The Spirit of Freedom
APRIL 21, 2021
Galatians 5:13-25 is Paul’s great “Declaration of Independence,” his statement from God on the nature and gift of freedom for the Christian.
What is the biblical doctrine of freedom? Before answering that question, a working definition: Freedom is that state in which a child of God is accepted by God forever on the basis (the sole basis) of Christ’s finished work on the cross. It is always accompanied by God’s Spirit in the life of the child of God whereby the fear of failure is replaced by the desire to succeed in the obedient, godly life.
As preliminary teaching to our discovery of what freedom is, Paul contrasts the fruit of the Spirit and the works of the flesh. The works of the flesh are listed in Galatians 5:19-21, “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like . . .”
This list is not the only list Paul gives in his letters. While there are some similarities, the lists are different. In this list, Paul points out the particular sins of the Galatians. Paul, like a skilled surgeon, applies the scalpel to the cancer at its precise place.
And we all find ourselves in that list.
With the catalog of human sin in the Church at Galatia, God is not listing these things to make us unhappy . . . just the opposite. Freedom is freedom from those things.
The following section relates to your salvation, “Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:21b).
Does that mean if we blow it, we will never inherit the Kingdom of God? No. The Greek verb Paul uses here means the habitual practice of these sins, rather than an isolated lapse into them. As Michel Quoist wrote, “It is not falling in the mud that is the worst; it is staying there.” So true.
If Jesus were to write down the thrust of your life, what he would write is the point. You will sin, but it is when your life is described by sin, that it will keep you from the Kingdom of God simply because it will become a reflection of what is inside you.
Now, to what freedom is . . .
Freedom is discerned in desire.
“For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Gal. 5:17).
A desire for righteousness, obedience, and commitment is a sign of freedom fast-approaching. In other words, where did you get that desire for righteousness? It comes from the God who will make you righteous. Where did you get that desire to deepen your life with Christ? It comes from the God who will give you the freedom to fulfill that desire.
Sanctification is a process, but Christians want to be better than they are. The desire of our heart is to please God. There is no reason Jesus loves you . . . he just does.
So what is it that you want? I may not be good, but I want to be. I may not be loving, but I want to be. I may not be faithful, but I want to be. That desire is the beginning of my freedom.
We once had a German shepherd named Calvin who, having been beaten and rejected by his previous owner, simply showed up at our house one day. While Calvin was comfortable around my wife and daughters, he was afraid of me as a man. Over a matter of months, I worked hard at showing my love to Calvin. I could see it in his eyes: “Whenever I think he is going to hit me, he scratches my ears . . . Every time I think he is going to throw something at me, he gives me a dog bone.” A battle went on inside Calvin, a battle between fear and love, between uncertainty and acceptance. Calvin began to see and he began to love. As Calvin began to accept me, it was a sign of his freedom.
God began a good work in you (Philippians 1:6) with the desires of the Spirit. That is how you discern the reality of your freedom.
Freedom is magnified in knowledge.
“Just as I also told you in time past . . .” (Gal. 5:21b).
Throughout his letter to the Galatians, without arguments or proof, there is the constant assumption that the readers of the letter will accept what Paul says and act on it. Paul believed that his Christian readers would heed the truth simply because he was speaking to the Spirit of God inside them.
“For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:11, 12). The magnification of your freedom is a gift from God, simply knowing that this is the way, so walk in it.
Knowledge and freedom are always wedded together.
Freedom is matured in relationship.
“I say then: Walk in the Spirit . . . But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal. 5:16, 18).
Seven times in these few verses Paul speaks of the companion of the Christian—the Holy Spirit.
When I went to college, there were so many choices and so many courses. I was like a child in a candy store! I got excited, but then I came to the realization that I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know what courses would help me in my field, what courses would be good for me, and what courses would be bad for me. At that point, I realized the importance of an advisor. My college advisor took me by the hand and helped me make the right choices. When I was about to make a bad choice, he talked me out of it. Likewise, when I was about to make a good choice, my advisor praised me for it.
The Holy Spirit does exactly the same thing for the Christian. He is our advisor. The Holy Spirit is the one who tugs in the right direction and, when we ask, he is the one who gives us the power to make the decisions that are needful and to act on those decisions.
The freeing gift of the Holy Spirit is an amazing gift. Our freedom is matured in relationship with the Holy Spirit and that makes all the difference in the world.
We not only have a relationship with God’s Spirit (a vertical relationship), we also have a relationship with one another (a horizontal relationship).
Frankly, we need one another. You need me even if you don’t like me. I need you even if I don’t like you.
There is great freedom in both of our relationships.
Freedom is secured in action.
Notice that in the previous verses, there is a difference between “led” by the Spirit and “walk” by the Spirit. Being “led” by the Spirit is passive; “walk” by the Spirit is active. The Greek word for “walk” here literally means “to walk in line with.” We are to walk in line with the Holy Spirit.
There is more teaching on action in Galatians 5:24, “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” The active taking up of the cross (Mark 8:34) and the crucifying of the flesh are statements of the active securing of freedom.
Not too long ago, I read about a study on successful executives. There were two traits in all of the executives, without exception. They saw what needed to be done and then did it. Likewise, our freedom is secured in action.
Freedom is exhibited in works.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law” (Gal. 5:22, 23).
We “smell like Jesus.” And the reason we’re so bad is that we’re trying so hard to be good.
Dogs don’t bark to become dogs. They bark because they are dogs.
A fruit tree doesn’t try hard to produce fruit. Fruit grows simply because it’s attached to the tree.
The same goes for the Christian.
You can tell a lot about the works of freedom. Freedom in Christ is not freedom from something; it is freedom to do something. When Christ sets you free, you now have the freedom to act in ways you never thought possible—to love more deeply than you ever thought possible and to be more self-controlled than you ever thought possible. That is the very essence of Christian freedom.
I once read a statement about grace in The Presbyterian Journal. It is just as true about our freedom in Christ: “Freedom in Christ does not get rid of good works, it produces them; it doesn’t make them unnecessary, it makes them possible.”
It’s a promise. You will get better . . . and you can’t help it.