By Foothills DS Dennis W Miller.
This month we are studying the New Testament Book of Galatians throughout the West Ohio Conference. The theme of Galatians is “Freedom in Christ.” Did you know the dream of universal freedom for all people grew out of the Christian gospel? Ancient Greek democracy was confined to a handful of elite citizens. Plato and Aristotle believed most people were born to be slaves. But from this remote corner of the Roman empire amidst all that tyranny there came a new message, the words of Jesus, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” And the words of Paul, “For freedom Christ has set us free!”
Paul’s problem in Galatia was the Judaizers — folks who put a little twist on the gospel to say, "Oh, I believe in salvation through faith in Christ, BUT God's grace needs just a little help from us. In addition to Jesus dying on the cross, I need to follow the holy ceremonies of Israel and, if I’m a male, be circumcised.” So, Paul writes this in chapter 5, verses 1-2, “So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you.”
Paul wants Christians to realize that they are free. We often think of this as freedom from something—the removal of restraint. However, Christian freedom is also freedom to something. Verse 13, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” We have been set free from the curse and burden of keeping the Law, and we have been set free to live for the glory of God!
Therefore, Christian freedom is not a freedom to sin; that would be an abuse of God’s grace. Within the early church there was a popular heresy known as Antinomianism, which taught that Christians are freed by grace to live in the flesh. Paul addresses this in verses 13-26 by describing what freedom is meant to be and how it is to be lived out. It is interesting that the Law is not discarded! In fact, it is fulfilled. This is why Paul sets up clear boundaries for Christian behavior/conduct. In verses 16-22, the works of the flesh are contrasted by the fruit of the Spirit.
The great psychiatrist Victor Frankel once made a dramatic proposal that America needs one more monument. He said that to balance the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast, we need a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast. He proposed we have two great bookends of our country, the Statue of Liberty and the Statue of Responsibility serving as our perpetual reminder that liberty without responsibility dissolves into slavery. I would vote for that and suggest we put the Statue of Responsibility as close to Hollywood as possible!
This need for a Statue of Responsibility is obvious because what we have today often is a bogus freedom that is really license. G.K. Chesterton once said, “Having the right to do something is a long way from being right in doing so.” There is a huge chasm between the way freedom is popularly understood in our secular society and how it was understood by those who founded our country. For our forefathers and foremothers, this gift of freedom was a sacred trust they received with trembling hands in order to surrender it back to God in loving obedience to God’s holy will. I love the words I sang many years ago as a young child at Duncan Falls Elementary School: “America, America, God mend thine every flaw, Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.” I believe it was this understanding of Christian freedom AND responsibility that eventually led our nation to address the moral sin of human slavery. As we once again observe Memorial Day later this month, may we never forget the cost of freedom and sacrifice of those who gave their lives for us. May we also never forget the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to purchase our spiritual freedom. What better way for us to honor those who gave their lives for our liberty than for us to live lives of greater responsibility!
Allow me to close with this question, “Is there an area of your life where you abuse your “freedom” by living for yourself (which is actually slavery) instead of living for God?