Free to Love
Topic: Gospel Living Passage: Galatians 5:6–5:15
We are making the final turn in Galatians. In chapters 1-2, Paul defends his apostolic ministry of the gospel. In chapters 2-4, Paul gives a lengthy argument and defense of the gospel of justification by faith alone in Christ. And now in chapter 5, Paul directs our attention to the application of the gospel. This is where we begin to see the implications of the gospel for our lives. And what is the first place Paul goes? Freedom. Freedom is at the heart of the gospel. Christ is the great Abolitionist of his people has set them free.
Harriet Tubman is reported to have said: “I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”
Slavery was all they knew such that they didn’t know they were slaves. They had been breathing in the poisonous air of bondage for so long, the crisp, mountain-fresh air of liberty seemed like an alien concept. Beloved, we need to know what Christ has set us free from (past tense as Paul says in Galatians 5:1) so we can enjoy this liberty and so we can be all the more vigilant not to fall back into slavery which is part of Paul’s concern. In verse 7, Paul says,
You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?
You were doing well, running in the grace of God, and enjoying the freedom Christ has won for you. Who has pulled you off course? Then he makes it clear in verse 8, “This persuasion is not from him who calls you.” The One who called you in his grace has not now pulled you off the course of his grace and freedom and back into slavery. Christ has freedom for you, not slavery. So, for your joy, let me just briefly remind you of what Christ, the Freedom Fighter and Liberator has set you free from and then address what we are free for. Breathe in the fresh air of freedom:
You are free from lawkeeping as a means of acceptance (Galatians 2:16). You are free from sin (Romans 6:14). You are free from condemnation (Romans 8:1). You are free from the law’s curse (Galatians 3:13). You are free from the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15). You are free from demonic powers (Colossians 1:13, 2:15). You are free from a life of futility (Ephesians 4:17). Breathe in the air of freedom. This is what God has called you to. Verse 13, “You were called to freedom brothers.”
But what are we to do with all this freedom? Paul’s answer is very clear in our text this morning. Freed to love. I want to draw your attention to three signposts to the land of freedom which is a land of love: 1) the evidence of freedom is love, 2) Use your freedom to love one another and 3) Guard your freedom with love.
Signpost # 1: The evidence of freedom is love
If this freedom comes through faith in Christ alone, what is the proof of this freedom we have entered into by faith alone? Paul’s answer is love. Verse 6 says,
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
Some were saying circumcision is what counted as a sign of God’s favor. Paul says no. But he can already foresee others saying based on what the book of Galatians, “Ah, uncicumcision must count as a sign of God’s favor then!” Paul says neither one counts, they are both completely irrelevant. All that matters is faith working through love. The evidence of saving faith which brings us into freedom is love. Faith working through love.
And at this point we see the two apostles Paul and James are on the same page. James says a dead faith is no saving faith, and Paul here says, “Amen!” The faith which alone saves and justifies is not an idle faith. There is an old saying, “we are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.” A living faith shows its life through works. Paul says the supreme way faith works is through love. In fact, it seems as though Paul is saying all the work that faith does is through love. Jonathan Edwards in a sermon entitled “Love, the sum of all virtue” said, “[Love] is the life and soul of a practical faith.”
We must understand the nature of this love. This love does not naturally resides in man that we somehow summon through our own innate powers. In fact, it is not a natural love at all. There is love in the world. Such as a romantic love between two lovers. Or a brotherly love between friends. These loves are real and experienced by Christians and non Christians alive. This is a different love. It is a divine love that comes down from above; a covenantal and committed love (OT: steadfast love). Lamentations 3:23 says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end.” And it is this love God plants in our hearts when he are born into his family as free children. We see it in Galatians 4:6 when Paul explains,
And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying, “Abba! Father!”
The Holy Spirit fills us with this love. In fact, Paul says in Romans 5:5, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” The Holy Spirit is the animating life and power of this love. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of love. Love for God and Jesus Christ. Love for others. And there really is no way to disconnect love for God and love for others - it is one and the same. It comes from God through the Holy Spirit into our hearts. 1 John 4:7-8 tells us such things as “God is love” and “love comes from God” and “whoever loves has been born of God and knows God”.
On the other hand, the one who does not love does not know God and has not been born of him. The evidence of freedom in Christ that we enter by faith is love. The only thing that counts as outward evidence of salvation is “faith working through love.” So this naturally leads to the next signpost.
Signpost #2: Use your freedom to love for one another
For you were called to freedom brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
You were called to freedom. Not to feed your selfish desires. Here a mistake is often made in terms of freedom. If the question is asked “Can I do ______________ since I am now free?” as though wondering which transgressive boundaries can be crossed now. That’s not freedom. Furthermore, some seem to believe this freedom is a libertarian freedom where we are unimpeded to do as we please as long as we harm no one.
Paul makes obvious that this is to misunderstand how freedom is to be used. The better question is, “How shall I use my freedom?” And here Paul uses a bit of irony. He is affirming freedom. But then he says, use your freedom to put yourself in a different kind of slavery. Become a slave of one another through love. He says, “You are free. Use your freedom to serve [be a slave of] one another. The word translated “serve” is the very same that is translated “slavery” in Galatians 4. Paul says this even more clearly in 1 Corinthians 9:19 where he says,
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant [slave] of all, that I might win more of them.
Paul uses his freedom to become a slave to all men. Are you free? Are you this free? Free to spend yourself through love in serving one another. Thabiti Anyabwile says, “Love turns us from our bellies to our brothers.” Agape love makes us radically others-oriented.
If you are looking for God’s will for your life, it’s right here. Use your freedom in Christ to serve others through love. It may look different in different seasons. I’m thinking of mothers with 4-7 young children in the home. Nevertheless, this is God’s will for you, to “serve one another through love.” So use your freedom in Christ to love.
Signpost #3: Guard your freedom with love
For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
Paul contrasts the high command to love with the biting and devouring nature of living according to the flesh. If freedom is separated from love for one another, people get hurt. It damages people! It does great harm. And the freedom doesn’t last. To use the freedom we have in Christ in order to gratify sinful desires will simply lead into another form of slavery - all we do is move from one prison cell to another. And to take on that vibe as a community, Paul says, is to become like a village of cannibals who bite, devour, and consume each other.
The antidote to this cannibalistic spirit is love. Love is the inoculation we need to guard our freedom. We guard our freedom with love. Notice the supremacy and beauty of love! Love fulfills the whole law. All that God requires! Paul speaks of the way or life of love as the more excellent way (more excellent than the most amazing and high octane gifts:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends [fails]. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
That’s the opposite of biting and devouring; it guards us from biting and devouring. Love is how we walk out the freedom Christ has purchased for us. Love as the evidence of freedom as we use our freedom to love and guard our freedom with love.
So how are you doing with this? Are you free to love? How do we get there?
You know the story of the Good Samaritan. After going through the entire story, Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.” Well, Jesus practiced what he preached. Think of the love of Christ - poured out toward us! The story of the good samaritan is ultimately about Jesus who when he saw you lying destitute, having been brutalized by sin and Satan. He looked on you with compassion and came to you. He covered your nakedness, bound up your wounds, and carried you to safety. All of this he did at the expense of himself.
1 John 3:16 says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought also to lay down our lives for the brothers.” The only way we actually can love others in this way is when we have first had an encounter with the love of Christ.
If you were dying of thirst in the Siberian forest and the stumbled upon a flowing, teaming river would not your heart leap with joy. You would run to the river, stoop down, and drink deeply. Well today you may drink and be satisfied! If you are thirsty for this divine love, you may drink from the river of his delights (Psalm 36:8). It is here for the taking, for the Lord is here today, ready to fill every thirsty soul. Ready to fill you with his divine love.
If you want it, he will not turn you away. For the Lord himself has said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink…” Every thirsty soul may come.