5th Sunday after Pentecost July 2, 2023
Galatians 5:1, 13-18
Worship Supplement 2000 #773 (TLH Alternative: 14), 575, 511, 577
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Sermon Audio: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/ministrybymail
Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, You have built Your Church on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. Continue to send Your messengers to preserve Your people in true peace that, by the preaching of Your Word, souls may be saved, faith may be strengthened, and Your Church may be kept free from all harm and danger. We pray this through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not allow anyone to put the yoke of slavery on you again
After all, brothers, you were called to freedom. Only do not use your freedom as a starting point for your sinful flesh. Rather, serve one another through love. In fact, the whole law is summed up in this one statement: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you keep on biting and devouring one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. What I am saying is this: Walk by the spirit, and you will not carry out what the sinful flesh desires. For the sinful flesh desires what is contrary to the spirit, and the spirit what is contrary to the sinful flesh. In fact, these two continually oppose one another, so that you do not continue to do these things you want to do. But if you are led by the spirit, you are not under the control of the law. (EHV)
If I had to make a list of my favorite words, I think the word “freedom” would be somewhere in my top 10, or top 20, at least. Maybe it’s just because it’s 4th of July weekend, or maybe because I’m a citizen of the United States of America, but I really like that word: freedom! It’s such a positive word, isn’t it? It makes me feel happy and thankful when I hear it. It makes me feel—well, free!
During the 4th of July holiday we often think of the important freedoms we enjoy as citizens of this country and we take the time to celebrate and remember the great sacrifices that were made—the men and women throughout our country’s history who fought and worked so hard to secure those freedoms for us.
As we think about and celebrate that beautiful word freedom and all that it means, there is an even more important freedom that I would like to turn our attention to this morning. It’s a freedom that we enjoy as citizens of an even greater nation—the Kingdom of God. Jesus Himself suffered and sacrificed His own life to secure and preserve this important freedom for us. That is why we take the time to gather together every Sunday to celebrate the day our Savior eternally sealed our freedom for us by His resurrection from the dead. So today we take the time to thank God, not only for blessing us with earthly freedom in this Land of Liberty, but also we celebrate and thank Him for our “True Freedom in Christ.”
When the unbelieving world around us looks at followers of Jesus do you think they see us as having “freedom”? Probably not. They probably see Christians as having very restricted lives; living by the “do’s” and “do not’s” of God’s Law. But the fact is, dear fellow citizens of Christ’s kingdom, that we are “free.” We do truly have “freedom” in Christ.
Sometimes we mistakenly think that freedom means getting to do whatever we want, whenever we want. But that’s not actually true freedom. True freedom means that we are not enslaved to anyone or anything—including ourselves! True freedom also involves remembering and respecting the fact that everyone else has the same freedom you do. And so, freedom—true freedom—also involves responsibility. Some of the problems our country is facing are because we have forgotten this fact: With freedom comes responsibility. The Founding Fathers understood that how a person uses their liberty or freedom will determine how well the nation would function.
As Christians we also have responsibilities that come with our gift of freedom in Christ. How we use that freedom will go a long way in determining how well Christ’s Church will function. The question we have to ask ourselves each moment of each day is, “Are we going to use the gift of freedom, or abuse it?”
Paul speaks of this freedom and its proper use in our text, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not allow anyone to put the yoke of slavery on you again…After all, brothers, you were called to freedom. Only do not use your freedom as a starting point for your sinful flesh. Rather, serve one another through love.” (Galatians 5:1,13)
With these words Paul is encouraging us to stand firm in the freedom Christ has gained for us so that we are not again made slaves. He lists two ways in which we can lose our freedom and again be enslaved: The first is through legalism; the second is through lawlessness.�
The first way of losing our freedom, legalism, is dealt with in the verses we have left out from this chapter (Galatians 5:2-12). What Paul says in those verses is essentially this: If we say that we are saved by grace plus works, we lose our freedom. No matter what the work is, no matter how insignificant, if we say that we must do some kind of work in order to be saved it makes Christ “of no value to you at all.” (Galatians 5:2) Paul also warns against “enslaving” ourselves to the Old Testament laws and regulations from which Christ has already fulfilled and freed us. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not allow anyone to put the yoke of slavery on you again.” (Galatians 5:1)
The second way of losing our freedom is dealt with in this text: lawlessness. If we ignore God’s Law completely and forget altogether about doing good works, then we also lose our freedom. Although good works have no value at all to gain salvation, they have great value after we have been saved by faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, it is these “good works” that show we have true, saving faith. These “good works” also show that we are exercising our True Freedom in Christ properly. “After all, brothers, you were called to freedom. Only do not use your freedom as a starting point for your sinful flesh. Rather, serve one another through love.” (Galatians 5:13)
Did you catch the seeming contradiction in Paul’s statement? He reminds us that we use our freedom in Christ properly when we serve—“serve one another through love” (Galatians 5:13b)! He goes on to say, In fact, the whole law is summed up in this one statement: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14). Think of how incredible, and how peaceful, this country and our entire world would be if everyone used the freedom God has given them in Christ to love and serve each other! But look at the contrast and terrible consequences Paul describes when we choose to live in lawlessness instead. He warns, “But if you keep on biting and devouring one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” (Galatians 5:15)
Again, as we mentioned earlier, with great freedom comes great responsibility. When the citizens of our country abuse their freedoms there are consequences. For example, as we have tragically seen in a number of instances in our country, when the right to bear arms is misused people get hurt and killed. In the same way when we abuse our Christian freedom there are consequences—both physical and spiritual. Our sinful flesh wants us to take the great freedom that God has given us and run wild with it; go against the things that please God in order to please ourselves, because after all, “God’s already forgiven us through Jesus, right?” This type of behavior and thinking shows that we are not living in the Freedom of Christ, but that we are still slaves to sin, death, and hell.
Freedom—true freedom—implies that you have a choice. When we were born into this world, we weren’t born into freedom. We were born into the chains of the slavery of sin and spiritual death. We didn’t have a choice. We couldn’t choose to love God or do things that please Him. We were trapped in the spiritual prison of sin, helpless to save ourselves from the impending judgment of eternal death. We could not break these chains of sin ourselves, or free ourselves from the prison of death that held us. By nature we didn’t even know the lost state we were in. God’s divine power and love had to intervene. The sacrifice of His Son broke those chains of sin and His resurrection burst open the doors of death’s prison! In Christ we have been given freedom from sin! We have been given God’s Holy Spirit and are now led by Him instead of our sinful flesh. As Paul writes in our text, “What I am saying is this: Walk by the spirit, and you will not carry out what the sinful flesh desires.” (Galatians 5:16)
The freedom we have in Christ is more important and more blessed than any freedom we could be given in the Bill of Rights, or any other document written by man. The freedoms we have in Jesus are not temporary and they do not depend on the might of an earthly nation, but rather, they are spiritual and eternal.
This freedom that we enjoy in Christ also gives us the most important blessings we can enjoy in this life, namely, the peace of sins forgiven, and the joy of salvation. We have been forgiven! We have been set free from the power of sin by Christ’s death! With Christ’s love empowering us, and His Spirit living inside of us, we have true freedom. Now we have a choice. Freedom to choose paths of righteousness: to say and do things that please God and show our love for our fellow man. Freedom to say “no” to thoughts and actions that are sinful and self-destructive—not just to our bodies and minds, but also to our souls. That is true freedom! As we take the time this week to celebrate the freedoms we enjoy as citizens of this country, let’s also take some time to celebrate our True Freedom in Christ and at the same time think about how we are going to use that freedom in our lives each day. Let that word take on a whole new meaning for you this 4th of July and throughout the year. After all, it is a freedom that is truly worth celebrating! Amen.
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The Holy Bible, Evangelical Heritage Version® (EHV ®) © 2019 The Wartburg Project. All rights reserved. Used by permission.