This week we look at Galatians 5, and see two lists. One is a list of characteristics of those indulging the sinful nature, one of those living by the Spirit. We'll dig into these two lists, and figure where we are, compared to where Paul says we ought to be.
This message is based on Galatians 5:16-26.
This morning we have a stand-alone message, on the church calendar this is Transfiguration Sunday, and I was planning to look at the transfiguration, Jesus on the mountaintop with Peter, James and John, when Moses and Elijah appeared before Jesus. But as I was thinking on this passage, I feel the Lord gave me this message from Galatians, and I don’t say that lightly. I feel this is something we need to spend some time looking at.
For some background, Galatians was written to respond to some Jewish Christians who had come into Galatia shortly after Paul left, and began teaching the Christians there, mostly Gentiles who followed Christ, that they must first convert to Judaism, following the Mosaic Law in its entirety, including the part of circumcision. As you can imagine, most of the grown men were not terribly excited about that prospect, and a good many were falling away.
Paul writes this to refute that teaching, and to remind them that they are saved by faith in Christ, not by following the law. In the first chapter, Paul starts right in with the gospel, he was very adamant when talking about this: if Christ’s death didn’t pay the penalty for our sin in full, then Christ died in vain. If following the law was still necessary, then Christ’s death didn’t provide salvation, it wasn’t sufficient, and if his sacrifice wasn’t sufficient, then he died in vain. The wonderful truth is that Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient; it was all that was required. We are free from the law, saved completely by our faith.
Then in the end of chapter 3, we are reminded that through faith, not only are we saved, but we are made children of God, and as children, we have the promise of our inheritance, Paul wrote, as co-heirs with Christ, everything Christ will inherit, we will also. What an incredible promise!
This week we are given two lists. Most of us don’t think too much about the first list, but we’re all somewhat familiar with the second list. In fact, the Awana kids have a song called The Fruits of the Spirit, and man, they sing it really quick. It’s one of their favorite songs, and the hand motions go by just as quick – I can’t even begin to get them. But the kids sing right along, they know them.
Now just before our reading, in verse 13, Paul wrote, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” I think there are two things here that sets up our passage this morning. First, he says we are called to be free. Then he tells us not use our freedom to live in sin, but rather, live in love, and then he gives us two lists we saw in our reading, to show what it looks like to live in the sinful nature, and what it looks like to live in love.
Just a quick comment about that freedom, we know in our country that freedom wasn’t free. We live in the land of the free, because of the brave. The freedom we enjoy was paid for by the sacrifice of soldiers. The freedom Paul is talking about isn’t free either. He reminds us that Jesus paid the price for our spiritual freedom.
There is a big problem with freedom, though. It’s a great thing, but it’s easy to take that freedom for granted. John Henry Newman, a Catholic priest and Cardinal in England in the 1800’s, once wrote that “Liberty of thought is in itself a good; but it gives an opening to false liberty.” In other words, we’re free to think about anything we want, but we sometimes think about things we shouldn’t. Thomas Huxley wrote in one of his essays, “A man's worst difficulties begin when he is able to do as he likes.”
So, yea, freedom is sometimes taken for granted. We see examples of this around us all the time. Especially outside the church, but not just outside, people sometimes think they’re free to do anything they want, some might at least add the disclaimer “as long as nobody else gets hurt,” but not everybody even goes that far. But that kind of freedom is a cheap freedom. And that’s not the kind of freedom that our forefathers fought for and were willing to die for. And it’s not the kind of freedom Jesus died for.
The kind of freedom Jesus died for comes with duties, we can’t do anything we want. We are part of group, last week we saw that we are the church, part of the body of Christ. And as such, we are held to a higher account. We need to make sure that the things that we do will support and encourage each other. You can’t just do anything you want.
Paul knew that the freedom he was talking about could turn into the kind of license to do whatever we want. That’s why this passage is so applicable to us. Paul describes the abuses of freedom that he is concerned with, maybe abuses that he saw in Galatia, and he goes on to tell us the right use of this freedom.
Freedom is abused when it becomes an excuse to indulge the flesh, the body. When we begin to do what we want to please ourselves, maybe it feels good, maybe it even gives us a certain power. But as John Diefenbaker, a former prime minister in Canada, wrote, “Freedom is the right to be wrong, not the right to do wrong.” Doing wrong is an abuse of that freedom.
So Paul tells us that we’re free, but not free to indulge the sinful nature. Instead, we’re free to live in love. Then he gets specific with his two lists. He gives examples, listing 15 or so specific acts of the sinful nature, things that come from, or at least lead to, an abuse of freedom.
Let’s look at that list: “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” These were examples of a life of the sinful nature. We might have done things like this before we were saved, but we shouldn’t be living like this now.
My fear here is that we see things in this list, and we think with most of them, I don’t do that, so I’m okay, like God grades on a curve. But let’s look at them. A lot of people struggle with sexual immorality, they call it sexual freedom, and those who speak out against it are called bigots. We have a few main-line denominations that struggle with this. But Paul identifies them as acts of the sinful nature, and abuses of the freedom we have in Christ.
Idolatry is a huge problem today. Oh we don’t make little statues and pretend they’re gods, we find things that are already around and worship them. How many families have been broken up on an endless quest to worship the dollar, trying to accumulate more and more. It’s not enough to keep up with the Jones’ anymore; we’ve got to try to outdo them. As many marriages today break up over financial issues as problems with infidelity. We’re putting more importance on financial concerns than our relations. We think way too much of the almighty dollar.
We can worship people, boyfriends worshipping girlfriends to the extent that if they ever breakup, he can’t live without her. We worship our sports heroes and our actors, most of which are certainly not worthy of our praise. They may do well on the field, or on the screen, but their personal lives are a mess. We don’t have to make little statutes and worship them as gods to commit idolatry, we do just fine already.
Witchcraft is making a huge comeback – a clergy friend I knew had a person from his church come up to him before a carnival and asked if he would stop by her booth and say a prayer to bless her little business before the carnival started. That sounds great, right. A Christian business person wanting God’s blessing on her activities at the carnival.
When the pastor got there, he found out that she was doing “readings” and billing herself as a “fortune teller” which has long been associated with mystics and the practice of witchcraft. Remember the ads for organizations like the psychic friend’s hot-line and other fortune telling type businesses several few years ago? Horoscopes fall into this category, too, and are in every newspaper. But Paul lists these types of activity as acts of the sinful nature – they’re on the wrong list! But they’re so common today a lot of people don’t even realize that they’re wrong.
He goes on to mention hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, envy, drunkenness, and the like. You almost have to jump to the beginning of the book to make sure this was really written before the year 50. It could have been written today, couldn’t it. This laundry list of problems that the people in Galatia struggled with, are the same problems that so many us struggle with today.
But these last few are even more dangerous, because we don’t think they’re that bad. We can easily rationalize them. We might think we’re doing okay because we don’t commit adultery, we’ve never been in an orgy, we don’t go for witchcraft, we don’t drink, or at least, not to excess. But what about hatred, jealousy, discord? How about dissensions or factions? This past year, we’ve really struggled with unity. There were factions, and we as a church struggled. Do you understand these are on the wrong list? Paul said we aren’t free to do that.
In fact, he went a whole further and said, in verse 21, “those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” We see a lot of people today who live this way, we hear about a lot of people on the news that live this way. But what really concerns me are the people in the church who struggle with some of these. Paul said people who live this way will not inherit the kingdom of God. I don’t care how good they think they are, or even how often they come to church. They will not inherit the kingdom of God. If you struggle with hate, or discord, or factions, or jealousy, you’ve got to work on these. These are really serious. Make sure you’re living according the right list.
These are an abuse of freedom. I think that’s a big part of our problem today. We take our freedom for granted, we have forgotten that our freedom it isn’t free. It’s free to us, maybe that’s the problem. It was paid for, but it wasn’t free. But we’ve forgotten that, and we abuse that freedom they gave so much for. That’s why what Paul says next is so important.
He makes it clear to them, and to us, what the right use of that freedom is. That we should live by the Spirit, and not gratify the desires of sinful nature. How do we do that? How should we live so that we don’t abuse the freedom we have? We should serve one another in love. Remember that Jesus said that one of the greatest commandments was to love one another as you love yourself. Paul says it again here. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
And then, just he made a list of the acts of the sinful nature, he makes a list of the fruits of the Spirit. He tells us what it looks like to live in love? How do we know that we are living by the Spirit? Let’s look at this list…
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
What I noticed when I looked through this list, is that the majority of the acts of the sinful nature have to do with problems relating to one another. Hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, envy, these are relational problems, problems dealing with others. They come from being too inward focused, and not enough outward focused. When we’re more concerned with ourselves than others, we run into problems. Think of others first, you’ll be okay.
Paul tells us how we should be acting; out of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are things that reflect a love of others, a concern for the welfare of others. If we practice these things in our relationships with others, then we are truly living by the spirit. Then we can enjoy living in the freedom made possible for us by Christ.
Two lists. Make sure you’re following the right one.