Standing Fast In The Liberty By Which Christ Has Made Us Free (See 5:1)
Freedom From Sin Includes Freedom From Sinning
“Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.” Thus wrote author George Bernard Shaw in a brief commentary on politics.
Today’s society shows him to be correct, for the blessings of liberty are being wasted on many libertines. That’s the kind of person who expects honesty, hard work, respect, and public service from others, but considers himself to be free from such obligations.
When this abuse of liberty becomes predominant, anarchy and tyranny will soon follow. In the name of false liberty, real freedom is often lost.
In the latter part of Galatians chapter six, the apostle Paul urges his readers to avoid this same kind of trap. He isn’t talking politics or culture, though. He speaks of something far more important, namely, the Christian’s attitude toward God’s will in their lives. In this area as well, liberty is to be accompanied by responsibility.
In the earlier part of this letter, Paul emphasized the blessed freedom that we have in Christ. We have freedom from the guilt of our sins by reason of Jesus’ full payment on the cross, as well as freedom from the outward observance of Old Testament Jewish laws. However, Paul did not want Christians to think that they should have no concern about sin in their lives, or no concern about doing God’s will. Far from it!
As Luther remarked: “St. Paul admonishes his Christians to such an extent as to make it appear as though he were overdoing it; . . . for though the Spirit is present and, as Christ says, operates in believers and makes them willing, still the flesh, on the other hand, is also present, and the flesh is always weak and tardy. . . . We have not yet reached the point where our flesh and blood would be active and leap forward with sheer joy and delight to do good works and obey God, such as our spirit desires and our faith demands; on the contrary, with all our incessant urging and prodding we can scarcely get them to move” (quoted in Walther’s Law And Gospel, p. 315).
An Inner Conflict
Yes, Paul was a realist when it came to human nature, specifically, the sinful human nature that still resides in Christians. In the heart of every true believer there is an inner conflict between the sin nature and the believing child of God.
Whenever there is a battle raging between these two–the old, sinful man and the new, believing me–then I can take comfort in the fact that the Spirit is indeed at work. How easy it is, though, to tire of the struggle, to put our behavior on “autopilot” instead of actively striving for God’s will to be done in our lives!
It is an alarming thing for us and our children that the vices that Paul mentions in this chapter are now more easily available to our eyes, ears, and hearts than they ever were before. Fornication, uncleanness, sorcery, hatred, selfish ambitions, and the rest are at our finger tips–with the click of the computer mouse or remote control button. And they can quickly pass from the screen to our hearts.
The devil and the world have more effective tools than ever with which to fight for our souls. They would have us make these vices a permanent part of who we are inside. But the Lord warns us that anyone who continues to live this way on purpose cannot be a child of God, regardless of whether he lives in gross, outward sins or harbors inner, secret ones.
The Bible makes clear that we must fight back! “Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh,” Paul writes.
Actively engaging the enemy means denying our sinful impulses, beating back the Old Adam, in fact crucifying him. It means “walking the walk” of a renewed life, rather than merely “talking the talk” of religion with a mechanical, habitual show of shallow piety.
The work of the Spirit in us will move us to repent of our sins and find in Christ alone our forgiveness and consolation. Then we are to put up a genuine fight against the fleshly vices, and seek to grow in the fruits of the Spirit.
Righting a wrong, keeping your temper, speaking a kind word to someone who’s down, keeping a promise even when it costs you, telling someone that Jesus really cares, and other random acts of kindness–these are all examples of what happens when the love that Christ has shown to us is reflected in our lives. Paul describes this with words such as long-suffering, kindness, faithfulness, and self-control.
Freedom from sin means many things to us. It means that we need not go about with guilt, minding our P’s and Q’s, hoping that we might somehow measure up to God’s expectations for righteousness. Jesus has done that for us. That’s what LIBERTY in the Gospel is all about!
But don’t forget that along with God’s gift of grace in Christ comes God’s gift of a new life IN Christ. Freedom from sin includes freedom from sinning. The fact that we will never do this perfectly in this life dare never detract from the earnest admonition that the Lord has spoken through Paul: “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”
–Pastor Bruce Naumann