Summary: In this sermon we notice a restatement of our freedom in Christ. Then, we shall notice some limitations on our freedom. Finally, we shall observe some guidelines for our balance.
The pastor had heard the story so many times that listening to it again evoked a strange mixture of anger and despair. Although the names, dates, and places had changed, the story’s theme remained the same: one of his parishioners, Phil, had caused another Christian to stumble. This time, the casualty was Lana, a nineteen-year-old whom Phil had dated for the past seven months.
According to her parents, Phil had wooed Lana to her first taste of beer and wine, her first drug high, her first X-rated movie, and her first all-night date. His natural charm and live-and-let-live spirit attracted her like a moth to a flame. And though she struggled with his flippant attitude toward their church’s moral teaching, she was captivated by his interpretation of Christian freedom.
As he was fond of saying, “Jesus set us free so we could explore life to the fullest, not so we could be held back by someone’s list of dos and don’ts.”
Persuaded by Phil, Lana spread her moral wings and flew into taboo airspace. There she joined a new flock of friends, saw new landscapes, and experienced new thrills. It all seemed so right, so freeing—at least for a while.
After five months the pleasures became oppressive demands. The scenery turned ugly and treacherous, and the once-inviting, eagle-like friends showed themselves to be disgusting vultures.
Lana felt the current of her lifestyle pulling her down to the point of no return, but regardless of how hard she fought, she couldn’t stop falling. Alcoholism, drug addiction, and sexual escapades held her in a vice-like grip.
Desperate, she finally turned to the two people who had repeatedly proved their love—her mother and father. Through an unbroken stream of tears, she bared her soul, pleading for help. Her parents, in turn, went to their pastor seeking solace and counsel.
As the pastor listened to Lana’s parents, he recalled his many confrontations with Phil. Each time he had explained to Phil that his concept of Christian freedom was unbiblical and damaging to himself and others. But each time Phil had stood his ground, refusing even to entertain the idea that he was wrong.
How could Phil be stopped? What would convince him?
The pastor wasn’t sure, but one thing was clear: Lana and her parents had become the victims of freedom abuse. And, like anyone who is abused, they needed the warm embrace of love, not the cold finger of condemnation. [This story comes from Chuck Swindoll’s study of Galatians.]
Do you know a Lana? Have you come under the spell of a Phil? Do you really understand what Lana learned the hard way—that authentic Christian freedom has limits? Or have you sided with Phil by rejecting this truth?
These serious questions demand soul-searching answers. And only God’s Word provides a standard by which we can accurately gauge our responses. So let’s turn to the Word of God and learn how to answer these questions. Let us read Galatians 5:13-15:
"13 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. 14 The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other." (Galatians 5:13-15)
Dr. Bryan Chapell tells the story of a radio preacher who broadcast meditations on the radio in St. Louis. Each morning he would address some topic with Bible verse or two. The subjects ran the gamut from procrastination, to parenting, to honesty on the job. The radio station would turn up the reverberation so that whenever the preacher spoke, it sounded as if his words were coming directly from Mount Sinai!
Dr. Chapell said that he could imagine people nodding their heads in assent as the radio preacher exhorted his listeners to practice punctuality, good parenting, honesty, and so on.
The problem, however, with the messages was two-fold. First, the preacher was not even a Christian. The preacher in fact represented a large cult in St. Louis. The second problem was that the messages were sub-Christian.
When teaching about the rules that are in the Bible, it is vitally important that we put them in their proper context. As Dr. Chapell says, “The rules don’t change; the reasons do.” By that he means that Christians obey the rules given in God’s Word for the right reasons. In other words, Christians obey the teaching of God’s Word in order to express gratitude for salvation. Christians do not obey God’s Word in order to gain salvation.
The apostle Paul gives us a wonderful example of obeying God’s Word for the right reasons. The false teachers—known as Judaizers—were teaching the Galatians that they ought to obey God’s rules in order to earn their salvation.