Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sermon: Galatians 5: 1-15 Freedom to love

Today, we pause to remember - to remember those who gave their lives in the service of others, and the cause of freedom. Men from this village, and from every village, town and city, signed up to serve, and to stand against the forces of tyranny in Europe and around the world, to bring about the freedom we enjoy. We are free today, because of their dedication and sacrifice.

And yet, as our Bible reading tells us today, there was an even greater sacrifice, which has brought about an even greater freedom. We’re told in Galatians 5:1 that ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.’ As we’ve been working our way through this letter over the last few weeks, we’ve seen how the death of Jesus on the cross brings freedom. Christ has set us free from sin, and the law, as we trust in him.

That freedom is available to you today - the freedom from guilt and shame; the freedom from the burden of our sins; Paul describes it as being released from prison, and coming to the end of school. Freedom! But what does our freedom look like? Can we really do whatever we like?
When I was becoming a teenager, one of the songs that played nonstop on the radio said this: ‘I’m free to be whatever I, whatever I choose and I’ll sing the blues if I want... I’m free to say whatever I, whatever I like if it’s wrong or right it’s alright... Whatever you do, whatever you say, yeah I know it’s alright... Whatever you do, whatever you say, yeah I know it’s alright.’ (Oasis)

So when Jesus sets us free, is it for us to be whatever, say whatever, do whatever we want? Well, imagine that you had a goldfish in a bowl in your living room. And, if it could think for long enough (because it has its short term memory), and it decided that it was imprisoned in the water in the bowl. Goldie might decide that freedom for him is to jump out of the bowl, to be free of the water. But if Goldie does manage to jump out of the water, and free himself, is he really free? Well, no. He can’t survive outside the bowl! He’s only free in the water.

In our reading today, Paul shows us what our freedom in Christ really looks like. In verse 1, we are free to not be slaves again. Jesus died to free us from the demands of the Old Testament law. We simply couldn’t obey them by ourselves. That was what Paul taught the Galatians when they became Christians. But now other teachers, false teachers had arrived, and they said that to be a real Christian, you needed to become a Jew. You needed to obey the Old Testament laws, in every detail. And it was as if they were coming to make the Galatians slaves all over again.

But what the false teachers were doing was stopping the Galatians from being free. And Paul uses a couple of pictures of what they were doing in verses 7-8.

So, imagine it’s sports day, and you’re running in one of the races. You’re doing really well, you might win a medal, and then someone gets in your way, trips you up, and puts you out of the race. The Galatians had been running a good race, but someone had cut in on them and kept them from obeying the truth.

Or, imagine you’re baking some bread. You’re going to make some flatbread, but you accidentally add in some yeast. The yeast will work through the whole batch of dough, it will affect everything. And the false teaching in these churches was affecting everyone.

So much so that, if they followed that teaching, they would be alienated from Christ, fallen from grace. So in Christ, we are free to not be slaves.

In verse 13, we are free, but not to sin. Paul says: ‘You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature.’

We are free, but not to do whatever we want. You see, each of us has a sinful nature, we want to do what we want to do. We want to please ourselves and have other people serve us. We want to go our own way, rather than God’s way.

But Jesus has freed us from our sinful nature. So we don’t have to follow it any more. We shouldn’t follow it any more.

Rather, we are free, to serve one another in love. That’s what Paul says in verse 13. ‘Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.’ This is why Jesus freed us - not to be selfish, but to serve one another, in the way that Jesus has first served us, as he gave himself for us in love.

And what does it look like to serve one another in love? It looks like the summary of the law - the whole law is summed up in one command, from Leviticus 19: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’

Originally, this command was a demand we couldn’t attain. Could you ever really say that you always, in every moment, with every effort, were loving your neighbour as much as you love yourself? The law condemned us. But Jesus perfectly obeyed this command, he freed us from the demand; and he now makes this a delight. We have been set free, so that we serve one another in love, and do what we otherwise couldn’t do.

One of the greatest war films is Saving Private Ryan. When the American Army realise that all three of Private Ryan’s brothers have been killed in the war, a group of 8 soldiers are sent behind enemy lines to find Private Ryan, to save him, to be able to send him home to be with his mother. The film charts the efforts of Captain Miller and his men to find Ryan.When they eventually find him, Miller dies as the Germans advance. And Miller whispers in Ryan’s ear: ‘Earn this. Earn it.’

Miller wants Ryan to live in such a way that he deserves the sacrifice of the men who came to save him. As the film ends, an elderly Private Ryan stands at the war grave of Captain Miller, and he’s still haunted by those words - Earn this. He asks his wife, surrounded by his family - tell me I’ve lived a good life, tell me I’m a good man. Has he earned it? That’s the question that haunts him.

But Jesus doesn’t need or want us to earn our freedom, or somehow pay him back for all he’s done for us. We couldn’t do it! Instead, he gives us freedom - freedom to not be slaves again; freedom to not sin; freedom to serve one another in love.

So have you received the love of Jesus? The love that caused him to give himself for you.

Have you received the freedom Jesus gives? Receive it today!

When we receive the love of Jesus, we’re to pass it on. When we receive the freedom he has given, we’re to live it out in love, in a life of service, for the good of others.

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Remembrance Sunday, 12th November 2017.

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