FREEDOM TO LOVE
…only faith working through love. (Galatians 5:6)
Jesus purchased our freedom by his work on the cross. Just a few days before his trial and death Jesus prayed to his Father in heaven.
Jesus lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “…this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. (John 17:1-4)
Jesus said the time has come for me to finish what I came here to do. But even before he went to calvary and declared from the cross “It is Finished” he says, in this prayer, that he has accomplished all of the work that the Father gave him to do. Jesus came to this earth and he had work to do. And he accomplished that work. You and I, receive salvation and freedom because of his work. Not our work. His work.
But what is our work? Don’t we have work to do. Surely this has been the question on your mind throughout this series. Well.. today in Chapter 5 Paul is going to begin to help us see exactly what work we should endeavor to accomplish. In first Corinthians Paul establishes Christ finished work as the foundation of all other work.
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:10-11
Paul always ensures that he lays down a clear foundation of correct doctrine before he begins explaining what are responsibilities are. And so, like a master builder he has been laboriously building a foundation for the past four chapters that salvation is given to us by the grace of God and we receive it simply through faith in Jesus Christ’s finish work. Paul has spent these last four chapters ensuring that the foundation is set firmly in our minds and hearts. The foundation is Christ. Without Christ it all falls down. We have Jesus and his finished work as the foundation of our salvation and our sanctification and so we can now build upon Christ. This passage goes on to say that some men will build with wood, hay, or stubble; while others will build with gold, silver, and precious stones. The wood and hay will eventually burn up but gold and silver will last forever.
Today, Paul will begin to tell us how we build on that foundation. But it’s very very important for us to remember that he has made great pains to ensure a firm foundation before he moves toward how we build on that foundation. Most of you are probably really excited that we are finally moving on to the ‘more practical things’. Because we have spent 10 weeks talking about doctrine. Ten weeks separating law from faith. Ten weeks hammering the Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Christ Alone message that Jesus + Nothing = Everything. Finally, we get to move onto more practical things. Things like, “What am I supposed to do with all this freedom?” or “What does this freedom mean for me?” You’ve had some questions and for the next 2 chapters Paul is going to try to answer them.
Here is what we are going to see today as we look at verses 1-15. We will see 2 contrasts – or 2 ways. The way of the law and the way of love. There are some who build upon the foundation of Christ’s finished work with law – or legalism. They will use wood, hay and stubble. That work will burn. But there are others who will build upon that foundation with love, and the Bible says that love conquers all, it endures all things. Love will stand the test. It will last. Love is gold, silver and precious stones. So with out further ado, lets answer this question, “What works must a Christian preform?”
THE WAY OF THE LAW
verse 1: For freedom Christ has set us free. This verse has been called the central verse of the entire book. It is for freedom, that Christ has set us free.” Why should we make such a big deal about freedom? Why have we spent 10 weeks fighting for freedom? Well, it is because Jesus wants us to have freedom. Jesus set us free, so that we could be free. That’s why! Keller says that this sentence is even more powerful in Greek:
“Both the noun and the verb are the word “freedom”; freedom is both the means and the end of the Christian life! Everything about the Christian gospel is freedom.” Timothy Keller.
…stand firm therefore. So, if Jesus gave his life in order to set you free, then you need to be sure to stand firm. Plant your feet squarely on the foundation of the Gospel and freedom. In Greek the word for “stand firm” is a military word. It has the force of staying alert or keeping watch, being prepared for an attack and sticking together. Everyone in this country understands that freedom must be fought for. Freedom can too easily be taken from you. So Paul says, stand firm! We must fight, for the right, to live in freedom.
…and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. The opposite of standing firm and protecting your freedom is to submit once again to the law. Which, Paul likens to a yoke of slavery. Legalism and religion is slavery. Paul doesn’t want you to forget this. Note the word ‘again’. It means don’t go back! Don’t go back to the law. I want you to notice, that even though Paul has really finished his argument he still can not seem to move on. He is still lingering on the same issue. The law is slavery. Don’t go back.
verse 2: Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I’ve noticed that if you watch the talking heads on television news, they always begin their interjecting thoughts with the word “listen.” It like they are trying to hit a home run with every statement. Listen! Obama-care won’t work. Listen! The democrats…blah blah. Listen! We will never see that money…. Turn on the TV when you get home and you’ll see what I mean. Personally I feel like they over use the word. That is what Paul is saying here. Listen! or Look! I Paul (he is making a declaration). It’s like me standing up and saying, “I Michael, on this 7th day of March, do here by declare!” “I do declare!” Paul says, “Look, I Paul declare to you right now (I’m going to add a sarcastic – “again”) that if you accept the legalistic pushing and prodding of the guys who want you to get circumcised, then here this, Christ will be nothing to you! Jesus + Anything = Nothing. If you add circumcision, or baptism, or speaking in tongues or whatever – you are buildings on the wrong foundation. He has said all of this before but, like I said, he can’t seem to move on w/o reminding us that legalism sucks. Maybe he will move on in verse 3. Let’s see.
verse 3: I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. Nope. He can’t do it. Still beating that horse. Now he has resorted to swearing (again). That word “I testify” is similar to “I swear by all things that holy and true!” This is very strong language. It’s like Paul is saying, “OK. before I open this door to the next section I need to be emphatic here. I swear to you, if you try to go back – Christ will mean nothing and you will be enslaved to a law that you can never ever keep.
In fact. If I could. Just so we can move on to the part that I know your dying to get into. Let me jump ahead and read verses 7-12. I want to show you where this is going. Paul is still very heated. He opens this book with fighting words. He uses similar language here which really goes on to the very end of the book when he says, “See what big letter I use as I write this!” The bottom line is that the freedom of the Gospel is very important. Freedom needs to be preached more from the pulpit than it is. We really do need to make a bigger deal- put up a bigger fight against legalism and religion than we have. Gospel freedom is worth fighting for. And those who fight against us in the fight are enemies of the Gospel! Listen to how Paul feels about those enemies:
You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 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… …I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! Gal 5:7-12
Clearly, this is very harsh. He’s got some choice words to say about those people who try to hang the yoke of slavery back on Christians who have been set free by Jesus. He is so mad he says, “Those guys want you to cut yourselves in circumcision?! Well, I wish they would cut their whole thing off!” The bible is not a boring book. You just have to read it. Well. Before we move from law to love I want to discuss something. I skipped verse 4 earlier. I wanted to save it for our discussion.
verse 4: You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. Anyone who attempts to build on the foundation of Christ with works of the law are severed from Christ. Meaning they have been cut off from Christ. This is very intense language. In fact we never hear Paul talk like this on any other matter. He says something very interesting. “You have fallen away from Grace.” What does that mean?
What does it mean to fall from grace? How does one fall from grace?
“John says of anyone who turns their back on the faith permanently: “They were not of us, for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.” (1 John 2:19). His point is that true Christians are saved by grace, and show they are Christians by continuing to trust in grace! Equally, those who fall away from grace never really trusted in it! ” Timothy Keller
“That means you are no longer in the kingdom or condition of grace. When a person on board ship falls into the sea and is drowned it makes no difference from which end or side of the ship he falls into the water. Those who fall from grace perish no matter how they go about it. Those who seek to be justified by the Law are fallen from grace and are in grave danger of eternal death.” Martin Luther
“Paul has to say in this verse in accordance with Christ’s own teaching: “He that believes in the Son of God, has everlasting life; but he that does not believe in the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God.”
The words, “Ye are fallen from grace,” must not be taken lightly. They are important. To fall from grace means to lose the atonement, the forgiveness of sins, the righteousness, liberty, and life which Jesus has merited for us by His death and resurrection. ” Martin Luther
THE WAY OF LOVE
verse 5: For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. Here we have an explanation of how the free Christian lives. We wait by faith.With the faith that we have and through the power of the Holy Spirit we wait. That is one thing we do. There is a work. Wait. But what are we waiting for. The hope of righteousness.
This may not seem like a very significant verse but it is. First, let me point out that we are waiting for righteousness. This means that we are not righteous as of yet. We are still sinful people. But through faith we are sure that one day we will indeed be righteous. We will be completely sanctified. But until that day comes, our job is simply to wait. Not try harder to be gooder. Remember Abraham? He couldn’t wait so he tried to do it himself. Don’t try to do it yourself. Just wait.
Also, the word hope is a very strong and powerful word in the Greek language. It literally means the exact opposite of the English word. In English ‘hope’ means ‘I hope so’. We may use it in a sentence like this, “Do you think it will be warm tomorrow? I hope so.” The very way we use the word ‘hope’ reveals that we really mean something like, “I don’t know, all I can do is hope.” In fact, I would even say that it usually sounds like we don’t believe it will happen. We use it in a negative sense like, “Will it be warm tomorrow? I hope so, but it probably wont be.”
However, in Greek the word ‘hope’ means something completely different. In Greek, ‘hope’ means certainty. Literally it is the word faith – but in the future tense. The Bible uses the word ‘hope’ as a certain thing that will one day happen and we hope it happens soon.
“Paul says that we simply “await” this righteousness. We don’t work or strive for it. We know it is coming, on its way. So we can wait eagerly, rather than anxiously.” Timothy Keller.
verse 6: For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything… So, we wait instead of striving to accomplish our righteousness today – like through circumcision, because all of that stuff counts for nothing. Instead (and here is the moment we have all been waiting for – you want some thing to do, you want to know what are the works of the Christian – here it comes)…
…but only faith working through love. The work of the Christian is to place his faith in Jesus and that faith will work through him to love. This is the way of love. Not the way of law. Your faith in Christ Alone will work through you to love. He elaborates in verses 13-15.
verse 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. Again he reminds us of our freedom – a freedom that sets us free to love and serve one another. Paul just answered our question. What are we to do with all this freedom? You’ve been set free to love and serve. Don’t use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh. It is for freedom that Jesus set you free. That freedom is not freedom to sin, it is freedom from sin.
“Satan likes to turn this liberty which Christ has gotten for us into licentiousness. The flesh reasons: “If we are without the law, we may as well indulge ourselves. Why do good, why give alms, why suffer evil when there is no law to force us to do so?” Martin Luther.
That may be the common reasoning of our flesh, but if you think about it, it is literally a contradiction to use freedom as an opportunity (or a license) to sin. It contradicts freedom and it contradicts love. Let me explain. License contradicts freedom because being enslaved to sin (addictions, greed, etc) is not freedom – its just another form of slavery. Secondly, using freedom as a license to sin contradicts love because it is selfish. It is selfish and unloving to use all of our freedom only to please ourself. This is why Paul adds this little line. He is saying, “Yes, you have been set free and if you are truly free, that is – free from the slavery of the law and free from the slavery of sin, then (and only then) will you be truly free to serve others. License is really no different than law – both are slavery.
verse 14: For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Essentially Paul is saying, “These guys who want to enslave you to legalism by forcing you to obey the OT law, I got their law right here. It is summed up in one word, (uh, its actually several words – but you get the idea) Love your neighbor as yourself. You want law? I’ll give you THE law. Love. Why don’t you go and do that? Stop telling people to get circumcised, instead love your neighbor as your self. Oh and by the way – all of the law – the whole law – is fulfilled when you obey just this one law of love.” This little paragraph gets repeated through-out the NT.
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one 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 covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8-10)
So there is your works. Faith working through love. Freedom to serve one another. And – once you get that – you are actually fulfilling the whole law. But you can’t do that without faith and you can’t love without freedom. You see the legalist doesn’t have freedom and he doesn’t have love. Hear this – because this is so very true. The legalist can’t love. He may even be legalistic about the commands in the NT to love but because he is enslaved to legalism he is not free to truly love. And so it becomes just a game. He does it – the best he can – for himself. He is constantly looking inward to self to see if he is following the law. And the only time he is looking outward is to compare himself to others, to judge others, and maybe to serve others because he feels it is his duty or obligation. But – that is not love. And – what I just described is a very common scenario. And – it might even be yours.
“This is the hall-mark of all false teachers, that they not only pervert the pure doctrine but also fail in doing ‘good’. They build with wood, hay, and stubble. Oddly enough, the false apostles who were such earnest champions of good works never required the work of charity, such as Christian love and the practical charity of a helpful tongue, hand, and heart. Their only requirement was that circumcision, days, months, years, and times should be observed. They could not think of any other good works.” Martin Luther
Religion doesn’t count – only love counts. I will never forget the day I realized this to be true. In my experience with legalism it became very clear to me that legalists care more about blue jeans, rock-n-roll, beer, and tattoos than they do for the greatest commandment to love your neighbor. They have a high view of Scripture while at the same time a low view of charity. It flabbergasting! How can one go to all those bible studies and listen to all those christian radio programs but then at the same time argue against things like feeding the homeless or giving to the poor. They’re always making a big deal about works and yet never seem to have the one work that counts. They have all these rule, but do obey the one rule to love. By the way. I’m not ranting about one little experience I have had in my small corner of the world. This is a timeless truth. Paul is making this argument here. St. Jerome, writing in 400 A.D. said this:
“You are so taken up by your superstitions and ceremonies that serve no good purpose, that you neglect the most important thing, love. We wear our bodies out with watching, fasting, and labor and neglect charity, the queen of all good works.” St. Jerome
Legalist people spend an awful amount of time studying the scriptures and yet some how miss the call to love. Even though both the OT and NT are replete with instances, illustrations, and rebukes to love. Why? Because they are not free and w/o freedom we can not love. For instance listen to a few things Jesus said.
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:25-28)
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions. (Mark 12:28-34)
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17)
“If you are so anxious to do good works, I will tell you in one word how you can fulfill all laws. ‘By love serve one another.’ You will never lack people to whom you may do good. The world is full of people who need your help.” Martin Luther
In conclusion let me say once again. That when Jesus died on the cross he declared that it was finished. His work is finished and his work saves us. We have been set free from religion and legalism and we have been set free to love. In this passage Paul has been contrasting 2 ways, the way of law and the way of love. And even though theses 2 ways might not, on the surface, seem like 2 opposites – they are. Both law and license are 2 forms of the same selfish slavery. Love, however, is birthed out of gospel freedom.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)