Sermon notes 07-04-21          Christian Independence

Galatians 5:1, 13-25 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.  16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.

On this Fourth of July when we celebrate our freedom and independence as a nation, it is good for us to be here and to be reminded of the blessing and the gift it is to have the freedom to gather together to worship our Lord openly and without fear!  I hope everybody is enjoying this holiday weekend here at the beach, maybe with family and loved ones you haven’t seen in a long time, and I pray that you are being kept safe and well in the midst of all the celebrations and crowds and fireworks.

Tomorrow is the national day off for many (though I know some of you will be working), but today is the Fourth of July, Independence Day.  It is good and right for us to celebrate our national freedom and independence.  There is no greater gift than freedom, and we should never take it for granted, nor those who have sacrificed and who continue to sacrifice to secure our freedom as a nation.  Thank God for them and for the gift of freedom!

But what I want to talk with you about today is not primarily our national political independence.  For the next few minutes, I want us to consider together what independence means for Christians, and in particular the freedom we have in Jesus Christ.

Our reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatians begins with the words, For freedom Christ has set us free, and a little later in the passage Paul tells his readers that followers of Christ are called to freedom.  But Paul also makes it clear that Christians define freedom and independence differently than the world, and we are called to express our freedom differently than the way the world expresses it.

For many people, Independence Day is about celebrating individual freedoms and the right to live as we choose.  That can be well and good, but the freedom and the right to do whatever we want and to live however we choose can be deceptive.  If we are not careful, freedom to live as we choose and to do whatever we want can actually put us in bondage to our own desires.  We can easily become enslaved to whatever impulse or desire seems most urgent to us.  That’s because, in our fallen world, our natural will as humans puts us in bondage to sin.

Because we all have a fallen, sinful nature, we humans instinctively gravitate toward sinful actions, which Paul refers to as the works of the flesh.  Paul warns the Galatians that these works of the flesh have dire consequences. He writes that those who practice the works of the flesh will not inherit the kingdom of God.

For some people, freedom of choice means freedom from God and from God’s will in our lives. For those who want freedom from God’s will, we might say Independence Day took place for them in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve made the choice to rebel against God.  Adam and Eve wanted the freedom to choose to eat the fruit that God told them not to eat, and ever since then, people have been making their own choices in the name of freedom. We see the results of those choices in broken relationships, broken families, broken countries and a broken world.

The problem Adam and Eve realized is that independence from God put them and all of humanity in bondage to sin.  In fact, left on our own, we humans are not able not to sin.  Left on our own, we are in fact slaves to sin.  The Christian life is the only way to resist the various forms of slavery and bondage that the world offers.

For Christians, independence does not mean that we can do whatever we feel like doing.  That would make us slaves to our feelings and impulses, which is just another form of bondage.  Paul writes, “you were called to freedom … only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”  In other words, Paul is saying, do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but rather use your freedom to love and serve according to the example of Christ.

Paul writes that we are to walk by the Spirit, and not gratify the desires of the flesh.  We should not understand Paul to be saying that our problem is that we have desires.  Our problem is that, because of our sinful nature, we have disordered desires; we either desire the wrong things, or we desire good things in the wrong way.  An example is the God-given desire for sexual intimacy, which is a good thing that we wrongly pursue in various ways not in keeping with God’s intentions and designs.  When we allow our disordered desires to determine our behavior, we become enslaved to our passions, leading all too often to destructive consequences.

When we live to gratify the desires of the flesh, we have lost our freedom.  It’s sad to see how often people get this backwards, and they confuse freedom with bondage.  One of the works of the flesh Paul names is drunkenness, so allow me if you will to use the excessive desire for alcohol to illustrate freedom being confused with bondage.

I have known people whose love for drinking would not allow them to attend their children’s scholastic athletic events, because those events were not conducive to drinking alcohol.

I have known others who would make only a brief appearance at family gatherings, because the consumption of alcohol was not a part of those gatherings.

I have known others who would not consider eating at a restaurant, no matter how good the food, if the restaurant did not serve alcohol.

I have known persons who would not consider being in a relationship with someone who did not share their love for drinking alcohol.

I have known others whose daily schedules and travel plans and very lives were planned with drinking alcohol always factored in.

Here’s the thing: in every one of those cases, the persons I am describing would say that drinking alcohol was a free choice, and that they were exercising their freedom by choosing to drink.  But it should be clear that if you cannot attend your kids’ sports events or enjoy family gatherings or eat at certain restaurants or be in a relationship with certain people because of your love for drinking, that is not freedom; that is bondage; it is slavery to the need to drink.

It is very much the same with all the other works of the flesh Paul describes.  We often think that the choice to engage in such practices are expressions of freedom, when they actually enslave us.  Here is how you can know the truth; this is the test of whether you are exercising freedom or you are in bondage.  If you think your preferred work of the flesh, your lifestyle choice, is an expression of freedom, and not a matter of bondage, try stopping, try walking away from it, try letting it go.  If you are able to let it go, not just for a moment, but indefinitely, you are free.  If you keep coming back to it, you are enslaved to it.

I said earlier that left on our own, we are all slaves to sin, but the good news is that God did not leave us on our own.  God sent his Son to liberate us from our bondage to sin, and Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to guide us on our spiritual journeys.  Through the Spirit’s guidance and power in our lives, we are able to make choices and decisions that are in keeping with God’s will, God’s purposes and God’s design for our lives.  Paul writes that those who belong to Jesus Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  The Holy Spirit enables us in a sense to die to those wrongful desires and passions that formerly enslaved us.

The Holy Spirit works in us to replace those wrongful desires and passions with the positive attributes of godly character that Paul describes as the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  Those who follow Jesus are no longer under the spell of the narcissistic powers of the flesh, but we are freed to live under the rule and power of the Holy Spirit.

Christian independence does not mean that we have no master.  When we come to Christ, we have a new master.  We were once mastered by sin, but now we are mastered by our Lord Jesus Christ.  Friends, we will be a slave either to sin or to Christ, either to the flesh or to the Spirit, but when we submit to the Spirit, we become free.  It has been said that Christian independence is not license to do whatever we please, but is rather slavery to what is good, which is the highest conceivable freedom.  The Christian is not a person who has become free to sin, but a person who, by the grace of God, has become free not to sin.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that the Christian life is easy.  Paul acknowledges that life as a Christian is a struggle, a battle between the flesh and the Spirit.  Because we Christians still have a sinful nature, none of us is able to perfectly follow the Spirit, and we will have times of failure.

Yet God never stops loving us and beckoning us to follow Him. For the sake of His Son, Jesus Christ, He has forgiven our sins and no longer holds any of them against us.  This, brother and sisters, is true freedom.

For Christians, every day is Independence Day.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.