The Fifth Freedom

Author’s Note: This is a sermon that I gave in August of 2006 at my church, Wyoming Ave. Baptist, in Philadelphia.

Scripture: Galatians 5:13-26

At the close of an important speech to Congress on January 6, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt shared his vision of the kind of world he wanted to see after the war was over. He envisioned four basic freedoms enjoyed by all people: (1) freedom of speech, (2) freedom of worship, (3) freedom from want, and (4) freedom from fear. Certainly the world has made some progress on these since World War II, and the church needs to be active and engaged in fighting for these basic human rights.  But even if these all were attained, our world still needs another freedom, a fifth freedom. Man needs to be free from himself and the evil dictatorship of his sinful nature.

The legalists in the Galatian church thought they had the answer to the problem of sin in laws and threats, but the simple fact that Paul explained, and all of us know, is that no amount of legislation can change a person’s basic sinful nature. It is not law on the outside, but love on the inside that makes the difference. We need power within, and that power comes from the Holy Spirit.

There are at least fourteen references to the Holy Spirit in Galatians. When we believe on Christ, the Spirit comes to dwell within us (Gal. 3:2). We are “born after the Spirit” as was Isaac (Gal. 4:29). It is the Holy Spirit in the heart who gives assurance of salvation (Gal. 4:6); and it is the Holy Spirit who enables us to live for Christ and glorify Him. The Holy Spirit is not simply a “divine influence”; He is a divine Person, just as are the Father and the Son. What God the Father planned for you, God the Son accomplished for you on the cross. God the Spirit works out this new life in you as you yield to Him.

This paragraph is perhaps the most important in the closing section of Galatians; for in it Paul explains three ministries of the Holy Spirit that enable the believer to enjoy true freedom in Christ.

The Spirit Enables Us to Fulfill the Law of Love (Gal. 5:13-15)

We are prone to go to extremes. One believer interprets liberty as license and thinks he can do whatever he wants to do. Another believer, seeing this error, goes to an opposite extreme and imposes Law on everybody. Somewhere between license on the one hand and legalism on the other hand is true Christian liberty.

So, Paul begins by explaining our calling: we are called to liberty. The Christian is a free person. You are free from the guilt of sin because you have experienced God’s forgiveness. You are free from the penalty of sin because Christ died for you on the cross. And you are, through the Spirit, free from the power of sin in your daily lives. You are also free from the Law with its demands and threats. Christ took the curse of the Law upon himself, and ended its tyranny once and for all. We are “called to be free” because we are “called by the grace of Christ” (Gal. 1:6). Grace and freedom go together.

Having explained our calling, Paul then issues a caution: “Don’t allow your freedom to indulge your sinful nature!”

This, of course, is the fear of all people who do not understand the true meaning of the grace of God. “If you do away with rules and regulations,” they say, “you will create chaos and anarchy.” Everybody will do what they want and nobody will do what is right.

The danger is real, not because God’s grace fails, but because people miss the grace of God. “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Heb. 12:15). If there is a “true grace of God” (1 Peter 5:12), then there is also a false grace of God; and there are false teachers who “change the grace of our God into a license for immorality” (Jude 4, niv). So, Paul’s caution is a valid one. Christian freedom is not a license to sin but an opportunity to serve.

This leads to a commandment: “By love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13). The key word, of course, is love. The formula looks something like this:

liberty + love = service to others

liberty – love = license (slavery to sin)

The amazing thing about love is that it takes the place of all the laws God ever gave. “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” solves every problem in human relations (see Rom. 13:8-14). If you love people (because you love Christ), you will not steal from them, lie about them, envy them, or try in any way to hurt them. Love in the heart is God’s substitute for laws and threats.

When children are young, discipline involves rules and punishments and rewards.  Keeping a child from running out into the street, or from going near the stove, requires strict law – out of love of course, to keep the child safe.  But when children are grown, you don’t continue (hopefully!) to threaten or bribe them to keep them safe.  As they grow in the grace of God, they will have a built-in discipline of love that regulates their lives, and they would not deliberately hurt themselves, their parents, or other people. Love has replaced law.

On a much higher level, the Holy Spirit within gives us the love that we need (Rom. 5:5; Gal. 5:6, 22). Apparently the Galatian believers were lacking in this kind of love because they were “biting and devouring one another” and were in danger of destroying one another (Gal. 5:15). The picture here is of wild animals attacking each other. This in itself is proof that law cannot force people to get along with each other. No matter how many rules or standards a church may adopt, they are no guarantee of spirituality. Unless the Holy Spirit of God is permitted to fill hearts with His love, selfishness and competition will reign. Both extremes in the Galatian churches -those who lived by law, and those who respected no law-were actually destroying the fellowship.

The Holy Spirit does not work in a vacuum. He uses the Word of God, prayer, worship, and the fellowship of believers to build us up in Christ. The believer who spends time daily in the Word and prayer, and who yields to the Spirit’s working, is going to enjoy this true freedom and will help build up the church.

The Spirit Enables Us to Overcome the Flesh (Gal. 5:16-21, 24)

The conflict (vv. 16-17). Just as Isaac and Ishmael were unable to get along, so the Spirit and the flesh (the old nature) are at war with each other. By “the flesh,” of course, Paul does not mean “the body.” The human body is not sinful; it is neutral. If the Holy Spirit controls the body, then we walk in the Spirit; but if the flesh controls the body, then we walk in the lusts (desires) of the flesh. The Spirit and the flesh have different appetites, and this is what creates the conflict. The unsaved man knows nothing of this battle because he does not have the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9).

Note that the Christian cannot simply will to overcome the flesh. It is this very problem that Paul discusses in Romans: “I do not know what I am doing. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-this I keep on doing” (Rom. 7:15, 19, niv). Paul is not denying that there is victory. He is simply pointing out that we cannot win this victory in our own strength and by our own will.

The conquest (v. 18). The solution is not to pit our will against the flesh, but to surrender our will to the Holy Spirit. This verse literally means, “But if you are willingly led by the Spirit, then you are not under law.” The Holy Spirit writes God’s Law on our hearts (Heb. 10:14-17; see 2 Cor. 3) so that we desire to obey Him in love. “I delight to do Your will, O my God: yes, Your Law is within my heart” (Ps. 40:8). Being “led by the Spirit” and “walking in the Spirit” are the opposites of yielding to the desires of the flesh.

The crucifixion (vv. 19-21, 24). Paul now lists some of the ugly “works of the flesh.” The flesh is able to manufacture sin but it can never produce the righteousness of God. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9). This list in Galatians can be divided into three major categories:

Riotous Living (vv. 19, 21b). Sexual immorality is a far reaching term including adultery, fornication, pornography, and anything else that feeds in a wrong way the sexual appetites of the flesh. Impurity means just that: a filthiness of heart and mind that makes the person defiled. Debauchery is an extreme indulgence in sensuality, and speaks of an appetite that is never satisfied and that knows no shame. Drunkenness and orgies round out riotous living.

Riotous Religion (v. 20a). Idolatry, like the sins named above, is with us today. Idolatry is simply putting things ahead of God and people. We are to worship God, love people, and use things, but too often we use people, love self, and worship things, leaving God out of the picture completely. Jesus tells us that whatever we worship, we serve (Matt. 4:10).

The word witchcraft is from the Greek word pharmakeia, which means “the use of drugs.” Our English word pharmacy is derived from this word. Magicians in Paul’s day often used drugs to bring about their evil effects. Of course, sorcery is forbidden in the Bible as are all activities of the occult (Deut. 18:9-22).

Riotous Relationships (vv. 20b-21a). Hatred means “enmity,” the attitude of mind that defies and challenges others. This attitude leads to discord, where however hard we may try, nothing is in harmony. How tragic when jealousy rears its head and Christians compete with one another and try to make one another look bad in the eyes of others.

Fits of rage are outbursts of anger.  When we rely on our own flesh to control the outworking of our sin, the weight of the burden upon us is amazing.  We are like dams, holding back the floods of a raging river – and when we finally can take no more, God help anyone who is downstream!

Selfish ambition, dissensions and factions are all similar to each other. They have at their core a desire for power or respect or “success.” These can be the result of church leaders or members promoting themselves and insisting that the people follow them, not the Lord.  The Greek word translated factions is heresy, and means “to make a choice.” How often do we think, even if we don’t say it, that it’s either got to be him or me?  Let it be Christ.

Lastly, envy suggests the carrying of grudges, the deep desire for what another has (see Prov. 14:30).

The person who practices these sins shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Paul is not talking about an act of sin, but a habit of sin. There is a false assurance of salvation that is not based on the Word of God. The fact that the believer is not under Law, but under grace, is no excuse for sin (Rom. 6:15). If anything, it is an encouragement to live in obedience to the Lord.

But how does the believer handle the old nature when it is capable of producing such horrible sins? The Law cannot change or control the old nature.

The old nature must be crucified (v. 24). Paul explains that the believer is identified with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6). Christ not only died for me, but I died with Christ. Christ died for me to remove the penalty of my sin, but I died with Christ to break sin’s power.

Paul has mentioned this already in Galatians (see 2:19-20), and he will mention it again (6:14). He does not tell us to crucify ourselves, because this is impossible. (Crucifixion is one death a man cannot inflict on himself.) He tells us that the flesh has already been crucified. It is our responsibility to believe this and act on it. (Paul calls this “reckoning” in Rom. 6; you have the same truth presented in Col. 3:5ff).

You and I are not debtors to the flesh, but to the Spirit (Rom. 8:12-14). We must accept what God says about the old nature and not try to make it something that it is not. We must not make “provision for the flesh” (Rom. 13:14) by feeding it the things that it enjoys. In the flesh dwells no good thing (Rom. 7:18), so we should put no confidence in the flesh (Phil. 3:3). The flesh is not subject to God’s Law (Rom. 8:7) and it cannot please God (Rom. 8:8). Only through the Holy Spirit can we “put to death” the deeds that the flesh would do through our body (Rom. 8:13). The Holy Spirit is not only the Spirit of life (Rom. 8:2; Gal. 5:25), but He is also the Spirit of death: He helps us to reckon ourselves dead to sin.

We have seen two ministries of the Spirit of God: He enables us to fulfill the Law, and He enables us to overcome the flesh. He has a third ministry as well.

The Spirit Enables Us to Produce Fruit (Gal. 5:22-23, 25-26)

It is one thing to overcome the flesh and not do evil things, but quite something else to do good things. The legalist might be able to boast that he is not guilty of adultery or murder (but see Matt. 5:21-32), but can anyone see the beautiful graces of the Spirit in his life? Negative goodness is not enough; there must be positive qualities as well.

The contrast between works and fruit is important. A machine in a factory works, and turns out a product, but it could never manufacture fruit. Fruit must grow out of life, and, in the case of the believer, it is the life of the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). When you think of “works” you think of effort, labor, strain, and toil; when you think of “fruit” you think of beauty, quietness, the unfolding of life. The flesh produces “dead works” (Heb. 9:14), but the Spirit produces living fruit. And this fruit has in it the seed for still more fruit (Gen. 1:11). Love begets more love! Joy helps to produce more joy! Jesus – the true vine – is concerned that we produce “fruit… more fruit… much fruit” (John 15:2, 5), because this is the way we glorify Him. The old nature cannot produce fruit; only the new nature can do that.

The New Testament speaks of several different kinds of “fruit”: people won to Christ (Rom. 1:13), holy living (Rom. 6:22), gifts brought to God (Rom. 15:26-28), good works (Col. 1:10), and praise (Heb. 13:15). The “fruit of the Spirit” listed in our passage has to do with character (Gal. 5:22-23). It is important that we distinguish the gift of the Spirit, which is salvation (Acts 2:38; 11:17), and the gifts of the Spirit, which have to do with service (1 Cor. 12), from the graces of the Spirit, which relate to Christian character. It is unfortunate that an overemphasis on gifts has led some Christians to neglect the graces of the Spirit. Building Christian character must take precedence over displaying special abilities.

The characteristics that God wants in our lives are seen in the ninefold fruit of the Spirit. Paul begins with love because all of the other fruit is really an outgrowth of love. Compare these eight qualities with the characteristics of love given to the Corinthians (see 1 Cor. 13:4-8). This word for love is agape, which means divine love. This divine love is God’s gift to us (Rom. 5:5), and we must cultivate it and pray that it will increase (Phil. 1:9).

When a person lives in the sphere of love, then he experiences joy-that inward peace and sufficiency that is not affected by outward circumstances. (A case in point is Paul’s experience recorded in Phil. 4:10-20.) This “holy optimism” keeps him going in spite of difficulties. Love and joy together produce peace, “the peace of God, which passes all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).

While love, joy, and peace express the inner character of our hearts, the next three express the outward character of our Christian lives: patience, which literally means to be long-tempered, kindness, and goodness, which is love in action. The Christian who is long-tempered will not avenge himself or wish difficulties on those who oppose him. He will be kind and gentle, even with the most offensive, and will sow goodness where others sow evil. Human nature can never do this on its own; only the Holy Spirit can.

The final three qualities are faithfulness; gentleness (perhaps we could use the word humility – both meaning the right understanding and use of power and authority); and self-control. Gentleness is not weakness. Jesus said, “I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matt. 11:29), and Moses was “very humble” (Num. 12:3); yet no one could accuse either of them of being weak. The gentle Christian does not throw his weight around or assert himself. Just as wisdom is the right use of knowledge, so gentleness is the right use of authority and power.

Love being the first bookend of the Spirit’s graces, self-control is the second.  My motives must be governed by love, and my flesh and its desires must be bounded by self-control for the others to flourish.

It is possible for the old nature to counterfeit some of the fruit of the Spirit, but the flesh can never produce the fruit of the Spirit. One difference is this: when the Spirit produces fruit, God gets the glory and the Christian is not conscious of his spirituality; but when the flesh is at work, the person is inwardly proud of himself and is pleased when others compliment him. The work of the Spirit is to make us more like Christ for His glory, not for the praise of men.

The cultivation of the fruit is important. Paul warns that there must be a right atmosphere before the fruit will grow (Gal. 5:25-26). Just as fruit cannot grow in every climate, so the fruit of the Spirit cannot grow in every individual’s life or in every church.

Fruit grows in a climate blessed with an abundance of the Spirit and the Word. Let us “keep in step with the Spirit”-not run ahead and not lag behind. This involves the Word, prayer, worship, praise, and fellowship with God’s people. It also means “pulling out the weeds” so that the seed of the Word can take root and bear fruit. The Judaizers were anxious for praise and honor, and this led to competition and division. Fruit can never grow in that kind of an atmosphere.

We must remember that this fruit is produced to be eaten, not to be admired and put on display. People around us are starving for love, joy, peace, and all the other graces of the Spirit. When they find them in our lives, they know that we have something they lack. We do not bear fruit for our own consumption; we bear fruit that others might be fed and helped, and that Christ might be glorified. The flesh may manufacture “results” that bring praise to us, but the flesh cannot bear fruit that brings glory to God. It takes patience, an atmosphere of the Spirit, walking in the light, the seed of the Word of God, and a sincere desire to honor Christ.

In short, the secret is the Holy Spirit. He alone can give us that “fifth freedom”-freedom from sin and self. He enables us to fulfill the law of love, to overcome the flesh, and to bear fruit.

Will you yield to Him and let Him work?

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