Galatians 5:1, 13-25 (Sixth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 8—Series C)
“Using Your Freedom in Christ”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
June 26, 2016
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Epistle lesson recorded in Galatians 5:
1For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. . . . 13For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
What is freedom? What does it mean to be free? Those are difficult questions to answer. We call our nation the “land of the free.” The Bill of Rights grants us the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, the freedom of religion. What do those freedoms really mean? I’m not convinced that anyone really knows any more. A person’s political leanings will color the answer one way or another. One’s cultural understanding will shade freedom’s meaning. Epictetus, a first century Stoic philosopher said, “Is freedom anything else than the right to live as we wish? Nothing else.” Dr. Wayne Dyer, an American psychologist said, “Freedom means you are unobstructed in living your life as you choose. Anything less is a form of slavery.” The Apostle Paul, writing by the power of the Holy Spirit said, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Do you see a difference? Epictetus and Dyer, as well as many others in our time, understand freedom as being able to do whatever you want, whenever you want, wherever you want. That kind of freedom has no rules or boundaries. That kind of freedom has no responsibilities. That kind of freedom is only for one’s self. It’s all about you and what you want and how you want to live without any accountability to anyone, without any responsibility for anything. That kind of freedom would be anarchy. But Paul writes the Word of God regarding freedom. It is not a freedom to do whatever you like. It is a freedom to “walk by the Spirit,” to “keep in step with” the Spirit so as not to return to the burden of sin and trying in vain to keep God’s Law on our own.
God the Holy Spirit has worked a complete renewal of each one of us in spirit, will, attitude, and desire. He makes a complete difference in our lives! That difference is shown in our text this morning as a contrast between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit.
The works of the flesh are the works done by the flesh. They are the thoughts, words, desires, and actions that you and I do because we are by nature wicked, evil, and sinful. Left to ourselves and our own devices we will produce these works: illicit sexual activity, impurity, unrestrained living, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and “things like these.” Paul says that these works of the flesh are clear. If you saw or knew someone who was practicing these things (not even all of them but just a few of them), would you let your children hang out with them? Probably not. As parents, we’d have to put our foot down and say, “No, I do not want you playing with that person. I don’t want you around them because of the way they act and what they do.”
Yet, we and our children are “those people.” Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The Letter to the Ephesians calls this sinful nature the “old self” or the “old Adam.” We read in Article II of the Augsburg Confession, “It is taught among us that since the fall of Adam, all human beings who are born in the natural way are conceived and born in sin. This means that from birth they are full of evil lust and inclination and cannot by nature possess true fear of God and true faith in God. Moreover, this same innate disease and original sin is truly sin and condemns to God’s eternal wrath all who are not in turn born anew through baptism and the Holy Spirit.”
So the only works that you and I can do by nature are these works of the flesh, the works caused by sin, the actions prompted by the temptation of the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature. We are really a bunch of people that we wouldn’t want our kids to be around. Yet, God the Father sent His “kid” to be around us.
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost,” wrote St. Paul to Timothy (1Timothy 1:15). And there’s not one of us who can say differently about ourselves. Nevertheless, God’s only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, true God, became true man in His incarnation. Jesus, full of grace and truth, dwelt among us sinners as the sinless One in order to rescue and save us from our sin. It was Jesus Christ alone who took upon Himself humanity’s sins and suffered God’s wrath and punishment. On the cross, Jesus burdened Himself with our sexual immorality, our impurity and unrestrained living. Bleeding and dying on that cross Jesus labored under the weight of our idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, and jealousy. He was forsaken by the Father because of our fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, and orgies. Every hammer blow that nailed Jesus to the cross means the forgiveness of your sins and mine. Every drop of blood that flowed from the wounds of Jesus means our spiritual healing. None of our sins, the works of the flesh, will ever be counted against us.
We receive this forgiveness of sin “out of grace for Christ’s sake through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for His sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us” (AC IV). “To obtain such faith God instituted the office of preaching, giving the gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the gospel” (AC V).
For many of us, the first giving of the Gospel was in our Baptism. Baptism is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). In Baptism, the Holy Spirit is poured out upon us, working through the Water and the Gospel Word to give us forgiveness of sins, to rescue from death and the devil, and to give eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare (SC Holy Baptism). As we are told in Titus 3:5-8, “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-8).
It is the Holy Spirit who has brought us the forgiveness and eternal life that Jesus won for us by His cross and resurrection. It is the Holy Spirit who has given us saving faith to trust in Jesus alone as our Savior from sin and death. And it is the Holy Spirit who produces His fruit in us, the baptized children of God, so that we are able to serve one another in love.
God the Holy Spirit has created in you and me a whole new life—the life of faith in Christ. This new life grows the fruit that the Spirit plants, nurtures, and produces within us. The Spirit leads us by a gentle and loving grasp, as when a child puts her hand into the hand of a beloved and trusted parent so that a harvest of good, healthy, spiritual fruit is produced in us. This harvest is like a cluster of grapes—a cluster of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. What a much different picture than the works of our sinful flesh! It is a whole new life, lived by the power of the Holy Spirit, producing His fruit in what we say and think and do!
Because of the gift of the Holy Spirit, we now have the power and the ability to do what we could have never done before—to live a life of fear, love, and trust in God above all things, to live for God and not for ourselves, and to walk in the newness of life through Jesus Christ as we serve our neighbors through love whenever they have need of it. When Paul says in the opening verse of our text, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh,” we CAN do it. When Paul says to use our freedom in Christ to serve one another and our neighbors in love, we CAN do it. We are new creations who walk day by day in the power of the Holy Spirit. We have the ability by grace through faith in Christ to resist the temptation of our sinful flesh and not to gratify the desires of the sinful nature. The Holy Spirit is continually producing in us a cluster of holy fruit that not only gives glory to God but also enables and empowers us to love our neighbor as we act in and with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control toward them.
So, what is freedom? What does it mean to be free? It means to be forgiven by Jesus Christ, released from the power of sin and the Law. It means to be made children of God by faith who produce the fruits of the Holy Spirit. It means that we joyfully serve our neighbors in love and with love. That’s how we are called to use our freedom in Christ. Amen.