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06.30.13 Galatians 5:1, 13-25 Paul’s Gospel: Slavery Sermon Summary

by on July 3, 2013

Paul says Christ has set us free, but it isn’t the kind of freedom we expect. In fact, we hear it as a contradiction.

Summary Points

  • Review of last four weeks
  • What we are free from
  • What we are free to
  • Why Christian freedom sounds like a contradiction
  • The cost of Christian freedom, to God and to us
  • How the Lordship of Christ is our freedom

In sermon 1, we saw the question of the gospel for Paul was, “How do we have access to God; how do we experience salvation?” Is it by the law, or is it by faith? Paul’s answer, it is by faith, especially the faith of Jesus Christ who fulfilled the law on our behalf, on behalf of us who are non-Jews, who don’t have the law, who could not fulfill the law on our own. The law, which shows us how to live in a world hostile to God through sin and death, is no longer the primary way to experience God and salvation because Jesus in his death and resurrection has overcome both sin and death. Or another way of putting it, in Christ God has set us free from sin, death, and the law. “Jesus Christ gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age.” (Gal. 1:4)

In sermon 2, we saw how the freedom Christ gives applied in Paul’s life. He was free from trying to please others, free to live to please God. Even if pleasing God means offending others, Paul was willing to do it, because when pleasing God or pleasing others conflict with one another, Paul was free to choose pleasing God. For Paul that meant welcoming all people to the kingdom of God. “God called me by grace, and revealed his son to me, so that I might proclaim him to the non-Jews.” (Gal. 1:15-16)

In sermon 3, we compared Paul and James on the relationship between faith and works. There we saw that our right relationship with God (justification) has an historical anchor, namely the crucifixion of Christ, but has also an ongoing effect, namely our living according to Jesus’ example. “I have been crucified with Christ, and Christ now lives in me.” (Gal. 3:19-20)

In sermon 4, we heard how Paul urged the church to stop cannibalizing itself by judging one another. He said we are all one in Christ. We can’t judge one another on the basis of our traditions, our doctrine, or our nationality. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female. We are all one in Christ.” (Gal. 3:28) All of this is a result of our faith which his symbolized in baptism. We all swim in the same pool of God’s grace.

This brings us to sermon 5, and chapter 5 of Galatians, which starts with the bold affirmation that, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” Free not for heaven. Not for wealth. Not for health. Not for security. Not for happiness. Not for any of these things, but for freedom.

“For freedom Christ has set us free,” Paul says. Freedom is always from something, and Christ sets us free from a lot of things. Freedom from the “present evil age.” Freedom from trying to justify ourselves through our religious observance. Freedom from judging one another on secondary issues. Freedom from self-indulgence. Freedom from exploiting others and creation for our own enjoyment. Freedom from what Paul calls the “works of the flesh” which keep us from experiencing the kingdom of God.

“For freedom Christ has set us free.” This kind of freedom is also freedom to something. What does Christ set us free towards? Is it the kind of freedom William Wallace rallied the Scots to in Braveheart—“They can never take away our freedom”? Is it the kind of freedom George Bush said was the desire of every human heart and the responsibility of the United States to provide for Iraq and Afghanistan? Is it the freedom of women to choose what to do with their bodies? Is it the freedom of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”? Is it the freedom to just pack up our toys and go to another church or another denomination because we don’t like the way things are going?

The freedom Christ sets us free towards is none of these things. “For freedom Christ has set us free,” Paul says, “therefore through love, become slaves to one another.” It is a contradiction in our ears: you are free to be a slave. The monk who started the Reformation in the 16th century, Martin Luther, put it this way in his famous article on The Freedom of a Christian (1520): “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to no one. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” Freedom towards slavery in love.

It sounds like a contradiction to our ears because of the way we typically think of freedom. This week we will celebrate our independence day, our freedom day—freedom from Britain’s king, from taxation without representation, and from state religion. About a century later we fought our civil war largely over the issue of freedom, namely, freedom for African slaves. And ever since then, our thinking about freedom has been in contrast to slavery.

So when Paul says Christ has set us free, only to make us slaves to one another in love, it just sounds weird. But we have to remember Paul’s perspective. In Paul’s mind, there is good and evil. There is light and darkness. There is living according to the values of “this present evil age” or living according to the Kingdom of God revealed in Christ. In Paul’s economy of either-or, we are either slaves to sin which leads to death, or slaves to righteousness which leads to life (see Romans 6). We are, in other words, slaves to something. We do not belong to ourselves, we are not, in the sense of American history, free.

Except that to be able to make this choice, to be able to choose life instead of death, to be able to choose love over law—this ability to choose, this freedom to choose, is a gift God has given us in Christ. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit. This world was enslaved to sin and death, and so God sent an “army of one” to fight the war of our independence. God saw us in slavery to our passions and worldly desires, and so God fought a cosmic civil war for our freedom.

The sacrifices of these battles for freedom are great. They begin with Jesus’ death on the Cross, and they continue today in the daily sacrifice of ourselves. We have been freed to choose life over sin and death. We have been freed to choose light over darkness, forgiveness over resentment, generosity over greed, contentment over competition. We have been set free to love God and others over loving ourselves.

The stakes are high. God set us free in Christ to serve one another in love. God did this so that we would discover our true selves. For if we love only ourselves, we lose ourselves. “Whoever wants to find his life,” Jesus said, “must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” We only discover who God created us to be, a child of God, only in the freedom of loving one another in service. If we do not exercise our freedom to love God and others over loving ourselves, we cannot be Christ’s disciples. And for this freedom, this freedom to love, this freedom to become slaves to one another, Christ has set us free.

An elephant born in captivity is kept in place by a shackle chained to a stake in the ground. As the baby elephant grows and tries to leave, it struggles against that chain and discovers it cannot move. Eventually the elephant stops trying. It becomes so habituated to its lack of freedom, that when it is grown, you can untether the chain and the elephant will not try to leave. It is free, but it does not exercise its freedom. It still thinks it is chained.

Many of us are not living into the freedom for which Christ as set us free. We are still bearing the bad fruits of sin and death, instead of the good fruit of the Spirit. This is not how it has to be. We are Christians since the Spirit of God lives in us. We are joined to Christ’s death and resurrection in baptism. We remember the war for our freedom every time we gather at this table.

Paul says we are slaves, either to sin and death, or to life in God. To be a Christian is to confess Christ as Lord, not some other master as lord. We make that confession by the power of the Holy Spirit. I invite you to make that confession today. Make it with your lips in prayer, with your heart in desire, you’re your mind in decisions that love others, and with your body in service to others.

And when the other master comes calling, you say, “No, I am free in Christ.” When envy tells you you are less because you have less, you say, “No, I am free in Christ.” When despair tells you to stop trying because you’ll never make a difference, you say, “No, I am free in Christ.” When the pursuit of happiness tells you your satisfaction is found in the next purchase, you say, “No, I am free in Christ.” When grief tells you what is lost can never be found, you say, “No, I am free in Christ.” When your familiar temptation comes calling again, you say, “No, I am free in Christ.” When self-preservation tells you to serve others after you’ve served yourself a little longer, you say, “No, I am free in Christ.”

The whole of scripture is summed up in this commandment, Love your neighbor. Don’t be the elephant any longer. Don’t just be a free American this week. Be a free Christian. Take up your Cross of love, serve one another with your freedom. “For freedom Christ has set us free.”

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