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Freedom to Love


At issue was nothing less than the future of the church at Galatia because unless the people returned to their freedom in Jesus and love for each other it would die a slow, painful, and ugly death as brothers and sisters in Christ feasted upon one another in hate.”

Galatians 5:1-15

5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

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.

I’ll pray, and we’ll get into Galatians 5. Lord Jesus, we thank you for calling us together as your people. We thank you, Holy Spirit, for inspiring the scriptures that we’re about to study, as well as convicting and leading; and teaching and guiding us so that we could love Jesus as you do; and we could glorify the Father with Him. Lord God, we pray that we would take the admonitions that come through your servant Paul, from you, to the Galatian church; apply them to Mars Hill; and our own lives; and our own walk with you. Lord God, if there are any brothers and sisters here today visiting from other churches, we pray that this would be an encouraging word for them as well, to go back and love those that they are in fellowship with; since, Lord God, truly we are but one church and one people; and one family serving one God, forever. And that’s our hope and prayer in Christ. Amen.

The issue in Galatians is very simply this: This church had been started by the apostle Paul, and he had left to go on his missionary journeys to plant other churches. In his absence, the church had gotten off to a pretty good start, was doing well, loved Jesus, was obeying the commands of God out of love for Jesus, following the leading of the Holy Spirit, growing, and having measurable success. However, what had happened was, false teachers – what he calls “false brothers and agitators”, had infiltrated their ranks, he says, “To spy on their freedom in Christ.” They had come in to fix this church, and to fix these people. And what they were not doing is point toward Jesus. They, instead, were pointing toward themselves. They had brought legalism and division, and an obstinacy into the church that was threatening the very existence of the church.

Some of you may have been in churches that had major deteriorations, in-fighting, brutal factions, divisions. Sometimes churches go to the degree that they die. The issues in Galatians are very pertinent even in our own age. This year in the United States 3,500 churches will die and close because of the issues that we’re about to look at in Galatians 5. Many churches die, and they do so for what we’ll discover happened to the church at Galatia. And that is very simply this: “That the goal of the church is the glorify God who is our Father,” Paul says, “by loving and serving, and obeying and following Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit.” So, it’s about living through the power of the Holy Spirit in such a way as to glorify and follow Jesus as we honor the Father together with Him. That’s the Christian life.

What these false teachers had done, what false teachers always do, they had come in and basically inserted themselves between God’s people and God. They basically said, “Well, it’s all fine to love Jesus and follow the Holy Spirit, but that’s not very trustworthy. You also need us. You need our teachers, our leaders, our movement, our books, our rules, our standards, our regulations, our ways of doing things. We have this all systematized for you. You just do what we say, and you’ll be good, Godly, holy people.” Now, what they had done is they had – they had put themselves between the people and God, and basically said, “Yeah, you’re following God, but we think we can do a better job than that. We think that we can do as good of a job, if not better, than God himself.” And the Bible’s clear that there’s only one mediator between man and God, and that’s Jesus. So, we are to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, not just the leading of people who declare themselves to be teachers.

We should honor and imitate Jesus, not seek to honor and imitate people who have elected themselves as being very important. And we should seek to glorify the Father, rather than keeping legalistic, self-righteous hypocrites happy. That’s the issue in Galatia. And the church is under the threat of dying, and Paul writes the letter to them, in his absence, to defend his doctrine, to defend the purity of the gospel, and to point people back to Jesus; because, they had gotten so involved in church fighting that they had completely forgotten about Jesus. They’d forgotten about him entirely. It’s like that picture in the book of Revelation where Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” What he’s talking to there is a church that was having church and all of its functions, but no Jesus.

And Jesus gives this sort of humorous picture that he’s outside [Makes knocking sound] knocking on the door, because they’ve locked it and they won’t allow him to come to his own church. They have everything figured out, and they have no need for him. And that is what the false teachers are seeking to implement in Galatia. So, Paul starts off telling us about what Jesus Christ, God almighty has accomplished for us. Galatians 5:1. He says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free, so stand firm. Remain steadfast. Don’t leave your freedom. And do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” What the Bible teaches is antithetical to what we perceive as how the world works. We believe that we are free people, born in a free democracy, who are free to do or become whatever it is that we desire. The Bible in fact, spiritually, tells us the complete opposite. It says in fact that we are born enslaved to sin and death; that we are literally in slavery to those two things.

And many of us don’t like to admit that, but we know it’s true. Because any of us who have sought to be perfect in thought, word and deed, find it completely impossible. That’s the – the old adage, “No one is perfect.” That’s true. Because we’re slaves to sin. We’re chained up to it. We’re imprisoned to it, Paul said earlier in Galatians, and we can’t just get away from sin. There is no furlough. In addition, we are slaves to death. We are all going to die. And the issues in the world are centered on trying to fight those two great enemies that we are enslaved to. People have counselors, and attorneys, and groups, and support, and all of these things, trying to deal with sin, and manage sin; the sins we commit, the sins that are committed against us, the chaos that ensues. The whole social structure is trying to figure out, “How do we deal with sin?” Laws? Attorneys? Courts? Punishment? All of this is to deal with sin, which is our great enemy.

No matter how much money we spend, no matter how many programs we develop, unless God transforms the human heart, we are still in slavery to our sin. In addition, we’re enslaved to our death. And we can buckle-up and put airbags in our car, and eat vitamins, and jog. We can drink water that’s been boiled and distilled, and comes from some fresh geyser. But, nonetheless, we will still die. We will still die. And so what Jesus has done, God has taken note of us in our condition, and He has come to us in ultimate humility. He has taken on human flesh, and He has lived without sin, and He has died for our sin.

Our sins were literally placed upon Jesus. He was punished in our place. 2 Corinthians 5:21 explains it this way: “That God made Him who knew no sin to become sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus has taken our sin and Jesus has taken our death; death being the punishment for sin. And He resurrected from death, conquering sin and death. So, no longer must we be enslaved to sin and enslaved to death, by God’s grace through Jesus we are delivered. We are liberated. We are freed or redeemed, so that now we don’t have to die. We can live forever with God. And we don’t have to be enslaved to our sin. We are now free to love God and walk away from our sin. And the point is simply this: it is not about morality. I wanna make this abundantly clear. It’s about Jesus. Jesus and sin do not coexist. So, the closer you draw to Jesus, the further you wander from your sin.

And so what Paul is trying to do is tell them, “Do not concentrate on being moral, or being religious, or being spiritual, or being good, focus on Jesus. And the closer you draw to Him, you will find that you become spiritual, and you become moral, and you become a different person. And lots of good things happen. But, it is not to improve you, it is to honor Him.” And the focus goes off of self, and it goes toward loving Jesus, who has loved us, and demonstrated His love for us through His death on the cross. And that is the mark of Christian freedom. Christian freedom is, “It is no longer about me, it’s about Jesus. It’s not about me being good. It’s about Him being good. It’s not about me pleasing God. It’s about Him pleasing God. It’s not about what I can do. It’s about what I can do through His power in me.” And then all of the glory goes to Jesus. And what God is seeking to build is a relationship of intimacy, and trust, and affection with His people. Not just morality. Not just tradition. Not just orderliness or piety. But worship, which – which includes those things, but goes far beyond them.

And he says, “When you’ve been liberated into this kind of freedom where Jesus loves you, and you love Jesus, and He has conquered sin and death, and He has delivered you into freedom to be a worshiper, why in the world would you go back to your legalisms? Why would you go back to your rules and regulations? Why would you go back to living by someone else’s conscience? Why would you go back to submitting to the rules that are created by human teachers, that are not in the Scripture, that are not inspired by the Spirit of God, and should not be binding – why would you do that? Why would you trade Jesus for some guy who just said he was very important, and has a long list of things for you to do?” Paul says, “Don’t do it. Don’t give up the freedom that you have. Don’t walk away from Jesus. Don’t commit yourself to morality and traditions, and movements, at the expense of Jesus. Stick with Christ.”

And he goes on to explain then, the consequences of forgetting this simple truth. And – is it possible that – that sometimes we just forget Jesus? We get into theology. We get into morality. We get into church. We get into tradition. We get into whatever it is, and we just, “Oh yeah, we forgot about Jesus.” And we lose our first love. And that’s what’s happening at the Galatian church. And as you walk farther away from Jesus, you walk farther away from freedom, and you go back into slavery, rules, regulations.

It is not about life and joy. It’s about pleasing someone other than God. And he says, verse two, “Mark my words – “ this is a word of caution, “I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again, I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised, that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ. You have fallen away from grace.” The Bible teaches that there are only really two ways of believing that you’ve come into a relationship with God, that you’ve been justified. One is through what you do, the other is through what Jesus has done. And Paul says, “If you think that you can be in right relationship with God by obeying a few rules, then you need to obey every rule that the Bible has, and do so perfectly without error. Because what you are saying is that you don’t need Jesus; that you can take care of yourself.”

And – and what I’ve told you repeatedly is that there is a corresponding scale, that you and I will either have a high view of God and a low view of man and woman, or we will have a high view of man and woman, and a low view of God. And what the Galatian church has done – they started off with deep affection for Jesus and a skepticism about their own goodness, and they have come to believe that they in fact can fix and heal, and redeem and save, and cure themselves. And correspondingly, they don’t think very much of Jesus, because they don’t see the need for him as being that great. And Paul is saying, “I’m telling you, watch this. That at any point you elevate yourself and your goodness, and your morality, and your piety, and your righteousness, you are correspondingly diminishing the goodness of Jesus.” So, keep Jesus high, and keep yourself low. Keep Jesus as the issue, and not yourself.

That Jesus should be on His throne and we should be on our face. And what the Galatian church has done is, they have allowed the teachers to sit on a throne. And they have bowed down to them and not Christ. He says, “If you go ahead and get circumcised, you’re walking away from Jesus.” Is it a sin to be circumcised? It’s not. Is circumcision bad or evil? It’s not. Is it bad or evil if you say that’s how you go to heaven? Yes. Any time someone says, “Well, how do you know you’re a Christian? How do you know your sins are forgiven? How do you know that you’re in relationship with God?” The answer is always, “Jesus died for my sins. Rose. I trust him. He loves me. It’s all good.” But, what we sometimes want is a more obvious indicator. “Well, I got baptized.” Or, “I spoke in tongues.” Or, “I’ve memorized these verses.” Or, “I read the Bible every day.” Or, “I do this, that, or the other thing.”

Paul says, “No. It has to be just Jesus. Just Jesus.” And these people are saying, “Well, to really be a Christian, you need to trust Jesus, sure, but you need to be circumcised. You need to have some sort of human effort added to the gospel to show that you’re a child of God.” Can you be circumcised and still go to hell? There are lots of circumcised people in hell right now. Right? Can you be baptized and go to hell? Yes. Can you memorize lots of verses and go to hell? Yes. The only sure-fire indicator that you are a child of God is that you love Jesus, and the spirit of God indwells you. If you don’t love Jesus, it’s all pointless. But, what ends-up happening is that Jesus transforms us, and then we do certain things out of that new life. We get baptized. We read the Bible. We pray. Whatever it might be– we memorize scripture.
And certain people take those effects and think, “Well, if I do those, then I’ll have this cause. That’ll cause me to be a Christian.” Paul says, “No, you’re a Christian by Jesus, and then the effects are these things. But, these things are not the goal. The goal is always love Jesus. Love Jesus and trust him.” And that’s where Jesus says, “If you love me, you’ll what? You’ll obey me.” The issue is not obedience, it’s loving Jesus. And he says, “I guarantee you this: You go ahead and get circumcised, you have lost Christ altogether.” Because, you’re thinking that when Jesus was on the cross and He died for your sins, and He cried out, ‘It is finished’ He really didn’t mean that. Because now you’re saying, “It’ll be finished in just a minute when I do this other thing to make myself a Christian.”

Paul says, “No. When Jesus says it’s finished, it’s finished. And you just need to trust that.” It can’t be about works. It has to be about grace. It can’t be about us. It has to be about Jesus. It can’t be about our morality. It must be about His perfection. It can’t be about our traditions. It must be about relationship with Him. Paul says, “Be careful with these things.” He goes on to explain then, in verse five – here’s how we obtain righteousness, then, “But by faith” Trusting Jesus. “We eagerly await, through the Spirit, the righteousness for which we hope.” Right? Righteousness. Goodness. Appropriate standing before God does not come by a list of commands that we obey. It comes by the Spirit of God indwelling the children of God so that we might trust Jesus. And then His righteousness is given to us, and our sin is given to him.

And then we just – as Paul says later, “Live up to what we have already attained.” We just live as these new people. And it is through faith in Christ and the Spirit of God. He says, “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Paul said, “I don’t care if you’re baptized, not baptized. I don’t care if you’re circumcised, not circumcised. I don’t care if you’re Arminian, or if you’re Calvinistic. I don’t care if you’re charismatic or not charismatic. I don’t care if you’re pre/post trib. I don’t care if you don’t even know what I’m talking about. Here’s what I’m concerned about: Do you love Jesus? Do you love Jesus?” Now, not that any of those other things aren’t without merit, that the Scriptures don’t touch on those matters, but all of those are pointless if you don’t trust Jesus and love him.

You could be a tight theologian arguing about eschatology in hell, which is a bummer, because even if you win the argument you’re life still stinks. You need to make sure that you’ve trusted Jesus and that you love him. And what happens is, in the church, all kinds of issues, all kinds of things become the agenda. And I’ve always said, “There’s one drum we beat, that’s: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” And if we stick to that, things will go well. If we get away from that, we end-up like Galatia. They’re arguing over circumcision. Churches argue about everything. Right? You have one issue and four Christians, you’ll get 17 opinions. That’s just always the way that it works. Division inevitably comes. But, the one thing we can all agree on, Jesus is God. We trust Him. We love Him. We live by His grace. That’s the thing that holds the church together. It isn’t the traditions. It isn’t the morality. It isn’t that we agree on everything. It’s that we love Jesus and we’re trying to follow Him as best we can.

So, we have our Bibles open. We have our hearts open. We have our lives open. And we’re trying to be imitators of God. And Paul says that that is what counts. Do you trust Jesus, and are you a loving person? It goes on then. It says, “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?” You ever seen a church that started off going really well? That started off with lots of people becoming Christians. They’re reading their Bibles, loving Jesus, praying, trusting him. Things are going great. And then, all of the sudden somebody comes in and says, “Well, now we’re gonna mature as a congregation. Now, in addition to the love for Jesus, we’re gonna get into really deep things. Now we’re gonna really grow-up, and argue about things that don’t matter.” And there is a simplicity about loving Jesus that is the most important thing.

Okay, you guys know me. I read a book a day. I love theology. I have opinions on everything. Right? Things I don’t even know about, I already have opinions about. Okay? But, what matters most is trusting and loving Jesus. And – and I’ll tell this to the young guys, too. Young guys love to argue theology. And it’s all in vain if they don’t also lovingly trust Jesus. If you don’t lovingly trust Jesus, then all your theology, and all your study ends up dividing the church rather than building it. It ends-up separating brothers and sisters in Christ, rather than unifying them. And the goal is not to be ignorant, but the goal is to be like Jesus; who is gracious and patient, and a very good teacher who brings people along with Him out of love. And Paul says, “Who cut in on you guys?” It’s as if, you know, you become a Christian, you’re doing well, and then all the sudden you get hooked-up in some funky, weird church, or somebody hands you some freaky book. Right? And you start reading it, and all of the sudden you get off track. You get led astray.

Paul says, “You know, Jesus was leading and you guys were all running right behind him right toward the arms of the Father. And then all of the sudden these false teachers sort of cut in front of you. And it came to a fork in the road and Jesus said, ‘The Father is over here’ and they said, ‘We’re going over here.’ And you said, ‘Well, that’s great. We’ll go with you.’ And you parted company with Jesus.” You’re still religious. You’re still moral. You’re still pious. Your Bible’s still open. But Jesus isn’t anywhere near you, because you’ve wandered away from him. You say, “But we’re running hard.” Yeah, but we’re not going the right direction. “We’re following our leaders.” Yeah, but they’re not following Jesus, and that’s a problem. He says, “Who cut in on you? How did this happen?” It’s a good warning to us all. Some of you as we’ve been going through Galatians are thinking, “I love the Lord. I walk with the Lord. This doesn’t apply to me.” These people started out that way, and they got off track, and Paul’s trying to bring them back.

He says in verse eight, “That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.” God does not persuade you to run in a direction that is opposite of Jesus. He says, “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” Right bakers? It’s true. A little yeast, the whole thing rises. What does one freaky, nut-job heretic do to a church? Ruins the whole thing. Because immediately what happens with a false teacher, Paul says in Acts 20, “They come into the church. They develop lots of relationships. They gain an audience. And then they’re trying to put together a faction to declare war.” Happens all the time. Happens all the time. And here’s the problem. Here’s why they succeed. Not because often times people agree with their agenda, which is other than Christ, but because either they’re very vocal, very boisterous, very demanding, very unyielding. And so, people don’t like conflict, and we give-in to them; because we don’t like to get into those kinds of wars; or because they’re our friends. The people in Galatia – these are the kind of people who – these are friends of yours.

They were at your wedding. They’re your buddies from college. They’re – this is the couple that you have dinner with. When you had your first child they came and visited at the hospital. These are the people that are in your home group Bible study. You like these people. You love these people. You think, “Well, I know they’re nuts, and they’re talking about – they’re excited about everything but Jesus. And they’re really getting off track, and they’re kinda being legalistic and divisive. And every time they talk about other people at church they’re kinda saying nasty things. And they don’t seem to really have much love in them. But, you know, they’re our friends, and I don’t wanna – I don’t” – and so we put up with it. We say, “Well, I love them so much I just can’t say anything.” If you love someone who has walked away from Jesus, is not saying something really that loving? Say, “No. I love you so much I’m gonna point out this obvious error that you’ve made.” That’s exactly what Paul’s doing in Galatia.

He says, “These people will come in and they’ll ruin the whole church. They just sort of infect it like a virus. They take over everything.” It only takes one or two people with an agenda other than Jesus, who are loud and defiant, but really nice, to develop a whole following and create huge problems. That’s why God puts leaders in the church. They’re called shepherds. The people are called sheep. And these other people are called wolves. And the shepherd’s job is to put bullets in wolves – metaphorically. You know, but it is important that if someone comes in with an agenda other than Jesus, that you say, “Look, no, the agenda here is Jesus. And – and we wanna love Jesus. We wanna follow Jesus here.” And to be honest about such things, as Paul is – Paul ends on a note of optimism in verse ten. He warns them sternly, as a loving pastor concerned for their health. He says, “But I am confident in the Lord, that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be.”

Paul says, “God will deal with these kinds of people that ruin churches, create divisions, teach heresy, lead people astray, point people to themselves rather than Jesus.” And I tell you what, guys, that’s the mark of a good teacher and leader, versus a bad one. A good teacher and leader just points at Jesus, every time. Opens a Bible, “Here’s Jesus. You guys love Him, follow Him, stay close to Him.” False teachers open up the Scriptures, points everyone to themselves, “Love me, follow me, obey me, be like me.” Good teacher says, “No. Jesus. Don’t be like me. Be like Jesus. Follow Jesus. Obey Jesus. Honor Jesus.” And I’m trying to do the same thing. A leader is just someone who’s doing that and pointing everyone else to join them in the following of Christ. Paul says, “I – I believe the best. I believe that you guys do love God. And I believe that you’re gonna correct this error, and that you’re gonna get back to what you were doing originally, which is loving Jesus and following him. And these false teachers God will deal with very severely.” It says elsewhere in Scripture that not many of you should presume to be teachers, because teachers will be judged more harshly. Those who stand-up and claim to speak for God, they better know what they’re talking about because God takes that very, very seriously. And if they speak wrongly, then they affect people’s lives, and lead people away from Jesus.

He says, “Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I being persecuted? In that case, the offense of the cross has been abolished.” Here’s the main issue, why the church sometimes falls into heresy, or division, or factions, or fighting: no one wants to be offensive. Paul is stating that the most loving thing you can do at certain times is be offensive. And here’s the issue: “God is love,” 1 John 4, but love is not God. Okay, love is a concept that we tend to project and say, “This is loving. Oh, God can’t do that, and we can’t do that, because it’s not loving.” 1 John 4 flips that on its head. It says, “God is love.” So, whatever God does, that’s loving. And sometimes God rebukes people. And sometimes God has stern words for people who are erring and going astray. You say, “Well, that’s not very loving.” No, that’s what God does, so that is loving.

Love is not God. We don’t judge God by some standard that we put above him called love. We judge what is loving by what God says and what God does. We have – and that’s where Christianity is a – it’s a trans-moral religion. We tend to think of morality. The Bible thinks of God. God supersedes morality. God is God, and what God does is right. And so, we have to base our morality based upon God. Are we being loving? The issue is not, are we being loving? The issue is are we being like God? Ephesians 5: “Imitators of him.” And Paul says here, “That for some people the cross of Jesus is tremendously offensive.” And those people will contest, “Hey, I thought you loved me. You’re offending me.” I’m offending you because I love you. I only offend the people that I love. Now, you guys know that I love you. Right? But, let’s say you’re erring. Let’s say you’re in sin, or you’re doing something you shouldn’t be doing. You’ve wandered away from Jesus, or you’re really messed up. Is it loving to come and just speak honestly and say, “This is just – this is wrong. You’ve wandered away from Jesus. You’re off track. This is serious. I’m concerned.” “Oh, I thought you loved me.” “I’m saying this because I love you.”

And that’s what Paul is doing. He loves these people. He loves this church. And so he is going to offend them. Because what inevitably happens, people will come in, false teachers, they’ll say, “Here’s our traditions.” And Paul says, “Here’s Jesus.” They’ll say, “Here’s our morality.” And Paul says, “Here’s Jesus.” They’ll say, “Well, here’s our rules.” And he’ll say, “Here’s Jesus.” They’ll say, “Well, here’s how we do it.” And he’ll say, “Here’s Jesus. Here’s what He’s done.” They’ll say, “Well, love God.” And he’ll say, “Well, God loves you. That’s where it starts.” “Well, be good.” “Well, Jesus was perfect, and He gives you His righteousness. That’s where it begins.” And it offends people, because when we look at the cross of Christ, we realize that Jesus died for what? Our sin, which is offensive. Can you think of a more offensive concept than sin? No way. Because we wrongly believe that we can fix ourselves, we can save ourselves, we can cure ourselves. We can’t, apart from God.

We need God. And it’s humbling to look at the cross and say, “I need Jesus. Dead, buried and raised, for my sins. To transform me so that I can live by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the grace that he provides. That will make me a new creation in Christ. That will enable me to fulfill God’s law. That will enable me to be in right relationship with him, and with other people. I need Jesus.” And what that does, that strips us of all of our boasting and our arrogance. And say, “Well, what did you do?” “Killed God.” “Well, how in the world did that work? God’s nice.” “And so, me killing God actually, somehow ended-up transforming me and making me a child of God.” “Well, that seems like a bad thing, to kill God.” “It is. I’m not a good person.” I had a guy recently, he said, “I feel bad.” I said, “You should. You’re very bad. Your depression is consistent with your existence. There’s no problem.” “Well what – how do I get happy?” “You repent! You give your sins to Jesus, and you receive the grace that He provides, and you become a new creation. That’s it.”

And see, that’s tremendously offensive. But, for those of us that have tasted it, it’s the best thing we’ve ever heard. It’s the only thing that we have any hope in. Paul says, “You know, the offense of the cross is abolished when we say that it is about us and not about God, and about what we do instead of what He’s done, and about our goodness and not His.” As far as offensive goes, here is my favorite verse in all of Galatians. “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves.” All Scripture is God breathed and profitable. Alright, here is what he is talking about. These people were teaching that there’s two kinds of Christians. Some of you may have heard that there are two kinds of Christians. There are carnal Christians and spiritual Christians. Or, there are junior-varsity, and varsity. Right? There is junior-varsity and varsity. Varsity is Jesus, junior-varsity is everyone else.

What they are saying is, “There’s junior-varsity and varsity. We’re not even sure if the junior-varsity is Christian. Maybe, maybe not. “ Now, junior-varsity are men who are uncircumcised. Varsity is all the circumcised men. Right? And as I’ve said before, one of the weirdest parts about legalism is actually enforcing it. How do they even know this? You think about it, right? Guys come in. “Are you varsity or junior-varsity? We seat varsity over here, junior-varsity over here. You’re junior-varsity. You gotta sit over here. You’re not circumcised.” It’s – it’s weird to even think that they’re enforcing this, but they are. And so, what they’re saying is, “Well, the varsity, the real spiritual guys, they took their penis and they cut skin off it, so they’re really holy.” Which – I mean, there’s weirder things that you hear churches teach. Right?

And Paul is saying, “Well, if it’s good to cut a little skin off, then it’d be really good to cut the whole thing off.” (Laughter) Logically consistent, right? Well, okay, there’s varsity – there’s junior-varsity, varsity – well, this will be pro-bowl. Okay? “You guys are all gonna get drafted and go pro.” And you could see where this letter is read in church, all the guys that are running out and getting circumcised so they can go to heaven are looking at each other like, “Man, I told you we didn’t need to do that. I told you.” Is it bad to get circumcised? I don’t care. Okay, don’t schedule any meetings with me. I don’t care. Alright? I don’t wanna talk about it, okay? It’s not bad or wrong. But, is it bad or wrong to say, “You can’t go to heaven unless you do something”? Yeah. Yeah. Say, “Well, you can’t go to heaven unless you’re circumcised. Can’t go to heaven unless you speak in tongues. Can’t go to heaven unless you’re baptized. Can’t go to heaven unless you come forward to the altar call and cry. Can’t – can’t go to heaven unless you join our church or denomination, or you hold our systematic theology, or – blah, blah, blah.” This issue is, “Oh, you can go to heaven if you love Jesus and he died for your sins.” That’s it.

Now, the rest, we can disagree and we can debate, and it’s good to have our Bibles open, and iron sharpens iron, and that’s all fine and good. But, it must be in love, because we’re all junior-varsity. And there has to be humility among us. That perhaps we’re wrong. Perhaps we’re astray. These teachers – you know that a guy’s a good teacher when he can get a bunch of adult men to circumcise themselves. Right? That’s a – that’s a – that’s an amazingly convincing teacher. Right? And Paul is saying, “No. Don’t give into that. If you say you’ve gotta be baptized to go to heaven, then if it’s good to get them wet, then just keep them under. That’ll be really good. Circumcision? Don’t just cut a little, cut it all. Great.” It’s ridiculous. It’s nonsensical. And it’s also quite funny.

Verse 13. “You, my brothers, were called to be – what?” Free. We live by the Holy Spirit. We live by Jesus’ grace. We live to the Father’s glory. That’s freedom. It’s worship. It’s not about morality. It’s not about tradition. It’s about worship, and worship includes morality. Worship includes tradition. But, it goes far beyond that. It’s not about being good and doing good. It’s about God, and being intimate with him. He says, “But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature. Rather serve one another in love.” Here’s the problem. People become Christians, you tell them, “Look, Jesus has forgiven all your sins. Anything you ever do, He’ll forgive you.” Is that true? It’s totally true. All the married people, can you commit adultery and God will forgive you? He will. All the single people, could you fornicate and God will forgive you? He will. So then, the legalists come in and they say, “You know what? People are gonna sin if we tell them that they’re free. So, what do we need? Rules. Lots of rules. We need long lists of rules. And we’ll write down all the rules, and we’ll tell them not to do that, and then they won’t do it.” If we write down all the rules, will they still break the rules? Of course. Of course.

Why? Because there’s an internal problem. We have a seed of rebellion in us from Adam that naturally just wants to disobey. And so, rules will not make us holy. What makes us holy is what? Loving Jesus. If you love Jesus, will you be faithful to your spouse? You will. If you love Jesus, will you wait ‘til you’re married? You will. If you love Jesus, will you not get drunk? Will you not do drugs? Will you not lie? Will you not steal? You will. You will. Jesus said as much. He says, “If you love me, you’ll – what?” “You’ll obey my commands.” Trying to obey Jesus without loving him is absolutely impossible and foolish. And Paul says, “Don’t use your freedom to sin. Use your freedom to – what?” “Serve others.” What happens is, we hear we’re free and we think, “Great, now I can do whatever I want.” Biblical freedom is this: “Great, now I can serve whatever others. Now I can do whatever God declares.” So, now I’m worried about: What does God need of me? What do others need of me? Not: What do I need? Jesus says as much when he says, “We lose our life, we – what?” “We find it.” All of our sin, all of our legalism, all of our rules, is where we go to hide from Jesus.

And the only way, truly, you will be transformed is through God’s love and loving him back. I promise you that. If you have an alcohol problem, you don’t have an alcohol problem, you have a Jesus problem. Right? If you have a sexual problem, you don’t have a sexual problem, you have a Jesus problem. If you have an anger problem, you don’t have an anger problem, you have a Jesus problem. That you must understand His love for you, and you must steep in that like tea in hot water, to the point where that love transforms you so that you’re more like Him. And as you’re more like Him, alcohol, sex, anger, whatever it might be, those things fall away; because, Jesus and sin do not coexist. The closer you draw to Jesus, the farther away you get from sin. But, if your focus is to get away from sin, and you don’t go to Jesus, you’ll get away from one sin – and where will you go? Another sin. You’ll go from alcohol to pride. You’ll go from pride to gossip. You’ll go from gossip to lust. But, you’ll never get to Jesus.

And when you get to Jesus, now you’re free, because the sins are further away as you draw nearer to him. And that’s what Paul is telling them. The freedom is not freedom to go from one sin to another sin. The freedom is that Jesus died for our sins so that we could draw nearer to God. And then, we’re home. Then, we’re free. And the more intimate we become with God, the more that sin ceases to be delicious to our palate. And righteousness becomes what we thirst for. He goes on to say then, “The entire law is summed up in a single command.” Here he quotes Jesus, “They came to Jesus, and said, ‘Jesus, what’s the most important thing?’ He said, ‘Love God, love your neighbor.’” It’s the most important thing. The most important thing is: Love God, and love your neighbor. If we did those two things, would that take care of almost all ethics, morality, and law? It’d take care of everything. Was that loving to God? Was that loving to your neighbor? It kind of answers everything, really.

And it’s an exaltation of self interest over God and over neighbor. So, he quotes Jesus, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love each other. And – and I’ll say this. Love is something that, for me, theologically, has taken a lot of time to understand. Because, every time I’ve heard “Love God”, it sounds like another legalism, doesn’t it? And then, all of the sudden “Love for God” becomes the new legalism. Do you love God? Do you love God enough? Do you love God with your whole heart? Do you love God every minute of every day? And it’s a legalism again, isn’t it? The difference between legalism and worship is this: Legalism is what you have to do. Worship is what you get to do, because God has made you free. Worship is: I’m free, and now I get to love God. I don’t – I don’t have to, like a duty. I get to, like a privilege. And he says this, “This love is not something that we have to do. It’s something that we get to do.” And I’ll tell you this about love: Love begins with God. And – and this is the quintessential problem with – with human understanding of love.

Love begins with God. God exists as one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It’s the great, mysterious, Christian concept of the Trinity that the Scriptures teach. And that the Father and the Son and the Spirit love each other. There is affection within God. Perfect intimacy and love and affection within God. Jesus Christ, as we see His life, He loves God the Father. He loves God the Father. The Holy Spirit loves Jesus. The Father loves them both. There is perfect love. Others that do not believe in the concept of the Trinity, but do believe in God, they will say that God created us because God wanted to have a loving relationship and so he made us so there would be someone for him to love. That’s not true. God wasn’t lacking anything. God wasn’t lonely. God wasn’t isolated. God was loving, within His own self. And 1 John 4 tell us that, “God is love.” And God demonstrates his love for us in this: “When we were yet sinners, Christ for died for us”

The Bible says that God’s love that God has among His own self, has been extended to you and I as His image-bearers, as Jesus came to bring the love of God to us in a very practical way on the cross; to die for our sins, and extend grace, and love and mercy upon us. It’s the most glorious news. And then, as if that weren’t enough, Romans 5:5 says that then, “He places the Holy Spirit within each of His children” and that, “through the Holy Spirit, God’s love is poured-out into our hearts.” The love of God is given through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit, into you and me. And now, we can love. We can love God. And we can love each other. Does that love transform us? It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Romans, Paul says that it’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. Paraphrase that. God’s love changes us. And what these legalists are trying to do, they’re trying to change people without loving them.

And what Paul is teaching is: If you want people changed, love them. That love transforms. We tend to think of love as a romantic and sentimental way. The Bible speaks of love in an efficacious and transforming way. God’s love doesn’t just feel gooshy. God’s love does things. God’s love makes rebels into sons and daughters. God’s love make dirty people clean. God’s love makes lawbreakers obedient. God’s love takes lost people and brings them home. God’s love takes self-righteous people and humbles them. God takes hurting people and His love encourages them. God’s love does things. It changes us. And that love is given into our hearts, and we are conduits through which God’s love is shared. And it’s glorious that we even get to participate in that.

Not only do we receive the grace and love of God, but we are channels by which it is to be extended to others. And Paul says, “If you want change, love your brothers and sisters. Love them.” And he goes on to encourage them. “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you’ll be destroyed by each other. You guys are gonna kill each other. You’re gonna ruin the friendships. You’re gonna split the families. You’re gonna destroy the church. You’re gonna take all the glorious things that God has done, and you’re gonna shatter them, because you’re not loving each other.” And this is the one thing that we can’t fake. We can fake every other religious ritual and routine, and tradition, but, spirit empowered love is something that only God can do.

We can’t fake that. That is the power of God. And if we don’t take heed to that, we fight, we argue, we gossip, we divide. We kill each other like cannibals. We feast on our brothers and sisters in Christ. And eventually, the church dies. 3,500 churches this year in this country will die, because brothers and sisters in Christ are feasting upon one another’s flesh. It’s grievous. And Paul speaks with a strong tone, “Can love be honest and forthright, and bold and even offensive?” Paul is. But they’ll receive it because he loves them, and they know it. And – and I’ll close with this. This has been, I would say, for us as a church, one of our weaknesses. Okay?

We are a strong teaching church. You get yelled at for an hour every week no matter what. But the whole point of the law, Paul told us previously, is to push us toward loving Jesus, and loving each other with the love that He provides. Part of it is, this facility – it’s hard, right? It’s hot. You’re packed in. There’s no place to hang-out. There’s no place to visit. If you wanted to talk to someone, you can’t stand here and do it, ‘cause you will get run over and die. Right? You just can’t do it. In this building, we have gone from 80 to 800. God is a good God. Pray for the new building. We want lots of open space with tables and chairs where you can actually sit down and talk to each other. So, it’s not just get ‘em in, get ‘em out, because we have one legal parking place and the neighbors hate us. And it has a little more space.

Part of it, as well is, it’s an issue of time. Does it not take time to get to know someone well enough to actually love them? Not in a superficial way, but in a way whereby we actually know where they’re needing God’s love to transform them, and we participate there. It takes time. It takes time. And even in our world, it is not set-up for friendship. You think about it, most of the neighborhoods they don’t have the big porch out front up against the street so everybody can sit out and go for walks and say “Hi” to their neighbors. We don’t live in that world. Even architecturally, people don’t have large living rooms and dining areas for entertaining. We take the additional space and we make a walk-in closet and a home office, so we can be by ourselves without being interrupted. Or maybe a home entertainment system so we don’t have to leave our house and go out in public.

There aren’t large parking areas. A lot of you live in apartments. A lot of you live in condominiums. You live in gated communities. Someone has to hit a buzzer to come up and fellowship with you, and then they get a ticket or towed ‘cause they parked where they weren’t supposed to. Right? What it is going to take for us as a church to live in this kindness that God provides and love each other is, take a little time and to organize our lives in such a way that there is space to be inconvenienced, that there is space to be connected. Right? During the summer, we pull back our scheduling. We don’t do all of our normal stuff. We all get together on Wednesday nights, hundreds of people, big Bible study, hang-out, bar-b-que. And we encourage you guys, during the summer, open your homes, open your lives. Get to know each other. Be involved. Encourage one another. This takes time. This takes touch. For those of you that are single, it’s amazing to me – I recently had a young woman in the church, and I came up to her, I said, “Hey, good to see you.” I just put an arm around her and welcomed her. And she told me that was the first time in two weeks that anyone had physically touched her.

That’s how sick the world is that we live in. That – that people who are single even, they can go to work alone, and they can spend their whole life literally disconnected from human contact. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we’re supposed to greet each other warmly. We should be able to hug each other. We should be able to lay hands and pray over each other. We should take time to chat with each other. We should go out to dinner. This morning you should go out to lunch or breakfast. That – that this is what God intends, is for God’s people to love each other. Because, this is one of the great privileges of being a church and being together. And when we’re together and we love each other, we don’t wanna waste all our time fighting. We’d rather spend our time loving, because that love with transform those people, which are the things we were gonna argue about anyways, love will take care of.

So, here’s what we’re going to do. I’m done. You guys are gonna break into groups. You’re just gonna visit. You’re gonna talk. Okay? You’re gonna pray for each other. You’re gonna lay hands on each other. You’re just gonna hang-out. If you want, get some people, go out to lunch. If you’re sitting – if you come in and you sit with the people you know, you leave with the people you know, move. Alright? Sit somewhere else. Get to know each other. There’s room downstairs. There’s coffee. The side room will be open. Hang-out outside, it’s a nice day. Go out to lunch. Please, just take some time. Love your brothers and sisters, and get some time with them. You don’t have to. You get to. It’s not gonna bring you to heaven, but they’ll be there when you get there, so it would be nice to at least get to know them.

I’ll pray. Father God, thank you for a chance to get together and study your Word. We thank you, God, that you, indeed, are our Father, that we are your children. We thank you that the issue truly is sin, and you love us enough to speak honestly with us through your Word, and through the conviction of your Spirit about that issue. We thank, though, that you didn’t just tell us to fix ourselves, but that you sent Jesus to demonstrate your love by dying for our sins, and resurrecting to conquer our slavery to sin and death. And we thank you that, Holy Spirit, you have come to indwell the children of God, to propel us toward Jesus. So that we would draw nearer to him; that we would grow in love of him and obedience of him; that we would seek to be like him by grace so that we would experience that kind of freedom where our sins are further away; not because of anything less than falling in love with Christ. And Holy Spirit, we thank you so much for your ministry of inspiring the writing of the Scriptures, and teaching them to us, and convicting us and leading us, and guiding us. I pray for us all that no one would cut in front of us. That if we’ve begun a good race we wouldn’t get led astray. That the issue would be love for Jesus, and Jesus alone. That by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the love of the Son, to the glory of the Father, we would live in such a way that that love would be extended to others around us, and that that love would transform them and transform us so that we would all be like Jesus. We love you, and we thank you for all of your goodness, God. And we come to you in Christ’s name, amen. Thank you.

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