The final words of the Declaration of Independence are these:
We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the Rectitude of our Intentions, do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly Publish and Declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be, Free and Independent States...And for the support of this declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
To read these stirring words is to recall that freedom is never free. Our history is a witness to us that freedom and independence are always attended by struggle. It may cost life, fortune, and sacred honor. Bondage is easy, but freedom demands vigilance and courage. Their desire to be free demanded of the signers of the Declaration of Independence that they go to war. I hope none of us are so foolish as to believe that freedom of any kind is ever the natural state of man. We tend toward bondage. We have to fight for freedom.
This is true in every sense. A man with cancer fights to be made well. A couple in deep debt fights to become financially free. You may know people who are struggling to free themselves from various addictions and from bad habits. All of us struggle to free ourselves from the rat race of our society and its incessant demands to control us. We want to be free to make our own choices in obedience to the Lord God.
The most basic freedom of all is spiritual freedom, our freedom as sons and daughters of God:
John 8:36 (NASB) "If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.
That, too, demands a struggle, a willingness on our part to take a stand and fight. In our study in the book of Galatians, we have come to a place where the apostle Paul uses some of the strongest, most vehement language in the Bible to insist that those who read his words make the choice to stand for freedom and reject slavery. Freedom doesn't just happen. And that brings us to our text, Galatians 5:1-4. We have now entered the third and final section of the book. Galatians falls neatly into three sections:
Chapters 1 & 2: Personal
Chapters 3 & 4: Doctrinal
Chapters 5 & 6: Practical
The first 12 verses of Galatians 5 are like a lawyer's closing statement to a jury. Here Paul summons all his rhetorical power to make one final assault on the Judaizers and their false gospel built around circumcision.
Galatians 4:31 (NASB) So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman. 5:1 It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.
Paul has established the believer in Christ as a child of freedom by virtue of his identity as a child of the free Jerusalem, whose children come into being by promise.
In the first 6 verses of chapter 5, Paul is addressing the Galatians, the hearers of this false message that had been taught (Later on, 5:7-12, he will address the teachers of the false message). In both cases, the language is biting and chilling.
Perhaps the finest and most concise summary of the message of this epistle is found in verse 1 of chapter 5. This verse also serves as a transition to the third and final section of the letter. It is an apt conclusion to the argument of chapters 3 and 4 where Paul has shown the superiority of the Abrahamic Covenant to the Mosaic Law and thus of grace to law.
One of the first issues that we need to get our teeth into is the specific meaning of the freedom that is in view - "It was for freedom that Christ set us free." We have been delivered, set free, from the judgment of the law of God, and we no longer live under its disciplinary regulations. In the imagery of the preceding story of Hagar and Sarah, we are not children of the slave woman, who stands for the Mosaic commandments; we are children of the free woman, who stands for the promise.
Freedom, as expressed in Galatians, refers to freedom from the frustrating struggle to keep the law to gain God's favor. It is the freedom of knowing you are accepted by God, because of what Christ has done.
Galatians 3:13 (NASB) Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us-- for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE"--
Christ paid a high price in sacrificing Himself to set us free. We are free from the performance treadmill, free from condemnation:
Romans 8:1 (NASB) There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
The freedom we have in Christ consists primarily of a freedom from condemnation by God, and a freedom from the power of sin so as to be able to refrain from sin through dependence upon the Spirit.
Paul goes on to say, "Therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." This is a command: "Keep standing firm." So the indicative is followed by an imperative, Keep standing firm. This may sound like a dull lesson in grammar, but it is actually central in Pauline ethics. What we must do (the imperative) is always based upon what God has already done (the indicative). Or to put it another way, what God has done gives us the opportunity and power to do what we must do. This indicative-imperative structure is seen here in verse 1 and also in verses 13 and 25, so, it provides the structure for the whole chapter.
"Keep standing firm"- is from the Greek word steko. It is a military term which has the idea of being at point in a war, to be stabilized. It was used of a soldier who would not budge from his post. Paul is saying that you should stand your ground in the midst of battle, hold your position while under attack.
Paul is not telling the Galatians to stand fast in holiness, we would expect that. Or to stand fast in righteousness, which we also would expect. But he tells them to stand fast in freedom or liberty. It is liberty that they are to guard and defend. That may seem strange to us, because the church today seems to think that Christians have too much liberty. Believers, we are to fight for our freedom, we are to defend our liberty in Christ!
We are to keep standing firm and "not be subject again to a yoke of slavery."
What is the "yoke of slavery"? A similar use of yoke can be seen in Peter's speech at the Jerusalem council, as reported in:
Acts 15:10 (NASB) "Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?
To compel the Gentiles to adopt the Mosaic Law as a means to a right standing before God was to "tempt God" by putting the Gentiles under a "yoke" that even the Jews could not live under. The yoke of the law is a yoke of slavery, because it places us under the burden of commandments we cannot keep and under curses that we deserve for our disobedience.
In Paul's day, one could often see oxen harnessed by a yoke to a heavily laden cart, straining to pull their burden uphill while being goaded with sharp sticks. Paul uses the word yoke, as it was often used by his contemporaries, to refer to the yoke of the law.
The "yoke of slavery" refers to being bound to the necessity to never fail. Because to fail is to bring condemnation and judgement. So we could say that Christ has set us free to fail. By His absolute substitution, He has actually taken our place under the wrath of God, and we have been given His place under the blessing of God. By absolute, I mean that there is no mixture of His performance and ours; no 60/40, 70/30, or even 99/1 split in responsibilities. In the final analysis, then, this means that we can fail and still enjoy freedom from the condemnation that holiness would typically demand of sin. That's not to say we should take a cavalier attitude toward our failure, but it is to say that we have to have this freedom before we can stand fast in the freedom of Christ.
Thus, being set free to fail by the redemption that is in Christ means that I cannot compromise His promise of eternal life by my failure. Thus, I am free. So, though I am free to fail, if I really believe that, I fail less, not more.
To "stand fast in the freedom of Christ" means to permit nothing to alter my confidence in the fact that when Christ took my place, He really took my place and that there is nothing I can do that will alter that truth.
The particular yoke of bondage that the Gentiles were being influenced to accept was the rite of circumcision. The Judaizers in Galatia were telling them they had to be circumcised to be fully accepted by God since they thought God accepted only those who had that sign of the covenant. Having escaped the ritualism of paganism, they were about to accept Jewish ritualism.
Paul illustrated in his autobiography how he stood firm in his freedom against "false brothers":
Galatians 2:3-4 (NASB) But not even Titus who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. 4 But it was because of the false brethren who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.
Paul did not give in to their pressure to make Titus, a Gentile convert, a Jew by circumcision. That's what Paul means in 5:1 by: "therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." That is, do not let the Judaizers bewitch you into thinking that circumcision or any other outward act of obedience can be offered to God as a benefit to Him which he must then reward with some payment.
How do we stand firm in our freedom when we live in a performance-based world? The answer must be that we continually remind ourselves (and do it several times a day) that while we may not measure up to our own standards, much less anyone else's, God has already declared that we are "accepted in the Beloved" (Ephesians 1:6 ). This is the basis for our assurance that we are the children of God, that our position in God's family is secure, and that we have been set free from all condemnation.
The crucial point is that freedom comes at the cost of continual vigilance. If we would be free from the yoke of slavery, we must take our position in Christ every day and stand our ground against anything and anyone who would steal our freedom from us.
Galatians 5:2 (NASB) Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.
What do the words "I ,Paul" signify? The answer is to be found in the first two chapters of this epistle. There Paul went to great lengths to lay out the evidence that he was an apostle of Jesus Christ. This is crucial, because, as an apostle, he spoke and wrote for God in God's stead.
His warnings are given to those who are getting circumcised. The present tense indicates that the process has just begun. Paul wants to stop the slash of the knife. This is the first explicit reference in the letter to this fact that the Galatians are being circumcised. Since the surgical procedure of circumcision has no theological significance to us today, it is difficult to understand why Paul is so upset about it.
In Paul's day, circumcision was the mark of belonging to the Jewish nation. For a Gentile to get circumcised in the Greco-Roman world, where circumcision was repugnant, indicated that inclusion within the Jewish nation had become a very high priority for him. But why would inclusion in the Jewish nation become so extremely important to Gentiles? Paul understood their motive as trying to be justified by law. In other words, they thought they could gain God's approval only by belonging to the Jewish nation. This meant they did not consider faith in Christ alone to be a satisfactory basis for God's approval. They were being convinced that faith in Christ had to be supplemented with identification with the Jewish people through circumcision and law observance.
"Circumcision," in Paul's terminology, has become a catch word for "meritorious human effort to achieve God's approval."
"Christ will be of no benefit to you" - Who is the "you" that Christ will be of no benefit to if they are circumcised? It is the same people that he told to "keep standing firm" in verse 1; it is believers. If you are a Christian, has Christ benefitted you? Absolutely! He has provided you with eternal life. So what does this mean? Paul seems to be saying that you cannot mix law and grace, and if you try, you destroy grace - therefore Christ does not benefit you if you are not trusting in Him but in yourself. If you believe that your human effort earns God's favor, Christ does not benefit you.
Galatians 5:3 (NASB) And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law.
"Every circumcised man" - is every man who believes that he can attain a right standing before God by the things he does. Paul does not take circumcision to be the literal act alone, but to be a metaphor of the theological notion that human action can have some kind of atoning impact on sin. This is clearly seen from the fact that circumcision, as a literal act, generally only affects men, but Paul's theology affects humanity - including women and their daughters. Thus, a woman could, under the metaphor, "be circumcised" if she bought into the dogma that her behavior is the key to the question of God's acceptance of her.
Circumcision was only part of the law. But if these Galatians were going to use circumcision, then they were obligated to also adhere to the dietary laws, to the keeping of certain holy days, to making sure they kept themselves from ceremonially unclean things. The law is not a cafeteria where you can say, "I'd like a helping of circumcision, but I don't want any sacrifices. I'm going to hold off on the feast days, but I'll take an extra helping of the Levitical priesthood." It doesn't work that way. The law of God is an all-or-nothing proposition. As James reminds us:
James 2:10 (NASB) For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.
The law is like a chain of many links that joins earth and heaven. Break just one link, and it's as if you've broken them all. Once you have decided to base your relationship with God on your performance, you will not be graded on a curve. You must get 100 percent all the time.
Galatians 5:4 (NASB) You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.
This is one of the most abused texts in Galatians. This text is misunderstood and, therefore, used to establish a false premise by many in "Christendom" today. The misunderstanding is that the text "teaches" that someone who has been justified by the grace of Christ can, afterwards, lose the salvation gained by that justification.
Paul's words have absolutely no connection to the foreign notion that those who "trust Christ" and then grievously sin have "fallen from grace." How do I know this? I know this, because there isn't anyone who hasn't "trusted Christ" and then "sinned grievously." Only the self-righteous think they have not sinned grievously.
"You have fallen from grace" - what exactly does this mean? Before we can understand that, we need to ask a few questions. Would we agree that this book is addressed to Christians (Galatians 1:6,9; 5:1)? Paul said to them, "if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed." They had received the gospel. And they were to "keep standing firm" in it.
Does this text clearly say that some of the readers have "fallen from the grace," and that some of them were on the verge of doing so (5:2)? Yes, that is indisputable.
So, it is possible for believers to fall from grace. The text clearly does not limit this falling to the Galatian Christians only. Any Christian who reverts to seeking to be justified by law has fallen from grace (Galatians 5:4).
The whole issue here is what falling from grace means. Does it mean that the believers in question have fallen from their positional standing in grace? If it does, then Paul contradicts himself, because in other passages he clearly states that is impossible:
Romans 8:38-39 (NASB) For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Colossians 2:13-14 (NASB) And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
Since scripture is God's Word, it cannot contradict itself. Thus, whatever Paul meant by falling from grace, he did not mean falling from one's position as a child of God.
Falling from grace means that a believer who reverts to "human effort to earns God's favor" has fallen from a present experience of grace. While our position in the grace of God is secure, our experience of His grace is not.
The word translated you have fallen (ekpipto) means to fall (as in withered flowers that fall to the ground). In this context, it is used figuratively and refers to the loss of one's grip on grace as a principle to live by.
When we hear the word "grace," we most likely think of it as: "Free and unmerited favor shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgement." That is a meaning of grace, but it's not its only meaning. Grace is also used in the Bible to mean: "God's power that enables us to deal with life's circumstances."
Paul uses grace in the sense of "God's power that enables us to deal with life's circumstances." in:
1 Corinthians 15:10 (NASB) But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.
We use the word "grace" in this sense in modern speech. Have you ever heard anyone say, "By God's grace I was able to remain calm"? When we use the word "grace" this way, we are referring to "God's power that enables us to deal with life's circumstances." In other words, apart form the enabling power of God, I would never have been able to do this or that.
So, the word "grace," as used in the New Testament, expresses two related meanings: First, it is "Free and unmerited favor shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgement." Second, it is "God's power that enables us to deal with life's circumstances." The second meaning is encompassed in the first, because God's enabling power is part of His unmerited favor. So, part of God's unmerited favor is the enabling power He gives us. There is a distinction, but they are related.
When we seek God's approval through our own efforts, when we think we must do something to earn God's favor, this is pride. And pride causes us to fall from grace. To seek to be justified or approved of God by our works is the height of pride. And God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. We must understand that pride stands in direct opposition to grace:
1 Peter 5:5 (NASB) You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.
Please notice that this verse is both a warning to the proud and a promise to the humble. Pride is an attitude of self-sufficiency toward God. Humility is an acknowledgment that we are weak, unworthy, and inadequate. To the humble, God promises grace. But the proud falls from grace.
This principle runs all through Scripture - God brings the proud low, but he exalts the humble. Jesus taught this:
Matthew 23:12 (NASB) "And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.
It is one principle with two sides. It is a promise of being brought low to those who exalt themselves, and it is a promise of exaltation to those who humble themselves.
James gives us the principle in:
James 4:10 (NASB) Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.
Jesus, Peter, James, Luke, and Paul all said it. It is a biblical law - exaltation follows humiliation. Just as sure as the law of gravity, is the law that those who humble themselves will be exalted, and the one who exalts himself will be humbled.
Humility is not a downcast attitude of one who is unable to look someone in the eyes, and says, "Gosh, I'm really nothing." Biblically, humility is dependence upon God and submission to His will. A humble person realizes that he is dependant upon God for all he is, has, and does. A humble person does not seek God's approval through his own efforts. He does not seek to be justified by his works.
Believers, I believe that when Paul tells the Galatians to "stand firm in their freedom," he is telling them, as he tells Timothy, to "be strong in grace":
2 Timothy 2:1 (NASB) You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
Paul's command to "be strong " is in the present tense, which more precisely means: "keep being strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. " Does that command sound strange to you? Do you know how to be strong in grace?
Believers, in order to "keep standing firm," we must learn how to "be strong in grace," or to appropriate the grace of God. By "appropriating God's grace," I mean to take possession of the divine strength He has made available to us in Christ. God uses means to bring us His grace. We appropriate grace through the means of: Bible study, prayer, and submission to God's providence.
God's Word is a means of grace. Why is it important for us as Christians to read and study the Bible? It is important, because the Bible is a means of appropriating God's grace - His enabling power.
Acts 20:32 (NASB) "And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
The reference here is to the ongoing use of Scripture in our daily lives to build us up in the Christian faith. Paul calls it, "the word of His grace," the word through which we come to understand and appropriate God's grace in our daily lives.
If we are to appropriate the grace of God, then, we must spend time in our Bibles. We must seek to know and understand the great truths of Scripture. Growth in the grace of God requires time spent in the word of God. God works in our lives through His word:
1 Thessalonians 2:13 (NASB) And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God's message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.
How do we know that the "law" brings us into bondage and causes us to fall from grace? Where do we learn that God accepts us only by faith? Where do we learn about the grace of God? The answer to all of these questions is the Scriptures. That is why Scripture is called "the word of His grace." God uses Scripture to mediate His grace to us.
If we are to appropriate the grace of God, then, we must regularly expose ourselves directly to the word of God. We don't earn God's blessing by reading His word. But a regular intake of God's word is necessary to sustain a healthy spiritual life and to appropriate His grace.
I'm sure that those of you who regularly spend time in God's word understand that it is a means of grace. It is through His word that he strengthens us, encourages us, comforts us. Truly God's word is a means of grace. If we are going to appropriate God's grace, we must spend time in His word.
Prayer is another means of grace. Please look at:
Hebrews 4:15-16 (NASB) For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.
This is a call to prayer. We obtain grace to help in time of need; that is God's enabling power through prayer. We are to ask for grace; that is the power to deal with life's circumstances. The disciples went to God's throne of grace in prayer when they had been commanded by the Jewish rulers not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus:
Acts 4:29 (NASB) "And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence,
The NIV puts it this way:
Acts 4:29 (NIV) Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servantsto speak your word with great boldness.
They went to God in prayer for the enabling power, grace, to be able to speak boldly for Christ in the midst of great opposition. Remember, we said that grace was: "God's power that enables us to deal with life's circumstances." Their circumstances were more than they could handle, so, they went to God in prayer for grace. They appropriated God's grace through prayer.
Let me give you a definition of prayer: Prayer is a declaration of our dependence.Every time I pray, I am saying, "God, I need you!" Humility is dependence! We ask God's forgiveness, because we know we are dependant upon Him to forgive. We thank Him in prayer, because we know that whatever we are, or have, has come from Him. We petition Him, because only He can give us what we need. We know that God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble, and that prayer is humility in action. It is saying, "God, I can't do this, so, I come to you acknowledging my need."
Abraham Lincoln said, "I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for the day."
God also uses our submission to His providential working in our lives as a means of grace. We already looked at:
1 Peter 5:5-6 (NASB) You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE. 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time,
God gives grace to those who humble themselves under his mighty hand of providence. Our natural tendency is not to humble ourselves, but to resist His working in our lives. We fret, murmur, and worry even as we go to Him for deliverance. Often believers can become angry or even rebellious against God. This is pride! And God opposes the proud.
If we are gong to appropriate God's grace, we must humble ourselves; we must submit to His providential working in our lives. To do this, we must first see His mighty hand behind all the immediate causes of our adversities and heartaches. We must believe the biblical teaching that God is in sovereign control of all of our circumstances. We can only know these things if we spend time in His word.
Let me share with you one more means of grace before we close this morning. Anyone care to guess what it is? Other than the word, prayer, and submission to circumstances, what else does God use as a means of grace?
Ephesians 4:29 (NASB) Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.
What is the means of grace here? The ministry of other believers. God uses us as ministers of grace. Have you ever been in the pit of despair, being overcome by your circumstances? I have. And in those times, God uses His word to strengthen me; He uses prayer and my submission to His providential will. But He also uses "my friends." When I think of times of trial, I remember the comfort that I received from my friends. Friends who gave me encouraging words, words of support, words of comfort. My friends reminded me of what I knew the scripture said, and reminded me of God's faithfulness. My friends ministered grace to me. They were used of God as a means of grace. Ministering to one another in time of need is an important means by which the Lord mediates His grace to us.
Grace is available to meet our every need, to get us through every circumstance, to empower us for every task. But we must appropriate it. We must humble ourselves and read God's Word, pray, submit to His providential dealings in our life, and allow others to minister to us.
God's grace is wonderful. Experiencing it is terrific. Losing one's grip on it is terrible. Don't fall from grace. It can, and likely will, happen if you immerse yourself in legalistic teaching which promotes pride, or if you cease to read the Word and to pray and fellowship with other believers.
To live by grace is to live solely by the merit of Jesus Christ. To live by grace is to base my entire relationship with God, including my acceptance and standing with Him, on my union with Christ. To live by grace is to recognize that in myself I bring nothing of worth to my relationship with God, because even my righteous acts are like filthy rags in His sight. To live by grace means that we understand that God's love is not conditioned by our obedience or disobedience, but by the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 1:6 (NASB) to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
It is out of a grateful response to the grace of God that we seek to understand His commands and obey them. Not to be loved, but because we are loved.
Believers, we must guard our freedom in Christ, we must be strong in His grace. Falling from grace is a very real possibility for all of us.
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