A sermon based on Galatians 5:1,13-25
Sunday, July 3, 2016 – Pentecost 7C
Tomorrow we celebrate Independence Day—the day we declared our independence from the rule of another country. Tomorrow we celebrate our freedom. And you know that that freedom wasn't free, was it? It came at a price. One of my favorite movies is The Patriot where Mel Gibson stars as Benjamin Martin who bravely fights to protect his family and to win American independence from the British.
But that movie is a vivid reminder to me of what that freedom cost. In the struggle, Benjamin Martin lost his home and his plantation, his servants and many friends, and almost lost his life. He did lose the lives of his daughter-in-law, and two of his own sons in the bloody fight. The freedoms we enjoy today came at great cost to others. And, remembering those who fought hard to win our freedoms, we are encouraged to continue to fight hard today to keep those freedoms.
But before we celebrate our national freedoms tomorrow, today we give thanks to the one who fought to win our lasting freedom; to Christ! Through him we are free from sin, death, and hell. And remembering Jesus and how he fought hard to win our freedom, we are encouraged today to fight hard with the Spirit to keep our freedom. Listen to Galatians 5:1,13-25 as the apostle Paul reminds us of those fights…
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…
13 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. 14 The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." 15 If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 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.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
I. Christ Fought Hard to Win Your Freedom
As we get into the latter half of the apostle Paul's letter to the Galatians he moves from what Christ did for us to what we do in response. Remember the entire book of Galatians is Paul's sermon, while we just look at a few verses at a time. So even though he doesn't cover specific gospel in these verses, he doesn't need to. He's already done that in the first half of the book. But he does remind us of that specific gospel in the first half of the first verse of chapter 5 when he says, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free."
So let's do a quick recap. What have we been set free from? Right. Sin, death, hell, the power of the devil. And how badly we need that freedom! Right? Reading through these verses today reminds us how much we need help! Paul points out that the entire law is summed up in one command, just like Moses did, just like Jesus did. He said, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Have you always loved the strangers who live next to you as much as you love yourself? I know I haven't. And of course you know that verse doesn't just mean the guy who lives next door, but everyone. Have you always loved the guy at work as much as you love yourself? I know I haven't. Have you always loved your children or your spouse as much as you love yourself? I know I haven't.
Let's face it. Deep down we're selfish. My sinful nature loves to serve me first. It desires to rebel against God. It "desires what is contrary to the Spirit." Paul gives us a bunch of examples of how that's so. He says, "The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery…" That is, sexual sins of all kinds, including lust, promiscuity, pornography. Viewing others as object to be used certainly isn't loving them as we love ourselves. He continues: "idolatry and witchcraft;" Serving other so-called gods like money, the pursuit of more stuff, drugs or alcohol, our own self-interests. All these are idolatry. And Paul keeps going: "hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition" (which we sometimes even parade as a virtue! "Man he has drive!"), "dissensions, factions and envy;" All these are sins in our relationships, when we love ourselves more than the people around us, when we viciously bite and devour one another like wild animals. Paul adds a few more sins to the list, but he can't conclude it. He ends with, "drunkenness, orgies, and the like," because the list goes on and on.
And even though this list isn't close to exhaustive it's still enough to convict everyone in this room, isn't it? And to make matters even worse, our sinful natures want to turn any freedom we might have into a license to sin even more! To "use [our] freedom to indulge the sinful nature." "Well, Jesus already paid for my sin! What a waste to not enjoy what's already been paid for! After all, if someone paid for my meal, wouldn't it be a waste to only eat half?!" How sad we are! How enslaved we are!
And Paul gives the stern warning "that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God." And you know the alternative. Those who live like this will inherit hell. How badly we need to be free from ourselves and our sinful natures!
So thank God, friends, that he sent Jesus to set us free! "Christ has set us free." Paul reminds us in verse one. And that freedom didn't come free. There was a price that had to be paid—a huge price that only Jesus could pay. What was that price? Not a home or a plantation, not even the life of a son or daughter, but the very life of God himself. Jesus—true God—died on a cross. And far worse than physical death, he went to hell on that cross to pay for the acts of our sinful natures. That was the price of our freedom.
And we don't have to pay a thing! We weren't a part of that fierce battle that took place to win our spiritual freedom any more than we were a part of the Revolutionary War. Christ did it all—from start to finish—and we enjoy the freedoms that he won without having to pay a thing. "Christ has set us free."
But we risk losing it all if we just sit back and abuse our freedom. We need to fight to keep our freedom. We want to fight to keep our freedom. And we have help in the fight. Remembering how our Savior fought so hard to win our freedom, we now fight hard—with the help of the Holy Spirit—to keep our freedom…
II. Fight Hard with the Spirit to Keep Your Freedom
That's Paul's point in chapter 5 of Galatians when he writes, "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… 13 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."
Some have said that if we don't take the fight to other countries, the fight will come to us here in the United States, just as it did September 11, 2001. War isn't always our choice is it? Often war is thrust upon us and we have no choice, but to fight or lose our freedoms.
Make no mistake, friends. You and I are engaged in a very serious war—a war that has a lot more at stake than your freedoms as a US citizen! This war has a lot more at stake than your life! Eternity in heaven or hell hangs in the balance! This is serious stuff! And the enemy is far worse than a terrorist that infiltrates the ranks and attacks from inside our borders. It's an enemy that attacks within our very selves.
You see each one of us has a sinful nature which will stop at nothing less than to rob us of our freedom in Christ and drag us back to hell! It's a serious battle! Paul says, "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires." But it will keep coming back day after day. It's a vicious battle where it's kill or be killed! We don't need to reform our sinful nature or simply try to improve. We need to kill it—crucify it again and again. And that's not easy. We need to fight hard.
Sounds tough, right? Well it is! Thank God then that we're not fighting alone! None of us are spiritual Rambos--you know, the guy in the movies who takes on entire armies by himself, wipes out the enemy and saves all the hostages in under two hours. No. We're not like him. We can't do it alone. We need help if we're going to win this fight. And thank God we have it! We have a help that's far more powerful than the enemy of our sinful natures. We have the Holy Spirit.
Paul says, "live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature... if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law... Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." And when we live by the Spirit, guided and directed by him, with him as our ally, keeping us focused on Jesus and the freedom that he won for us, we will produce fruits of faith.
Notice while Paul describes what the sinful nature does he calls them acts—things we consciously try to do. But when he talks about what the Spirit does he doesn't call them acts, but fruit. These aren't things we work at. They're natural by-products of being a Christian, of living by the Spirit. Paul says, "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control."
Of course, there's enough in these two verses for an entire series of sermons (which, I promise I won't try to preach right now… You're welcome). But in contrast to self-serving acts of the sinful-nature, these are the selfless fruit of the Spirit. Loving others as much as we love ourselves, in view of the way our Savior has loved us and freed us from our sin, we can't help but be patient them even when they're on our nerves. We can't help but be kind and good to them, mimicking how kind and good our Savior is to us. We will be faithful to our friends, our spouses (whether the spouse you have now, or future spouse you may someday have). We will be gentle and humble as our Savior was for us. And we will be self-controlled, not sinful-nature-controlled.
We will produce this fruit. And note that it's singular (one fruit, not many). We can't just pick and choose saying, "Well, I'm patient, so I don't need to be kind." No. This is a package deal! We naturally do it all in response to what our Savior's done. And as we do produce this fruit, we wage war against the sinful nature. We fight hard against it! It can't stand when we do these things! And being led by the Holy Spirit in the Word and in the sacraments, as we produce more and more of this fruit, we will win the battle.
Brothers and sisters, you know that freedom isn't free. It comes at a great price. Rejoice that the biggest price has already been paid by our Jesus! Rejoice that the war has already been won for us! "Christ has set us free." And in view of his sacrifice and the freedom that we have by it, even thought you and I may be asked to pay a price to keep our freedom, it's an easy call. Of course we'll fight hard to keep our freedom. So fight hard, friends and don't be burdened again by a yoke of slavery to your sinful nature. But live by the Spirit. Keep in step with the Spirit. Keep fighting the battle and press on! "Press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [you] heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:14) Amen.