The Gospel in Galatians
Freedom in Christ
Lesson #11 for September 9, 2017
Scriptures:Galatians 5:1-15; 1 Corinthians 6:20; Romans 8:1,4; 13:8; Hebrews 2:14-15.
1. This lesson is all about the freedom that we have in Christ Jesus. We will attempt to describe what that freedom involves and how it contrasts with the slavery of legalism and licentiousness.
2. What is Christian freedom? What does freedom mean to you? Is it more important to be free from something or free to do something? Freedom to choose? Is Satan free?
3. Don’t we often describe freedom as the opportunity or ability to do whatever we want?
4. ReadGalatians 5:1-15. There are several obvious points in this section. First of all, Paul felt very strongly about this issue. In the ditch on one side of the road, there is legalism–people who believe they are bound to obey all of the law as a way to earn salvation. In the ditch on the other side of the road, are those who think they are free to do whatever they feel like doing. They believe that no matter how sinful it may be, either they do not care about the consequences, or they believe Christ will take care of it.
5. But, where is the truth? Why were the Jews so opposed to Paul’s teachings? Christianity does not do away with the law. Jesus said to the woman taken in adultery: “Go, and sin no more.” (SeeJohn 8:11; compareJohn 5:14; 1 John 3:4.) People have tried all sorts of things to avoid sin and earn their own salvation: Pole-sitting (Saint Simeon), monasteries, being a hermit, etc. Although we could be saved by keeping the law if we could do that, (Leviticus 18:5; Ezekiel 18:9; 20:11-13; Luke 10:28; Romans 10:5; Galatians 3:12; Romans 3:9-23) the truth is that we cannot. You cannot get out of this world without dying. You either die to self, or you will die in your sins. Do you have to die to self to be saved?
6. InHebrews 2:14-15, Paul talked about those who were slaves because of their fear of death. Christ came to destroy Satan and death. After describing his personal struggles in Romans 7, Paul pointed out that there is no condemnation in Christ. (SeeRomans 8:1.) We have been bought for a price. (1 Corinthians 6:20) By sending His Own Son to deal with sin, God has met the demands of the law on our behalf. (Romans 8:3-4) Contrary to Satan’s claims, Jesus lived a perfect life as a human being–something which Satan had claimed would be impossible. Furthermore, Jesus demonstrated, again contrary to Satan’s claims, (Genesis 3:1-4) that sin does lead to death, the second death from which there is no resurrection unless one is divine. In the life and death of Jesus, almost every claim that Satan had leveled against God and His people was proven to be a lie. So, it was true asRomans 8:3 says, Jesus came to “do away with sin.”
Romans 8:3: What the Law could not do, because human nature was weak, God did. He condemned sin in human nature by sending his own Son, who came with a nature like sinful human nature, to do away with sin.—American Bible Society. (1992). The Holy Bible: The Good News Translation* (2nd ed.,Romans 8:3). New York: American Bible Society.
7. But, this is not freedom to do whatever our selfish souls choose! To love is to obey the law. (Romans 13:8) So, inGalatians 5:13, Paul concluded that real freedom in Christ means serving others with love.
8. To selfish human beings, this does not sound like freedom at all. How can service to others be considered freedom?
9. It is only by doing away with our selfish human tendencies and adopting the Christian ideal of love for others that we can gradually become more like Jesus. By looking at His example and by following–as far as possible–His example with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can eventually learn that serving others brings the greatest happiness. In fact, serving others is the right thing to do. Thus, it will be possible for God to turn loose a group of former sinners in the new earth with no jails, no police, and no restrictions because they are completely free; that is, they never want to do anything that is wrong. So, they will only do what is right.
All true obedience comes from the heart. It was heart work with Christ. And if we consent, He will so identify Himself with our thoughts and aims, so blend our hearts and minds into conformity to His will, that when obeying Him we shall be but carrying out our own impulses. The will, refined and sanctified, will find its highest delight in doing His service. When we know God as it is our privilege to know Him, our life will be a life of continual obedience. Through an appreciation of the character of Christ, through communion with God, sin will become hateful to us.—Ellen G. White, Desire of Ages* 668.3.
In the gift of God’s dear Son, a definite view of His character has been given to the race that is never absent from His mind. His very heart is laid open in the royal law. That infinite standard is presented to all, that there may be no mistake in regard to that kind of people God would have compose His kingdom. It is only those who are obedient to all His commandments who will become members of the royal family, children of the heavenly King. These will be honored with a citizenship above, a life that measures with the life of God,–a life without sorrow, pain, or death throughout eternal ages.—Ellen G. White, Signs of the Times,* November 17, 1898, par. 8.
God requires perfection of His children. His law is a transcript of His own character, and it is the standard of all character. This infinite standard is presented to all that there may be no mistake in regard to the kind of people whom God will have to compose His kingdom. The life of Christ on earth was a perfect expression of God’s law, and when those who claim to be children of God become Christlike in character, they will be obedient to God’s commandments. Then the Lord can trust them to be of the number who shall compose the family of heaven. Clothed in the glorious apparel of Christ’s righteousness, they have a place at the King’s feast. They have a right to join the blood-washed throng.—Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons* 315 (1900); God’s Amazing Grace* 148. [Bold type is added.]
10. ReadGalatians 3:13. What does it mean to say that Christ became a curse for us? We understand thatDeuteronomy 21:22-23 spells out that anyone who hangs on a tree brings a curse on the whole land.
11. But, what does that do for us? Christians have often said that Jesus “paid the price for our sins.” What is the price for our sins? (Romans 6:23) Who demands that a price be paid? Is it the law? To whom is it paid? How can we tell if it has been paid? Sin separates us from God. (Isaiah 59:2; Matthew 27:46) What does it take to fix that? Only by getting to know God on a personal basis and understanding each of His commands as the right thing to do, can we thus be truly free.
12. In this lesson there is considerable effort to spell out the difference between “doing the law” as some kind of means to earn our own salvation as opposed to “fulfilling the law”–meaning that having received salvation by faith, we learn to serve others; thus, obeying the law. Paul suggested that salvation sets us free from bondage to sin, death, and the Devil. How does that actually work? What is the relationship between the joy of salvation and faith?
13. If you told a thoroughly selfish person of the world that you were going to set him free to serve others, would he be attracted by that idea? Of course not! So, how do Christians get weaned away from selfishness and learn to be truly loving? Is it really possible for a former sinner, a selfish descendent of Adam and Eve, to learn to love others as we love ourselves? How do we do that? (GC 555.1;2 Corinthians 3:18; Matthew 7:12)
14. There are some who feel that we just need to grit our teeth, buckle down, and obey God’s commandments. But, God does not desire the type of obedience that springs from fear or obligation.
The man who attempts to keep the commandments of God from a sense of obligation merely–because he is required to do so–will never enter into the joy of obedience. He does not obey. When the requirements of God are accounted a burden because they cut across human inclination, we may know that the life is not a Christian life. True obedience is the outworking of a principle within. It springs from the love of righteousness, the love of the law of God. The essence of all righteousness is loyalty to our Redeemer. This will lead us to do right because it is right–because right doing is pleasing to God.—Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons* 97.3-98.0 (1900).
A sullen submission to the will of the Father will develop the character of a rebel. By such a one service is looked upon as drudgery. It is not rendered cheerfully, and in the love of God. It is a mere mechanical performance. [If he dared, such a one would disobey. His rebellion is smothered, ready to break out at any time in bitter murmurings and complaints.] Such service brings no peace or quietude to the soul.—Ellen G. White, MS 20, 1897* (MR # 970*); Signs of the Times,* July 22, 1897, par. 11. Section in bracket omitted in That I May Know Him* 120.4; 12MR* 236.1. [Bold type is added.]
15. A sullen submission is no freedom! How did Christ set us free? Did He do that by paying our debts? Or, by demonstrating the truth about God and what it means to live a sinless life? And by doing that so convincingly that we learn the truth and choose to follow His example? If you are not willing to recognize the benefits and superiority of doing things God’s way, then it would not be safe to admit you to heaven.
16. Read1 Corinthians 6:20; 10:13-14; andColossians 2:6. Paul made it very clear that given certain facts–which he stated–we are then responsible to do certain things. God gives us strength. He gives us life; but, not so we can waste it. We are set free to use our bodies to bring glory to God.
17. Obviously, freedom was a major issue for Paul. Why do you think that was? In his letters he wrote about freedom 28 times. By contrast, the other New Testament writers mentioned it only 13 times. Clearly, Paul was not talking about economic or political freedom; he was talking about freedom from the tyranny of sin. Paul had been a Pharisee. Was that a factor?
18. Jesus Himself stated that as human beings, we will serve one of two masters. (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13) Does that mean that no matter what we do, we will always be slaves? To whom are we slaves? Do we have to serve one or the other master? The answer is, “Yes!” Basically, our motives will either be selfish or loving. So, what motivates us?
19. From what are we set free? Jonathan Edwards of early American fame served an angry God. He said:
So that, thus it is that natural men are held in the hand of God, over the pit of hell; they have deserved the fiery pit, and are already sentenced to it; and God is dreadfully provoked, his anger is as great towards them as to those that are actually suffering the executions of the fierceness of his wrath in hell, and they have done nothing in the least to appease or abate that anger, neither is God in the least bound by any promise to hold them up one moment; the devil is waiting for them, hell is gaping for them, the flames gather and flash about them, and would fain lay hold on them, and swallow them up; the fire pent up in their own hearts is struggling to break out: and they have no interest in any Mediator, there are no means within reach that can be any security to them. In short, they have no refuge, nothing to take hold of; all that preserves them every moment is the mere arbitrary will, and uncovenanted, unobliged forbearance of an incensed God.—Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Enfield, Connecticut, July 8, 1741. [http://www.jesus-is-lord.com/sinners.htm]
20. If you felt that it was your responsibility to appease the anger or wrath of such a God, how would you do it? Some have sacrificed their children! Would you feel free in any sense of the word after doing that?
21. Are you among the millions who have recognized the freeing actions of Jesus Christ? Can you see the changes that have resulted from your relationship with Jesus Christ? Our lives should be continually growing more like Jesus. Remember that if you are still worshiping exactly the same mental picture of God that you worshiped one year ago, you are worshiping a graven image. In our lives, do we sometimes go two steps forward and then one step back?
22. Freedom must be measured by outcomes. How do you exercise your freedom? What does it mean to you? Are you sure that you are free from the bondage of legalism as well as the bondage of licentiousness? Often, what happens is the sequence that follows. 1) A person becomes a Christian. 2) S/he is very excited but fairly soon discovers that s/he cannot manage to avoid sin. 3) So, s/he starts looking around at other church members. 4) S/he then sees that others are not doing any better than s/he is. 5) At that point, s/he either drops out or starts to think that God grades on the curve. 6) So, s/he begins comparing himself/herself with other church members. It is very difficult to tell what motives are behind a person’s actions. Who is the Judge? SeeJohn 3:17-21; 5:22; 12:47-48.
23. What are the dangers of legalism? Paul reminded his hearers that if one is circumcised, that is, if one is trying to please God by something that he does himself or to himself, he is required to keep the whole law. What are the implications of that? If you try to please God by things that you do, you are no longer accepting the righteousness by faith that God has offered you free of charge; you are trusting in a do-it-yourself religion.
24. If you accept the righteousness by faith that God offers, you recognize that you cannot do it for yourself. And, you cannot at the same time be doing things to try to earn salvation. Trying to earn your way to heaven by whatever works, what you might come up with, is like throwing an anchor out behind you while you are trying to run a race. Paul reminded his listeners that if he were still advocating the keeping of all those superficial, Pharisaical requirements, the Jews would not find his gospel offensive at all.
25. But, just to show how offended Paul felt by this form of legalism, he said that he hoped the promoters of circumcision would go all the way and castrate themselves! (Galatians 5:12)
26. Citizenship always involves responsibilities. What are the responsibilities of a citizen of the kingdom of heaven? Do we have to give up our legalistic, fear-driven religion? (1 John 4:18;Hebrews 2:14-15)
27. If you are trying to earn your salvation by a lot of things that you do to prove to God that you are savable, what does that imply about God? Is He a hard taskmaster, requiring a long list of do’s and don’ts?
28. On the other hand, if you see the life and death of Jesus and recognize what God has done for you and freely admit that you cannot do it for yourself and then accept the freely offered righteousness, it will be a transforming experience for your life. Love will become the predominant motivator instead of selfishness. This, of course, seems completely impossible to inherently selfish beings. But, it is possible! This is a metamorphosis. Are we motivated by love? Or, by selfishness?
29. Do not be fooled! The freedom that we have in Christ is not permission for self-indulgence. ReadGalatians 5:22-23. The fruit of the Spirit includes self-control. It not only includes self-control but also death to self. This is not easy for human beings. Our natural tendencies are described inGalatians 5:19-21.
30. Wouldn’t you love to live in a community where everyone loved everyone else and everyone was looking out for everyone else–where people are always helpful, always kind, always courteous, and always happy? Of course, if you would like to belong to a community like that, you must be that kind of person yourself–willing to serve the needs of others. But, God is inviting us to live in just such a community for the rest of eternity.
31. This requires the practice of true agape love while we are on this earth. This is a kind of love which is based on principle and not emotion. It requires doing things for others long enough until we recognize that it is the greatest way to freedom and happiness. When we realize that and begin to act out consistently that kind of behavior with the help of the Holy Spirit, then we are on track to becoming like Jesus.
32. We have been talking about the grand ideas of freedom and slavery, love and selfishness. But, what happens when you boil that down to talk about the minutia–the daily, individual, tiny acts of life? The ancient Jews believed that they needed to please God. And they recognized that in Jewish history when their nation stopped pleasing God, they got into all kinds of trouble.
33. So, they decided to create for themselves a lot of rules to make sure that they pleased God. Now, that is fine so long as you are following God’s guidelines and applying those rules only to yourself. But, they were never happy with that. They created many rules which they then wanted to apply to everyone around them. There were rules for dress, for diet, for leisure, for every aspect of living, and especially for how one was to observe the Sabbath. Their rules became a burden that was impossible to bear.
34. So, how do we fulfill the whole law? (Galatians 5:13-15) If we could keep all the laws that God has given us, we could live by doing so. (See #5 above.) But, we cannot. However, if we learn to truly love, Paul repeatedly said that love is the fulfilling of all law. (Romans 13:8; Galatians 5:14)
35. Many ancient rulers made rules for their people. Many of those law codes included expressions that represent what every mother has said at one time or another to her children: “If you do not want your sibling to do that to you, do not do it to him/her.” But, Jesus took that ancient adage and turned it into something completely different and incredibly more powerful.
Matthew 7:12: Do for others what you want them to do for you: this is the meaning of the Law of Moses and of the teachings of the prophets.—American Bible Society. (1992). The Holy Bible: The Good News Translation* (2nd ed.,Matthew 7:12). New York: American Bible Society.
36. Compare Christ’s statement with the previous statement. How do they differ? Does Jesus’s statement tell us that the law and love are not incompatible? Where in the Old Testament did Jesus get that? Is it an expansion ofLeviticus 19:18?
37. Is it easier to love others or to keep the commandments? How often do we as church members get all disturbed by what really is minutia? How much time do we spend talking and studying about the real core issues in the gospel? Do we understand the gospel so well that not even the Devil could confuse us over it?
38. We were not set free to serve our own selfish interests but, instead, to serve others. Could we really do that?
© 2017, Kenneth Hart, MD, MA, MPH. Permission is hereby granted for any noncommercial use of these materials. Free distribution of all or of a portion of this material such as to a Bible study class is encouraged. *Electronic version. [email protected]
Last Modified: July 9, 2017
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