America has become a term in the world that is somewhat synonymous with being free. That is our highest held and most praised of all blessings. And we thank God for the freedom that we have. But that freedom we enjoy is nowadays being terribly abused. And we are in danger of losing the very freedom we celebrate because abuse of freedom can lead rapidly to the death of freedom.
We see those things that abuse our freedom, for example, high crime rate, drugs and alcohol is destroying us. And instead of fighting those things, we continually want to make laws which allow the criminal more rights and more freedoms which are ultimately more destructive. The media through television, internet, films and books are literally drowning us in a cesspool of filth.
There are some societies that have no freedoms but we can walk the streets in the middle of the night in a big city and not fear that somebody is going to attack. In the name of freedom in our own society today, women can now murder their unborn children. In the name of freedom the journalists attack our leaders, attack the principles of our nation, and encourage a revolution against all authority.
It is characteristic of men in a free society that he will abuse that freedom because men is basically sinful. Man is basically evil. It is the nature of freedom that it can be abused to the point freedoms are lost. And what happens in the political and sociological world also happens in the spiritual world. And we should focus on that now, on Christian freedom and its potential abuse.
Look at Galatians 5. We understand freedom in this nation because we live in it. We understand freedom in the spiritual sense to some extent because it's Biblical truth. But our spiritual freedom can be abused. And the Word of God gives us some controlling factors to prevent such an abuse. I see in the church today the same kind of abuse of Christian freedom that I see in our nation.
Most churches have little concern for holiness. Christian leaders are falling into gross immorality and it's an epidemic. There are people who think because they're free in Christ, they can leave their husband or wife and sleep with another man or woman and everything is going to be fine. We have been softened into such tolerance of this that many churches are just anxious to bring these fallen leaders back into prominence.
What does Paul says about the control factors on Christian liberty? It's an essential thing. In Galatia he had preached the gospel of freedom from the law, freedom from sin. And there were some Jews who were very threatened by that. So they came after Paul and everywhere he went they told the people they had to keep the law, get circumcised, and follow every Mosaic tradition.
So there was a great battle over what Christian freedom is and Paul writes to that issue in Galatians 5:1, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” Verse 13 sums it up, "For brethren, you have been called unto liberty, only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
It's a wonderful thing to be free in Christ, but just exactly what does our Christian freedom mean? How do we enjoy our Christian freedom without abusing it? How do we control that? Well that's what Paul wants to deal with here. He's very concerned that people understand what that freedom means and how that freedom is controlled. For freedom that is out of control is going to be lost.
How do we express that freedom in a way that is pleasing to God? You know, the church is never going to be the church it's supposed to be until it becomes spiritually committed to obedience to the Word of God. It is a commitment to a life of integrity and a walk of purity and holiness. And it has to start at the top and filter all the way down. And that's not particularly new or profound, I just want to refresh your mind.
To make this clear, Paul gives us three things that freedom is not. First of all, he says, Christian freedom is not freedom to indulge in the flesh. Paul said, “I beat my body to bring it in to subjection,” 1 Corinthians 9:27, “lest in preaching to others I myself should become disqualified.” Can you disqualify yourself in ministry? Sure, if you yourself do not do what you preach.
Now what is the flesh? Your flesh is your fallen humanness. It is your earthy, mortal, physical body. It is your humanness full of self-centeredness and prone to sin. Romans 6, 7 and 8, tell us that when you were saved, your inner man was recreated. When you came to Jesus Christ, old things are passed away and behold all things became new. And you have risen to walk in newness of life.
The life of God now dwells in your soul. And you possess an incorruptible, divine nature. The deepest truest part of you is the redeemed part, which is totally transformed and so linked to Jesus Christ that there's no way to tell where you stop and He starts. And that's why in Galatians 2:20 it says, "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me."
What Paul is saying is the old man is dead, the new man lives in you, but also Christ, and I don't know where I end and He begins because I now possess a divine nature. First Corinthians 6:17, "He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit." The truest part of you is what is redeemed and fit for heaven. It is a holy self. It is a new creation in which dwells righteousness.
The problem is that that transformed part of you which has been made like Christ, which is righteous, which loves the law of God, loves purity and holiness and seeks to do what is right, is incarcerated in your flesh. It is imprisoned in your humanness. And your problem is going to exist because your new self, Romans 7, delights in the law of God, but the sin in me gets in the way.
And Paul says the sin that dwells in my flesh pulls me down. And he is consistent every time he talks about this; he always puts sin in the flesh. It's not in your new creation. You've already been redeemed in the inner man. All you're waiting for, Romans 8 says, is the redemption of your body. We need that outer salvation, that redemption of the body, where we get a body like the eternal body of Jesus.
Philippians 3:21 says that Christ “will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body.” That is why it is not yet manifest to the world who we are. That will happen at what Paul calls the glorious liberation of the children of God. That's the full liberation when we're saved in terms of the outer man and exchange our vile body for a glorified body like Christ's.
But until that time we have this problem of the new man battling against this flesh. It is not reigning sin anymore, but it is residual sin in our flesh. And so Paul says the tendency in Christian freedom is that the flesh will want to exercise its freedom to sin on the basis of a promised forgiveness. That's true. God will forgive you. But that is an abuse of your freedom.
Our freedom is controlled because it does not allow us to indulge the flesh. Christian freedom is freedom from sin, not freedom to sin. The supreme ambition of Christ was to please the Father, "Not My will but Thine be done." And in Romans 15:3 Paul tells us that the essence of Christian freedom is to be concerned about others. In Romans 15:3 he says, "Christ did not please Himself."
Christian freedom does not mean we do whatever we want to do. It's like the Christian soldier in 2 Timothy 2:4, it says he does what he does to please the one who called him to be a soldier. There's still an obligation to please the Lord. We need to be reminded of that because of what theologians call antinomianism. Anti, nomos being the Greek word for “law.” It's an attitude against the law.
Well, I'm free from the law, it says in Romans 6. I'm not under sin's dominion anymore and I'm free to do what I want to do. And therein lies men’s justification for freedom to do evil. Many people think they're free to do what is clearly forbidden in the Word of God, under the idea that they are indulging their flesh and God is going to be forgiving and gracious. This is antinomianism.
So, the first essential part for controlling and confining our freedom to God-ordained limits is self-control, not the indulging of the flesh. For the first time in your life, when you became a Christian, you have the capacity to do what was really right, what was really good, what was really true, what was really honest, just and righteous. You are not free to do whatever you want.
Secondly, it does not mean that we are free to injure others. There is this idea also that our freedom means we can do anything we want no matter how it affects anybody. Our society thinks that freedom in America means freedom to be a pervert. I'm the little god and I'm going to do what I want to do and I really don't care how it affects you. Even people in church are more concerned about self than they are about anybody else.
And so they, in the name of freedom, think they can do anything they want to do and they really don't care how it affects anybody else, which is the antithesis of what Paul says. Look at the end of verse 13, “Use your liberty as an opportunity to love and serve one another." Verse 15, "If you bite and devour one another, beware lest you are consumed by one another!”
Your liberty is to serve people. You have never been given liberty for the purpose of hurting someone else, no matter how weak that person is. The word "love" there, is agape. It means “divine love,” and its most characteristic element is self-sacrifice. If there's anything true about that word it is that it is self-sacrificial. You are to serve each other in self-sacrificing love.
You're not to injure each other. We are free, but in a sense our freedom involves a slavery to the needs of others. And the essence of real Christian freedom is that paradox of freedom and slavery in which I am free to do what is right, I am free to serve the Lord, but I am confined by the fact that I am not free to do anything that injures you. God says, your freedom is controlled by love.
In Romans 14 Paul is dealing with a church where you have some people that are strong and really understand their freedom, and some that are weak and don't. As a Gentile living in Rome you've been involved in paganism all your life. After you come to faith in Christ, your life is totally transformed. Then someone invites you over to have dinner and they're a Christian and they say, "We're going to have roast pig."
Now. that is repulsive to him. But you go ahead and do it anyway and violate his conscience and force him to violate his conscience. He's weak in terms of understanding his freedom. So in verse 1 Paul says, "The one that is weak in the faith, receive and don't get into a dispute with him over doubtful things." Don't get into all those things that aren't necessarily moral issues, just receive him in faith.
And don't judge him. God has received him into the kingdom; give him some space to grow. The Lord will make him stand, verse 4 says. Learn to set your liberty aside for the sake of their growth and for the sake of demonstrating love to them. In verse 13, he says, "Don't put a stumbling block to fall in a brother's way." Don't destroy him for your food's sake, and don’t let your freedom be a trial to him.
Thirdly, and the final one that Paul brings up is that Christian freedom is not freedom to ignore the law of God. Some people think that when it says in the Bible we are free from the law in Romans 6 and Romans 7, some people think that we're no longer responsible to obey the moral commandments of God. That is wrong. Being free from the law means to be free from trying to earn salvation through keeping the law.
We are free from the penalty of the law. We are free from trying to keep the law without much success and therefore being killed by the law eternally. We die in Christ to rise and walk in newness of life. You are free from that struggle of human achievement to please God in the flesh. Galatians 5:14 says, "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
How can that be done? Verse 16, "This I say then, walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh." When you become a Christian, instead of having an external set of rules to keep, you have an internal presence which leads you into righteousness. The Spirit of God in you enables you to fulfill the law. So Christian freedom is the freedom to obey the law in the strength of the Holy Spirit.
What does it mean to walk in the Spirit? Walk is the idea of daily conduct. Where does the Spirit give us His direction? In the Word of God, right? Walking in the Spirit is living in obedience to the mind and will of the Spirit of God. And that means to be saturated with the Word of God so that the Word dwells in you richly and that word then becomes the factor used by the Spirit of God to lead you into obedience.
And when we're filled with the Word of God, controlled by the Spirit of God, walk in obedience to that revealed will of God, we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh, but we will fulfill the law by loving each other. For the Spirit knows nothing in terms of self-revelation except what is revealed in the Word. And He takes the Word and moves and shapes and channels your life, Amen? Let us pray.