Absolutely Free! (Galatians 5:13-18)
The worldwide cry of this year is "Freedom!" Walls have fallen, structures of political slavery are crumbling, and instead of tyranny, liberty triumphs. No subject today compels more interest than political and economic revolution. Individual freedom calls for spiritual revolution.
Individuals can never be free under constraint of ceremonies, rites, and rituals required to please God. Individuals can be free when by faith they trust Jesus Christ alone for salvation. The Galatian Christians began with trust in Christ alone, but they were being seduced back into spiritual slavery of ritual and ceremony to please God.
You can be absolutely free by faith in Christ alone when you walk by the Spirit.
Christ Calls Us to Freedom
The call of the Christ is to spiritual liberty, not bondage. Every single believer without exception has the inalienable right of spiritual freedom in Christ. Regardless of what others impose by way of ceremony or ritual, you are absolutely free in Christ. God's "call" to salvation is a call to personal freedom.
The "Jew-makers" were a group of first-century Christians who hounded Paul's steps. They insisted that new Gentile Christians submit themselves to ritual circumcision. Unless a man were willing to undergo such painful surgery as a ritual, the "Jew-makers" refused him the grace of God. In the face of this, Paul cried "Free by faith in Christ alone."
The content of Christian freedom is both a deliverance and positive gift. What is Christian freedom? The Christian is free from the tyranny within—the guilt and power of sin (Rom. 6:18) and an accusing conscience (Heb. 10:22). The Christian is free from the wrath of God above him (Rom. 5:1) and the tyranny of Satan (2 Tim. 2:26). The Christian is also free from the curse of striving to achieve his own righteousness (Gal. 5:16).
Freedom raises a concern. Freedom always produces a crisis. Freedom affords both danger and opportunity. The danger: "Do not use your freedom to indulge in the sinful nature" (v. 13a). A prisoner set free may live productively or return to crime. Even so, the Christians freedom must not become a springboard or pretext to indulge the flesh. The removal of wrath and law must not lead us to irresponsibility. The end of legalism must not be the beginning of license.
The cure for this concern is a life of mutual, reciprocal servanthood in love: "rather, serve one another in love" (v. 13b). The danger of our new freedom in Christ evaporates under the sunlight of mutual affection, tenderness, and genuine sympathy. In fact, the entire law of God can be condensed and fulfilled in one short sentence: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (v. 14). When this principle dominates life, Christian liberty does not become license and libertinism.
Christ Calls Us to Freedom Within Conflict
Christian freedom does not mean the absence of conflict. We are in a lifelong, close-ordered conflict with the appetites that reside in our flesh. Christian freedom does give us a way to win most of the time.
The method of Christian victory is positive: "Live by the Spirit" (v. 16). The legalistic method screams a negative "Thou shalt not" and is then powerless to help us. The law lames us and then damns us for limping! Christ says, "Thou shalt" and gives us His Spirit to enable us. The Spirit is ours. We are to walk habitually in the Spirit. "Walk" (KJV) implies continuation, action, and progress in yielding to the Spirit.
Only the living can expel the dead. When we walk by the Spirit, we will not fulfill the strong desires in our flesh. It takes the tender leaves of the springtime to rid the oak tree of last autumn's withered foliage. When we walk by the Spirit we can utterly crush the flesh every time it raises its head.
The manner of Christian victory is a lifelong battle. If there is no battle, there is no life. The Christian's life is a constant conflict between two natures within. Flesh and Spirit are not distant enemies but in face-to-face conflict in every believer's life.
The good news is this: the Christian wins most of the time: "You do not do what you want" (v. 17). This is not a word of despair but of hope. Self and its desires can be conquered when you live by the Spirit. The winners in the Christian conflict are those who yield consciously to the Spirit, subjecting every impulse to the Spirit's mastery. Then it is no longer I that lives but Christ living in me (see Gal. 2:20). This does not eradicate your identity. You are never more you than when you are His.