Thursday, March 31, 2011

Freedom! Galatians 5: 1-12

America is the most Christian nation on the planet. But in American movies the watchword is not "Salvation" but "Freedom".

The nation began by seeking freedom from Great Britain. Its greatest war was about freeing the slaves, though the other side painted it as freedom from the hegemony of the Northern states. The isolationist movement in the 1930s talked about the freedom from being involved in foreign wars. The Second World War has been recorded as a war to free the Jews, though the Japanese were not anti-Semites and the Pacific war was by far the bitterest conflict for Americans. The cold war was about freedom from communism and today many in America want freedom from big government.

Here in Galatians chapter 5 we learn that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free! We are warned not to slip back into slavery. Christ died once and for all to set us free from the Law. Of course, as Gentiles you were never under the law, but this was not an advantage to you. You were still sinners, ignorant sinners, but sinners none the less. The advantage the Jews had was that they knew they were sinners in every detail. But their only remedy was an endless series of animal sacrifices that were only a picture of the real thing. They were waiting for absolution which would only come from the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. By his stripes we are healed, was the promise. The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

You can't have both! Either you are trusting Christ or you are trusting your own behavior for salvation. And if you go back to trusting in the Law, then Christ is worthless to you. I don't mean that you should go around being wicked so that grace might abound. By no means; we are to be imitators of Christ in doing good works, but it is why we are doing good works. Listen to Chris Kelly's illustration: If I fail to buy my wife flowers on her birthday I'm in the doghouse. The following year I remember to buy her flowers and I present her with them saying 'Last year I was in the doghouse for months because I forgot, so I've remembered this year because I don't want the same again. But I get the same again. The following year I say to her I've been reading a book about how to keep your marriage sweet so I've bought you two bunches of flowers. Doghouse again. Finally he says, "I've bought you these flowers because I love you." Success!

We imitate Christ because we love him.

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love (v5).

Paul comes down hard on those who are trying to seduce the Galatian Christians (v12). James tells us that not many should presume to become teachers (James 3:1) because those who teach will be judged more strictly. Even a small suggestion of heresy is very dangerous - a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough (v9).

Paul was continually persecuted because of the scandal of the cross (v11). It is a truism to say that Christians are always tempted to water down the message. "It's too bloody this gospel - Mel Gibson's film went over the top with all that blood. We should concentrate of Jesus’ life and example not on some conjuring trick with bones. There were a lot of stories going around at the time; we should take Temple curtains torn in two and graves giving up their dead with a pinch of salt. He was not really killed; he was drugged on the cross and woke up later in the cool of the tomb and went off and married Mary Magdalene. They escaped form Jerusalem and he went on to father future kings of France."

Today the story of the cross is just as offensive to most people - a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

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