Galatians 5:1, 13-25 (Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 8—Series C)
“Freedom to Love”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
June 30, 2019
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 set us free. Therefore, stand firm and do not again be subject to a yoke of slavery. . . . 13For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as a pretext for the flesh, but through love, be slaves to one another. 14For the whole law stands fulfilled in one word, in this: You will love your neighbor as yourself. 15But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. 16But I say, walk by the Spirit and you will surely not satisfy the desire of the flesh. 17For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the Spirit is against the flesh, for these are in opposition to one another, in order that you do not do the things you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19Now the works of the flesh are obvious, which are sexual immorality, impurity, indecency, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, rage, selfishness, dissensions, factions, 21envy, drunkenness, carousing, and such things as these, concerning which I am warning you, just as I said before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control. The Law is not against these things. 24Now those of Christ Jesus crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, then by the Spirit let us also walk.
Freedom. What exactly is it? Merriam-Webster gives us several definitions to work with. (1) the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action; (2) liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another; (3) unrestricted use. As Christians who have been baptized into Christ, connected by water and the Word to Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, you and I have been “called to freedom.” What exactly is this freedom?
This freedom in Christ is freedom from the Law. St. Paul says in Romans 7, “But now we have been released from the law, because we have died to what controlled us, so that we may serve in the new life of the Spirit and not under the old written code” (Rom. 7:6 NET). As the Law, summarized in the Ten Commandments, confronts us in our fallen human nature, it accuses us of being the sinners that we truly are. The Law condemns us, showing us our sinfulness and the unreachable standard of God’s holiness. The Law of God demands, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). What are your personal results? Have you followed the Ten Commandments perfectly? Not even close, right? No matter how hard we try, we still cannot keep the Law perfectly.
The congregations in Galatia were being told by some sincere Jewish Christians from Judea that, in order to be “real Christians,” they had to submit to circumcision and other aspects of the ceremonial Law of Moses. In other words, they told the Galatians that they needed to keep the Law perfectly. In their view, the Gospel of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins wasn’t enough. New converts to Christianity, they said, had to observe the ceremonial Laws of the Old Testament. These “Judaizers,” as they are often called, were placing the burden of the demands of God’s Law upon the Galatians. But Paul maintained that Jesus had set them free from the Law with its record of debts that stood against people because of their failure to keep the Law perfectly. Jesus’ death on the cross cancelled that debt for all time for all people (Col. 2:14).
Jesus, God the Son, came to earth to bring freedom. We read in John 8, “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. . . . So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed’” (Jn. 8:31-32, 36 ESV). To bring us this freedom, Jesus yoked Himself to us, becoming a true human being like us. He placed Himself under slavery to the Law, obligating Himself to meet all of its holy and perfect demands. And Jesus kept them all perfectly—for us. Christ obtained the ultimate victory for us through His suffering, death, and resurrection. He paid the ransom price to buy our freedom and, in the Gospel, He gives us His victory over sin, death, and hell, setting us free from the condemnation and power of the Law.
Paul brings this freedom in Christ to light for the Galatian Christians at the beginning of chapter 5, “For freedom Christ set us free. Therefore, stand firm and do not again be subject to a yoke of slavery.” Paul cries out almost like a military commander rallying wavering troops, “Do not surrender in the midst of this cosmic conflict! Do not cave in to forces that wish to enslave you yet again!” Dr. Luther comments, “This is the freedom with which Christ has set us free, not from some human slavery or tyrannical authority but from the eternal wrath of God. . . . From this there follows the other freedom, by which we are made safe and free through Christ from the Law, from sin, death, the power of the devil, hell, etc. For just as the wrath of God cannot terrify us—since Christ has set us free from it—so the Law, sin, etc., cannot accuse and condemn us. Even though the Law denounces us and sin terrifies us, they still cannot plunge us into despair. For faith . . . quickly declares: ‘Those things have nothing to do with me, for Christ has set me free from them.’”
So, in Christ, are we free to do whatever we want, live however we want, without any moral obligations? Absolutely not! Freedom from the Law is not lawlessness. Paul warns us that our freedom in Christ is not to be used as a pretext for fulfilling the sinful desires of the flesh. Our freedom in Christ from God’s wrath and the condemnation of the Law is not a base of operations or a springboard for sinful activities! Using it as such would only place us back under the Law’s condemnation and the wrath of God. Luther again points us in the right direction, “It is as though Paul were saying: ‘Now you have obtained freedom through Christ. That is, you are far above all laws, both in your own conscience and in the sight of God; you are blessed and saved; Christ is your life. Therefore even though the Law, sin, and death may frighten you, they can neither harm you nor cause you to despair. This is your brilliant and inestimable freedom. Now it is up to you to be diligently on your guard not to use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.’”
The call to freedom in Christ, then, is not a call to do as we please according to our wants and desires. The call to freedom in Christ is the call to oneness in Christ and to loving service within His Church. It is a call to realize the true nature and implications of what it means to belong to Christ as those set free from the power and condemnation of the Law. In the freedom that Christ Jesus provided for us, we are able to satisfy the Law’s demands because we are now “walking by the Spirit.” And the way of the Spirit is the way of love. And love is the fulfilling of the Law (Rom. 13:10).
What we were unable to do under the threat of the Law we are able now to accomplish by the Spirit who enables us to love one another. One commentator outlined it this way: “Through the redemption of Christ believers have been set free from bondage to the law and are no longer under obligation to obey its statutes; . . . God’s law remains a valid expression of his will, which requires that we love our neighbor as ourselves; . . .hence, what the law as a whole requires is satisfied when believers serve one another through love. In other words, the believer who is free from the law is at the same time the one who fulfills the law; only the way he fulfills the law is not by . . . observing the rules and regulations of an external code, but by the new way of love, which is generated within the believer by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Since we now live by the Spirit, we strive by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit in our freedom to walk in the way of love toward one another in the family of Christ. The purpose of our freedom in Jesus is to love and serve our neighbors as well as each other. Our God given freedom in Christ then expresses itself in love to one another through the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Living and walking by the Spirit, then, is true freedom.
In Christ, we have indeed been set free. We are no longer under the Law but are led by the Spirit working through the Gospel and the Sacraments of Jesus Christ—Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. That Spirit-led life brings us joy and peace in Christ and keeps us from the works of the flesh. Thanks be to God that for freedom Christ has set us free so that we might love our neighbors and one another in Jesus’ name. Amen.
 A. Andrew Das, Galatians, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 2014), 520.
 Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 27: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 5-6; 1519, Chapters 1-6, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 27 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 4–5.
 Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 27: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 5-6; 1519, Chapters 1-6, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 27 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 48.
 Ronald Y.K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 247.