Grace to Bear Fruit

Galatians 5:1, 5-6, 13-25

In the series “Galatians: Gospel of Grace”

This weekend our nation observes Memorial Day, honoring those who have given what President Abraham Lincoln described as “the last full measure” in service to our country.  There will be parades, solemn observances and speeches to commemorate the day.  We’ll hear the speakers use the word “freedom” quite a bit. When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he wrote that people are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”  Those words still sound sweet to freedom-loving ears.  And even though our nation is imperfect and our political system can seem inefficient and ineffective, we still enjoy a tremendous measure of economic freedom, political freedom, religious freedom, personal freedom and communal freedom — much more than most people in our world who live in fear and poverty, under oppression and repression.

Freedom means different things to different people. Think about this question for a moment:  What does freedom mean to you?  Now, turn to one person sitting near you, briefly share your thoughts and listen to theirs. If you don’t know one another, introduce yourself first. 

For Jefferson, it was about inalienable rights. King Henry IV thought that freedom should include a guaranteed standard of living.  Songwriter Kris Kristofferson said, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” (Bonus points if you can name the song and artist who made it famous.)  Pinocchio thought it meant having no strings.  One posting on a website that asked, “What Does Freedom Mean to You?” said that freedom means “to do whatever you want and think [for] yourself and not let anyone tell you what to do.”

In his letter to the Galatian congregations Paul had helped to established, he reminded them that God had offered them the gift of grace through Jesus Christ, and this grace gave them the freedom to bear fruit in their lives. 

As we continue our study through this series on the “Gospel of Grace,” would you pray with me this prayer seeking God to break through in our lives and church. Let us pray:

God of resurrection power and possibility, as we study Galatians, open us to experience your grace in a more profound way that we might be continually transformed by the good news of the gospel: “for freedom Christ has set us free.” By your Spirit of grace, clothe us, form us, and sustain us, so that we may bear the fruit of Your perfect love to the glory of the resurrected Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

To this point in his letter to the Galatians, Paul has been urging his Christian sisters and brothers not to step back from grace and submit themselves to the Law.  He has told them about the power of grace to transform, as illustrated by his change from a zealous persecutor of Christians into an ardent messenger for Christ to the Gentile world.  He told them how grace embraced him and led other leaders in the Church to embrace him and offer him the right hand of fellowship, despite their differences. He reminded them that in baptism, grace has clothed them in Christ and made them children of God.  He has told them how he longs for grace to continue and ultimately finish its work of forming them in the likeness and character of Jesus Christ.  All the while he has continually urged them to enjoy the liberty that grace offers, rather than going back to the letter of legalism that will enslave them.

As chapter 5 begins, Paul turns to the paradox of freedom in Christ and surrender to Christ.  He wrote, “For freedom Christ has set us free.”  For freedom Christ has set us free.  Say that with me:  For freedom Christ has set us free.  What an amazing truth!  Out of his great love for us, Christ freely chose to surrender his rights and submit himself to suffering and death, so that he could free us from slavery to sin and death.  By giving his own life, he purchased freedom that is available to all people.  It is a freedom that those who put their trust in God through Jesus Christ experience.  We are free!

The question becomes:  What will we do with our freedom?

On the one hand, it appears from reading Paul’s letter that some of the Galatians were using their freedom to choose to bind themselves to the Law.  They were giving up their freedom to submit to rules and regulations that they thought assured that they were in right relationship with God.  If they were circumcised, if they ate only certain food, if they kept certain observances, if they obeyed certain rules, then they would make themselves acceptable to God. About that attitude, Paul wrote in verse 6: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.”

On the other hand, it seems that some of the Galatians may have adopted the attitude that since they have been forgiven and are free, they can do whatever they want.  Paul wrote, “For you were called to freedom, …, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another” (5:13-14).

The freedom we experience because of Christ is a paradox — we are most free when we are tied to Christ and surrendered to the Spirit.  With our freedom in Christ comes a responsibility for faithfulness and love.

So Paul calls us to a life of responsibility. Listen again to his words:  “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self‑indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.  For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’.”  He continues and urges us to “Live by the Spirit” (5:16), and he points out that we are either living by the Spirit, that is free in Christ, or we are enslaved by the flesh, living an illusion of freedom.

You and I are faced with free choices every day.  Our free choices might be led by the flesh and result in one kind of fruit.  We are free to growl at the breakfast table, to argue about whose turn it is to change the baby, to start work late, to lose our tempers when a coworker crashes our computer or another driver pulls out in front of us, to flirt with an attractive person and lust after them, to refuse to speak to someone who we feel has hurt us, to repeat a juicy story, rumor or unflattering story about a neighbor or family member, to take our anger out on our children or spouse, to spend more than we have, to eat more than we need.  These are all free choices we could make, and every one of them satisfies a fleshly desire, meaning that we let our flesh control us.  Paul described in Galatians 5:19-21 what a life controlled by the flesh produces.  Here’s how the Common English Bible describes those outcomes:  “sexual immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good, idolatry, drug use and casting spells, hate, fighting, obsession, losing your temper, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, jealousy, drunkenness, partying, and other things like that.” By the way, notice that about half of these have to do with life in the community of the family or of the faith. Our selfish fleshly desires often disrupt community.

But our free choice might also be led by the Spirit.  We have a choice to submit to Christ and to live by the Spirit and to let our lives bear the fruit of the Spirit. 

Anna, a nine-year-old Christian girl, saw a friend at school shivering on the playground during a cold snap.  She asked her friend and found out that her friend didn’t have money for a warmer coat, so the girl promised to buy her friend a coat.  Anna went to the local Goodwill store and was surprised that a coat would cost more than she had planned.  However, she decided that her promise to her friend was more important, and so she spent every single coin saved in her piggy bank to buy that coat.

Her parents were surprised and concerned about their daughter’s splurge.  But when they questioned her wisdom, Anna responded, “But I promised her, and she needed it.”  Her parents were silenced and impressed by their daughter’s free spirit and love for her neighbor.

Anna was also free to choose, and she chose to follow Jesus and to love her neighbor as herself.  True freedom in Christ means that we submit ourselves to Christ and live by the Spirit.  When we do, we experience the fruit of the Spirit in life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (5:22-23).

How will we use our freedom?

Preacher and writer Warren Wiersbe explains Christian freedom this way:  “Freedom means I have been set free to become all that God wants me to be, to achieve all that God wants me to achieve, to enjoy all that God wants me to enjoy.” Christ has set us free from sin and death and all the passions and desires of the flesh in order that we can grow into the people God wants us to be.  God has created us to be in a loving relationship with Jesus Christ and with one another.  In essence, Christ has freed us for love.  Through the Holy Spirit, God has gifted us to be teachers, givers, pray-ers, believers, speakers, listeners, caregivers, and other wonderful things.  And we all have been commissioned by Christ to invite all people in the world to know him and to grow into his love.

May we commit to live by the Spirit and bless others with the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.  Amen.

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