Sunday, September 17, 2017

[Matt's Messages] "Called To Be Free"

“Called To Be Free”
Galatians: The Truth of the Gospel
September 17, 2017 :: Galatians 5:2-15

We’ve reached the climax of the letter the apostle Paul wrote to the churches in the region of Galatia.

We’ve called this letter a “tornado warning” (after Timothy George).

He has pulled out all of the stops. Paul is really concerned for these people.

Have you felt it as we’ve gone along?

Do you feel how perplexed and vexed and worried and concerned Paul is for these Galatians?

He knows them personally. He brought the gospel of Jesus Christ to them and they received him as a messenger from God.

But they are flirting with a false gospel!

Some trouble-makers, some false teachers, some agitators have infiltrated the Galatian churches and whispered a false gospel in their ears. What is it?

The false brothers have been saying something that sounds good, but really isn’t.

They’ve been saying that believing in Jesus is okay, but to be truly right with God in the end, you need to also take on the Law of Moses.

You need to do the works of the Law to be justified, to be counted righteous before God on the last day.

And, according to the teachers, the next big step in observing the Law is being circumcised.
Were the Galatians circumcised?

No. They were Gentiles. They didn’t grow up with circumcision. They didn’t grow up with the Law like the Jews did.

And these folks have come along like the people in Acts chapter 15 and said, “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” (15:1).

And so the Galatian churches were considering circumcision for their male members.

And word has gotten back to Paul about this, and he’s said, “Oh no! That is NOT the truth of the gospel! I’ve got to write them and warn them that they are in danger.”

And that’s what he’s been doing. Four whole chapters of it.

He’s made various arguments from his own testimony, from his interactions with the apostle Peter, from the Law itself, from the book of Genesis, from the story of Abraham, from the whole-Bible logic of trying and failing to keep the Law versus the paradoxical biblical logic of the Cross. The logic of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Word by word, Paul has been building his case, trying to show the Galatians how foolish it would be to add law-keeping to the foundation of their justification.

It would be going backwards. It would be like going from Son back to Slave.

And last week, his argument culminated in the clarion call of Galatians chapter 5, 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.”

Those words signal that Paul has reached the “therefore section” of his letter.

You know how Paul normally sets up his letters with deep theology at the beginning and then the implications of that deep theology at the end.

I often call it the “So What” section.

If this is true, then so what difference does it make.

Now, Paul has been saying it all along, but he’s going to lay it on thick from here on out.

This is about freedom! And it’s about not getting ensnared and enslaved once again.

Today, I’m going to read to you verses 2 through 15. And here we come to the strongest words that Paul, perhaps, has ever used.

And he uses them in the service of the gospel.

He uses these strong words in the service of gospel freedom.

In verse 13, he says, “You, my brothers, were called to be free.”

That’s our title for this message, “Called To Be Free.”

And he doesn’t mean “Evangelical Free.”

He means free of the Law, free of Lawkeeping, free from the Law’s authority and the Law’s demands and the Law’s condemnation. Because of Jesus!

We are called to be free.

In my line of work, I end up going to a lot of funerals.

I have led a bunch of funerals, at least 75, and I’ve attended a lot more than that.

What do you want said at your funeral?

When you’re down there in the casket, and the preacher or someone is up here making a speech about you.

You hear a lot of strange things said at funerals.

As someone tries to sum up a life in just a few words.

I often hear someone say, “He was a good man. She was a good woman. He did many good things. He would give you the shirt of his back. God would be wrong if he kept this good citizen out of heaven. She was a very religious person. The church owes her a lot. She did what God said to do. She lived like God said to live. There’s no question where she is today. She’s in a better place because she did good.”

You know what that’s like?

That’s like saying, “I know he’s in heaven today because he was circumcised.”

What do you want said at your funeral? About you and heaven.

Do you want them to say, “He sure did life good. He has surely obligated God to reward him with eternal life. He was a great man!”?

Or do you want them to say, “He trusted in a great Savior!”?

What do you want God to say?

Forget the people at your funeral. What do you want God’s verdict to be on your life?

That’s what Paul is talking about. That’s the stakes here.

Paul is going to issue an incredibly strong warning. He starts with “mark my words.”  “Behold, I Paul say to you.”

He’s using all of that apostolic authority that we learned about back in chapter 1, and he’s using it all right now.

And he’s using it to say in very strong terms what he said 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.”

Don’t go back.

In other words, don’t allow yourselves to be circumcised by these false teachers and begin trusting in your law-keeping for your justification. V.2

“Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.”

King James, “Christ shall profit you nothing.”

And that’s with God!

If the people at your funeral say, “He was circumcised, that’s what he was trusting in,” if you say to God at your judgment, “I was circumcised, that’s what I was trusting in...” then Christ will be of no value to you at all.

“Oh, oh, oh. I believed in Jesus, too!”

I was a Christian.

I believe He died on the Cross for our sins and all that stuff.

But I had to do my part!

So I got circumcised. And I began to the keep the Law.

Doesn’t that make me right with God?”

“If you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.”

Not one little bit.

Do you see what’s at stake here?

This is not a little thing.

The false teachers probably said, “snip, snip, no big deal. Now you’re good.”

But Paul says it’s the just the opposite.

Now, is circumcision bad?

No. Paul was circumcised himself, wasn’t he? He’s not against being circumcised.

He’s against taking on the sign of the Old Covenant in your flesh as a sign that you are taking on the Mosaic Law and promising to keep it and trusting in keeping it for your right relationship with God. And telling everybody else that they have to do it, too!

Apparently, they haven’t yet gone this far. At least, as far as Paul has heard.

So he’s trying to stop them from going there. He says that it won’t help them one bit. In fact, it will make their spiritual situation much worse. V.3

“Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.”

I don’t know if they’re telling you this or not. They might be keeping it from you.

But I’m telling you. If you go this route, you are taking on the whole law, and nobody, but Jesus, has ever been successful at keeping the whole Law.

You are just heaping up condemnation on yourself if you go down this road. And it gets worse. V.4

“You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”

If you go down this road, then you are cut off. And not just your foreskin.

You are cut off from Jesus Christ.

You will be out of the sphere of grace.

Because you’re choosing Law over grace.

Don’t go there!

Paul would just absolutely hate it if any of the people he loved took that road.

Don’t go there!

I would hate it if this was said at my funeral.

“He was a very religious man, and he was severed from Christ. He fell away from grace.”

“He believed the wrong gospel. He believed the gospel of Jesus plus his good works.”

“He believed that believing in Jesus was not good enough.”

“He had to add to the mix.”

Woe to the one whom that is said at their funeral, or much worse, in the courts of heaven.

“You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”

Don’t go there!



“But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.”

Isn’t that a glorious sentence?!

Notice how the pronouns change. He changes from “you” those people who are maybe going the wrong direction, to “we” and he gives us the gospel.

“But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.”

Salvation is by faith, not by works, so that we cannot boast.

Salvation is by faith, our trusting in Jesus’ work on the Cross.

Giving us the righteousness that we need.

Both now in present justification and someday soon in final justification.

I think that’s what he means by “the righteousness for which we hope,” or the “hope of righteousness.”

That could mean the hope that comes from the righteousness we have in Christ. Because that’s a real thing.

But I think it actually means the righteousness, the right standing with God that we will have on that day. The true righteousness and the visible righteousness of Christ that we are will be clothed with on the last day.

We’re waiting for it!

That doesn’t come from our works.

That comes from Jesus’ work on the Cross and the Spirit’s work of faith in our hearts.

“But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.”

That’s the gospel! That’s how it works!

Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ’s righteousness alone now and forever. V.6

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

Notice that he doesn’t say we should boast in being NOT circumcised either.

You can’t trust in your uncircumcision either.

What counts in Christ is FAITH.

Do you have faith?

And is your faith in Christ alone?

Don’t leave here today with that question unsettled.

Here’s what I want said at my funeral, “This man was trusting, not in himself, but in Christ Jesus. This man was eagerly awaiting (not in his own strength but through the Holy Spirit, this man was eagerly awaiting) the righteousness for which he hoped.”

“And his faith expressed itself through love.”

“His faith worked by love.

His faith was the root and love was the fruit.

He didn’t trust in his life of love, but he had one. His love came from his trust in Jesus Christ.”

Paul is going to say more about that in a few more verses.

But he’s got a few more strong words to say. V.7

“You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?”

You were good off the blocks. Why did you let that guy into your lane?

“Who has bewitched you?” Right?

You’ve got stop this false teaching. V.8

“That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. [You were called by grace.] ‘A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.’”

One bad apple ruins the barrel.

You’ve got to stop listening to this false teaching. It’s going to blow up the church!

And then he says this. V.10

“I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be.”

That is so encouraging!

Paul believes that the Lord will use his warnings in this letter, to draw these people back from the edge of the cliff.

And those who are pushing them toward the cliff, will fall over it.

No matter who they might have been.

Paul is hopeful, in the Lord, that these dire warnings will be effective.

And he is confident that God will judge the ones making the trouble.

They’ve been lying about him. V.11

“Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.”

Apparently, they’ve been saying that Paul is inconsistent on circumcision himself.

The rumor is going around that Paul preaches circumcision, at least for the Jews.

But you can tell by who is being persecuted what gospel they preach.

Paul is not preaching circumcision and Law-keeping for anybody as a means of justifcation.

He is preaching the Cross.

He was preaching the Cross.

And he is preaching the Cross.

And he will continue preaching the Cross.

And the Galatians have to choose. Which will it be?

Circumcision or the Cross?

How do you answer that for yourself?

The Cross is offensive, according to verse 11.

The Cross offends our pride, doesn’t it?

You know what that Cross says about you?

It says you are not a good person.
It says you are a sinner.
You are a rebel.
You are evil-doer.

It says, “This is what you deserve.”

Does that offend you?

It sure doesn’t make you feel good about yourself.

But it’s true!

And the Cross also says, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son [to be crucified on it], that whoever believes in him [faith] shall not perish [shall not be cut off] but have eternal life [the righteousness for which we hope].”

Is that what you choose?

Circumcision makes you feel good about yourself.

You did something!

You added to your salvation.

You did your part.

Jesus did his. You did yours.

The offense, the scandal, of the cross has been abolished.

You did something to help make up for your sin.

What a good person you are!

That’s what circumcision would have done in this situation for these people.

And they had to choose.

What would you choose?

Circumcision or the offense of the Cross?

These bad guys were choosing circumcision and they were teaching that all of the Galatians had to choose it, too, or they weren’t going to be right with God.

They weren’t going to heaven when they died.

They weren’t getting into the kingdom of God without getting circumcised.

And that’s a different gospel.
That’s a false gospel.

And it’s really no gospel at all.

And that makes Paul rip-roaring justifiably mad. V.12

“As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!”

Yes, he said that. And he meant that.

And it was a holy thing for him to say.

“These guys think that kind of cutting is spiritually beneficial and necessary? That’s ridiculous! That’s awful. That’s terrible. They might as well go all the way.”

That’s like the pagan religions that mutilate themselves.

That kind of religion is no better than the pagans.

It is non-Christian, no matter what these people call themselves.

It is anti-gospel.

And it is anti-Christ.

If that is what they will teach, let them be cut off.

Physically and spiritually. Let them be damned.

He doesn’t say that lightly.

That is not a joke.

If it is sarcasm, it is the heaviest and holiest of sarcasm. That which is an imprecation.

That’s how serious this is.

The truth of the gospel is at stake.

True freedom is a stake. V.13

“You, my brothers, were called to be free.”

You weren’t called to be a slave to the Law.

You weren’t called to be a slave to the Law’s demands or the Law’s condemnation.

You, my brothers, were called to be free.

But that freedom is not a freedom from holiness. Or a freedom from love. It’s a freedom TO LOVE. V.13

“You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature [the flesh]; rather, serve one another in love.”


And here Paul turns a corner and begins to run a little bit of a different track from here to the end of the letter.

He’s made his case and he’s made his appeal.

Don’t go back to slavery.
Don’t get circumcised.
Trust in Jesus Christ alone for your justification.
His work on the Cross is more than enough to save you.

You are now free.

But don’t get wrong idea.

Just because you’re free of the Law doesn’t mean that you are free to do just whatever.

It means that you are now free to be holy.

And you are free to love.

You are free to live a life of love.

You are free to serve others in love.

Get that?

You are free to become a slave!

A slave, not of the Law or of sin, but a loving slave to serve other people and put their interests ahead of your own. Get this. Look at verse 14.

“The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

So we end up fulfilling the Law after all.

Not doing the Law, not keeping the Law for our justification, but fulfilling the Law, living out what it was trying to teach us all along.


Love for God.

And here, love for our neighbors.

We are called to be free.

And we are free to love each other in Christ.

Apparently, they were not doing that very well, either. V.15

“If you keep on biting and devouring each other [like some kind of animals], watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”

By the way, that’s what trying to be saved by law-keeping will do to a local church.

Legalism will make a church the most toxic, people-destroying place you ever saw.

That’s not the kind of freedom to which we are called.

Gospel freedom is freedom from the Law.
Freedom from sin.

And freedom to serve each other in love.

How are you doing at that?

Next time, Paul will begin to develop this idea of faith working through love.

And walking by the Spirit and how that produces the Spirit’s fruit in us, which is love.

But for today, just ask yourself the question, “How am I doing at serving others in love?”

I have not been set free for selfishness but for service (paraphrasing John Stott).

Whom am I called to serve today?

I would love it if at my funeral, someone would say, “He was a servant.”

Not because I had to be a servant to be justified.

But because I was justified, because I was set free. I had been set free to love.

And people could see it.

Hear the warning in this passage and heed it.

There is only one way of salvation.

And it is not by our works, our human achievement, our religiosity, our goodness.

It is only by faith in Jesus Christ.

Every other way of getting to God will cut you off from God.

And everyone who teaches another way of getting to God pay a steep price.

Trust in Jesus Christ and Him alone to be set free.

And use your freedom to serve others in love.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Because, brothers and sisters, you have been called to be free.

Messages in this Series:
01. To the Churches in Galatia
02. Turning to a Different Gospel
03. Preaching the Faith He Once Tried to Destroy
04. So the Truth of the Gospel Might Remain With You
05. Acting in Line with the Truth of the Gospel
06. I Live By Faith in the Son of God
07. You Foolish Galatians!
08. You Are All Sons of God Through Faith in Christ Jesus
09. So You Are No Longer a Slave
10. I Plead With You
11. Abraham Had Two Sons