Pentecost 2 – June 3, 2018

“For Freedom Christ Has Set us Free” – Book of Galatians

Pentecost 2 – June 3, 2018

Introduction: Writing Letters
Writing letters – lost art. Used to write love letters to soldiers. I am old enough to remember my
parents writing letters to their parents, because phone calls were deemed to be too expensive.
Kids even wrote letters to Pastor. (read a couple)
Now, the equivalent of a letter would be an e-mail. Significant differences:
They are received almost instantaneously, rather than days, weeks, months by pony express or
We try to craft them brief enough for people to even read them.
We may receive 20 – 50 a day, or more.
But in olden times letters were the only way to communicate over long distances. (OK maybe
smoke signals, or drum messages.)
Today – start of series on 4 of Paul’s letters – GEPC.
1. A different Gospel? NOT!!
Background… The Galatians – group of churches where Paul had visited and evangelized.
Judaizers – Jewish Christians who believed that some OT ceremonial practices – especially
circumcision – were still binding on NT church. They accused Paul of not being an authentic
apostle, and of watering down those legal requirements of the OT in order to make the message
of Jesus more appealing to Gentiles.
Not being authentic – that would be like someone waltzing in here on a Sunday morning, with
few or no theological credentials, taking the pulpit, and saying that it’s OK to believe in karma,
or that re-incarnation is a very real possibility, or that the Bible is out of date and we don’t need
to follow it any more. At that point, any one of us might ask about the person’s theological
degrees and / or ordination, their program of Biblical interpretation, and their previous pastoral
or preaching experience. Without things like that they have no business taking the pulpit.
Paul countered those criticisms by pointing to the revelation he received from the risen Lord
Jesus, Himself, the subsequent time he spent with Jesus’ very own disciples in Jerusalem, and the
fact that Peter, James and John – the big 3 – welcomed Paul with the “right hand of fellowship.”
He certainly was an authentic apostle!
After his initial greeting, Paul actually starts his letter with some critiques of his own: “I am
astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and
are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all!!”
He goes on to issue a stark rebuke: “If someone preaches to you a different gospel than the one
that we preached, let him be condemned… CONDEMNED!!”
Paul knew that his message, his gospel, was one that leads to salvation – thanks to Jesus’
sacrificial suffering and death on the cross for our sakes. That is good news… GREAT news, and
that means that anything else, any other message, is really not good news, and doesn’t really lead
to salvation. There is no other Gospel!!

In the middle of the book, Paul asks a similar stinging question, “Who has bewitched you?” Then
he explains… “If you received salvation and God’s Holy Spirit by believing the message, then
why would you go back to the uncertainty of trying to attain your salvation by observing the OT
law and by following the OT practice of circumcision. It doesn’t mean anything. In fact, if for
heaven you rely on keeping the law, you will instead be cursed because you have to obey it
continually and perfectly. It’s literally a DEAD end!!”
At various places in his letter, Paul makes clear the Gospel message that he proclaimed to those
Galatian Christians. He admits that the OT law had a purpose, but that purpose was to lead us to
Christ (because ultimately there was no salvation in the law!). The law points out what we can’t
do, and it also points out what Jesus did. He kept the law perfectly when we couldn’t, and
besides that He redeemed us from the curse of the law by taking on the curse of hanging on a
tree. We no longer face the deserved destiny of a curse and condemnation because we can’t keep
everything written in the Law.
Jesus’ death is the source of our forgiveness and salvation, and just like ancient Abraham who
believed God’s promise of a Saviour and was considered righteous because of his faith, we who
believe in Jesus are also considered right with God. The law was given to lead us to Jesus,
through whom we are truly justified.
Listen to how Paul says it in his letter…
“A man is justified by faith in Jesus Christ.”
“Those who have faith [in Jesus] are blessed along with Abraham.”
“The righteous will live by faith.”
You have faith in Jesus… you are justified, that means forgiven. You are righteous, you are
blessed, you will live… ETERNALLY.
There’s no need to count on your good deeds, your obedience to the law, when you count on
Jesus. Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection for you is the gospel… the ONLY gospel.
2. What you are – sons of God!
Smack dab in the middle of the book, Paul declares “You are all sons of God through faith in
Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ Jesus have clothed yourselves with
Christ.” That’s about your identity, who you are. A few weeks ago, when we were discussing
heaven, we were all – men and women – described as the bride of Christ. Now, Paul is saying
that we are all – women and men – sons of God. In that ancient middle Eastern culture, sons had
a special place as the heirs of the family. They – not the daughters – would receive the father’s
inheritance and his blessing. They occupied a position of privilege in the family, especially the
first-born son.
But what does Paul say? If you have faith in Jesus, if you have been baptized, you are a son, you
have the privilege of a son – a son OF GOD!!

He goes on to break down the distinctions – common to his day – of ethnic, social and gender
differences. “There is neither Jew nor Greek (ethnic differences), slave or free (social
differences), male nor female (gender differences), for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Those
distinctions mattered in most 1 st century societies, but in God’s eyes all are the same, all are one.
Today, we would identify hundreds of ethnic differences (we have lots of different ethnic
backgrounds represented in the building), a few social differences (not so much slave or free but
certainly upper, lower and various levels of middle class, and even gender differences are more
complicated these days. But Paul’s principle stands – in Christ Jesus, all are one.
He draws on the example of Abraham. Abraham was the father of all who believe. All who
believe in God as Abraham did, are heirs of God’s promises made to Abraham, and kept in Jesus.
Paul explains that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His son, born of woman,
born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption
as sons. And because we are sons, we are heirs.”
So, what are we? Sons of God, baptized, adopted sons, heirs. Sorry, women. A few weeks ago,
the men were all the bride of Christ. Today, you women are all sons of God!! But what that
means is that we all have God’s promised salvation through faith in Jesus.
3. Freedom from / Freedom for
And that leads us to Paul’s final and most forceful point, which comes back to the whole thing
about being circumcised and keeping the law.
Since Christ, rather than the law, is our source of salvation, then we are free. Chapter 5 is all
about our freedom in Christ. Paul begins that chapter, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us
free.” Paul spends most of the last two chapters unpacking that freedom.
He says that we are free FROM the law and circumcision. We no longer need to undergo
circumcision or follow the OT ritual laws. But often when we are free FROM something we are
free FOR something else. So, Paul writes, “You were called to be free. But do not use your
freedom to indulge the sinful nature…”
He is saying that freedom is not just license. We aren’t just freed to live a life free from the law,
so that we can do anything we want.
In the Star Trek Voyageur TV series, the space ship is catapulted out into the far regions of space
by a time-space abnormality. They are in completely uncharted territory, 70 light-years from
earth. In an episode in which a crew member had compromised his scruples, Captain Janeway
speaks to the entire crew and says, “Although some species that we encounter are peaceful,
others are governed only by their own self-interest. We are in a region without any rules. Where
there are few rules, it’s more important than ever to hold fast to our own. Where allegiances shift
and change, we have to have something stable to rely on. We do… the principles and ideals of
the Federation.”

As Christians, our rules, our scruples are important, too, especially in a world that seems always
more intent on living without any rules. Our scruples, our principles and ideals are important in
that they govern our words and actions. Our rules are stable and sure because they come from
Paul continues that freed FROM and freed FOR thought: “…rather, serve one another in love.
The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” That
means we are free FOR a life of intentional love and service to others.
Paul goes on, saying that we are free FROM the works of the flesh, the desires of the sinful
nature. And he presents a laundry list… things like: sexual immorality, impurity, idolatry, hatred,
discord, jealousy, rage, envy, drunkenness. He even gives a stern warning that those whose lives
are continually characterized by such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But when we are in Christ, when we have faith in Christ, when we are led by the Spirit of God,
we are freed FROM those things, and freed instead FOR the fruit of the Spirit of God, and
walking in the Spirit of God. Some of you might be able to list the Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy,
peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. You know an
apple tree produces apples, a plum tree produces plums, a peach tree produces peaches. Because
those nine virtues are called the ‘fruit’ of the Spirit, we can picture them as natural things that
grow and develop in the life of one who walks with Jesus and His Spirit. They are the fruit of a
“Spirit-tree,” a “Spirit-life.”
In Chapter 6, Paul adds one more thought – that we are free FOR bearing one another’s burdens.
At the same time as he encourages us to bear our own burdens, he asks us to carry the burdens of
others – gently restoring someone caught in a sin, sharing good things with one’s instructor, and
doing good to all, but especially to those in the family of faith.
Tertullian, the first great North African theologian, taught that the Christian life as taught in the
Scripture and practice in the church was morally superior to that of unbelievers. He imagined
pagans looking at Christians and saying, “See, how they love one another.” But imagine the
power of our witness if unbelievers could legitimately say, “See, how they love us.” With our
Christ-bought freedom, let us do good to all, let us love all, for the sake of God’s kingdom.
4. Christ lives in me!
One of Paul’s last statements in his letter to the Galatians is that Christ has set us free to be
people who live as new creations in Him. But that is not much different from something
powerful that he had written earlier: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but
Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and
gave Himself for me.”
That’s the Gospel, the ONLY Gospel – Christ gave Himself for me. I live because of Him. I live
in Him. I live for Him. And one day, I will live with Him… eternally.
That’s the bottom line of Paul’s love letter to the Galatians, to me, to you!
Let me close with his closing words: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit,
brothers… and sisters. Amen.”

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