Standing Firm in Freedom
1) What does freedom mean to you?
2) What is freedom in Christ?
Today we’ll be discussing spiritual freedom with a focus on Galatians chapter five. Freedom is a theme we sing about often in worship. We preach it as one of the primary benefits of being a believer and emphasize it a great deal in evangelistic efforts. But is it something we truly take advantage of?
3) How much thought do you give your freedom in Christ on a day-to-day basis?
In today’s passage, we see God’s intention behind his setting us free. Verse 1 reads:
“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.”
4) Why did Jesus die and rise again to set us free?
5) What did God send Jesus to set us free from? (Sin and the law.)
6) What can this verse tell us about God’s will or character? (He sent Jesus with the purpose of making us free, not enslaving us by putting us in his debt. This speaks to his desire for genuine relationship with us. He wants us to enjoy freedom and use it.)
Our freedom has purpose, and that purpose is relationship. If sin is that which separates us from God, then freedom from sin opens our way to enjoying companionship with him. The freer we are, the better we can enjoy that relationship.
Let’s take a moment to consider the context of this passage. Paul’s letter to the Galatians addresses the dangers of falling into legalistic practices and beliefs. In the following verses, he highlights the practice of circumcision. Look at verses 2-4:
“Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”
The practice of circumcision began before Moses’ time, but it became one of the primary rituals symbolizing God’s covenant with his people. Mosaic law handed down through the generations dictated a Jewish person must be circumcised. When Jesus fulfilled the law and replaced the letter of the law with the Spirit of grace, circumcision became a hot topic of debate. The argument was made that a person could not be saved unless they were circumcised according to Mosaic law.
7) What is Paul’s counterargument to that here in Galatians five?
Paul points out that you can’t pick and choose which elements of the law should be adhered to. You either uphold the whole law, or you’re in violation of it. In contrast, grace allows for mistakes and provides for the redemption of those mistakes. We are justified by the grace of God once and for all; we aren’t trapped in a cycle of trying and failing to abide perfectly by every jot and tittle of religious observance in order to be saved. Reflecting on verse one, Christ did not set us free only to enslave us again. It is for freedom he set us free.
8) According to verse four, what is the result of trying to justify yourself by the law? (Alienation from Christ and a fall away from grace.)
9) What does it mean to have fallen away from grace?
In John Piper’s writing about this passage, he describes what he calls the Gratitude Ethic: “It says that God has done so much for me that I will devote my life to paying back my debt, even though I know I will never be able to completely. And even though most Christians who work out of this gratitude ethic would say that they are not trying to earn their salvation, nevertheless, when they start working for God because he has given them so much, it is very easy to begin to think of God's free gift as a loan to be repaid or as advance wages to be earned. So the gratitude ethic tends to put you in the position of a debtor instead of a son. And that is slavery. None of us feels completely free while we are burdened with a debt to be repaid. Christ does not want you to relate to him as a debtor who uses the law to make installment payments on an unending loan” (Piper, “For Freedom Christ Has Set Us Free”, 1983).
10) Any thoughts on this idea of the Gratitude Ethic?
11) What is the danger of treating salvation like a loan to be repaid?
Trying to justify ourselves or earn righteousness by legalistic means separates us even further from God. That approach operates on the principle that Jesus’ sacrifice isn’t enough to cover our sins, that we have the power and responsibility to make up the difference. That doesn’t leave much room for joy, does it?
John 16:24 says: “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
And Psalm 16:11 says: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” *emphasis mine
Both verses describe how fullness of joy is found in relationship with God, a relationship only made possible by accepting that it cannot be earned – especially not by binding ourselves within the strict confines of religious law.
12) Do we take God’s desire for our freedom as seriously as we do other biblical commands or earthly responsibilities? Why or why not?
13) What kinds of things do we tend to give more importance (ex. Decisions about career, where to live, politics, our earthly circumstances, etc.)? Why?
Let’s move on to verses 5-6:
“For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
14) What would you say is the relationship between joy and hope?
15) What kind of freedom does faith and hope in Christ afford us?
16) According to verse six, how is that faith expressed?
Christ’s setting us free is a gift of love, but not one giving us carte blanche to act according to any impulse or desire we may have. Dropping down to verse 13, Paul explains:
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”
17) With both verses 6 and 13 in mind, what is the connection between freedom and love?
On the surface, the word “serve” might imply indebtedness or obligation, not freedom.
18) How can we be truly free if we’re to humbly serve other people instead of indulging ourselves?
Verse 14 goes on to say, “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” But I thought Jesus fulfilled the law and set us free from it! If we’re commanded to uphold the summation of the law by loving/serving others, doesn’t that contradict the whole concept of being set free from the law? Paul goes on to explain how this isn’t so in verses 16-18:
“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”
19) What is Paul saying here?
Freedom in Christ includes freedom from slavery to evil desires that will ultimately cause us grief, guilt, and shame among other consequences. He lists several of those desires in verses 19-21:
“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 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.”
The promise doesn’t end with freedom from slavery to evil desires. God replaces them with something better. The more we willingly submit to the Holy Spirit, the more our desires come to match his, and the freer we are to pursue those new, righteous desires – among them is the desire to love and serve others. If we allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit, we are not slaves to the law, but free to enjoy the fruit of the Spirit listed in verses 22-23:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
In other words, Christ set us free so we can enjoy the love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control that is found in relationship with him.
20) So, in practical terms, how do we go about standing firm in our freedom and not being burdened by slavery? Where do we start?
First, we have to recognize that freedom is a gift. It is not something we can earn or a loan to be paid off by good works or religious observance. It is an invitation God extends us to enjoy his grace. If we are trying to justify ourselves by law, then we are alienated from Christ and fallen away from grace.
Second, we orient ourselves toward God’s desire and purpose for our freedom, which is relationship. Religious traditions and rites are of no value to Christ if they are not Spirit-led and done in love. Any acts of worship or representations of faith should be expressions of love.
Third, we stand firm against bearing yokes of slavery. That includes an element of discipline. We have to do the work of maintaining and growing in our relationship with Christ. That means devoting regular time to prayer and soaking in God’s word. John 8:32 says, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The more we invest in connecting with God through his word, the more pleasure we find in it, and the more freedom we experience.
Questions to consider this week:
Is there something I am allowing myself to be enslaved by?
Am I buying into the Gratitude Ethic, treating my salvation as a debt to be repaid?
What is one step I can take to more fully take advantage my God-given freedom this week?