“Freedom in Christ”
When I was a young boy, I could not wait until I could drive an automobile. I looked forward to having a car of my own and driving anywhere and at anytime. Yet, I was told over and over again things like you are not old enough to drive; you have to take a drivers education course first; and, you have to drive with a licensed adult for 6 months before you can drive by yourself. Oh, I got tired of hearing all of those requirements. All I wanted to do was to drive. For some religions, receiving salvation, or entering into a right relationship with God, is similar; a series of things has to be done before one can be a child of God. Certain classes have to be attended or certain criteria must be met. There might even be a series of laws or regulations to be followed before one can qualify to become a child of God. Those things are often times more of a deterrent than an encouragement for one who only wants to become a Christian. Well, things have not changed over the years. When the apostle Paul was alive, false teachers imposed certain guidelines, or qualifications, on people before they could receive Jesus' salvation. It became very frustrating for those who simply wanted the freedom Jesus offered. Paul writes the letter of Galatians to correct that false teaching and to let people know that it is not the way it works. For the next few minutes we will look again at the free gift of salvation Jesus offers to all people; and, the key word is 'free.' It does not cost any of us anything. We can be free in Christ at any time. Oh, I wish that was the way it was when I wanted to drive a car, and yet that is a small thing compared to the wonderful free gift of salvation Jesus makes available to everyone, right now.
The city and country in which I live has a number of laws which I am to follow. Now, I agree with the vast majority of those laws; however, there are a few I might question. Yet at the same time, I know that they are there for my good, and for the well-being not only of myself but for other people. And I do my very best to follow them as closely as I can. And yet, I realize that laws are important and they are a part of life. The same is true for Christians. We have certain laws which we are to follow and they are important. God asks us to be holy, as He is holy, and keeping His laws is one way of doing that. Examples include the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament and Jesus' teaching from the Sermon on the Mount. Laws are essential to knowing God and honoring His Son; and yet, they lead to something far more important, a personal relationship with the Lord. The apostle Paul wrote to Christians in several different churches throughout Galatia. They lived in cities like Antioch, Lystra, Derbe and Iconium. These places are located in what is called today, Turkey. Paul visited this area during his first mission trip, in the years of 46 to 48 A.D. Christians throughout this area had lost interest in the gospel message of Jesus Christ. They were now more focused on their laws than they were in the message of Jesus. They replaced the story of salvation with what had really absolutely nothing to do with it, and that greatly upset the apostle Paul. And that is the primary reason why he wrote the letter called Galatians. He wrote it to remind these Christians of the salvation they already had and what had taken place previously in order for them to receive it. That is the way Paul begins this message to the Christians living in Galatia. He begins with these words in chapter 1 and verse 6. <I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!> Now that message is so important, Paul repeats it again in the very next verse. Paul shares with these Christians, this is a message that has come from the Lord himself, according to verse 12. It was also the same message proclaimed by other apostles, as they went everywhere sharing the Good News of Jesus. Nothing was to dilute or change that message, and yet these Christians were allowing that very thing to happen. Some false teachers were trying to change Paul's original message. They said Gentiles had to become like Jews in order for God to accept them; that they basically had to give up their identity as Gentiles; they had to change their beliefs and many of their practices. Yes, false teachers were even saying, "You are not even saved; you have to eat certain foods and celebrate special feast days; you have to, in most every way, become like the Jews." Oh, these burdens and these requirements that were put upon the Gentiles were impossible to keep. They weighed down the Gentiles. They took joy out of living for Jesus Christ. More importantly, they were wrong. And that is what Paul addresses next, in the 2nd chapter here in Galatians, in verses 15 and 16. <“We who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners know that a man is not justified by observing the Law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the Law, because by observing the Law no one will be justified."> Oh, the apostle Paul makes it very plain, no one is justified or made right in the sight of God by keeping the Law, by keeping a series or a set of rules and regulations. Rather, a person is justified, or made right in the sight of God, through faith in Jesus Christ. Here Paul highlights the contrast between God's grace and the Law. He highlights the contrast between one's faith in Jesus Christ and ones faith in anyone or anything else. Oh, during Paul's travels throughout Galatia, he shared the gospel story wherever he went. Acts chapter 13 is one of those examples. He was in Galatia, he was in the city of Antioch, and he has a message for those people. And that message, in chapter 13, can be summarized in 4 points. Number 1, God's saving work began with Abraham and continued on through King David. Number 2, through his descendents, Jesus came into the world. Number 3, His life and His ministry blessed many people, but eventually it led to His death on a cross. And number 4, God raised His Son from the dead. That is the message that Paul shared, not only throughout Galatia, but, over and over again wherever he went. Going back to Acts chapter 13, he now ends that message with these words which are found in verses 38 and 39. <“Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through Him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the Law of Moses.> Well, there it is again. The apostle Paul makes it very plain that one is justified, or made right with God, through faith in Jesus Christ and not by keeping the Law of Moses. That was the message Paul shared with these Christians just 2 or 3 years earlier. He now reminds them that the message has not changed and it will not change in the future. For by believing in Jesus' death and burial and resurrection, the people can now break away from a law keeping system. No longer do they have to keep a series or a set of rules and regulations and laws. They are free from that, and they can enjoy that freedom through their faith in Jesus. Now because these false teachers were sharing a false message, they were encouraged to be cut off. Paul tells these Christians, these believers throughout Galatia, "Don't have anything to do with those false teachers, any more. Run them out of town. Don't worry about their message. Don't even listen to it." Oh, if we were to hear this message read for the very first time we might note the way Paul is trying to express himself. He is upset. He is almost angry and frustrated with these believers. He cannot understand why they have so quickly turned away from that Good News message of Jesus and have turned to a false teaching. And that is what he addresses in the 4th chapter of Galatians, as we begin reading with verse 9. <But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! Oh, I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.> Oh, that's interesting; isn't it? Paul says, "I think I just wasted my time with you. I wasted my efforts on you if you aren't going to do anything but go back to that old way of living, that old law keeping system, and forget about Jesus Christ." Yes, Paul is upset. He is frustrated with these Christians and he cannot understand why they have done what they have done. In fact, it seems that these believers would rather be enslaved to the past than to enjoy their freedom in Jesus Christ in the present, and that freedom came when they expressed their faith in Jesus. In the 5th chapter, Paul makes mention of the freedom they have in Jesus and the danger they face if they turn their back upon it. I want to go to that 5th chapter and read a few passages of Scripture, first of all beginning 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. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you. [skip down to verse 4] 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."> Paul lets these Christians know that you are free in Jesus Christ, therefore live like it. Don't go back to that law keeping system. For if you do, you fall away from the grace of God. Paul cannot make that any plainer. He cannot point out the importance of putting one's faith in Jesus Christ and allowing that to open up God's grace to that person. Now I want us to pause for just a moment and ask this question, and let us think about it. Are there some beliefs or laws that we cling to that are more important to us than the freedom we have in Jesus Christ? There might be some things that come along in our life that we think are important, and we pursue those; and, that's fine. And yet, none of them can ever take the place of what Jesus Christ has done for us on the cross of Calvary. We might impose some laws, or rules, or regulations on other people, saying you have to do that in order to be right with God. Or, somebody might impose those laws or rules or regulations upon us, saying the very same thing; that, if you don't do those then you are outside of the fellowship of God. If that happens, then we, too, like these Christians throughout Galatia, may face the danger of falling away from God's grace. Now, make no mistake about it, Paul loves these believers. He has spent time with them in his trips throughout Galatia. He wants them to excel in their faith. He wants them to ignore the false teachers and to develop a life of love that demonstrates they belong to the Lord and they have put their faith in Him. And that is what he reminds them of, here in this letter; that, salvation comes by God's grace through their faith in Jesus Christ and not through their own efforts. Now, let us be clear. Faith in Jesus is not a way for us to get onto God's side. We are already on God's side because He loves us. Long before we came into this world, God demonstrated His love through His son Jesus by sending Him to die on our behalf. And so now, we simply respond to God's goodness. We respond to the grace of God. We respond by faith, believing that what Jesus did so long ago on the cross of Calvary is what saves us. Therefore, our trust is not put in a law keeping system, or even in our own good works. It is put in God's goodness and God's grace. Now, when these Christians realized that, a number of years ago, they put their trust in the Lord. They put their faith in Him. They responded to the sacrifice Jesus made on their behalf and they demonstrated their faith by living a life of good works. They got off to a good start. And Paul addresses that in the 3rd chapter. He reminds them of their response and what they did just a few years earlier. Listen to the reading of verses 26 through 29. <You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.> God's grace eliminates special categories. Paul states, "there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female." And today it makes no difference who we are or where we live, through our faith in Jesus Christ we can experience the same free gift of salvation. Paul reminds them that once you put your faith in Jesus Christ then you are clothed with Jesus; you are baptized into Him; you identified yourself with Jesus; you are united with Him. And through that faith and baptism, you became a part of God's family. And so, you lived like it, or at least for a period of time. Still today, one's faith and baptism into Jesus Christ is what leads us to that life of love. It's what leads us to that eternal reward with our Father in heaven. Oh, the salvation these Christians throughout Galatia had experienced changed their life, or at least it did for a period of time. The false teachers, however, had come in and diluted the truth. It pointed them in a different direction. And now, the purpose of Galatians is for Paul to redirect these Christians in the way they need to go. He then adds that through their faith in Jesus Christ, God sends the Holy Spirit and that Holy Spirit guides them and directs them in the way they are to go. The Holy Spirit empowers them in the way they are to live. That makes a difference in their life. And, it is God's guarantee and assurance upon them that He loves them and that He saves them. Oh, a sharp contrast is drawn between living according to the flesh, or the world, and living in accordance with the Spirit of God. On the one hand, living by the Law leads to a sinful lifestyle, and Paul mentions a number of things that belong to a sinful lifestyle, in verses 19 through 21 of the 5th chapter. There we read things like jealousy, and selfish ambition, and hatred, and impurity, and a host of things lead one to living a worldly life outside of Jesus Christ. And Paul writes in that passage, that's the way some of you were at one time and it kept you out of the kingdom of God. He then changes his tone in verse 22 and following, and he states, "Because the Holy Spirit is now in you, this is the life you have and this is the life you are to pursue, this is the fruit of the Spirit that is working in you." Notice those words that begin in chapter 5 verse 22. <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.> Paul says the fruit of the Spirit is being developed in you as a believer in Jesus Christ: love; and joy; and peace; and patience; and kindness; and goodness; and all of those things. And that demonstrates to the world that you belong to the Lord and that you can now live that life of love. Oh, when a believer is walking by the Spirit and not by the sinful things, or the nature of the flesh, then it produces that life of good deeds and good works. That is the way Paul closes his letter, reminding them of the kind of life that one is to live who is empowered by the Spirit of God. He writes this in the 6th chapter, beginning with verse 9. <Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.> Yes, one's life is empowered by the Spirit of God. And that empowers us and leads us to live a life of good deeds. And that is the outward demonstration and expression to the world of the salvation we have already received by the goodness and the grace of God. Yes, Paul was upset with the Christians throughout Galatia. They had allowed some false teachers to come in and to lead them astray and away from the Good News message of Jesus Christ. As a result, they were in danger of falling away from God's grace. Let me again pause for a moment and present some questions for us to consider. Does something like that ever happen to us? Do we find ourselves clinging to some old beliefs or a law keeping system instead of clinging to God's grace? Do we trust in our own efforts instead of trusting in the cross of Jesus Christ and the sacrifice that He made for us? Oh, if any of those things are true then Paul reminds us, it is by God's grace and through our faith and baptism into Jesus Christ that we receive the free gift of salvation. The gospel message revolves around Jesus' love and sacrifice. And when we put our trust in Him, instead of putting our trust in a law keeping system, we receive His salvation. This letter called Galatians emphasizes the gospel of God's grace, the importance of faith over works, and an invitation to live a life of love. Paul's earliest and perhaps one of his most important letters was written to a group of Christians throughout Galatia who were struggling to stay focused on the Good News message of Jesus. And perhaps his reason in writing that letter is to remind us of the importance of who Jesus is and what He has done in our life, as well. As we think about that great sacrifice, as we think about the goodness and the grace of God, our response is simply to receive it by putting our faith in Jesus, by obeying Him and clothing ourselves with Jesus Christ in baptism, identifying ourself with Him. And then, because of that salvation, to then live a life of good deeds, to live a life of love, demonstrating to the world what God has done for us. My prayer for you today is that you will receive this free gift of Jesus Christ and then live in the freedom He provides for you.
The message of Galatians is a reminder of how one receives God's free gift of salvation. Instead of following a set of laws and traditions, one is made right with God through Jesus' death on the cross and resurrection from the grave. Therefore, keeping a series of rules and regulations is replaced with faith and trust in Jesus Christ. As Paul wrote, the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. Oh yes, there is still a high regard for and obedience to God's commands, yet that is our thanks to God for the salvation we have already received. Since Jesus sets us free from the curse of sin and death, we can now enjoy a wonderful relationship with Him. And that, in turn, leads us to living a Spirit filled life.
Thank you for being a part of today's program. Hopefully it encouraged you to receive Jesus' salvation, that comes by believing in Him. It is good to know we do not have to qualify or to be good enough to be saved. God loves and accepts us just the way we are. And, He wants us to know the freedom that is found through His Son, Jesus Christ. If you are searching for that salvation, perhaps we can help. I invite you to visit our website, keytothekingdom.com. There you can download a free Bible study. This lesson, along with many others, is also available to view or listen to again. We offer these things without any cost or obligation. If you have not already done so, please find us on Facebook, where you can receive weekly devotional thoughts. By calling the number on the screen you can receive the same Bible study by mail. Again, it will assist you in knowing more about the Lord and the salvation He offers. Access to our website is also found by downloading a free app onto your smart phone. And finally, previous lessons can be found on the "Key to the Kingdom" channel on Roku® television. Thank you for joining us for today's program. I invite you to join us again next time as we continue to study the Bible on "Key to the Kingdom."