Galatians 5:1, 13-25
I. It will be a struggle
II. We will be led by the Holy Spirit.
In college I had the opportunity to take a history course on the American Revolution. It was a fascinating study. Those people fought and died to gain their freedom from England. The last thing they would have done after the war would have been to give up their freedom. A few years ago I was in New Orleans and visited the D-Day museum. After being reminded of what those soldiers sacrificed to win those beaches, the last thing they would have done after D Day would be to retreat and give up the ground they had fought so hard to free from the control of Nazi Germany. This idea of freedom and holding onto our freedom is certainly something that is breed into Americans. It is a good thing to celebrate and be thankful for it on a regular basis as we have had opportunity to do this past week.
But we know this freedom does not compare to the freedom we have in Christ Jesus. We know that Christ has freed us from our enemies and has given us the eternal blessings of his work, an eternity in heaven where we will be forever free from sin and death and the devil. Galatians 5:1 is really a rally cry for the Christian. Paul writes, “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.” We did not fight for our freedom. Christ did. None of us had to die to get it, but Christ did. None of us could earn it, but Christ gave it. Since this is the most precious freedom we could ever have let’s use these verses to be encouraged to stand firm in our freedom; recognizing that it will be a struggle but rejoicing that we will be led by the Holy Spirit.
The struggle to stand in our freedom is between the sinful nature in us and the new person in us who wants to live for Christ. That struggle goes on in and around us. Paul describes the struggle around us in verse 13, “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. 14 The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” We have been freed to show love to all and the struggle is to show that love toward fellow believers and to those outside of the faith.
Jesus summed up this struggle by saying, love God and love your neighbor. Here Paul is talking specifically about our neighbors. He assumes the love of God is already there and that we will struggle to stand in our freedom when it comes to relationships. The natural inclination is to live for our self at all costs. That is why as Paul says we bite and devour each other. We are freed to show love, but we are not free to treat people anyway we want. Here is the struggle to stand in this freedom that Christ won.
Who do you think is easier to get along with, believers or unbelievers? We have been set free to love both, whether our neighbor is a believer or unbeliever. It will be a struggle with both but which is easier? We expect unbelievers to be losing and in fact not struggling. But we expect believers to be active in their struggle to stand firm in their freedom. When they don’t act that way it can be hard to get along with them. When we don’t act that way it can be hard to get along with us. It can be easy to bite at and devour each other with unkind words and unrealistic expectations. We can really struggle to stand in our freedom to forgive and show love to one another. When two sinful human beings are struggling for the same thing, we can expect some conflict.
But on the other hand we can also expect there to be some godly resolution. We can expect believers to work together to stand in their freedom. We can expect that when believers hear and study the Word of God together we will willingly admit our sin and join together to thank God for our Savior. We can expect that when believers use the sacraments we will rejoice in our common faith and work together to keep our promises to each other, like the promises we made this morning to pray for that child and his parents who brought him to be baptized. Paul describes the help that the Spirit gives us to stand firm in that freedom. “6 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.”
Living by the Spirit is using the tools that the Holy Spirit has given us; the word and the sacraments. Living by the Spirit is praying that he would work on and change our hearts through those means of grace. Living by the Spirit is applying that powerful Word to every situation and relationship in our lives. It will be a struggle to stand firm in our freedom to love and serve, but we will be led by the Holy Sprit through the Word and we will be enabled by that word to stand firm in our freedom. We don’t need the law to force us. We have been freed by Jesus and love to show our thanks by struggling against sin and serving each other and our Savior in love.
The people in Galatia were struggling to stand in their freedom. They had real relational issues. They did not stand so firmly. But the struggle was not so much of an external one. It was and still is internal. This is where the struggle is the fiercest for us. We may go through the motions. We may appear to be standing in our freedom to love and serve, but what is going on with our motives and attitudes in our hearts? There is a struggle, not only to say and do the right things, but to think and be motivated rightly.
This fierce battle has clear lines. Listen to how Paul describes this. “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
There are those in our county that define freedom by allowing people to chose for themselves what it means to be free. But God’s Word has the final say. Paul is so clear in these verses and you would think we would recognize this distinction and stand firm in the freedom from sin that Christ won for us. You would think, but you would be mistaken. We often blur the lines and go back to slavery to sin.
A few years ago I met a woman who had been in a terrible marriage. She was abused physically and mentally. She finally got away and was freed from that relationship. But I could not believe that she went back to it. I remember asking her what she was thinking. She was convinced that it would be different. It was not. About that same time I met a man who had lost his family and his job because of alcoholism. He knew the dangers of drinking and he knew what he had lost. He would still slip back into drinking. I remember asking him what he was thinking. I could not believe he would go back to that slavery.
Counselors will say that this sort of behavior is somewhat predictable when you deal with addicts and people who are so used to abuse that they think it is normal, or convince themselves that it will change and they can control it. After they have been freed, they will go back. They lose the battle to stand firm in their new freedom. We have some personal experiences with these struggles. We have some personal experience when it comes to going back to sin. We know the cost. We know where it leads, but we go back, maybe not on the outside, but on the inside. We give into that struggle against envy and jealously. We give into that struggle against sexual immorality and impurity. We do this, even though we know that continuing to live that way causes us to forfeit the freedom that we have and the eternal home in the kingdom of God that has been given to us. Why in the world would we do it?
We do it because the sinful nature in us is in constant conflict with the fruit that the Spirit is trying to produce in us. This will always be a struggle and we will lose. But the Holy Spirit leads us into the fight. He enables us to produce fruit by reminding us of our freedom. He does that in verses 24 & 25, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Our sinful nature has been crucified with Christ. When he died all our sin was laid on him and all our sin was paid for by him. We have been set free. God promised that to us and God keeps reminding us of it. It is through these promises that the Holy Spirit helps us to stand firm in our freedom to show love, even when it comes to our thoughts and motives.
Those people who fought and sacrificed for our freedom in this country and those who continue to fight for it and sacrifice for it maybe have a better understanding of it than those who just enjoy it. There were times during the American Revolution that it looked like the British would win. The colonists did not have the training or the arms that the British did. They lost a lot of battles. During the winter of 1777 & 78 at Valley Forge the army was in shambles. But they attacked on Christmas day and won a victory. This battle and other factors started turning the war in their favor. Having had to struggle fiercely for it, they stood firm in that freedom.
We never had to struggle to get the freedom, but we struggle to hold on to it. The Holy Spirit leads us in this struggle by showing us the terrible consequences of our sin when we don’t struggle and when we feel we are losing the struggle he assures us that we belong to Christ and our sins were nailed to the cross on him. The Holy Spirit points us to the struggle Jesus made to save us and the victory he gave us. Now as Paul says, since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”
This week we have celebrated our American freedom. It does us good to remember and give thanks for the cost that was paid and is paid to maintain that freedom. This helps us stand firm. But always stand firm in the freedom Christ won. There was never a doubt. He won his struggle. We are freed from sin and its terrible eternal consequences. We will struggle, but being led by the Spirit, we will overcome because it is God who works in us to fight against sin and stand firm in our freedom. God help us to stand firm. Amen.
Pastor Matt Brown
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church (WELS) of Union City, Tennessee, Rooted in the WORD