What does freedom in Christ mean? The Apostle Paul had to deal with the whole issue of circumcision (clearly indicating a fallback to legalism) when he wrote to the Christians in Galatia. Legalism had a crippling hold on them and he clearly stated that if they went back to being justified through circumcision (e.g., works) that they would have to obey the entire law, clearly alienating them from Christ (Galatians 5:2-6). Let’s read that passage: “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 law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit 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” [emphasis mine].
Okay, I can hear some of you saying, “What has that got to do with me?” Many times we as Christians practice our own form of circumcision (legalism) without even realizing it. When we try by our outward actions and appearances to make a “show” of following after Christ, we are trying to be justified by those actions (perhaps a list of “rules” we follow or keeping a laundry list of “sins” we haven’t committed to show our “goodness” as opposed to others we perceive as being more “sinful” then us). And, as Paul clearly stated, that has absolutely no value and that “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 5:6).
Let me ask a question to get us thinking about this topic (e.g., legalism). If we attend church every Sunday, does that make us feel somewhat superior to those who don’t or justified that we have fulfilled our weekly obligation to God and can now spend the rest of the week doing whatever we want? The issue is not about actually attending church on Sunday morning. No–the real issue is our heart attitude and our motive for going in the first place. Our only real motive for going should be to worship God for who He is, and Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, with others who are there to worship God and Jesus Christ, too. Any other reason is peripheral “stuff.” And if we are going in an effort to try to earn points with God or with others, we might as well stay home.
I’m not trying to come down on anyone by asking that question. I’m trying to get us to think about our relationship with Jesus Christ and what He really means to us and how it affects how we live our own life and how we treat others. Are we self-focused, or are we other-focused? Because we are human we can’t be perfect at this but we can’t use that as an excuse either for continuing to live our lives self-consumed and in any manner that we see fit to live.
Paul continues in his classic chapter (Galatians 5) on what freedom in Christ really means with the following, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Gal. 5:13-14).
It is our own sinful nature that seeks to attain a status of “goodness” in the eyes of God and others through our own “works” while continuing to live life on our own terms. And whenever our sinful nature is in control we look out for ourselves first and foremost, instead of looking out for others. So let me ask a second question. Is what others think of us (e.g., being accepted, being respected, being elevated to a prominent status in the eyes of others, and looking good by all outward appearances to the rest of the world, etc.) more important to us then what God desires for our life and how He wants to use us in this world to bring others to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and helping others grow (including ourselves) in their relationship with Him?
Our sinful nature is in direct conflict with the life in the Spirit of God that comes through our relationship with Jesus Christ. If we allow ourselves to be lead by God’s Spirit we will not be self-consumed. Paul clearly states that “The acts of the sinful nature 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” (Gal. 5:19-21). Is there anything in this list that is a regular, ongoing part of our life?
Do we want to know what life in the Spirit really looks like? Paul tells us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other” (Gal. 5:22-26). Yes, those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with it’s passions and desires.
In closing, I want to go back to what Paul stated in Galatians 5:14-15: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself ‘ [emphasis mine]. If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” If we clearly understand what those two verses are saying, the consequences of living a selfish, self-consumed lifestyle and NOT loving our neighbors as we love ourselves are staggering, not only to us as individuals but spreading out to our nation as a whole. After all, it is individuals who make up a nation.
The choice is pretty clear . . .
Will we make the right one?
YouTube Video: “Change Me” by Shannon Wexelberg on her CD “Faithful God” (2007):