Sunday, August 25, 2013

Follow the Spirit! - Galatians 5:16-26

Follow the Spirit! - Galatians 5:16-26
By Pastor Lee Hemen
August 25, 2013 AM

I like some of the new features of smart phones, especially the ability to use them as a GPS whether you are walking around town or driving to a destination. However, one has to be careful not to completely trust in the directions they give, because they still can lead you down someone’s driveway or to none existent places. Kind of like the car commercial a few years ago where the guy was following the vocal directions from his in-dash GPS and it tells him, “Turn left…” he immediately does and runs into a building, a then as the dust and debris settles the robotic voice continues, “…in 500 feet.” Not all guidance is necessarily good guidance.

Christians have access to the best possible guidance as they exercise their freedom in Christ. Unfortunately, many believers sometimes confuse Christian freedom with the liberty do anything they want, and then garner God’s forgiveness. They do not know—or they do not care—that they are free but only to follow the Holy Spirit’s leadership. Not surprisingly, they may become experts in several or more of what Paul called “works of the flesh”. They follow their own lusts, not the Spirit. They show little evidence in life of the fruit of the Spirit. God wants His people to avoid all works of the flesh and to focus on developing all aspects of the fruit of the Spirit. For this reason, He wants them to follow the Spirit’s leadership. Let’s see what Paul teaches us this morning as we learn to follow the Spirit…

READ: Galatians 5:16-26


Believers face the constant temptation to follow culture’s permissive influences. Many are the voices urging self-indulgence and insisting, “anything goes” and “if it feels good, do it.” We need to hear the Spirit’s voice giving spiritual, moral, and ethical direction. Paul gives us the antidote to poisonous behavior: following the Spirit’s leadership. He contrasts the Spirit to the flesh and highlights the conflict between them. He reminds us to…

I. Walk by the Spirit! (Vv. 16-18)

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. (Galatians 5:16-18 NIV)

  1. Paul quickly states, “So I say, live by the Spirit” and the reasoning is obvious to him because when you do, “you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” We forget that when we come to Christ, He saves us for eternity but not out of infernal bad habits. This is why Jesus would warn his followers to, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5 NIV) The words literally translated are, “keep on walking.” As a believer walks through life, he should depend on the indwelling Holy Spirit for guidance and power. But the Spirit does not operate automatically in a believer’s heart. He waits to be relied on or trusted in guidance. The believer must learn to hear and heed the Spirit’s voice because when they do, they “will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” Too many believers constantly fight within themselves daily whom they will follow and then wonder why God is not more active in their lives. He cannot be and will not be if you continually decide to follow that which is contrary to His nature! “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.” Point in fact, “They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” Never forget, dear child of God, every Christian is a walking civil war. Flesh and Spirit are in perpetual conflict; they are diametrically opposed to each other and vie for dominance in believers’ lives. This is where your guilt comes in, you follow the lusts of your sinful nature, the Spirit within you knows you should not be doing what you are doing, and you then sense the guilt. It is unrelenting warfare for control of believers’ lives! The Spirit strives to prevent believers from giving in to evil; the flesh tries to thwart the Spirit’s work. However, Paul reminds us, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law!” Trying to be “good enough” in order to assuage your guilty conscience places you back under a life of trying to live under the law, rules and regulations instead of the freedom of the Spirit. The answer: Walk by the Spirit!

  EXAMPLE: What temptations arising from your lower nature do you face? How does the Spirit help you overcome them? Paul maintained strongly that only following the Spirit’s guidance could enable people to overcome evil and experience the freedom of grace. The inner struggle between believers’ old nature and the Spirit would continue, but following the Spirit’s leading—walking with Him—would empower them to be victorious. We are to let the Spirit guide our living. We must cooperate with Him. Each day presents temptations and challenges. The warfare between our old natures and the Spirit continues. We need to be sensitive to the Spirit’s prompting and to rely on His power to help us overcome persistent pulls to evil. Through His power we can avoid doing what displeases God. We are to walk by the Spirit!

Paul goes on to present a catalog of “the works of the flesh” so these believers could be forewarned. He repeated what he had told them when he was with them: People with lifestyles marked by works of the flesh are not part of God’s kingdom. He warns us to…

II. Avoid ungodly conduct contrary to the Spirit! (Vv. 19-21)


The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 NIV)

  1. Paul tells us bluntly, that, “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious!” Paul listed what the flesh produces by naming three sexual sins: immorality, impurity, and debauchery! The first was a general word for illicit sexual activity—sexual intercourse before and outside marriage. The word can mean “fornication” or “prostitution” and often is translated “adultery.” How sad in our day and age where folks think they can skirt God’s grace and the hurt of divorce by having sex outside of marriage! Paul says it is impossible! The second word “impurity” refers to material dirt, defilement, moral filth or lewdness! It is the aspect of not caring what you do publicly or privately; literally, dirty thoughts and lifestyle! Much of the Internet today produces this kind of behavior through pornography, sexting, or openly flaunting sexual activity in public. Jesus severely warned, “For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’” (Mark 7:21-23 NIV) Paul had also warned, “The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:10b-11 NIV) Far too many play a dangerous game with the grace of God thinking that what they think or do has no consequence on their spiritual lives, Paul warns otherwise! In fact, it can lead to all kinds of ungodly activity: “idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like!” Dear child of God, do you constantly struggle with any or all of these? Perhaps you have forgotten, as the Galatians had, that a life lived this way leads to guilt and a weak faith. In fact, Paul suspected that those who constantly battled with these things may not have truly committed themselves fully to Christ, “I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Does your daily thoughts and life depict your faith? If we are to follow the Spirit, we should avoid ungodly conduct contrary to the Spirit!

  EXAMPLE: With what attitudes of the old nature do you need the Spirit’s help to overcome? The world today encourages, exemplifies, and instructs us to daily indulge our sinful nature. It goes so far as to barrage us with the notion that if we do not, we are out of step, living in the past, or phobic. That we may suffer from some kind of psychological disorder because the rest of the world says anything goes anywhere anytime! However, if we let the Spirit guide our living, we will avoid doing what displeases God. We will model sexual purity for a perverted society in which moral guidelines are being erased swiftly. The Spirit will enable us to bear witness concerning authentic religion, will help us avoid destructive attitudes, and will help us reject consumption of drugs or alcohol in order to have a “good time.” If we are to follow the Spirit, we should avoid ungodly conduct contrary to the Spirit!

Finally, Paul teaches us that the Spirit’s activity in Christians produces a cluster of virtues that gives explicit evidence believers belong to Christ. Paul exhorts believers to “follow the Spirit” and then gives us three examples of what following Him calls for. He teaches that believers will…

III. Display the fruit of the Spirit! (Vv. 22-26)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. (Galatians 5:22-26 NIV)

  1. Paul doesn’t leave us in spiritual despair but reminds us what, “the fruit of the Spirit” is. The word fruit refers to virtues only the Spirit can cultivate and bring to full growth in believers’ lives. Human nature apart from God can only perform works; only the Spirit can produce fruit. Note that the word fruit is singular. Genuine believers exhibit a cluster of virtues characteristic of living in the Spirit. The first is love. Paul chose the word “agape” because it does not carry the primary element of emotion or affection. Agape is God’s kind of self-sacrificing love: determined good will that acts for others’ best interests. “Joy” differs markedly from happiness. Happiness depends on favorable circumstances. Joy is a deep celebration of relationship with God no matter what the circumstances are. The gladness of being held securely in God’s grace empowers believers to face life’s challenges. “Peace” is much more than absence of conflict. The word has the idea of wholeness and well-being under God’s rule that issues in spiritual calmness in the face of difficulties. “Patience” means “longsuffering.” It conveys a slowness to become angry. We would say it is the capacity to “put up with a lot.” “Kindness” is gentleness, thoughtfulness, and consideration in dealing with others. It is not sentimentality. It has the sense of being agreeable, obliging, or pleasant. “Goodness” is “moral excellence,” but it is much more. The word carries the idea of active generosity and compassion toward others—of doing more than justice requires. We might define goodness as kindness in action. “Faithfulness” is honesty or loyalty in relationships with others. It is the quality of reliability; people can count on believers. “Gentleness” conveys the sense of strength under control. It was used of animals that people tamed and disciplined to carry riders or pull loads. The Spirit enables Christians to exercise disciplined strength in relating to others. “Self-control” is mastery over emotions, especially over sensual desires. It is the spiritual strength to discipline self, to impose self-restraint. Self-discipline issues in moral purity. “Against such things, there is no law!” In fact, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” And Paul ends his instruction by reminding us that, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” We are to follow the Spirit, not our emotions or the world’s desires because when we do, we will display the fruit of the Spirit!

  EXAMPLE: Which virtues in the cluster of the fruit of the Spirit are most evident in your life? Which are underdeveloped? What will you do to allow the Spirit to produce a more complete harvest? If we let the Spirit guide how we live, we will exhibit characteristics that please God. The fruit of the Spirit will be evident in our inner spiritual lives, in our interactions with others, and in our conduct. We not only will avoid works of the flesh, but we also will advance toward the goal of spiritual maturity, which leads to “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control!” In following the Spirit, we will display the fruit of the Spirit!

Conclusion:

We have learned from Paul what it means to follow the Spirit in our lives. We are to walk by the Spirit, avoid ungodly conduct contrary to the Spirit, and to display the fruit of the Spirit!
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Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 28 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Claim your freedom! - Galatians 5:1-15

Claim your freedom! - Galatians 5:1-15
By Pastor Lee Hemen
August 11, 2013 AM

Freedom has different meanings today. For some, it is the ability to choose whatever you want to do whenever you want to do it. Freedom therefore is having no authority that imposes personal restrictions. Others see it as overcoming all unpleasantness in their past, present, or future. Some believe that because at one time they made a profession of faith in Christ they think they now can do as they please. These reflect a misunderstanding of Christian freedom. They forget Christian freedom is the freedom to obey Christ and reflect His character. Then there are those think that they should perform good works to solidify their relationship with God. They need to realize good works flow from love for God and others and do not earn or ensure salvation or spiritual freedom.

Although Christian freedom has elements of each of these concepts, it differs because it results from salvation through faith alone. This salvation frees us from other requirements for being saved and gives us freedom from sin and death. It also frees us for God’s service, for growing more like Christ, and for following the Spirit’s leadership. God wants us to recognize our freedom as Christians differs from ordinary views and to exercise that freedom. How do you show gratitude for freedom you have in Christ? Let’s discover what Paul shares with the Galatians…

READ: Galatians 5:1-15


As we study Paul's words on Christian freedom, let's consider ways each of us can help one another experience the impact of exercising the freedom we have as Christians. Paul had just concluded his allegory of two covenants—the covenant of slavery to the law and the covenant of promise and freedom. In doing so, he used the strong declaration, "We are not children of the slave [Hagar] but of the free woman [Sarah]" (4:31) He then stresses that faith in Christ, not works or the law, makes people right with God. Paul desired that we…

I. Understand our freedom! (Vv. 5:1-6)

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! 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 law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:1-6 NIV)

  1. Paul in one brief statement summarized the entire point of his letter: "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free!" By His sacrificial death, Christ provided salvation for everyone who would place faith in Him. Therefore, Paul emphasized, "Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery!" Because Christ frees believers from legalism as well as sin and death, they are to stand firm in that freedom. They are to keep on living in the freedom that grace provides. The Greek word for stand firm is a strong term that has the force of tenacity, of persistence. It is the image of a deeply rooted tree withstanding strong winds. The term "yoke" evokes the image of wooden collars placed on draft animals used to pull heavy loads. Paul did not want the Galatian believers to miss the full impact of what he wrote next. "Mark my words!' he commands them. Paul strongly warned against male Gentile believers' allowing themselves to be circumcised. They had not done so, but they were actually considering it. If believers submitted to circumcision, they would deny salvation comes by grace through faith alone; they would embrace the false teaching that salvation comes through faith plus legalism. If they did such a thing, then Christ would "be of no value" to them! Circumcision was an outward sign of dependence on good works for a right relationship with God, but no one could keep the law perfectly. In fact, folks who rely on works to make them right with God are "alienated from Christ." They have no relationship with Christ! Paul said, "You have fallen away from grace", which literally means, "You have forfeited grace." Paul did not mean genuine believers could lose their salvation; people who try to combine law and grace for salvation are not totally committed to Christ. Partial commitment to Christ is not saving faith. The truth is that "by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope!" A right relationship with God is fulfilled by faith not by legalism. "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." That is, God's love for us through Jesus is expressed by our actions to others! We don't do good works to be saved; we do good things to express our salvation that was freely given to us! Christians need to understand their freedom!

  EXAMPLE: We are free because of what Christ has done for us and given to us. His continuing presence with us empowers us as we face life's challenges. We need to follow His leading in order to advance toward spiritual maturity. How would you describe your freedom in Christ? How often do you express gratitude to Him for that freedom? In what ways do you demonstrate your faith through practical acts of love for others? We accept our freedom by continuing to trust God and His grace for our salvation. We also rely on Him for guidance in exhibiting our faith through love. We demonstrate that we understand our freedom through acts of kindness.

Now, Paul warns against the false teachers who sought to lead the Galatian Christians back into legalism. These teachers were preventing believers from obeying the truth Paul said they were "confusing" and "agitating" them. With sharp irony, Paul stated his wish that the teachers who advocated circumcision would make themselves eunuchs. He desired that we…

II. Keep our freedom! (Gal. 5:7-12)

You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. "A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough." 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. Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! (Galatians 5:7-12 NIV)

  1. The Galatian believers "were running a good race" in Christ, but someone tripped them up! Paul asks, "Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?" He knew who the troublemakers were. The question put the spotlight on the Judaizers and presents the picture of a runner cutting in front of another and tripping him. These false teachers were hindering obedience to the truth—that salvation comes through faith in Christ alone. Paul tells them, "That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you." The inference is that it is demonic and ungodly!  He reminds them, "A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough." A little lie infects the entire truth! Some think that doing good things so God will love them is harmless, Paul, however, warned that submission to legalism was a corruptive influence. Doing good to glorify Christ is great, but doing good in order to be right with God is demonic! Yet, Paul related, "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." The Galatian believers had not fallen for the false teachers' perversion of the gospel, and Paul felt sure they would hold to what he had taught them. Paul was sure that these agitators with false doctrines would "pay the penalty" of God's judgment. They were lying to the Galatians saying that he preached the necessity of Gentile converts' being circumcised. If this were true, why would they continue to persecute Paul if he also advocated circumcision? If Paul did this, he would render ineffective Jesus' death on the cross. "In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished." The "offense" (scandal or stumbling block) of the cross, refers to the false teacher's difficulty in accepting the concept of Christ's sacrifice for sins. Paul used biting irony to shock the Galatians believers. Perhaps they should go further and do what pagan priests did—make themselves eunuchs! His sharp sarcasm, "I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves," expressed the depth of his anger, frustration, and concern. He did not mean any literal harm to the teachers disturbing the Galatians. He believed the gospel was at stake and they needed to keep their freedom!

  EXAMPLE: When have you used strong words to address a situation that concerned you deeply as a Christian? With what attitude and motive did you do so? We retain our freedom by resisting all efforts to inject legalism into Christianity. We need to reject such legalistic demands. We easily can fall victim to the subtle conviction that our good works enable us to retain our salvation. Paul would remind us to keep our freedom!

Paul emphasized God's call to salvation in Christ is a call to freedom. This freedom is not license to sin but freedom to serve others. Loving ministry to people fulfills the law. Infighting among Christians, however, is destructive. Instead, we are to…

III. Use our freedom for others! (Vv.13-15)

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. (Galatians 5:13-15 NIV)

  1. God had not called the Galatians to the "yoke" of legalism but to freedom. Yet Christian freedom is not to be equated with permission to sin. Paul stressed that freedom in Christ is not license to do as believers please. They were not to misuse grace as a springboard or launching pad for sinful living. Instead, "You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love." Rather than using the liberty Christ provided as an excuse for self-indulgence, the Galatian believers were to serve one another through love. The word serve literally means, "to be a slave to." Rather than become slaves to legalism, the believers were to willingly enter a bondage of love! The word Paul used for love is agape, God's kind of love. Christ commanded His followers to have this kind of love for one another. Jesus said, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." (John 13:34 NIV) Such love expresses itself in sacrificial ministry to others, including the most menial service. Christ frees believers from sin to serve Him and others. In fact, "The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" Love, not adherence to rules and rituals, fulfills the entire law. Paul quoted Leviticus 19:18, which Jesus had quoted in response to a question about the greatest Commandment (Mark 12:28-31). Paul contended that believers' love for their neighbors—all people they encounter—demonstrates love for God and right relationships with others, both of which are reflected in the Ten Commandments. Loving others complies with the law's intent. Evidently, these believers were fighting with one another, perhaps over legalism! Love for others fulfills the law, but infighting among Christians is deadly. The Judaizers' teachings had caused conflict in the Galatian churches. At least some of the believers were "fighting like cats and dogs," as we sometimes say. So Paul finally warns them, "If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other." The words bite and devour picture wild animals in a deadly struggle, inflicting fatal injuries. The result of such vicious infighting would be the destruction of Christian fellowships. Instead of fighting one another, we are to use our freedom for others!

  EXAMPLE: What factors make loving other Christians difficult? By what acts of service do you express your love for other believers in your church? We are to use our freedom to serve others and help our churches. Conversely, we are to refuse to misuse it by doing what might harm others or our churches. We need to cultivate looking for opportunities to use our freedom for others!

Conclusion
 1. We are free because of what Christ has done for us and by exhibiting our faith in love.
 2. We retain our freedom by resisting all efforts to inject legalism into Christianity.
  3. We are to use our freedom to serve others and help our churches and to refuse to misuse it by doing what might harm others or our church.
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Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 27 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Living the Gospel - Galatians 3:26-29; 4:8-20

Living the Gospel - Galatians 3:26-29; 4:8-20
By Pastor Lee Hemen
August 4, 2013 AM

As a child and a teen, I was worried about my physical growth. Both my parents were relatively short, especially my mom. I was afraid I would reach her height and no more. Throughout elementary school and middle school, I was one of the smaller boys in class. In high school, I finally experienced a growth spurt. I was elated the day I realized I was taller than my mom was.

In my later years growth remains a concern for me, albeit growth of a different kind. I want to continue to grow as a Christian. Spiritual maturity continues to be a goal toward which I want to move. I want to learn more about the Scriptures and to translate them into my daily living. As we learn more about the Gospel and act on what we learn concerning our relationship with Jesus Christ, our salvation, and in living the gospel, we will grow as Christians. That was Paul’s desire for the Galatian believers as well. In living the Gospel, he desired they continued to mature. Let’s discover what he shared with them…

READ: Galatians 3:26-29; 4:8-20


Do all Christian adults need to learn more about the gospel and grow as believers? Yes. Do all adult believers recognize they need to learn more about the gospel? No. Some Christians, believe they have learned all they can. They no longer participate in regular Bible study. Paul emphasized that believers are God’s children by faith. In living the Gospel, God wants us to continually mature as Christians. He reminds us that we are not on our own…

I. We now belong to Jesus! (Vv. 3:26-29)

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29 NIV)

  1. Paul had declared that the Galatian believers no longer “were held prisoners” under the law. The Commandments were still valid as guidelines for living, but they no longer could condemn or bind believers. Instead, “through faith in Christ Jesus” they were “baptized into Christ’! In Christ, God took the initiative so believers could come into His family. Believers “are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” All Jews and Gentiles enter God’s family the same way: by faith in Christ. Paul knew genuine believers have been baptized into Christ. Baptism is the open expression of a person’s trust in and commitment to Christ—a public witness of our salvation. Immersion in water pictures the believer’s death to the old self, which was dominated by sin, and the believer’s resurrection to new life in Christ. It is a visible expression of one’s personal relationship with Christ. We are no longer our own we have “clothed” ourselves “with Christ!” Pious Jewish men thanked God daily that they were not Gentiles, slaves, or women. Likewise, Gentile men thanked their gods for not making them animals, barbarians, slaves, or women. However, Paul emphasized that a redemptive relationship with Christ is open to people regardless of gender, nationality, or social status. Paul understood that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” We are not our own, we now belong to Jesus!

  EXAMPLE: Paul’s point was that all believers have equal standing before Christ. Racial or national distinctions, class differences, and gender are unimportant. In Christ, believers are to treat one another equally as brothers and sisters; grace has replaced distinctions distorted by evil. When people are in Christ, they have a spiritual unity that removes barriers to fellowship. Christians are the new humanity in which our differences no longer matter. In fact, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Whatever our race, socioeconomic status, or gender, we are not our own, we now belong to Jesus!

Paul stressed that God sent His Son to redeem people who were under the law. God has adopted believers as His children and given them the Holy Spirit. They are not slaves but God’s heirs. Paul warned believers about turning back to manmade laws for salvation. He reminded them of their former way of life, of the change they had experienced in salvation, and of their initial response to him and the gospel. In living the Gospel, Paul reminds us that…

II. We have changed, since we have been redeemed! (Vv. 4:8-14)

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God--or rather are known by God--how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you. You have done me no wrong. As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. (Galatians 4:8-14 NIV)

  1. Paul had referred to Jews’ and Gentiles’ as being enslaved “under the basic principles of the world.” He was referring to the rudimentary elements of religion, the heavenly bodies, and spirit powers people associated with them. Because of God’s grace, the Galatian believers were adopted into God’s family. They had received the Spirit of His Son; they were no longer slaves but were children and heirs! “Formerly” they had been pagans, they had worshiped other gods; they had been “slaves to those who by nature are not gods”! They had no perception of the one true God—they were ignorant of His existence. “But now that you know God,” Paul asks, how could you turn “back to those weak and miserable principles?” Did they “wish to be enslaved by them all over again?” How could they exchange freedom in Christ for the slavery of legalism? The Greek word for “know” means, “know by personal experience.” Through faith in Christ, the Galatians were intimately related to God. Paul was dismayed that they would forsake a close fellowship of grace to pursue ungodly behavior! Yet, even today, many believers do just that! Paul equated returning to old habits to paganism! They were “known by God”, which stresses God’s initiative. Believers do not discover God; He reaches out to them to draw them to His grace. Paul emphasized the danger these Christians faced. They were on the verge of making a tragic mistake. Would they exchange their freedom of grace for sinful enslavement? These Christians had begun to celebrate special events of the Jewish religious calendar. Paul retorts, “I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.” Paul pleaded with the Galatians to “become like” him. Paul had “become like” them in order to win them to Jesus. In fact, he first came to them because of his ill health. He reminded them, “Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself.” Christians need to remind themselves of their former way of life, but since we have been redeemed, we are changed!

  EXAMPLE: We can forget that we are accountable to more than just we are -- all believers have this much in common: Through God’s grace, we have a relationship with Him, forgiveness of our sins, and eternal life. It is a sacred thing. The Lord, our church family, and those who have mentored us – we are responsible to as well! Because of all we have experienced in being redeemed, we have every reason to grow as Christians. If we forget what we were redeemed from, we may hold in contempt what we have been redeemed to become! We are to live and mature in Jesus!

Paul was disturbed that the Galatian believers would let someone lead them astray. He expressed his concern that they develop as Christians to the point of fully reflecting Christ’s image. In living the Gospel, Paul believed all Christians needed to…

III. Mature in their faith! (Vv. 4:15-20)

What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them. It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you. My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you! (Galatians 4:15-20 NIV)

  1. When believers forget the grace of God in their lives, they often lose their joy of salvation. This is why Paul asked, “What has happened to all your joy?” He could “testify” about their former attitude toward Paul. In fact, he reminds them, “if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me!” WOW! The idea is that out of love and gratitude they would have given him something of great value—their sight! Did they now regard him as their “enemy”? One view is that under the Judaizers’ influence, believers indeed considered Paul their enemy. Another view is that Paul exaggerated their stance toward him for effect. Either way, a breach had opened up between Paul and them. Some folks, who are caught in their sin, often accuse those who point out the truth as now being their “enemy” or “judging them”. Sin is always deceptive and blinds folks who are caught up in it. Those who would have encouraged the Galatians in their sinful condition were “zealous” to win them over to their deceitful lifestyle. Peter would relate that these folks, “mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity--for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.” (2 Peter 2:18-19 NIV) The Greek term for zealous means “make a show of affection and devotion towards” those they were enticing into their sin. Proverbs reminds us that we are not to “envy wicked men” nor “desire their company.” (Proverbs 24:1) The Judaizers, like all sinful folks, wanted “to alienate” the Galatian Christians from godly believers like Paul. They wanted to drive a wedge between them and Paul. He reminded them, “It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you.” Paul viewed those he had ministered to as if they were his own children. He was “perplexed” and concerned for them. Almost audible in his closing words is Paul’s sigh of sadness and perplexity. He wanted Christ to be fully “formed” in them. He desired they mature in their faith!

  EXAMPLE: In our world, we have created spiritual hermits. We think all we need is to worship when we feel the need. Yet the Bible warns of the dangers. Only by continuing to mature as Christians can we progressively become more like Jesus. We need to stay away from those who would drag us back into sin or keep us from living our lives for the Lord. Also, we need to realize that we never outgrow our need to continue to mature spiritually. Taking part in consistent Bible study, fellowshipping with fellow church members regularly and holding each other accountable is essential for our spiritual growth. The goal is for Christ to be formed within us—for us to take on His character and to live as He would. This goal is a great challenge and a great privilege. We are to mature in our faith!


Conclusion:
 1. Whatever our race, socioeconomic status, or gender, we now belong to Jesus!
 2. Christians need to remind themselves of their former way of life, but since we have been redeemed, we are changed!
 3. Only by continuing to mature as Christians can we become more and more like Jesus.
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Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 27 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.