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Liberated from Legalism pt 20 [9-19-21]

I was tempted to skip these final verses of chapter 4 because of how dense they are. But seeing that I'm not good at sleight-of-hand or tom foolery, some of you would have noticed the passover. Many interpreters agree that Galatians 4:21-31 is one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament. In fact, for degree of difficulty, I'd put it up against anything we'll be reading in the Book of Revelation later in the fall.

So let's get at it.

I have always been amused by people who say the Christian faith takes away freedom. In their minds, when you become a Christian, there are all kinds of things you have to do that you wouldn't otherwise want to do, and there are all kinds of things you would like to do that are now forbidden. What they fail to see is the Biblical worldview in which that script is flipped. Unbelievers are slaves to sin…they are held captive by their rebellion against God, while followers of Jesus Christ are freed to live God-honoring lives. The sense of false freedom leads to death, while true freedom leads to eternal joy.

Here's an interesting side observation:

When someone tells me that they worship a different god than I do, whether in word or deed, I simply believe them.

- Michael Coughlin, Pastor

One way leads to enslavement to sin and eternal death, the other way leads to freedom in Christ and eternal life.

Let's look at what full freedom is.

Full freedom is what you have when no lack of opportunity, no lack of ability, and no lack of desire stops you from pursuing what would make you happiest in your life now, and far off into the future. True freedom is the fullness of all these things. In other words, full freedom means the freedom of opportunity to do what we can, the freedom of ability to do what we desire, the freedom of desire to do what will bring us unending

joy, and a fourth one that will be revealed later.

Let's use wrestling as an example. Not the fake soap opera TV wrestling, but real wrestling.

When I was a kid growing up, there was a guy on our street who was an outstanding high school wrestler. He was a senior when we were in junior high school. He was all about wrestling. He carried himself with confidence, determination, and a maturity that most of his peers lacked. I don't remember anything about weight categories, but he was 140 pounds of muscle and hustle. Colleges started recruiting him when he was a sophomore. He could write his ticket to anywhere.

Did I say he was amazing? We neighborhood kids looked up to him. He was kind to us, but not his opponents. Most matches, he pinned his opponents in under 30 seconds. The only times he went into the second or third rounds was at state championships, where he went undefeated in his high school career. A wrestling move was named after him. He was killing it in college by the time we were in high school. He was legend.

When we were freshmen in high school, my friend and I wanted to be on

the wrestling team. We were not our idol. I was about six feet tall, probably 120 pounds, with the coordination of a drunken monkey…or a sober toddler, your pick. I was fodder for the better wrestlers during practice. But I wanted to wrestle.

Most matches left me sitting on the bench. I rarely got the opportunity to do what I thought would make me happy. I lacked the freedom of opportunity.

Well, suppose I did get to wrestle in every meet. I got the opportunity to do what I desired. But I had no ability at all. I lacked strength, coordination, and know-how. Wrestling is about leverage, balance, and angle of attack. In fact, one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL - he played for the New England Patriots - never played college football. He went to college on a wrestling scholarship. While I thought I wanted to wrestle, I was in bondage to my lack of know-how.

But suppose…this is our second supposition for those of you keeping score

at home…suppose I had the ability and opportunity to wrestle. I stepped

onto the mat, and as I looked at my opponent, it didn't feel at all like I

thought it would feel. I realized I didn't have the desire. I only wanted to wrestle because our neighborhood hero wrestled. It wasn't my passion.

So even if I stayed on the mat to wrestle, it wouldn't be a free act, because I didn't have the freedom of desire. I would be acting under unwelcomed external constraints. I wouldn't want to be a quitter. My coach expected me to wrestle. So even if I wrestled, it really wouldn't have been a choice freely made.

To sum up, full freedom means freedom of opportunity, freedom of ability, and freedom of desire.

Paul says the false teachers only offer the opposite of full freedom. People only keep the commandments of Christ because they feel pressure to do so. Maybe it's fear of hell or a desire to impress someone. So they go through the outward appearance of obedience. But deep down inside, it's not the desire of their heart. They're not doing it because they want to; they're doing it because they have to. They don't enjoy the freedom of


They also don't enjoy the freedom of ability. In other words, since it's a

works-related freedom, the individual generates the ability to do it. How can you consistently maintain the ability to obey all the rituals and laws? How can you stay motivated? How can you, day-in and day-out, achieve an excellence of action that keeps you in good standing with God? High performance is not easy to sustain over the long haul.

So, continuing with the wrestling scenario, imagine that I had the freedom of opportunity, the freedom of ability, and the freedom of desire. But at my first match, my knee got blown out or a lumbar disc ruptured. I then lost the freedom to do what should have brought me joy for years into the future. The act I enjoyed had no staying power. My freedom of opportunity, of ability, and of desire was destroyed.

That's why, circling back to our earlier consideration, the non-believers who think they have more freedom than the Christian fool themselves into thinking that, because though they might have the freedom of opportunity, ability, and desire, in their lostness they will never have the freedom of a future. As Jesus said, what does it profit a person to gain the whole world,

but lose his soul?

True freedom means to enjoy a fullness of life forever.

As 1 John 2:17 says:

And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

That is true freedom. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are no longer slaves to sin. But the false teachers were pointing the Galatians back to bondage. They might have thought they had the freedom of opportunity and ability, and desire, but without the freedom to enjoy God forever, what would it matter?

That's why devoted followers of Jesus Christ are the freest people in the world. And Paul was fighting to expose the false teaching for what it was - slavery. More specifically, slavery to sin and death, as if Christ had never been crucified and resurrected. Freedom in Christ is the Christian faith. It is a matter of eternity.

In bringing all this together, Paul explored the example of Hagar and


To bring final clarity, let's think about these two women and their situations.

God made a promise to Abraham and Sarah to make them parents of many children. But they couldn't wait. They wanted God on their terms, so they arranged for Abraham and Sarah to have a child through a surrogate, Hagar. They did not rest in God's promises. And so they were not free.

But remember what we saw several weeks ago. God's promises are not dependent on our works. God is faithful in spite of us. So Abraham and Sarah had a child of their own. They learned to rest in God's sovereign grace. We can neither control nor thwart His eternal purpose. Through God's supernatural work, Sarah gave birth to the child of God's promise.

Not Hagar. But Sarah.

And so, Paul asked the Galatians, why are you turning back to Hagar? Why

do you want to be slaves to the law? In Jesus Christ, for everything that matters, we have freedom of opportunity, freedom of ability, freedom of desire, and the freedom of eternity. Who would reject such freedom?

And so Paul concluded with a reminder. "Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise" {verse 28}. By the gift of faith, given through the Holy Spirit, we have been converted, changed, and transformed to desire the freedom which comes only through God's grace and mercy. We have been freed to enjoy God forever.

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

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