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Wednesday Evening Home Bible Study
June 14, 2006
Praise God for liberty! Our liberty in Christ means that we now are no longer under the burden of the law as a means of being accepted in the sight of God. We are now accepted by Him as fully righteous in Christ; and a strict conformity to the law cannot—and will not—add to that acceptability one little bit. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). Truly, our liberty in Christ is the deepest and most profound liberty there is; for “if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).
But with this great liberty comes great responsibility. There are two extremes to beware of. The first is that of seeking to keep the ceremonial law of Moses in order to be made righteous before God. The ceremonial law has been fulfilled perfectly in Christ; and it was this extreme that was the main focus of Paul's letter to the Galatians. But the second is that of misinterpreting our liberty in Christ to be a “free pass” to sin. To do this would be to exchange our liberty for slavery to sin; because “whoever commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34).
It is this second misunderstanding that is Paul's focus in this evening's passage. Notice . . .
I. OUR CALLING: TO LIBERTY (v. 13a).
A. Ours is a “calling” (kaleo). It is a call issued to us by someone who has the authority to do so (1:6); and it is a call by which we are placed in the position of full acceptance as 'righteous' in Christ. What a great grace of God it is to be “called”.
B. What's more, it is a call unto liberty (eleutheria). The liberty in view here is that of a release from the condemning bondage to the law as a means of being made righteous before God.
1. Righteousness through the law was a frustrating bondage, because we could never keep the law. It only succeeded in condemning us, because on the one hand “by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20); and on the other hand, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them” (Galatians 3:10).
2. But Christ, by His perfect obedience to the law on our behalf, and by His atoning death for us on the cross for our sins, has set us at completely at liberty from this terrible bondage. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1-4).
3. Therefore, we are now no longer under obligation to “become” righteousness before God on the basis of our performance in the law; but are set free to “be” righteous before God under the leading of His Holy Spirit (Romans 8:5-17).
II. OUR RESPONSIBILIES (v. 13b):
A. NEGATIVELY: We are to be sure we do not use our liberty as an opportunity for the flesh. It would be tempting to say—as some said to Paul—“Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace?”; a question that Paul answered with a strong “Certainly not!” (Romans 6:15).
1. The word “flesh” (sarx), here, refers to the principle of sin that is in operation in our fleshly bodies. (See Romans 7:7-25 for Paul's description of this principle in operation.) The works of this principle is described by Paul in Galatians 5:19-21. There, Paul warns that it is a principle that cannot be made to work with the principle of the Holy Spirit (v. 17), and that will lead to eternal loss if followed as a practice of life (v. 21).
2. We are not to allow our liberty in Christ to be turned into an “opportunity” for the flesh. The word translated “opportunity” (aphromei) can refer to an army making a “beach- head” from which to launch an attack against an enemy. The principle of the flesh is very “opportunistic”; and we are not to permit our liberty in Christ to be interpreted to mean “freedom to sin”.
B. POSITIVELY: We are to, instead, use our liberty to serve one another.
1. Jesus Himself set the example for us in the fact that He took the form of a bondservant— not only in humbling Himself to menial tasks of service to those around Him (John 13:12-17), but also in giving Himself for us on the cross (Philippians 2:5-11).
2. We are to look out not only for our own interests but also for the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4). The word used to call us to “serve” is in the present tense, indicating an ongoing life-style of service. In this sense, our liberty in Christ sets us free to become one another's bondservants inv Christ's love.
III. OUR GUIDING PRINCIPLE: LOVE (v. 14).
A. It's not that we are to ignore the law. It still has an abiding impact upon us. The ten commandments gives us the objective statement of what a holy walk looks like. Jesus Himself testified that He did not come to destroy the law, but rather to fulfill it; and made the promise that not one jot or tittle will by any means pass from the law until all is fulfilled (Matthew 5:17-18).
B. But rather, the way the demands of the law are fulfilled in our lives has changed. We no longer seek to conform to it on the basis of the efforts of the flesh. Rather, we now fulfill the demands of the law (1) as those who have already been declared 100% righteous in God's sight through Christ, and (2) by following the principle of love.
C. If we truly love one another, we will fulfill God's law toward one another. The pattern of the law is what love looks like in action (Romans 13:8-10). We love one another by keeping God's law toward one another in Christ (1 John 5:2); because the whole point of the law is “love” (Matthew 22:34-40). As Jesus taught us, the command found in Leviticus 19:18 —“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”—is the sum of the law. Therefore, as Paul says, “all the law is fulfilled” in that one saying.
IV. OUR DANGER: HARMING ONE ANOTHER (v. 15).
A. We can ignore this principle and, instead, seek to turn our liberty into an opportunity for sin. And if we do, we loose sight of the call to obey the law by loving one another. If we do that, we will live by the principle of the jungle—eat or be eaten. Paul warns us that we can easily begin to “bite” and “devour” one another. This is always what happens when we lose sight of love.
B. Paul warns that, if that is the case, we must beware (or “take heed”) that we do not end up being “consumed” (or “destroyed”) by one another. A.T. Robertson, in this context, mentioned the famous fable of two snakes that grabbed each other by the tail and swallowed one another up (Word Pictures in the New Testament, vol. 4, p. 311).
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How do we do this? Praise God that Paul doesn't leave us hanging. He tells us “Walk in the Spirit, and you will not fulfill the lust of the flesh”; and then, goes on to expound on 'the fruit of the Holy Spirit' (vv. 16-16).
(But we'll save that for our next study!)