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Sermon Message

"Keeping the Law Through Love"

Galatians 5:13-14
Theme: Having been set free from bondage to the law through Christ, God now calls us to keep the requirements of His law through love.

(Delivered Sunday, April 27, 2003 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New King James Version.)  


We've been in the midst of a study of the Ten Commandments. We have not yet begun to study the commandments themselves, however. The Bible warns us against the danger of misunderstanding the purpose and proper use of God's law (1 Tim. 1:7). And so, taking that warning seriously, we've been seeking first to lay a good biblical foundation for ourselves - looking carefully at the principles we must have clearly in our minds before we can understand the purpose of the Ten Commandments and use them rightly.

So far, we've found several very important principles in the Scriptures concerning the law of God as embodied in the Ten Commandments. First, we found that the law of God was not given to us by God so that we would become righteous before Him through keeping it. It was never God's purpose in giving His law that anyone should be made righteous in His sight through their efforts to obey it. In fact, God very clearly tells us in the Scriptures that the law does not make us into righteous people, but rather into guilty sinners who desperately need to be saved. It says that "by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20).

I believe that the most dangerous mistake anyone can ever make concerning God's law is to believe that they can be made righteous through obeying it. Paul wrote to Timothy and told him;

But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust (1 Tim. 1:8-11).

The law, Paul says, is "good" if it is used for its proper purpose - that is, to declare sin to be sin, and to declare sinners to be in need of salvation. If we attempt to use the law as a means of making ourselves righteous before God and of making ourselves acceptable in His sight, then we are dangerously misusing it.

A second principle we've considered - one that follows from this first one - is that because the law is given by God to condemn our sin and place us in need of salvation, then it is therefore also that which God uses to bring us to the Savior. It is, as Paul has put it, the "tutor" that brings us to Christ. He wrote,

... The Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterwards be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith (Gal. 3:22-24).

It's crucial that we understand the role of God's law in bringing about salvation. The law must be understood to be distinct from the gospel; but the law must also be understood to work in "partnership" with the gospel. It's not the law's role to make us righteous through our works; rather, its role is to condemn us as helpless sinners and thus make it necessary for us to be made righteous by faith in God's grace through Jesus Christ. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is what saves us; and the law is that which forces us to the foot of the cross to plead for God's mercy and to receive salvation. The law takes away all our options, so we have no where else to turn but to God for mercy, and to receive salvation as a free gift of His grace.

A third and very wonderful principle that we have learned is that, for men and women who have properly responded to the law's condemnation - that is, who have realized the terrible guilt they bear before God, who have come to terms with the hopelessness of ever trying to make themselves righteous in God's sight through their own efforts, and who have therefore pleaded the blood of Jesus as their only hope for salvation from their condemned condition ... for such men and women there is now (Praise God!!) no condemnation from the law. In fact, by faith in Christ, God has now declared the believing sinner not only no longer guilty, but positively righteous in His sight. Paul wrote;

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:1-4).

You see, it is still absolutely necessary that God's people stand before Him in perfect righteousness - not just in partial righteousness but in perfect righteousness. And yet, we cannot make ourselves even slightly righteous before Him on the basis of our own efforts to obey His law. Now God could have solved this terrible problem by simply ignoring the righteous requirements of His law; but if He had done that, He would have been acting in contradiction to His own nature - which is something He will never do. God will never solve the problem of our unrighteousness by becoming even slightly unrighteous Himself.

So, what has He done instead? God has done for us what the law - because of our own weakness - could not do. He gave His Son Jesus who, by His death, died in our place; thus condemning sin in the flesh and extracting the required payment for our disobedience to the law in His own Person. And then, God placed the righteousness of Jesus upon us, so that we now stand before Him clothed in the righteousness of His Son. God has "made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21). What's more, God has placed the Holy Spirit in us who believe; and it's the Holy Spirit who lives the righteous life of Jesus through us, "that the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit".

When God declares that there is now "no condemnation" from the law for those of us who are in Christ, it's the same as if He had declared that "the righteous requirements of the law" are perfectly fulfilled in us by faith! We stand 100% righteous in God's sight with respect to the law because of what Jesus has done for us!! (I hope you can appreciate why I'm so eager to review all this before you! What good news it all is for us sinners!!)

The fourth and most recent principle that we've examined is that, having now been delivered from the condemnation of the law, and having now been declared perfectly righteous in God's sight through faith in Jesus Christ, we are now to live in actual practice like what we have been declared to be - 100% righteous in God's sight.

The law no longer condemns us; and we've been released from its bondage. But it wouldn't be true to say that the law now has no further bearing in our lives. The law now serves a new role in our lives, in that it provides us with an objective description of how people who have been declared righteous should live. It serves as the abiding pattern for the kind of practical holiness that God now calls us to in Christ as His redeemed people. Paul wrote to Titus and said;

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-14).

Conforming ourselves to the Ten Commandments is not what makes us righteous in God's sight; because only our union with Jesus Christ by faith can make us righteous. Nor, having been declared righteous by faith, will our conformity to God's law add anything to that declaration. Our own obedience to the law cannot make us even one little bit more righteous than we already are in Christ. But the law is now to serve as the description of a holy life that pleases Him. It describes how we are to live as people who have already been declared 100% righteous. God has saved us by grace to make us into righteous people; and God's revealed standard of righteousness- embodied for us in the Ten Commandments - shows us what we, as holy people, are to look like in our everyday conduct.

It's as if He first fully adopts us as His children - making us full-fledged members of His family, and then, afterwards, reintroduces His Ten Commandments to us as the proper rules of conduct for members of His household. As Peter writes, we are to be

... As obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy" (1 Peter 1:14-16).

I sincerely hope that you appreciate how important it has been that we've spent time considering the purpose and uses of the Ten Commandments before we have begun to study the commandments themselves. It's crucial that we have these biblical principles clear in our understanding, so that we don't go astray and misuse God's wonderful law. Many people have been harmed spiritually and have made spiritual wreckage of their lives - and some have even refused God's salvation by grace and have been lost eternally - because of a failure to rightly understand and use God's law. But what a joyful and freeing thing it is to believe rightly about the Ten Commandments! The law of God truly is, as Paul said, "good if one uses it lawfully".

* * * * * * * * * *

We come, this morning, to yet another important principle in Scripture about the law. Each of the principles we've been looking at have been built one upon the other; and now, we come to a question raised by that last principle. If the law is now to be viewed, not as the means to achieve righteousness, but as the pattern for practical holiness for the man or woman already declared righteous by faith; then how are we to put this aspect of the law into practice? Are we now, as redeemed people, to place ourselves once again under the bondage of a list of rules? Having been freed from bondage to the letter of the law, are we now to once again step back under its dominion? Clearly, we're not to be "Antinomians" in our conduct; but are we now to become "Legalists" instead?

The apostle Paul wrote his New Testament letter to the Galatian believers because they were going seriously astray in this very matter. They had been set free from bondage to the strict letter of the law through their faith in Christ. But Paul wrote this very urgent letter to them, because they were seeking to maintain their righteousness before God by placing themselves - once again - under bondage to the law. He wrote;

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? (Gal. 3:1-3).

Apparently, some false teachers had been causing the Galatian Christians to believe they now needed to be back under the dominion of the law. These false teachers were "misusing" God's law among the Galatian believers; and were seeking to bring them under bondage to the rules and regulations of the laws of Moses as interpreted by Judaism. Paul wrote to remind them that they were no longer slaves to the law but sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ;

But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature ar not gods. But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain (Gal. 4:8-11).

Paul is very concerned that these dear liberated Christians not fall back again into a dreadful bondage to the law. He is very concerned to protect them from the harm these false teachers were causing; and concerned to keep them from the chains these false teachers where trying to wrap around them - chains that these false teachers had forged through a misuse of God's law! He was very concerned to preserve these believers in the wonderful, freeing, soul-satisfying grace of God through Jesus Christ. And so, he puts the matter very plainly to them:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage (5:1).

So we can see that God does not want us to place ourselves once again under the bondage of the rigid rules and regulations of the law. But we have also seen that God does not wish for us to live in disregard to the righteous requirements of His law either. This leads us to Paul's words to the Galatians in verses 13-14 of chapter five. Listen very carefully to how he brings our liberty in Christ into perfect balance with the requirements of the law. He writes;

For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (5:13-14).

In other words, they were to fulfill the righteous requirements of the law. But not by being brought, once again, under bondage to the letter of the law. That was the old route by which they attempted to keep the law; and, of course, all it did was result in their condemnation. God calls them to keep the requirements of the law through an entirely different route - that is, through active love. All the law is summed up in the principle of love; and so, we will be fulfilling the requirements of the law to the degree that we sincerely, actively love one another.

You can see how this new principle fits in with all that we've learned so far. The first principle we've discovered was this: The law was not given to make us righteous but to declare us sinners. The second was: Thus declaring us sinners, the law leads us to Christ for salvation as a free gift of God's grace. The third was: Having trusted Christ for salvation, there is now no condemnation for us from the law. The fourth was: Having now been declared righteous, we are to live a life that is in accordance with the righteous standards of the law. And now, this next principle is: We keep the righteous standards of God's law - not through a rigid obedience to the letter of the law - but rather through active love.

* * * * * * * * * *

I remember a story that I heard long ago; and I'd now like to adapt it as an illustration of what Paul is saying in these two verses. It's a story of something that was done once in a high school or college age church group. The group leader had promised the group that he was going to invite everyone to a dinner. When they arrived, they found the table prepared with assigned seats, plates and spoons for each person. And what was most unusual was that each person's spoon had a cord tied to it. The other end of the cord was fastened down beside the plate of another person at some other spot on the table. But no one's cord was long enough to allow anyone to put their own spoon into their own mouths. And then, after everyone was seated, he served food onto the plate of each bewildered guest and invited them all to enjoy their meal.

The automatic response of each person was to try to bring their own spoons to their own mouths; but no one could. The cord wasn't long enough to reach them, because it was anchored to the plate of someone else on the table. Dinner was becoming a frustrating experience; and that, I suggest, would illustrate how incapable we are of living the life that pleases God through obedience to the strict letter of the law.

But soon, the dinner guests discovered that they could enjoy the meal after all - if they scooped up food and served each other. They could eat a good meal; but love was now the route they had to take in order to get there. They learned an important lesson in active during that meal; and I suggest to you that it illustrates the new route we're to follow in living the life that pleases God.

We have been called by God to live holy lives before Him - lives that are lived in conformity to His holy law, and that are pleasing in His sight. But God has not called us to live the life that pleases Him through a strict conformity to the letter of the law. In fact, we'll never be pleasing to Him by going that route. Instead, He has called us to live the life that pleases Him through a brand new route - through serving one another in love. And when we truly serve one another out of genuine Christ-inspired, Holy Spirit-empowered love, we discover that we are living holy lives that are in conformity to the righteous standards of His law.

* * * * * * * * * *

Let's look a little closer at what Paul is teaching us in these two verses. First, we see ...


Paul says, "For you, brethren, have been called to liberty ..."

I want you, first, to notice the word "For". This indicates that what Paul says in these two verses serve as the cause for something that he said before them. And immediately before them, we find a very passionate appeal. Paul writes to these believers who were slipping back under bondage to the law, and says,

You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in you, in the Lord, that you will have no other mind; but he who troubles you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is. And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased. I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off! (vv. 7-12).

Strong words! But then, Paul almost felt as if he were at war! The Lord Jesus had given His life on the cross to purchase their freedom from the condemning power of the law. They had been set free; and they now stood in liberty in Christ. That liberty was purchased for them at great cost; and there could be no greater liberty than that in which they now stood. As Jesus Himself once said, "Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed" (John 8:36). They had been made slaves of sin because of the condemning power of the law; and Jesus, by His sacrifice on the cross, had forever set them free from its condemning power. What a great thing it is to be set free from bondage to a law they could not keep, and which only condemned them to death! How foolish to now wish to be back under its bondage again.

Paul gave a similar warning to the believers in the Colossian church. He said that God had forgiven all their trespasses;

... having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God. Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations - "Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle," which all concern things which perish with the using - according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh (Col. 3:14-23).

And second, I want you to notice the word "called". How important that word is! We did not call ourselves into liberty; but we have been called into liberty by another. It was God Himself that has set you free in Christ; and in Christ, you are free indeed! It can't get better than that! What a gift of grace that wonderful freedom is! It is a gift that is ours with great authority!

Let me get personal with you for a moment, dear brother or sister. You and I must always beware. It has been the Savior's good pleasure to set you and me free from the letter of the law, and from bondage to its rules and regulations. He calls us to be holy; but He has set us free from the burden of trying to be holy through keeping a list of do's and don'ts. But there will always be someone who can't stand our liberty; and who will seek to bring us under their control through their own personal list of do's and don'ts as a means to achieve their own version of holiness - rules and regulations of their own making, to achieve a spirituality of their own creation.

Dear brother or sister; Jesus Christ has set you free. Paul says "you have been called to liberty"; and that calling is from no less an authority than God Himself. Don't you ever again place yourself under the bondage of rules and regulations as a means of achieving some man-made version of spirituality. "Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made you free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage."

* * * * * * * * * *

But does our "liberty" in Christ mean that we have freedom to do whatever we want? Are we now set free to satisfy our own sinful passions, and gratify our own lusts? Absolutely not! Our liberty does not mean license! Rather it means being set free to be Christ's whole-hearted servants to one another. The second thing we see in this passage is ...


Notice what Paul says. First, he says, "For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh ..."

I remember hearing a seasoned preacher say that you can rest assured you're faithfully proclaiming the message of God's grace when you hear people misinterpret it and say, "Well then; I guess I can sin all I want because I'm set free from the law." He said you can rest assured when you hear such a thing, because that's the same sort of misinterpretation certain people placed upon Paul's preaching when they heard it. In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote - as if quoting someone else's argument; "What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? Certainly not!" (Rom. 6:15).

But Paul goes on to explain that such an attitude is not liberty at all - but another form of slavery. He said, "Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slave to whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?" (v. 16). Jesus Himself said that whoever sins is a slave to sin (John 8:34). No one who gives himself or herself over to sinfulness under excuse of liberty from the law is really liberated. They are still slaves - slaves to sin.

But listen carefully to what Paul goes on to say to the Roman believers;

But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 6:17-23).

The liberty that we have been liberated unto is not "as an occasion for the flesh". But rather, our liberty is a liberty that sets us free from bondage to the law to become God's "slaves of righteousness" from the heart!

It's important to notice that Paul doesn't say we now become one another's slaves. Rather, we become the slaves of Jesus; and in our service to Him, He commands us to serve one another in love. He is the one that gave us a "new commandment"; and that commandments was that we love one another (John 13:34). He washed His disciples' feet; and then said, "If I then, Your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet" (v. 14).

You see; Jesus sets us free so that we can now present ourselves to Him and say, "I am Yours, Lord. My hands are Yours. My feet are Yours. My lips are Yours. My mind is Yours. My eyes and ears are Yours. Command me as You will!" And He doesn't then tell us to get back under the rules and regulations of the law. Instead, He turns us around, makes us face one another, and commands us - as His "slaves of righteousness" - to now serve one another in love.

* * * * * * * * * *

Paul says, "for you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another." Love is the dynamic behind our service. And that leads us to the third and final thing we see in this passage ...


He says, "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" Paul is here quoting from Leviticus 19:18.

Jesus quoted from this passage from Leviticus as well. Do you remember the expert in Jewish law who came to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" (Matthew 22:36)? Jesus answered, ""You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets" (vv. 37-40). And do you see what Jesus has revealed to us in saying this? He is showing that all the commandments of God are summed up in the single principle of love. If we love God with all our heart, soul and mind, then we will keep the first four commandments concerning Him. And if we love our neighbor as our self, we will keep the remaining six commandments concerning others. It is all summed up in love.

Paul uses that same passage from Leviticus in his letter to the Romans. In the thirteenth chapter, he wrote;

Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," "You shall not bear false witness," "You shall not covet," and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Rom. 13:8-10).

* * * * * * * * * *

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; God has set us free from bondage to the letter of the law. But He has not set us free from the righteous requirements of the law. He has simply called us to follow a different route in fulfilling the requirements of the law. We are now to serve one another in love, and thus fulfill the law toward one another. How freeing that is!! What a pleasure it is to keep God's law, when it is fulfilled through love!!

Think of it. If I truly love someone, I will not seek to murder them. I will not seek to sexually use or abuse someone I truly love, or seek to draw them from faithfulness to their marriage vows. I will not steal from someone I love; or bear false witness against them; or covet the things that God gave to them. If I love someone - truly love them - I will (as in the words of 1 Corinthians 13) be longsuffering toward them, kind toward them, unenvious of them. I will not parade myself before them or be puffed up against them. I will be courteous and unselfish toward them - not easily angered toward them, or prone to think the worst about them. I will never rejoice when evil befalls them, but will always rejoice when God's truth wins out in their lives. I will bear all things, believe all things, hope all things and endure all things with respect to someone I love. And I will not fail in my love toward them. I will seek God's very best for the person I love; and will gladly give myself as God's servant to that person in order to see to it that His best for them comes about.

I note that Paul says that "all the law is fulfilled" in this - not just part of it, but all of it. This is the heart and soul of God's commandments - that we, in love, serve one another. If we don't understand this important principle, then we will not understand God's law rightly.

May we, by God's grace do more than understand it rightly - may we so fulfill it!

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