Freedom: To Serve

Galatians 5

1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

In these ever-changing days, it is assuring to know that we can keep our feet fixed firmly on Jesus, the unchanging, unshakable rock and our firm foundation!  In Christ alone, we find true freedom no matter what happens around us.  As we learned last week, and are being reminded again this morning, freedom is ours if we so choose it.

We must choose not to go back to whatever enslaved us before Jesus set us free.  For the Galatian church, they were beginning to rely again on their own ability to obey God’s law than their faith in the work that Jesus did to fulfill it.  Paul was so concerned about this pull away from their freedom that he used some fairly harsh language!

2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.  The Galatians had begun to get this principle backwards and we can easily do the same.  Our life transformation must occur from the inside out.  It must be a work of the Holy Spirit transforming our hearts and renewing our minds.  Then, our actions will then follow out of a motivation to express our love for God and others with the love that Christ has shown toward us.

If we instead change our actions to earn the love of God, we completely miss it.  We end up puffed up thinking that we are better than those who do not act as we do.  This brings about dead religion with the goal of conformity.  Jesus wants to give life where we have freedom to be the unique person whom He created us to be.

Why does this happen to us so easily, though?  Why do we tend to desire to earn God’s love or the acceptance of others?  Why can’t we just live by the only true command that Jesus has given to us?  The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.  Paul said it this way:

7 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? 8 That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. 9 “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” 10 I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. 11 Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. 12 As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!

Yeah, Paul was pretty upset and concerned about the life choices that the Galatians were making!  When Jesus has set us free, we are free indeed, but why did He choose to take on the cross to give us such freedom?

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. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

In the world culture that we currently live in, this is getting tested perhaps now more than ever in the church.  Using our freedom to serve others humbly in love is something that religion will never enable us to do.  Religion majors on all of the minors and misses the most important thing, faith expressing itself through love.

There are a handful of absolute doctrines found in God’s word that leave no room for opinion on.  Doctrinal truths such as there only being one, true, living God, that all mankind is born into sin since the fall in the garden, that faith in Jesus is the only path to salvation, etc.  To call ourselves a Christian is to share these doctrines in common.

However, there are countless arguable matters that we each of us are personally accountable to God for, but do not necessarily apply to others.  The New Testament deals with this issue very often as the church seemed to always get tripped up in this matter.

Galatians 5 goes on to teach about the fruits of the flesh versus the fruits of the Spirit.  As a warning, our convictions before God will never contradict His word or character and will produce in our lives the fruits of the Spirit, not the fruits of the flesh.  Too often our convictions that we believe are from God are actually from our flesh and they need crucified, not amplified.  We need to check ourselves and make sure that our convictions truly are from the Lord.

Religion forces all people to conform to the convictions of a few and causes its members to bite and devour those who refuse to conform to them until they either conform or leave. 

Jesus, however, chose for His church to exist in unity expressed through diversity.  He has given us all convictions of who we are and how we are to live aside from His doctrines that we all share in common.  Some of us share these convictions, but not all of us.

Ones found in the early church were convictions such as eating meat sacrificed to idols, celebrating certain feasts and festivals, considering a certain day a week as holy, refraining from eating certain types of food, and others.

Ones found in our world today are whether or not to wear a face covering, whether or not to acknowledge Halloween, whether or not tattoos are OK, whether it’s OK to drink alcohol on occasion, and countless more.

To some, these are black and white convictions and feel before Jesus that there is a clear right and wrong.  For them, that’s likely absolutely true.  However, this right and wrong conviction that Jesus gave them, He may not necessarily give to another.  Yes, it can be right for one Christian to do something and wrong for another one to do the same thing.

Paul taught in great detail about this reality in Romans chapter 14.  What does apply to all Christians is not their own personal convictions that Jesus has given them, but how we are to act toward those of differing convictions.  We are NOT to bite and devour one another or we will destroy what Jesus is trying to build!

Biting and devouring takes many forms in the church.  It is most often indirect in forms of jabs and little jokes.  Biting and devouring occurs as we gossip about someone to our own little group of friends and “praying” for that person.

We are ALL guilty of it from time to time, but we MUST be more aware of ourselves and the destruction that it causes.  I have even done so from the pulpit and it is wrong and I am so sorry for having participated in it!

How should we handle situations when our perspectives are so radically different and our convictions before Jesus are completely opposed to one another and yet both completely right before Jesus for each of us?  This clearly creates the potential for biting and devouring.  However, it also creates the potential for faith expressing itself in love as we use our freedom to serve those who we cannot agree with and should not agree with!  The later is how Jesus desires us to respond.

Romans 14:1-5

1 Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. 5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.

Romans 14:10-21

10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,

‘every knee will bow before me;

    every tongue will acknowledge God.’”

12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. 14 I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. 15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.

19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.

These are clear examples of faith expressing itself in love and using our freedom to serve others in humility.  Even if our personal conviction that came straight from Jesus, Himself is the exact opposite of someone else’s, I make every effort to do what leads to peace and choose to act in love. 

Not only are we personally accountable to God for the convictions that He has given us, we are also accountable for how we act toward those with opposing convictions.  After all, both are right before Jesus so far as their convictions are concerned.

Beyond standing before God’s judgment seat in this matter, life is so much better if we live this way here and now!  God’s Kingdom is a matter of peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  Living this way both pleases God AND enables us to receive human approval as well.  Life is so much better when we live at peace with those around us!

OK, this is clearly how God’s word calls us to live and it is also clearly easier said than done.  So how do we practically live this out?  How can we live by Jesus’ one command to express our faith by loving others as ourselves? 

Join us next week to find out!