Preached at 9am worship – Sunday 2nd June
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
Bible Reading: Galatians 5:1-26
Last week we spend some time exploring Paul’s letter to Galatians – a letter to this young church who were struggling to work out what they needed to do to be “right with God”
I explained last week that when the apostle Paul had come through the region of Galatia, preached the good news of Jesus, he preached a message of grace and acceptance, many Galatians accepted this message and the church grew.
But when Paul moved on and some Judaziers arrived in town. They told the people that belief was not enough to be made right with God – they also had to follow God’s law and commandments. If they did this, then God would accept them.
The Galatians, not know quite what to believe, started following these laws and preforming the rituals. Paul’s response in the letter was emphatic – “it is clear that no one can ever be right with God by trying to keep the law” (Gal 3:11) and “a person is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal 2:16).
But … I ended last Sunday with this question…
If we say that we believe that people are made right with God through faith and not through good actions or the law, then do we need to do any good actions or follow God’s laws at all?
It is a good question … what is the purpose of the laws of God, such as the 10 commandments, and the other 9000 odd laws listed in the first 5 books of the bible? If we are not made right with God by the law, then what is it purpose?
Well in the last sermon, we heard Paul give two reasons why the law was given to us.
- Firstly he said that the law was helpful in showing us that we need a saviour, that we need the grace, and forgiveness and acceptance of Jesus in our lives
- Secondly, Paul says that the law is like a guide or teacher to help us understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus in our context.
I said at the end of last week that the question about this interaction between our faith in Jesus and the law can be summed up in the phrase “freedom in Christ”. Through faith in Christ we have been given freedom from the law, but what does freedom actually mean in practice?
This is where Paul goes on to look at in Galatians 5. If you have your bible’s here, lets turn to Galatians 5. Paul says in verse 1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
Paul is saying that our faith in Jesus has set us free from the requirements of the law, so don’t back to it. It doesn’t make sense to say we are saved by grace, and also the law. It is either one or the other! To those Galatians who were getting themselves circumcised thinking that it would help them be right with God, Paul says that if you think that part of the law makes you right with God then you are then bound by the whole law.
And if you believe this, then were back to where we were without Christ. What is the point of the cross if the law makes us right with God.
So what is Paul saying in those first 12 verses of chapter 5.
That once we accept Jesus, Paul seems to imply that we don’t have to follow the law? Well… what do you think? Do we as Christian have to follow God’s laws?
No, we don’t.
Do I see some surprised faces out there?
No, because of our faith in Jesus we are made free from the law. We are no longer enslaved by the law.
We do not have to follow the law. We are free from it.
We have freedom in Christ.
But, But … I can hear you thinking.
What about the 10 commandments, thou shall not steal, thou shall not kill, thou shall not commit adultery … do we need to follow those?
No! We are free from the law. If we start to think that we have to do those things to be made right with God then Jesus died for nothing. We are free from the law.
Paul says in Galatians 5:6, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” The law is no more.
So … does that mean we can we do whatever we like? Can we steal, kill and be sexually immoral? … No.
Paul in verse 13 says, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.”
Yes, we have freedom in Christ, but we should not use that freedom to indulge in sinful actions, or things that break God’s law. Actually in verse 16, Paul encourages us to “live by the Spirit”.
Let me go down a tangent for a moment. A little while ago, I was having this really interesting conversation with a person about the Uniting Church. This person was sharing their observation that Uniting Church seemed to be a very open and accepting church. They shared that their experience of church as a young person had been in in a very strict church, a place of rules and judgement. They said, things were very black and white and you were told what you were allowed to do and not allowed to do.
And if you ever broke a rule then you were looked down on, made to feel extremely guilty and sometimes even excluded from things. They said that their observation was that the Uniting Church was not like that – which must be a blessing.
My response was that yes, it is a blessing, but it is also hard because you have to think more. They were a little confused, so I went on to explain that when things are black and white you don’t have to think. You are told what to do. You are told what is right and wrong. You are told how to behave. You don’t have to think.
But I shared in my church … we have a breadth of different understandings and opinion on things … so each time we are faced with a questions or issue or dilemma, we have to think.
We have to put in the hard yards of exploring what the bible says and what people say and how that matches with our experience and tradition and reason.
We need to invest time into listening to each other and learning from each other and being open to having our own ideas challenged and even changed in the process. We need to prayerfully discern a way forwards. We have to think more and that is hard work. It’s true, isn’t it?
I think it is the same with Paul’s comment in Galatians 5. It would be much, much easier if we just had to follow the laws and do what they said. We would know clearly where we stand .. but Paul says that we are free from the law and now live by the spirit. We now live in such a way that honour God’s spirit in us. We have to put in the hard work of working of, as I described it last week, working out what it means to be a follower of Jesus in our own context.
Remember that Paul last week told us that the law can be a teacher or a guide (Galatians 3:24) in working this out … but we need to do the hard work to work out what it means for us to ‘live by the spirit’.
Paul, however, does give some hints in chapter 5 of Galatians on how to live life in the spirit. Paul says that living life in the spirit is about not doing what pleases us (or pleases our human nature) but rather is living in such a way that our thoughts and actions resonate with the Holy Spirit.
In verses 19 and 20 Paul rattles of a list of things that come from our sinful nature … sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissension’s, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. Sounds like an average night out, doesn’t it?
That is not what the Spirit resonates with, the spirit is much more interested in the list from Verses 22 & 23. love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
These lists are not black and white rules to follow – that would make them laws and we are not saved by the law. Rather Paul is challenging us to think about what makes God spirit soar within us. What things make our spirits come alive. The second list. Which is why Paul is saying, live by the spirit.
If those lists are too long, Paul makes it even simpler. In chapter 5, verse 6 Paul writes, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
Then in again in verse 13 & 14, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
For Paul, living a life in the spirit is about living a life of love.
key to all this is love. If we are
living and interacting with the people in our church and community with love,
and the other “fruits of the Spirit”, then we will be becoming the people that
God created us to be.
Paul goes on in Chapter 6. When we live lives of love, Paul tells us that we are to help each other, bear one another’s burdens, and to help those who have gone spiritually off-track – not in any sense of judgement but rather out of love. In verses 7,8 Paul says that we will reap according to what we sow.
When we live lives of love, when we live by the Spirit we find that we as individuals and the people around us become loving, self-giving, liberating, nurturing, uplifting, holy and ultimately it will lead to abundant life.
So a little test to see how much of Galatians you remember.
- What actions must we do to be made right with God? Nothing. (Gal 3:11 – “Clearly no-one is justified before God by the law”)
- How to we become right with God? Have faith in Jesus Christ as Lord of all. (Gal 3:26, “You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus”)
- Do we still have to follow the “letter of the law”? No. (Galatians 5:1 – “Christ has set us free … [from the law]”)
- So what then do we do? Live by the Spirit, we live lives of love. (Gal 5:16, “So I say, live by the Spirit”)
have freedom in Christ, may we live lives that are free …
May we work out what it means to be a follower of Jesus in our context and may our lives be one of love, to the glory of God. Amen.