleasing to God.  On the other hand, we do nothing that will cause our fellow believers to go in the wrong direction.  True Christian freedom means now we are free to live a life of loving service and a life of self-control.  Let us avoid these two traps that Satan has set.  He doesn’t care which trap we fall into.  He doesn’t care which ditch we have slipped into:  legalism on one side and antinomianism, or cheap grace, on the other.  Neither of these represent the gospel.  Yes, they may, in certain aspects, resemble the gospel, but they are counterfeits.

It is my prayer that you will keep on that narrow road that leads you to heaven, that narrow road which is Christ and Him crucified.  On the one hand, you will be on guard against any form of legalism that sidetracks you from this gospel.  On the other hand, you must avoid the danger of cheap grace.  Christianity has received a bad name because too many Christians have failed to live the Christian life:  love for God and love for their fellow men.

May it never be said of you as a Christian living today that Christianity opens the door to live a life of license.  May God bless you that you may keep on that narrow way and it is my prayer that you will reflect the life of Christ while you rejoice in the peace that you have through Him.

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