“Called to Liberty”Dr. C. Von Reynolds Galatians 5:1, 13-25, Year C – Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 8 (13)
Freedom – let it ring out to all people. Freedom is a precious word, one that I cherish so very much. All people do not know the freedom that we have in America. America was founded on the very premise of liberty. Our forefathers struggled and fought against oppression, tyranny, and the harsh hand of government. They fought successfully for religious freedom which this nation still cherishes and protects.
As a Christian who is Baptist, I believe in the competency of the soul which the involves the God-given freedom to read, interpret, and obey the Scriptures and God’s will, to have an equal voice in the church with other believers, the right of freedom of religious expression from state interference, and the responsibility to love my neighbor as myself.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Just as Thomas Jefferson penned these powerful words in the Declaration of Independence of the United States, so does the apostle Paul declare in his letter to the Galatians the freedom that Christians have in Jesus Christ. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (5:1).The letter to the Galatians has been called the Magna Charta of Christian liberty.
The entire letter to the Galatians deals with the question of whether a Gentile must become a Jew by circumcision before becoming a Christian. The idea that a person must be circumcised before being a true Christian infuriated Paul, for he preached that only through faith can a person be saved. Jesus Christ has set us free from anything that enslaves us and prevents us from yielding total allegiance to God.
We are centuries removed from the circumstances surrounding the Galatian Christians in the first century. We don’t have Jewish Christians telling us that we must obey ancient Jewish laws and traditions before we can truly be saved. Paul’s letters to the churches took care of that barrier for Gentiles.
But the basic principle is still a problem for some Christians. The basic principle is that we’re saved through faith in Jesus Christ alone, and not by works such as rigorously following certain laws and traditions.
Some of us still have not grasped the real meaning of this principle: We are saved through faith alone. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Some think that church attendance is enough to save them from their sins. It is not.
Some think it is enough to live a good life, harming no one. It is not.
Some think that styling their hair a certain way or wearing modest clothing or listening to a certain music genre is enough to save from sin. It is not.
Some think it is enough to give one’s tithes and offerings to church and charitable causes or affiliate with certain political causes. It is not.
I imagine hell has claimed many people who wrongly thought that heaven was only a good deed away. What does the gospel say?
- Jesus Christ, the one and only Son of God, came to earth and lived as a man.
- He taught and preached about God’s kingdom, healed the sick, and performed many miracles.
- He was rejected and scorned by the religious leaders.
- He suffered and died on a cross as the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of all people “once for all.”
- His body was sealed in a tomb, but on the third day God raised Him from the dead.
- He appeared to His followers and ascended into heaven.
- He promised to come again one day and gather all His believers, the Church.
Only through faith in the Savior and risen Lord, Jesus Christ, are you saved. When you try to obtain salvation by any means outside of faith in Jesus Christ, you’re as misled as some of those in Galatia. Paul warned the Galatians, “Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all” (5:2).
In other words, if you seek to find salvation in anything outside of faith, Jesus Christ will be of no value to you at all. All that Christ did for you when He sacrificed His life will be in vain if you seek salvation anyway except through faith in the One who claimed, “I am the way…” (John 14:6).
I enjoy working crossword puzzles in the newspaper. Usually, I get frustrated and can’t come up with the right words. I put it down, do something else, and later pick it back up. I then come up with the right answer, because I look at it with a new, fresh perspective.
There are people in the Church, who are frustrated about this thing called salvation. Perhaps you made a profession of faith in Jesus when you were younger, but now it seems to be a sentimentality or has little meaning or effect upon your life. You’re frustrated with religion. That may be your problem – you have plenty of religion with its customs, traditions, and doctrines, but you have little or no faith.
Suppose you were deeply in debt and saw no possible way out. It worried you so that you began embezzling from your employer. Suppose a friend found out about your problem and wanted to keep you out of jail. She sold all that she owned and offered you all the money to pay off all your debts and restitution.
Rather than accepting the money to get out of debt and avoid prison, you refused it and continued stealing and borrowing to pay your way out. Your friend was offering a sure way to free you, a gift, but your refused it. You wanted to do it your way, but your way led to imprisonment. Jesus offers a way to free you from your life of sin, but you must accept it by faith. What a friend you have in Jesus!
Paul says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (5:1). Paul is urging the Galatian church to hold on and cherish the freedom they have in Christ. Jesus is the way to freedom, for He said, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
Exactly from what have we been set free? Jesus has set us free from the slavery of sin. He offers forgiveness through the blood shed on the cross, and with forgiveness comes a new life empowered by the Holy Spirit. As Christians, we are not to allow sin or anything else rule our lives, only the Master, Jesus Christ.
Second Peter 2:19 says “…for a man is slave to whatever has mastered him.” What has mastered your life? Is it Jesus Christ ruling supremely in your life, giving you complete freedom to fulfill God’s will? Or are you mastered by carnal thinking and behavior?
The writer of Hebrews provides this encouragement to every believer in Jesus:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Through faith in Jesus, you and I have been set free from the slavery of sin. Paul warned the Christians in Galatia, “But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather serve one another in love” (5:13). In other words, through faith in Jesus we have been set free to love others. “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (5:14).
If Jesus has truly set you free from the slavery of sin, then in essence, He has set you free from self-centeredness, and thus, you are able to love others as you love yourself.
I want to be a part of a church where Christians love one another. Where Jesus is Lord, there is love for one another. The world desperately needs the church to be excited and enthused about love.
Ernst Kasemann wrote, Jesus Means Freedom, which is a protest to the stifling of freedom caused by German theologians. Kasemann said, “There is no Christian freedom without a dose of enthusiasm” (Ernst Kasemann, Jesus Means Freedom. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1972, p. 54.).
In order to make a difference in the community, the local church must be enthusiastic in its love for all people. We need to be the cheerleaders for the world, cheering them on, showing them the way to salvation through faith in Jesus.
One of the most amazing acts of enthusiasm I witnessed was not in church, but on the football field. My high school team was being trampled by the opposing team. The score at halftime was 77-0. It was cold and rainy that Friday night. The cheerleaders never gave up. In such overwhelming defeat, I can still hear them cheering on:
Push ‘em back, push ‘em back, waaaay back! You can do it, you can do it, you can do it, you can! We, we are, the mighty mighty Rams! Shumbalaka, Shumbalak, shishkumba, Hillcrest, Hillcrest, rah, rah, rah!
Our team didn’t win. But you know what, those football players never gave up in that cold driving rain against a Goliath of a team because they had someone cheering them on.
That’s what the world needs – they need to see Christians loving each other and cheering one another on. Paul warned the Galatian Christians, “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (5:15). The world is watching the church in how we conduct ourselves. Beware!
Because we have been set free from the slavery of sin, and have been set free to love one another, we are free to serve one another. “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” (5:13). Nothing thrills the heart of a pastor than to see you, the church, active in serving others.
I see some of you taking meals to persons who are going through a crisis;
I see some of you helping families who are financially disabled;
I see some of you praying for the needs of the church and community;
I see some of you volunteering in the local food bank;
I see some of you volunteering in the hospital, in nursing homes, in the hospice house;
I see some of you mentoring children and youth in the schools;
I see some of you doing work for the widows.
It’s called loving and serving in the name of Jesus.
A church that is loving and serving, is a church that is alive and growing!
Free to be me, God I really am free;
Free to become what you want me to be:
Free to decide whether I should be lord,
Or be your slave and obey your word.
Free to live fully, to follow your way,
Give myself wholly, to die every day;
Free to be real, God, to strip off my mask,
Be your creation, it’s all that I ask.
By Kate Woolley (Baptist Hymnal, 1975 Edition. Nashville: Convention Press, 1975, 331.)
There is a twist or a paradox to our Christian freedom…in order to be free, we must be bound to God through His Son, Jesus Christ. You must give your life fully to God before you can experience the amazing freedom God offers to you here on this side of heaven!
About the writer:
Dr. C. Von Reynolds is the pastor of Reedy Fork Baptist Church in Seneca, SC. Rev. Reynolds completed his bachelor’s degree at Furman University and earned the Master of Divinity and the Doctor of Ministry from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Gloria, are the proud parents of three children and the grandparents of two grandsons.
Scripture and Music:
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
Galatians 5:1, 13=25
O Jesus, I Have Promised
You Satisfy the Hungry Heart
Where Charity and Love Prevail
Spirit of God Descend Upon My Heart
O God, Our Help in Ages Past
Sweet, Sweet Spirit
The Servant Song
Spirit of the Living God
Achieved if the Glorious Work (Haydn from Creation)
Lord, I Want to Be a Christian (Moses Hogan)
A Vineyard Grows (K. Lee Scott)
The Servant Song (Ovid Young)
Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation (Dale Wood)
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
Spirit of God (Don Hustad)