Living in Liberty
It was on March 23, 1775, a group of men met at St. John’s church in Richmond VA to decide whether or not to go to war. They were like men of all times—fathers, husbands, brothers, sons. But they were also men who stood at a crucial crossroads of history. Most of them were peace-loving people, and some were willing to do almost anything to keep the peace—even if it meant compromise with a tyrant. But one man, a son of Scottish immigrants, hears enough of this kind of talk, and finally stands and addresses the assembly with these bold words: “There is a just God who presides over the destines of nations… The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave…Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.”
These words, spoken by Patrick Henry, ignited a thirst for freedom that would eventually bring liberty to the new nation called the United States of America. This Friday will be another celebration of our freedom that Henry was willing to give his life for. It is a good time to thank God for the freedoms we enjoy because we are citizens of this great country.
But it’s also a good time to remember there is more to being free than just being an American. Our freedom as Americans was bought by the blood of patriots who lived out Patrick Henry’s motto, but there is a greater freedom bought by the blood of Christ, a freedom that is worth fighting for, a freedom not to do what we want, but to do what is right. It is this freedom I want us to take a closer look at tonight, because this freedom is part of the abundant life Jesus says He came to earth to give us. The apostle Paul writes about this freedom in a passage which has been called the Bible’s “declaration of independence” found in Gal. 5:1-15. Let’s begin in vs. 1-6 and see what God’s Word tells us about living in liberty.
Living in liberty begins by understanding that
I. CHRIST GIVES US LIBERTY (v. 1-6)
The liberty we enjoy as a nation is a gift, given to us by those who have proved Patrick Henry’s words with their lives. From the patriots of the American Revolution to the men and women fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, our freedom is a gift purchased with blood.
Paul writes that our spiritual liberty was also purchased with the blood of Christ when he writes in v. 1 about …the liberty by which Christ has made us free…
The Bible makes it clear Jesus Christ gave His life to liberate us from the penalty and power of sin, so we can enjoy the freedom of forgiveness and the freedom from slavery to sin. But in the book of Galatians, Paul focuses on the fact that Christ died to liberate us from the law.
The problem in the church at Galatia was a group of false teachers who want to mix a recipe for salvation which includes faith, grace, and law. Yes, it’s important you receive salvation as a gift from God, they say, yes it’s important that you believe the Gospel, but it’s not enough. You need to also be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses. Basically, they were saying you must become a Jew before you can be accepted by God.
Paul uses some very strong language in vs. 2 & v. 4 to reject these teachings. His words sound a little extreme, especially coming from a former Pharisee! Yet Paul has learned one very important thing: Salvation is not based on what we do, but on what Christ has done.
He’s not saying what you do doesn’t matter, but he is saying your relationship with God is not based on your performance, but on His grace. Christ died on the Cross to liberate us from a works-based religion so we can live in a faith-based relationship.
Over and over the Bible backs Paul’s words here.
Jn 6:28-29 28Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” 29Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”
Ro 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Eph 2:8-9 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9not of works, lest anyone should boast.
All these verses make it very clear that we cannot earn God’s acceptance by our performance. But that doesn’t keep us from trying.
So many want so badly to add something we can do to earn God’s acceptance. You’ve got to be baptized. You’ve got to join the church. You’ve got to keep our list of rules and regulations if you want God to love you, if you want to go to heaven.
Nothing wrong with any of these things, unless you use them to try to earn God’s grace. It is then they become chains that will keep you from experiencing God’s love for you.
Jesus died to set you free from all your frantic attempts to earn God’s acceptance. He says God accepts you because of His grace and your faith. Period. Nothing more, nothing less. You are free to enjoy God’s salvation and love not because of what you’ve done for Him, but because of what He has done for you.
A theologically incorrect tale makes this point well:
A man comes to the gates of heaven and is met by St. Peter. "What do I have to do to get in?" Peter says, "It takes a thousand points to get into heaven. What have you done?"
The man begins to recite his accomplishments: "I went to church every Sunday, attended every prayer meeting and fellowship dinner, read my Bible each morning and shared the gospel with everyone I met. What is more, I tithed 10% of all I made, sang in the choir, cooked Thanksgiving turkeys for the Senior Citizen's dinner and I even taught the 7th grade boys’ VBS! "
For two hours he went on reciting an awesome list of all he had done for God. Peter looked at with love and said, "That's very impressive! All of that adds up to one point." The guy is flabbergasted! "You mean to tell me that everything I've done, the sweat I've poured, money I've given and time I've spent is only worth a SINGLE POINT?? And it takes ONE THOUSAND to get into heaven? At this rate the only way I’ll get in is by the grace of God!”
“Now you’re on the right track,” Peter says.
Jesus Christ died to liberate you from the law and give you the freedom of His grace. But while we live on earth, this
II. LIBERTY MUST BE DEFENDED. (v. 7-12)
People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf. - George OrwellThere always seems to be a King George, or an Adolph Hitler, or an Osama bin Laden who would love to enslave free people. I suppose that’s why somebody once observed that the price of liberty is constant vigilance. Freedom must not only be enjoyed, but defended.
I think that explains why Paul goes on the attack in these verses.
First he confronts the true Christians in vs. 7.You were running well. Who got you off on the wrong track? You can be sure it wasn’t the Lord! Even the best of us can be led astray if we’re not careful.
A little yeast leavens the whole loaf. (v. 9) This kind of heresy can spread quickly, and infect the whole church! You must deal with it quickly and thoroughly! Nip it in the bud! Stop the infection before it makes the whole body sick!
Reject their heresy, and leave God to deal with them! Turn away from this false teaching, and let God straighten them out---even He has to cut them off! You need to connect Paul’s words here with the idea of circumcision to understand how forcefully he is condemning these false teachers.
Paul leaves no room for compromise when it comes to Christian liberty. This means war! If you’re not willing to stand for your liberty in Christ, you will fall into deception and slavery.
You and I must be willing to defend our liberty!
One of the jobs of a pastor is to defend his flock from false teaching—including the heresy of legalism. This heresy is just as alive today as it was in the first century and we cannot be spiritually healthy if we allow it to blossom in our midst.
But preachers aren’t the only ones called to defend our freedom in Christ. You have the same responsibility.
You have a responsibility to defend your liberty against those who want to lead you into spiritual slavery. Don’t fall for the lies, no matter how spiritual they seem. Legalists can sound so spiritual, so holy, so sincere, but they are still wrong. Don’t let them get you off track.
You have a responsibility to speak up for the truth to your family, your friends, and your brothers and sisters in Christ. I’m not telling you to be obnoxious, but I am saying that God often puts us in situations that call for us not to shut up but to speak up—especially when it may make the difference between truth and lies.
Freedom must be defended, or it will be lost. This is true in the physical world, and it’s true in the spiritual. Jesus Christ died for you to live in the freedom of God’s grace; don’t allow anybody else or anything else to rob you of this freedom. Your freedom cost Him His life; it is too precious to allow some false or foolish preacher or teacher to rob you of it.
President Lyndon Johnson liked to tell a story about a schoolteacher in search of a job. It was during the early days of the Depression, and jobs were hard to come by. The school teacher gave a good account of himself before the school board. He spoke well, and he seemed to know what he was talking about, so the school board asked him a final question: "Well, we think we would like to have you teach for us ... But tell us this: There is some difference of opinion in our community about geography, and we want to know which side you are on. Do you teach that the world is round, or do you teach that the world is flat?" The applicant replied without hesitation, "I can teach it either way."[i]
We don’t need people who can teach it either way—we need believers who stand up and defend the liberty Jesus Christ died on the Cross to give us. Will you be a defender of that liberty?
III. LIBERTY IS NOT BEING ABLE TO DO WHAT YOU WANT, BUT BEING WILLING TO DO WHAT IS RIGHT. (v. 13-15)
Christianity promises to make men free; it never promises to make them independent. - William Ralph Inge
there is one great challenge to living in a free nation such as ours: you hear so many people talking on and on about their “rights” but almost nobody speaking of the responsibilities that come with those rights.
In the same way, it’s easy to focus on the freedoms of being a Christian, while focusing very little on the responsibilities that come with that freedom. This is why Paul stresses that liberty from the law is not license to do as you want, but freedom to do as you ought.
Instead of using our freedom selfishly, Paul calls us to …through love, serve one another..(v. 13) He goes on to say that when you use your freedom as it was intended, you will fulfill the law of God, which is summed up in our human relationships as love your neighbor as yourself. (v. 14)
Do you see the principle here? When you live in the liberty of Christ, you live in the liberty of obedience. God’s grace sets you free to become His obedient child. You enjoy not the freedom to sin, but the freedom to do what pleases Him! This is the deepest, truest freedom you and I can ever enjoy! Warren Wiersbe writes
Freedom does not mean I am able to do whatever I want to do. That's the worst kind of bondage. Freedom means I have been set free to become all that God wants me to be, to achieve all that God wants me to achieve, to enjoy all that God wants me to enjoy. -
Do you see how marvelous our Lord’s ways are? Unsaved people say, “That’s not freedom! I have to do what He wants me to do” and they miss it. Legalists say, “The only way to get people to do what God wants is to make them keep the rules” and they miss it too! But when you and I enjoy this magnificent freedom of God’s grace, we find the most precious liberty anybody has ever known!
A husband and wife didn’t really love each other. The man was very demanding, so much so that he prepared a list of rules for his wife to follow. He insisted she read them over every day and obey them to the letter. Among his “do’s and don’ts” were such details as what time she got up in the morning, when his breakfast should be served, and how the housework should be done. After several long years, the husband died.
As time passed, the woman fell in love with another man and soon they were married. This husband did everything he could to make his new wife happy. One day as she was cleaning house, she found tucked away in a drawer the list of commands from her first husband. As she looked it over, it dawned on her that even though her present husband hadn’t given her any kind of list, she was doing everything her first husband’s list required anyway. She was so devoted to this man, her deepest desire was to please him out of love, not obligation. [ii]
This is the freedom God wants you to have—to obey Him from love, not fear. To do what pleases Him not because you must, but because you want to. This is the greatest freedom.
Give me liberty, or give me death. Patrick Henry’s words are a challenge to all of us not only to live in the liberty of our nation, but to live in the liberty Christ offers to us right now. Are you living in liberty tonight?
[i] Gerald Tomlinson, SPEAKER'S TREASURY OF POLITICAL STORIES, ANECDORES, AND HUMOR (Englewood Cliff, NJ, Prentice Hall
[ii]10,000 Sermon Illustrations, electronic ed. (Dallas: Biblical Studies Press, 2000).