Galatians 5:7 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion is not from him who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! 13 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. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
Our world is broken in so many ways. We see evil all around us each day. And we not only see it around us, but we also see it inside of us. Even as Christians we are still far too often caught up in sin, driven by our fleshly desires. But I want you to imagine with me what it might be like if that were different. Imagine a society of Christians who live as truly free people.
What does that mean? You may ask. Free people, by Scripture's definition, live in active, vibrant relationships with God. They know God personally. He is their dearest friend, their dearest love, they trust Him with everything. And as a result, they live the lives they were made to live. They become who they were made to be. Humanity was made in God's image. From the very beginning, you and I were set apart by our Creator in a special way – to be His sons and daughters, to reflect Him to the world around us. Just think about what it would be like if we all did that the way we were made to. Imagine what people we would be if we truly, faithfully reflected the beauty of God. We would be people of love, of joy, peace, patience, kindness, and all the other fruits of the Spirit. We would embody the very nature, the character of God, reflecting Him not just outwardly, but inwardly. True ambassadors of Christ, a free society.
It sounds pretty great, right? I want that for myself, I want that for us. So the obvious question is: What's keeping us from being like this? Hopefully we are like this to some extent. But what's keeping us from being more like this? Besides the general answer of "sin," each of us can probably answer that question differently in some ways. We all have our own struggles, we all have our own obstacles to Christlikeness. That said, however, I think most of our answers can probably fall under the heading that Paul mentions in verse 13. What he says there is: "For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh." I think we may often ignore the warning in the latter part of that verse and use our freedom in a way it was never meant to be used. We use it as a means of serving ourselves, rather than serving Christ and others.
Personally, as I think about using my freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, I think about how guilty I am of making my own comfort more important than anything else. If I'm honest, my view of an ideal world may often have nothing to do with the kind of free living and free society I just mentioned and that Scripture calls us to. Instead, my ideal world can be one where I have an easy, comfortable life. Can anyone relate to that? That's the kind of life our flesh wants, isn't it? So we may use our freedom to pursue that. How many of our desires, our dreams, our thoughts, the things we pursue, are all tied to getting ourselves to a place of comfort? When we're in a trial, we want to get ourselves back to a place of comfort. When things are good, we want to make ourselves more comfortable.
And don't get me wrong, comfort itself is not bad. In a way, the Christian life is the life of greatest comfort! But it's not necessarily material comfort, instead it's comfort in knowing God. Is God more important to us than worldly comfort? That's the question we need to ask ourselves.
I asked you to imagine what the world might be like if we all lived as truly free people. Here's another thought experiment: What would society be like if we all just put our own personal comfort first? It may not be as hard to answer that question, because the reality is, that is how so many of us already live. It's how so much of the world already lives. And this kind of living leads to breakdown, it leads to decay. James describes it in James 4:
James 4:1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
When my comfort is the most important thing to me, and your comfort is the most important thing to you, and you multiply that out over seven billion people on this planet, you have a recipe for disaster.
It may be hard to wrap our minds around seven billion people living this way, so let's just consider two people, a husband and wife. What happens in a marriage when a husband and wife each have their own personal comfort as their top priority. The husband's priority is his comfort, his desires being met; and the wife's priority is her comfort, her desires being met. What happens is that marriage falls apart. It falls apart because it's not built on love but selfishness.
If we want transformation in our lives, and in this world, if we want to be the free society we were made to be, then we cannot use our freedom as an opportunity for the flesh. We cannot let comfort be our god. Because the true God, our Lord Jesus Christ, He set us an example of leaving comfort for the sake of others. He set us an example of embracing suffering in the path of love. And aren't you glad He did that? Where would we be if Christ didn't live like that?
God's call on our lives is that we model Jesus by knowing Jesus. You and I help usher in a free society when we model Christ by knowing Christ. Notice that this involves two things, and they're both absolutely necessary. If we just try to model Christ without truly knowing Him, truly walking with Him, then we will utterly fail. Just as, if we aim to know Christ, to know Him personally and intimately, yet we don't model Him in our lives, we don't follow His lead, then we would similarly fail. We can't model Him without knowing Him, and we can't truly know Him without also modeling Him. We need both. We model Him as we know Him.
Now, there are a lot of different ways we're called to model Christ, but there are two specific ones from our passage that we're going to focus on. Two ways that He leads us and that we can thus model Him. The first is that He leads us in truth, and the second is that He leads us in love.
Generally speaking, truth and love are two things that most people want to get behind, they want to support. In concept at least, the ideas of truth and love aren't particularly controversial. But what we'll see with each of these is that Christ's way of truth and Christ's way of love are in fact radically different from the ways mankind may approach these things.
Jesus leads us in truth
Galatians 5:7 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion is not from him who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!
Most people who oppose the truth, they typically don't realize that they're opposing truth. They think they're promoting truth, in fact. So how can we know whether we have the truth right or not? How can we know if we're actually walking in truth or not? That's a huge question, and we could spend a long time talking about it. But I want to say just two things.
First is that our beliefs about what's true will, to some degree, always come down to faith. We all have reasons for believing what we believe, but faith is always a part of that – no matter your beliefs. Whether you believe in God or not, that belief requires a measure of faith. But beyond that, I want to give you a diagnostic question we can ask ourselves to evaluate what we believe. That question is: Does the truth we follow simply lead to our personal comfort, to serving ourselves, or does it also lead to some level of discomfort and giving of ourselves? If it's a "truth" that only leads to personal comfort and serving ourselves, then that sounds like something that we as sinners would come up with. All about personal comfort, all about serving ourselves? That sounds like us. On the other hand, the truth that leads to some level of discomfort, that involves giving of ourselves, that truth sounds enough unlike us that it may just be from God. Tim Keller once said, "If your god [lowercase g] never disagrees with you, you might just be worshiping an idealized version of yourself."
That seems to be what was happening with the Galatians and with their teachers, the Judaizers. The Judaizers were leading the Galatians away from truth, not for the good of the Galatians, but as a way to serve themselves.
Galatians 4:17 They [the Judaizers] make much of you [the Galatians], but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them.
Is the "truth" we're living by one that puts us and our comfort first or is it a truth that puts God first and may call for discomfort, for sacrifice? The real truth, God's truth, is radically different from our own ideas of truth. And we need look no further than the cross to see that.
If there is one reality that is most counter to the kind of "truths" we like to believe, it has to be the cross. In fact, the cross is so counter to our own ways of thinking that Paul calls it offensive. Now, how is the cross offensive? It's offensive because the cross declares, loud and clear, that you and I need a Savior, that we need a substitute. It shouts the message that "we need." We need something outside ourselves. Left to ourselves we're deathly ill, ravaged by sin, and we can't save ourselves. This is offensive. It threatens our autonomy, threatens our self-sufficiency, and it puts us at the mercy of another. It makes us dependent on another, and being dependent on someone else is rarely comfortable. The message of the cross is offensive yet it's a message we cannot afford to compromise.
What would you do if a doctor told you that you had cancer, and that you needed to begin chemotherapy treatments? It would probably be devastating news. It would likely take some time for you to accept it, but I can guarantee that none of you, none of us, would hear that news and be offended by it. We wouldn't respond, "How dare you! I'm a very healthy person. How dare you say that I'm sick!" That would just be ridiculous. Yet when we reject what the cross tells us about ourselves, we are denying the Great Physician's diagnosis of us. And if we deny that diagnosis, then we will also reject the treatment. What is that treatment? It's love. It's God's love, given in the person of Jesus.
Real love promotes truth, because real love has the good of the other person in mind. Christ came with a message of truth, even though it got Him killed. He came with a message of truth, because it was the only message that could save others from death. Part of being a free society is that Christ leads us in truth as we know Him, pursue Him, abide in Him. We grow to love truth as He does – even when that truth makes us uncomfortable, even when it leads to self-sacrifice. And it will. It will because the truth of the gospel compels us, as it compelled Christ, to live lives not for ourselves, but for others. It compels us to live lives of love. This is the second point. Christ leads us in truth, and secondly, He leads us in love.
Jesus leads us in love
Galatians 5:13 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. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
There's a progression that's taking place here between the first part of chapter 5 and the verses I just read. In verses 1-6, which we looked at last time, Paul was focused on the personal consequences the Galatians would face if they rejected the way of freedom. He said Christ would be of no advantage to them, they would be obligated to keep the whole law, they would be severed from Christ, and would fall away from grace. But what Paul's getting to now is helping them see how their staying in sin, their staying away from God, would have negative consequences not just for them, but for others as well.
When we use our freedom "as an opportunity for the flesh," gratifying the selfish desires of the flesh, then we promote the very opposite of love. Feeding our sinful flesh destroys love. It promotes a lack of love, a lack of caring for others, and ultimately, it leads to relationships where we "bite and devour one another."
So much of what the world believes about love isn't a true, godly love. Many think that love is just that good feeling that you feel regarding someone else. And don't get me wrong, true love definitely involves strong feelings of affection. But there's so much more to it than that. If your idea of loving someone is just that they make you feel good, that's a pretty shallow love.
What is Jesus' way? Consider the cross again. Jesus is the most free man who has ever walked this earth, yet rather than using His freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, He offered up His flesh to be crucified. He felt nails pierce through His flesh. He could have come to be served, but instead in love He served others. He healed the afflicted, whilst He Himself embraced affliction. This mighty King, He loved His neighbor as Himself. And rather than devouring and consuming those around Him, He let Himself be devoured and consumed so they wouldn't have to be. If our faith is in Him, then you and I are recipients of the greatest love that has ever existed. "Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all." If we know Jesus, then we'll know His love, model His love – because we'll be filled by His love.
If love was stored in a bank account, then our accounts would be filled so full that they must overflow in love toward others. Does that describe us? Are we generous in love toward others? We have this account bursting with love, and when we give from it – when we serve others, when we sacrifice, and show them love – then God fills our account anew every day.
It's like this old movie called “Brewster's Millions.” The main character, Montgomery Brewster, he is given the challenge of spending $30 million in 30 days. And if he succeeds in that, without telling anyone about his goal, then he will gain a much greater fortune of $300 million. Thirty million is a lot of money, but if he spends it all, he's going to get a much bigger fortune.
Now just think: What if we all had this mindset regarding love? That the more we give it away, the more our account will be replenished? Not that we'll be earning more of God's love, because we can't. We are given the fullness of His love through Christ. But we can have a deeper knowledge of Him, a deeper closeness with God who is love.
The way Christ displayed His love on earth was incredible, yet ever since then, His love has never wavered or decreased in the slightest. Even when we sin and fail, His love assures us that we have the righteousness and standing of the One who's never sinned, who's never failed. God's love gets us up each day. It breathes new life into us. It gives us everything we need.
1 Corinthians 3:21 For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
Romans 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
The message of the cross, of the gospel, is that you and I had nothing, and Christ gave us everything. He gives us everything.
So will we believe that and lay aside the idol of personal comfort, lay aside the endless and ultimately unsatisfying pursuit of pleasing the flesh? The only way we can do that is if we believe there's something better. And Christ offers us something better: Life in Him.
Will we model Jesus by knowing Jesus and as a result become truly free, become who we were made to be? Led in truth, led in love, by the one who defines truth and love.