1It 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.(Galatians 5:1 NIV)
These are Paul’s provocative words. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” My question this morning is, “Free from what?” If you were to take a sample poll of the fashion and culture mavens at the local mall then you would gather dramatically different data than if you polled the local priests. If you left the cathedrals and made your way to city hall you would gather still different data. With pen and pad in hand approach the local activists or call your local chapter of the A.C.L.U. and your information would take another turn. Free from what? Just what are we free from? Has Christ come to set us free from government oppression, religious repression, and sexual apprehension? Has Jesus come so that we can throw away the boundaries and live life like we want? Has Christ come to set us free from the pornographer, the drug dealer, and the innocence stealer? Christ has come to set us free, but free from what? This is what I want us to talk about today as we study Galatians 5:1.
For the past four chapters of Galatians we have been getting hammered by the Apostle’s warning to resist the pull of the false teachers who desire to enslave us with the call to goodness rather than an absolute submission to grace. There is a huge difference between “goodness” and “grace” my friends. Those who choose the path of goodness expend all of their energy and efforts on being good, doing good things, and ultimately end up comparing their goodness to the goodness of others – which is an expression of slavery in itself.
On the other hand, there is a call that cries out from the heavens – the call of grace. Grace is as different from goodness as day is to night or the desert to the sea. The call of grace is a call to confession, submission, surrender, and salvation. Ultimately, the call to grace is a call to freedom. In Galatians 5:1, Paul writes, 1It 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.(Galatians 5:1 NIV)
I want to take a minute to help you understand the kind of freedom that Christ affords to those who surrender to His grace and mercy. The Greek word for “freedom” is the word, “evleuqeri,a”(eleutheria). The word is found eleven times in the Greek New Testament and it means, “the state of being free.” Freedom is the opposite of slavery or bondage. Freedom in Christ is alife rescued from spiritual and moral wrongdoing. Freedom in Christ is freedom from being dominated by binding scruples and self-righteousness.
Where the Lord is there is freedom! Where the Lord is rejected there is bondage, enslavement, and servitude of every sort known to man. Isn’t it interesting that in this period of so-called cultural freedom — we have never been so bound and enslaved! Our society cries out for freedom, but as the boundary lines are slowly being removed we are experiencing an increase in slavery at epic proportions. Slavery to our desires, slavery to bondage of every kind, and for the religious among us – slavery to self-righteousness. My friend, Jesus came to set us free from everything that would seek to make us its servant so that we would be free to serve Him alone!
Many in our nation want to rid themselves of every vestige of faith to that they can do what they want and be free. The truth is that until Christ comes in to our hearts we are slaves and do not even have the ability to choose God’s ways over the ways of destruction and death. For others, likeSt. Augustine, Christ brings us freedom and this freedom gives us the ability to choose the will of God, to choose the good, and to live life in the framework that God has given us, a life of selfless love. Augustine used a phrase to sum up this idea, and that is, “Love God and do what you want.”
The great Bible teacher, Warren Wiersbe, once wrote,
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.
That, my friend, is the freedom that God desires for all of His people! Paul used the same word for freedom in 2 Corinthians where writes,
17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.(2 Corinthians3:17NIV)
Where the Lord is there is freedom! Not freedom to cast off restraint and do whatever we want, but the freedom to live an unencumbered life, casting off everything that would hold us down and hold us back from knowing the best that God has for us. Paul used the same word again in Galatians 5:13 when he wrote,
13You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.(Galatians5:13NIV)
“ Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature.” That sounds a lot like what Peter wrote in his epistle. Turn with me to 1 Peter2:16and let’s read together.
16Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.(1 Peter2:16NIV)
You know what is interesting about this verse? Peter says, “Live as free men…live as servants of God.” When Peter says, “Live as servants of God,” the word he uses for “servants” is the word for “bondman” or “slave.” The Greek word, “dou/loj”(doulos), means, “slave, bondman, one who gives himself up to another’s will, devoted to another to the disregard of one’s own interests.” The word is used over and over again of those who are either shackled in sin or surrendered to the grace of God. There is no middle ground. You can’t be free from sin and free from God! In the words of that great American theologian, Bob Dylan, “you’re gonna have to serve somebody!”
You see my friend you and I were born as servants. We were born as slaves to sin. Some of you are probably thinking, “I’m not a bad person. I don’t cheat, steal, or lie. I’ve never been convicted of a crime. I drive the speed limit. I’m at church this morning aren’t I? What kind of person do you think I am?” Sin is not so much what we do as much as it is who we are. From fresh water wells come fresh water. Nobody would ever dip a bucket into the ocean and expect to pull out a bucket of fresh water. Nobody would expect to gather vegetables from a hen house or pick eggs from apple trees. What you are has a direct correlation with what you produce. You and I are sinners so we produce sin. Because we are sinners – we sin. Christ came to set us free! We no longer have to be slaves to sin; we can now be slaves to God because of what Jesus has done for us. Paul wrote about our predicament and our deliverance in Romans 7.
21So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.22For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;23but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?25Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!(Romans 7:21-25 NIV)
Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord we are free to choose God’s ways, God’s will, and God’s best for our lives! We are free to become servants of the living God. Paul wrote,
22But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.23For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.(Romans 6:22-23 NIV)
Slavery to sin leads to death, but serving God leads to holiness and eternal life. As we serve God He molds us and shapes us into His image. He reproduces His character, His mercy, His holiness, and His attributes in each of us. Paul echoed the same teaching when he wrote,
15What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!16Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted.18You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.(Romans 6:15-18 NIV)
Tonja Myles knows all about slavery and freedom. When she was 7 years old, Tonja was molested by someone who was a slave to their own twisted desires. Tonja says, “Ever since that molestation, I was messed up. I didn’t think a whole lot about myself. I thought I was nothing.”
By her late teens, Tonja was into drugs, drug dealing, and prostitution. That led to her two abortions. Eventually, suicide became the most attractive escape from her life of torment. Tonja says,
I had so much stuff against me, and I didn’t know I had an advocate. I didn’t realize I could be forgiven and that my life could change, so for the second or third time, I tried to kill myself. I went out and got as high as I could, and I said this would be the last birthday I’d ever celebrate. Thank God for a praying grandmother. To this day, I don’t know how I got to her house. I remember knocking on her door saying, ‘He’s trying to kill me! He’s trying to kill me!’ She said, ‘Who?’ I said, ‘The devil is trying to kill me!’ She said, ‘If you give your life over to the Lord, He will turn your life around.’
That moment was the moment of freedom for Tonja Myles. She was no longer a servant of drugs, prostitution, and suicide, but she was, at that moment, a servant of God. That was seventeen years ago. Today Tonja is living in the wild abandon of servanthood — servitude to the Savior! Tonja says,
God set me free 17 years ago. I made a vow to Him that if He would set me free and give me my life back, I would give Him my life in return and see as many people set free from addiction or tell as many people as I could that addiction is not the way. This is all I know: I’ve tried everything–men, drugs, alcohol, pills–you name it, I have tried it all. This is it. This is the real deal. I will go to my grave telling people that.
Today, Tonja is a full time servant of God in the ministry that He founded through her passion to reach others dying in servitude to sin. Set Free Ministries seeks to reach others who are burdened down in the same way that Tonja was just seventeen years ago. During President Bush’s 2003 “State of the Union” address he invited Tonja to sit in the seat of honor and he honored this servant of God before the nation! Summing up her ministry Tonja says,
The same God that delivered me can deliver them. There’s nothing too hard for Him. All they have to do is trust Him and give their lives over to Him and I know He can take their lives and begin again. They can become a new creature in Christ, like I did. We believe what the Word of God says in John 8:36: ‘Whom the Son has set free is free indeed’.
Jesus is in the business of setting people free! Jesus came so that you and I could be free to know God, to know the blessings that only He can bring to broken and shattered lives, and to empower us to share His freedom with others.
The problem that is most imposing for us today, as we are confronted with the mission of the Church, is that many of us who have been set free have forgotten just how shackled and enslaved we once were, and how vulnerable we still are to slipping back into the shackles all over again.
Ramon and Monica had both been raised in Christian homes. When they married they knew that God had a plan for their marriage. They raised their kids, wonderful kids, in a Christian home. They took them to Sunday school and church every Sunday. They read the Bible to their kids at night before they went to bed. When the kids got old enough to go to school they made sure they were enrolled in a Christian school, even though Ramon had to take another job to pay the tuition. Ramon and Monica were one blessed couple!
Ramon and Monica lived next door to their very best friends, Rudy and Consuelo. They attended the same Sunday school class and were raising their kids, who were about the same ages of Monica and Ramon’s kids. When Rudy and Consuelo’s oldest son, Miguel, entered high school he began to rebel. Miguel started smoking dope and his parents were heartsick. Ramon and Monica were so supportive. They told Rudy and Consuelo that they were praying for them and they often asked how Miguel was doing. The support that Ramon and Monica offered Consuelo and Rudy when they were in their presence was far different from the conversations they had as they laid in their bed at night. They were harsh, critical of the way they parented their children, and self-righteous about their own kids…then it happened.
Two years later, Ramon and Monica’s daughter, Sylvia, came into her parent’s bedroom one night while her mother was folding clothes and said, “Mom, I need to talk.” It was obvious that Sylvia was ashamed, embarrassed, and then she began to cry. When Sylvia told her mother that she was pregnant it was a shock that nobody could have prepared her for. What would they do? How would they tell their friends at church? All of the self-righteousness and “goodness” of Monica and Ramon’s life crumbled with two little words – “I’m pregnant.”
When Monica and Ramon talked later that night they couldn’t figure it out. They had given Sylvia their best. They had made sure that she wasn’t around “bad” kids. They had sent her to a Christian school. They couldn’t figure out how their daughter had gotten pregnant.
Proverbs tells us that “pride comes before the fall.” God did not save us so that we could be saved from “bad” people. God didn’t save us so that we could live sequestered in stained glass away from the hurts and heartaches of the world. God has sent His Son to set us free so that we could step out of the shackles of slavery and help share the message of freedom with others who are shackled and dying apart from the saving grace of our Savior!
InIsraelthe people of God were smug and sold out to the rituals of religion. They thought that if they did what they were supposed to do, regardless of whether or not it was from the heart or merely a religious routine, then they would be right with God. They were in theTempleevery time the doors swung open. They paid their tithes on time, and made sure everyone knew it. They fasted at the prescribed times, even if they never gave God a thought during their fast. They knew the Torah like the back of their hand, but they didn’t know the heart of God. They were religious people, but they weren’t righteous people, not by any stretch of the imagination. They weren’t right with their neighbors or right with God. With the atmosphere so thick with religion a prophet stepped onto the scene and cried out, “Thus saith the Lord!” Listen to these powerful words, these words that shatter self-righteousness and call the people of God to freedom found only in surrendering to the ways and will of God. Isaiah speaks for God when he writes,
6“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? 8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you,and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. 9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. 11 The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. 12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.(Isaiah 58:6-12 NIV)
The Body of Christ, the Church, today has lost its way. We have heard the message of freedom, but we are convinced that it is just for “us.” You know “us.” We are the good people. We are the noble people who do right, act right, and have children who act right as well. We are the ones who don’t cause waves, raise a ruckus, or stir the waters. I declare to you that it is time for the Body of Christ to raise a ruckus, upset the apple cart, and swim upstream for a change.
You may think that is pretty radical talk coming from a preacher. I mean, after all, aren’t preachers supposed to be nice and tame, meek and mild, docile and domesticated? I have no desire to be domesticated, but I do yearn to be obedient to the mission that has been handed down to us by our King.
Jesus called one of the most despised men in town to be one of His disciples. When Levi heard the call, he was so excited that he threw a huge party at his house. When you are a despised man then most of your friends would fit that description as well. Momma was right, “Birds of a feather flock together.” That didn’t seem to bother Jesus though. In Luke’s Gospel we read about the party that Levi threw for Jesus. Turn with me to Luke5:29and let’s read together.
29Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. 30But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” 31Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’(Luke 5:29-32 NIV)
If Levi, the despised and hated tax collector, was welcome in Jesus’ presence then the most despised person in this city should be welcome in the house of God.
I remember a time when a minister asked me to share with him the vision that God had laid upon my heart for this church. I told him that I believe God was calling us to be a lighthouse of hope for all people. He said, “It can’t be done.” I asked what he meant. He said, “You can’t build a church in this neighborhood because there is no money.” Is that where we are? If it is then we need to be set free!
Jesus didn’t come to build huge edifices or ornately decorated buildings – He came to set the captives free! You may be enslaved this morning to drugs, alcohol, greed, sex, or self-righteousness, but you need to know that “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free!” You may be the most respected businessman in town or the most admired woman at the country club, but underneath what others are saying about you there are chains following you through life. You need to know that “It was for freedom that Christ has set us free!” Jesus knows your heart. He knows what others don’t know about you. He doesn’t care what others think of you, how you turn their heads when you walk by, He wants to set you free – “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free!” You may be the most reviled man or woman in your neighborhood. You may have a record down at county as long as your arm. The guilt of what you’ve done has weighed you down till you feel like you can’t lift your chin off the floor. You need to know that “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free!” You may only be a school boy or school girl, but already you’ve developed a reputation – a reputation that either has you looking down your pointed nose at others or dropping your eyes in shame. You need to know that “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free!”
I want to invite you this morning to cast off the shackles of slavery to everything and anything that would seek to hold you back from God’s best for you. Won’t you invite Jesus into your heart so that you can know the freedom that serving Him, and Him alone, can bring?