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Freedom: Defined, Defended and Demonstrated

In the second half of the book of Galatians, Paul summarizes his argument that bondage to dead ritual will alienate us from Christ's grace and is something all believers will struggle with on an on-going basis. In this follow-up to the series "The Long Arm of the Law", Todd Wagner resumes the study of Paul's letter to the Galatians, and examines in this and subsequent messages the freedom we have in Jesus Christ and what it looks like to live it out in a practical way.

Todd WagnerApr 6, 2008
Galatians 5:1-12

Messages In This Series (6)
Write it Down, Live it Out, Pass it On
Todd WagnerMay 25, 2008
So What's the Big Deal About What You Sow? And How Long Does it Take to Make a "Donkey" of Yourself?
Todd WagnerMay 11, 2008
To Ignore, Impale or Encourage: What it Means to Bear One Another's Burdens
Todd WagnerMay 4, 2008
"Is He in You?" What That Means, What it Doesn't, and Why it Matters
Todd WagnerApr 27, 2008
Three Ways to Respond but Only One Way to Really Live
Todd WagnerApr 13, 2008
Freedom: Defined, Defended and Demonstrated
Todd WagnerApr 6, 2008

Father, thank you. We've already talked to you several times this morning. We come to you again right now, and we want to be individuals who don't just go through the motions, who will honor you with our lips while our hearts are far from you. We want to be people who are radically impacted by truth, who embrace the Spirit of truth, and who yield to it in every way.

I pray you'd remind us this morning of what you've accomplished for us, why we have to hold fast to it, and how that sets us free. I'm so grateful for that. I'm glad I get to talk about it now, and I'm even more glad I get to live in it and introduce my friends to you so we can experience the freedom you died to give us. Just accomplish that right now. Amen.

If you were with us before we moved onto this campus, one of the things we talked about last spring was this little book called Galatians. All that Galatians is is a letter to a group of folks who lived in Galatia. It was the very first place… As the church started to go out from that little tract of land there called Israel, take the good news of what God had revealed about himself in Israel, and take it to the uttermost parts of the world, one of the places Paul and his buddy Barnabas went to was this little town of Galatia.

After he had left, there were some people who kind of came behind Paul and said, "What he said was great, but we're here to clean up and tighten up a little bit of what he shared with you. Not only do you need to know this Jesus, you need to know the Jewish history from which he came. You need to embrace our Judaism, not just our Jesus." This is Paul's response to that, as he writes his friends who were in this little region.

What I did in chapters 1 through 4, is I titled that little series The Long Arm of the Law. We called it that because there's something about legalism, about following rules, that appeals to each of us and keeps reaching out there to grab us and to suck us back toward religiosity. Sometimes people ask me, "Todd, you're a real religious guy, aren't you?" I go, "Well, maybe. Tell me what a religious guy is."

Depending on how they define that, I might go, "No, that's not at all what I am," or I might say, "Yeah. I am open to you calling me religious if that's what you mean by that." But if you ask me to put a label on myself, I'm not a guy who is religious. I'm a guy who is enjoying a relationship with God based on God reaching out to me, though I did not deserve a relationship with him.

I live in relationship. I'm not trying to earn… Which really what religion is about is working our way toward a place we would ultimately be embraced by and acceptable to God. Relationship is God reaching down to us, not us working our way to the Lord. There's something about religion, performance, that appeals to each of us and keeps clawing its way back into our lives and into many places people gather today to celebrate a supposed relationship with God.

Too many people are selling that relationship comes through religious performance. This is a great book that wants to tell you, "No, no, no, no. That's not the way it's supposed to be. In fact, Jesus came to set us free from that dead religion, dead works." As we look at chapters 5 and 6, they're dealing with the question of, basically, what happens if you've broken free from the law? What happens if you're an individual who isn't trapped in dead religion anymore but you're somebody who, ultimately, knows it's about relationship?

Really there are two questions Paul is answering throughout this entire book. He answers the question…Who are the people of God? Who really are they? Are they folks who are tied to Israel, to Judaism, to any other religious system? Or are they folks who know Jesus and have a relationship with him? Then…How then should they govern their lives? This is huge. Who are the people of God, and how do they govern their lives? If they are the people of God, how are we going to know them?

One of the answers is they are going to be people who are free. Here we go. There is a long arm of the law that keeps clawing its way back toward you, but there is a Longer Reach of Freedom. That's the name of the series we're going to look at here these next 6, 7, 8 weeks we're together as we break out the rest of the book of Galatians.

Let me say this. Some of you guys may know there was a basketball game or two last night. The Final Four is going on down there in San Antonio. The second game between Kansas and North Carolina was really interesting. It was a game where KU just jumped out all over North Carolina. They were up by 28 points with seven minutes left in the first half. That's unheard of. North Carolina was the number one seed in the whole tournament. They've had a great year, but Kansas was just rocking and rolling.

They had a great game plan. They were executing it. They looked more alive. They were a lot quicker in the way things were breaking out. With seven minutes left in the first half, Billy Packer said, "This game is over." Jim Nantz goes, "Did you say this game is over? There are still 27 minutes left to be played, and you're saying this game is over?"

He goes, "It is over." Now Packer knew the largest comeback in NCAA history in the Final Four was 22 points, and he said that was a bit of a miraculous deal. He said, "I'm not looking at just the score. I'm looking at the way these two teams are playing. This game is over." Well, North Carolina started to trim that lead a little bit.

Then at halftime, John Calipari, the coach of Memphis, who was going to play the winner of that game, was talking. He said, "Let me just tell you. This game is not over. We all know North Carolina is going to make a huge push. They're going to make two or three more runs back at Kansas. The first three or four minutes are going to really determine a lot."

After eight minutes were gone in the second half, that lead had been reduced to four, and game was on, not over. Well, if you care, Kansas came storming back and won by 15, but the point was that in any great game, teams make runs. You watch the NBA. A team gets up by 15 or 20, that's nothing. You'll see pushes. You'll see runs that are made by teams that come back.

If North Carolina made two or three runs, as Calipari said (and they did), to get back in that game, legalism, religiosity, is going to make 2,000 or 3,000 runs into your life. In other words, let me say you have a commanding lead here this morning. Let me say you get this Jesus deal right. Let me say you know you are free.

Every day the rest of your life, legalism is going to make a run at you. It's going to try and close that gap of truth. It's going to try and drag you back into dead performance and résumé building. It will strangle the life out of you. This is a book for you, to defend yourself against those runs the rest of your life.

Look how this starts in chapter 5. It's a great week to get us back into Galatians, because it really summarizes all of what he's been saying those first four chapters. If you weren't here, you're right on time. If you want to go back and get that stuff, it's all free on our website. You can go get it at watermark.org, and you can listen to it. You can't watch it because we weren't here yet, but you can start to watch these. Here we go.

He says, "Look, man. Look what God has done." "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." When you read something like that, that it was for freedom that Christ set us free, you had better make sure you understand what he means when he says freedom. If somebody came to me and said, "Man, are you for the free will of man? Are you for freedom?" I'm going to always make sure we are talking the same language. I'm going to say, "Well, what do you mean by freedom?"

If they go, "Well, by freedom I mean people can do whatever they want, and there should be nobody who ever governs them, corrects them, or holds them accountable in any way," I'm going to say, "Well, no." I am not for folks who want to traffic in humans. People who want to claim they're free to do that, I'm going to say, "No, you're not." I'm not for people who want to be oppressive with their power. I'm not for that. I'll stand against that. I'll give my life against that kind of injustice.

Let me define freedom for you biblically. When it says, "It is for freedom's sake Christ set you free," here's what you need to understand. Freedom, rightly defined by Scripture, is the ability to live like we would live if we were not bound by stupidity, by foolishness. Freedom is the ability to live like we would if we were not bound by self-will, by lust, by the love of pleasure, by love of self, by pride, by being consumed that our way is always the best way. You're not free, really, when you live like that.

A number of years ago there was a group of folks who like to do these things so people will read what they write who went back and said, "Who was the greatest coach in the twentieth century, the greatest coach of the entire twentieth century, in every sport? They named a guy named John Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood, as the greatest coach of the twentieth century. Wooden was really an awesome leader, a great coach, and a great communicator. One of the things Wooden did is he based his leadership on principles from the Bible.

It was funny because my dad loves to memorize little poems. He taught my kids this poem when they were little. I've let them think Grandpa wrote it, but the truth is (if you're here kids), this is a John Wooden poem, not a grandpa poem. Wooden had a little poem he used to tell his leaders because when you're an athlete, you have to make things real simple to understand them. Wooden would give little proverbial statements and poems to Bill Walton, Lew Alcindor, and the rest.

He'd go, "Here, William. Remember this." Here's the poem he would share with folks. He would say, "There is a choice you have to make in everything you do. So keep in mind that in the end, the choice you make, makes you," which is a great truth. Here's the way I've said it. I have to dumb it down even more from poem to little statements. I tell my kids, "Look, man. You are free to choose whatever you want to choose. You're free, but you are not free to choose the consequences."

In other words, what Wooden really did is he took Galatians, and he put it into a little poetic statement. What I've done is put it right there in one little proverb. You can do whatever you want to do. You are free in that sense, but let me just tell you something. You will be a slave to your choices. You can choose what seed you want to sow, but Galatians 6 is going to tell us…this is what he's indicating right here about why we shouldn't leave Christ…that you will reap what you sow.

Freedom is not the absence of limitations. That's how a lot of us… We just go, "I want to be free. I want to get out of this home. I want to get away from this dad. I want to be awake when I want to be awake. I want to study when I want to study, eat when I want to eat, do what I want to do." I go, "Bro, you're free, at some point, to do that, but I want to tell you something. You won't be free when you're free to choose whatever you want, because you are going to be a slave to your choices. You will reap what you sow."

You find a lot of people who are out there today who define freedom as autonomy, as personal sovereignty, as self-sufficiency and ultimate power. Well, let me tell you something. Finite people are never truly free. You're not free to deal with death. You're not free to deal with the consequences of your choices, because you are not sovereign over your choices. Your choices will make you, so you will be a slave to the outcome of what you sow.

In fact, this is why so many people think God is a joke. They find some people who are making choices that seem to be contrary to what God says are the choices you ought to make, and they're having a big time. They're not being faithful. They're moving around from one relationship to another physically, emotionally, and otherwise. It looks like all they have is story after story and a great pleasurable experience after a great pleasurable experience.

You find guys who are storing up for themselves lots of storehouses here who seem to have nothing but security. People think, "Even though the Scriptures say those people are fools, it doesn't look like that guy is living the life of a fool. It looks like he's living the life I've always dreamed about." This is what the Scripture says about those guys. He says, "Don't be deceived, man."

In Ecclesiastes, chapter 8, verse 11, it says, "Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil," which translated means, "Just because some people are sowing seeds of rebellion, foolishness, self-will, lust, and self-pleasure, just because that's not immediately growing a weed that chokes them out and kills them, don't be deceived that that weed isn't going to grow."

I've mentioned this before, and it's one of my favorite little proverbs. Again, my life is changed by sentences. That's just the way my life is changed. The Asian Indians have a statement that says, "He who rides a tiger must prepare to dismount." Like I said, there are some dudes I see out there, and they are riding tigers.

Listen, we all love bull riders. Bull riders are strong, brave, courageous guys. You see them get on a bull. If they hang on there for eight seconds, we go, "Dude, you are something. Here's some catch." Right? But you get guys who go to a tiger rodeo, who throw themselves on that? There's no clown there to help you when you're off. They're not looking to gore you; they're looking to gorge themselves on you.

When you see guys who are willing to ride tigers, you go, "Dude, look at that guy!" He's whistling. He's calling attention. The world sometimes applauds. "Those guys… But there's nobody like that guy." I want to go, "But watch what happens when he slides off." Some guys ride tigers longer than others. What the Scriptures are saying here is, "Man, listen. Hang in there. You want to ride the freedom Christ brought you."

Don't define freedom as autonomy, and don't confuse yourself into thinking freedom is sovereignty. You will never be sovereign. You will always be a slave to something. What this book is saying is you ought to choose to be a slave to Jesus, because when you serve him, it makes you free from the consequences of death, of isolation, of self-hatred, of despair, of hopelessness, of fear, of anxiety. It makes you free from the penalty of sin, and it makes you free from the power of sin in your life.

Look what it says. Galatians 5:1, "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." Don't go back to a failed system. I've already dealt with, "Don't go to this false idea of freedom being that you can do whatever you do, whenever you want to do it." I want to say again, you are free to do whatever you want to do whenever you want to do it, but you are not free to choose your consequences. The choices you make will make you.

That little syllogism I use: "Sow a thought; reap an action. Sow an action; reap a habit. Sow a habit; reap a character. Sow a character; reap a destiny." You'd better be careful how you think. I'm going to tell you legalism, performance, autonomy, and rebellion are going to make runs at your heart, and you'd better be firmly entrenched in truth to defend them. The truth is what sets you…what? Free.

There's a long reach of freedom that keeps coming after you. It's the truth and the freedom of Christ we're talking about here week after week, that we're singing about, and that we're celebrating that we live in. The yoke of slavery it's talking about right here is the slavery to sin or the slavery of systems that make sense to man but that do not, ultimately, deal with the penalty of your rebellion.

He's talking here about folks who wanted to go back to Judaism, to religion, and to this system of works. Paul has just spent four chapters talking about why that's crazy. He said, "Look, that old system, all it did is create bondage: a bondage to a system, a system that led to a curse." When you were under that system of law, there was a curse when you didn't keep the law. That curse led to death.

Then he goes on to say, "Not only that, but look. You are not a son when you live as a servant or as a slave. If you live under that old system, then you're like Ishmael, not like Isaac." Ishmael, as you remember, was the son of the flesh, the son who earned his way through the justifying acts of men and who was cast out of the home for a while. Isaac, to use the metaphor of chapter 4, was the son of promise, the son of blessing, the heir. Don't be an Ishmael. Be an Isaac.

Isn't it interesting that today some of the greatest conflict is between people who are sons of promise, what God has done for them already through Jesus, and those who are sons of Ishmael, who are selling a system of performance you submit to and do these Five Pillars so you can be free before Allah. Paul is saying, "There is no system; there's a Savior. Don't go back to being trapped."

Now I want to talk about this, because a lot of people are afraid to talk about the system of grace God has taught with Jesus Christ. They're like, "Man, if we tell people they are free to live in a way their hearts could run to, they're going to go crazy. They will not give themselves to truth, love, and righteousness if we just set them free." Jesus said, "That's because you don't know the power of my love. You don't know what happens when people are confronted with unconditional, eternal, perfect love. That captures men."

Let me tell you why, very quickly, legalism and religion are so attractive to us. I touched on this when we went through the first four chapters, but I want to go back over it right now. Let me tell you, this is why old religious systems, or the old ways, make sense to us.

First, it makes us feel like we are in control. People love to know, "What do I have to do? Tell me what I have to do, and I'll do it so I'll make the grade." You'll go back, and it'll appeal to you. It sounds familiar to you. Folks want to be in control, so they like religious systems that say, "You have to give 10 percent. You have to show up most Sundays. You have to not have affairs. You have to…" and write down a list. They go, "Okay. Okay. Okay." They like to be in control, so it makes a run at us.

Secondly, it feeds our pride. It feeds the belief that we're not so bad we can't do something about it ourselves. Our whole life has been about, "I can't make the team? I'll work that much harder. I'm not making enough money? I'll get another job. I am in control. I just have to do certain things, and that will guarantee me certain results."

The reason that lie is so attractive to us is there's a certain element of truth to it. That sounds a lot like what I said, "You're going to reap what you sow," but the idea here is it feeds us that, "I'm not that bad. I'm not that far gone. I'm not that bankrupt that I can't work myself out of this hole." The Scriptures are saying, "Dude, you're really bankrupt. You're really bankrupt. You cannot reconcile with this infinitely holy and perfect God." Religious systems tell you that you can, and that feeds us. "The gospel," it says, "is foolishness to some, but it's a stumbling block, or offensive, to others."

It's offensive to people who think their good is good enough to be told, "I don't care how many times you make a pilgrimage. I don't care how many times you don't eat between sunrise and sundown. I don't care how many times you go to mass. I don't care how many times you count a bead. I don't care how many times you stay pure. I don't care how much you give. That isn't enough because you offend an eternally perfect God." Some people go, "You mean my good isn't good enough? Then the heck with that person who tells me I have to be good." Be careful.

Thirdly, the reason religious systems keep making runs at us and are attractive is because it allows us to feel no obligation to anyone or anything else other than our system. Let me tell you, none of us like taxes, right? This time of year, it's easy to sell people on the fact that taxes are a real burden, but we like taxes more than we like Communism, which is, "Everything is the State's."

As much as I don't like the tax system, at least I can go, "Okay, according to Uncle Sam, 30-35 percent, 40 percent, depending on your income level, goes to Uncle Sam, but then the rest is mine. He has no right to it. This isn't Russia." We like that. We sometimes argue about how much he gets, but we like the fact that after a certain point, "It's mine."

If I tell you, "Here's the deal. You have to give me Sunday mornings from 8:00 am to noon. You have to give me 10 percent of what you get," you'll go, "Okay. I don't like the fact that you get 10 percent, I don't like the fact that I have to wake up early on Sundays, but I like the fact that I get 90 percent. I like the fact that I get six and a half days. I'll come and do what you're supposed to do in this little religious system, but don't drag it into my Monday."

Do you know people like that? That's why they like religious systems that tell us, "All you have to do is these few things, and then the rest is yours." It appeals to that mindset. You know, Jesus doesn't want your 10 percent. Do you know what Jesus wants? All of it. That's why you don't hear us talking about tithing here.

You hear us talking about the fact that what God wants you to do is ask yourself this question… Not, "How much does he get?" but "How much do you need?" What do you need? He loves you. You're his servant. You're his warrior. You're his soldier, so what do you need for provision? What do you need to have a few times when you get a little leave, go out, and enjoy yourself? But the rest, why not use it for others?

That's why we don't try and bait you by passing a basket here. We know that if you know God is at work here and he's reaching people, serving you, growing your heart, reaching out to other people, it'll be the joy of your life to invest here. You have opportunities to do that on your own. The Scripture says, "Here's the standard: Don't give any more than Jesus." What did Jesus give? He gave everything, because he knew everything was God's.

God doesn't want your 10 percent. He wants your 100 percent. God doesn't want your Sundays. He wants your seven days a week. It's all worship. When you spend money on yourself, if you do it right, it's worship. When you give generously to others, it's worship. It's when you manage it in a way that's inconsistent with Scripture that he goes, "Look, you're trying to cut me in and buy me off. I'm not a God who can be bought. I'm a lover who wants to share everything. Frankly, I've given you everything."

Religion will keep making a run at your heart, because you'll like the idea that if you just do these things, the rest is yours to do what you want. The Scripture slaps you in the face and says, "Nuh-uh. Even your wealth has come from the God who gives you the ability to make that wealth. It's all mine. I'm not looking for a day. The day I talked about being important was a day for you to rest and not keep working yourself to a nub and to remind you I'm for you, even when you sleep."

Fourthly, it's acceptable to others. Religious systems are really acceptable. "You do what you want to do. I'll do what I want to do. We'll both please God the way we want to please God, and we'll both do what we think needs to be done. All right? Let's all agree there's a mountain we need to get up, but you pick your path. I'll pick mine. We'll just ecumenically get along. We'll just be a world council of religions. We'll all like each other and say, 'This way is fine. That way is fine. All we're doing is working our way up to the top of the mountain.'" Nobody offends anybody else.

"Okay, if that's your way to submit. Okay, if that's your way to worship. Okay, if that's your way to deal with sin." God says, "Hey, look. This isn't a democracy. It is me you have offended, so I'm not taking a vote. I am telling you how you are reconciled to me: by being perfect," at which time all religious systems go, "That's a problem, because we can't be perfect."

He goes, "Exactly, which is why I have made perfect provision for you. What you need to do is acknowledge you've offended me and come home." Coupled with systems that appeal to our hearts, we have leaders who lead those systems who also love them. Why do religious leaders love them?

First, because it validates what we've always been telling you. There it's an editorial we. I pray I've never been a part of that. It validates that we've always told you, "You have to show up. You have to give a certain amount. You have to stuff the envelope. If you do that just right, I'll tell you you're okay with God.

I don't ever need to apologize to you and tell you that in my insecurity I created those systems to fund my program and to somehow obligate you. I didn't think the love of Christ was enough to constrain you, so I put on certain parameters I thought I would get you to do what I think God wanted you to do, which would really be good." But not good in response to his love. Good out of fear.

Secondly, religious leaders love it because it continues to give them power and position over people. There's great job security in people who think you hold the keys to the kingdom and tell you, "As long as you do what I tell you to do and show up where I tell you to show up, I'm a pretty important person." I like that as a religious leader.

You have a system that appeals to your heart, and a system that appeals to the people who are leading that system over you. That is a deadly combination, and that's why I don't care what kind of lead you have, you have to day after day go back and remind yourself of truth. The long arm of the law will keep trying to grab you back to performance. What Jesus wants you to do is be set free by his love.

I want to throw this out. Love is always better than law. Love is always better than law. Why? Because law rules by fear. Love rules by fastening your heart to a person. Next, law is effective only when the power of accountability or the presence of fear is there. You see, one of the things I do now is I leave my kids at home alone. They know what they can watch, what they can do, what they can click, what they can eat, who they can have over.

If they're only going to do what I ask them to do when they think I'm pulling up at a certain hour, then chaos reigns until that hour. "All we have to do is just clean up the mess the Cat in the Hat is making before Mom gets home." I want to say, "You know what? I don't want you to do what is right out of fear of punishment. I want you to do what's right because you love me and know that those things I suggested to you are for your good." Law only works when there is fear of judgment associated with it.

Love, on the other hand, is effective everywhere the power of that relationship is accounted for, which is why love is always a better way than law. It's a more effective, controlling, all-pervasive means through which our lives can be changed. What I want to tell you here this morning is you need to get a heartful of Jesus and what he's done for you. Then I can share with you what he says would bring you pleasure and freedom as you live this way. He wants you to do those things, not to impress him, but for your good.

You'll go, "Look, I don't really care what he asks me, even if it's not for my good, because I love him so much, knowing he died for me. All to him I owe. I'm in, even if it does mean he just wants me to dig a hole and fill it up and dig a hole, just to show off how strong he is, because he has won my heart." God never asks you to do things just to show his strength. He does nothing from selfishness or empty conceit but with humility of mind. He has your best interests at heart. He's not trying to rip you off. He's trying to set you free. What a God! Now watch this.

"Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you." You kind of read that, and you go, "Why is this dude so hung up on what you do with a man's sexual organ?" The idea here is this was regarding the most recognizable symbol of a religious system and what Paul is saying is specifically to a group of people whom he had gone and preached grace to: all that system did was anticipate one who could fulfill the law knowing you couldn't.

What you need to understand is even in the Old Testament, the goal was not circumcision of the male sex organ. The goal was you would pursue purity. In pursuing purity, in order to meet this standard, you would realize you are impure, and you would cry out that God would make you pure in a way you never could.

That's why you find, in Deuteronomy, chapter 10, this statement: "So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer." That's why you find Moses…who gave the Law through God that you should have this external sign as a symbol of your faith in him…said in Deuteronomy 30 that, ultimately, it's going to be God who will circumcise your heart. He will be the one who will make you clean, not you through your physical acts.

That's why you find in Jeremiah, chapter 4, verse 4, "Circumcise yourselves to the LORD and remove the foreskins of your heart…" What Paul is saying right here is, "Look, circumcision is not the issue." It's interesting. Paul had two young men whom he had with him on his missionary journeys. The first one he took was a guy named Timothy. He circumcised Timothy so it wouldn't be an issue with the Jewish people he was talking to about Jesus.

He had another guy named Titus, and he said, "I will not let you circumcise Titus because circumcision or no circumcision isn't the issue." The issue is, "Timothy, do you love Jesus? Titus, do you love Jesus?" That's the issue. If you love Jesus, no matter what happened to you in terms of physical circumcision, both Timothy and Titus should pursue a life that honors God, conduct themselves in a manner that is holy, and treat women in a manner that is honorable, no matter what has been done to them underneath their clothing.

He's saying, "If you make circumcision a rite…" Let me tell you the origin of the word rite. The word rite comes from a Latin word, ritus, which comes from a Greek word arithmós (there's one you recognize), which means a number. The root word of the word arithmós is a word that basically is where we get Pi from. It means to count. A rite is something you do that counts toward building a résumé. What he's saying here is, "If the rite of circumcision for you is something you're going to turn into God, you're crazy! Circumcision isn't the point."

That's why when we baptize people… Listen. You ought to get baptized, right? Because it's an outward expression of an inward faith. If you believe Jesus Christ is your Savior, and it's through his death, burial, and resurrection that you are set free, why wouldn't you want to identify yourself with that?

But if you think that your going through some water experience is what makes you a Christ-follower and somebody who pleases God, how crazy is that? God says, "What honors me is not people who go through ceremonies. It's people who live a life that is surrendered to me, all the time. So, love me."

In verse 3, he says, "And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law." There were some guys who were coming behind Paul, and they were elevating certain actions. Some people elevate tithing. Some people elevate serving the poor. Some people elevate religious service attendance. Some people elevate certain pilgrimages or journeys. Some people elevate being at certain places at certain times.

What he is saying is, "You can't just pick out certain parts of the law and decide to fulfill them. If you do this one thing but you don't do every other thing, you still are guilty of violating the law. You cannot make circumcision the thing." What was happening is these guys who came up behind Paul were saying, "It's great that you love Jesus, but you have to become a Jew like Jesus, so get circumcised like we are."

Paul is saying, "No. Don't let them trap you. Don't let them drag you back to a system Christ came to fulfill, complete, and move back to the shadow for which it was. "If you do this," he says… Watch this. "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace." You don't want to fall from grace.

Grace is when you get something you don't deserve. When you have an infinite God, who says that to have a relationship with him you have to be perfect, and you realize you're not perfect… But he fills that gap through his own Son, Jesus. God himself dying for you, so he could pay the debt, that he would stay just and yet justify you in your rebellion, and then give you what you didn't earn… You don't want to fall from that system. If you start to turn in and build a résumé, you have problems.

What you want to do is know what God has done for you and respond with a heart that says, "The rest of my life, not just one aspect of it, not just one minute of it, not just one hour of it, not just one season during the calendar year, but everything, is now controlled, not by fear of punishment but by a fervent love for the one who took the punishment I deserve for me. I'm all in. I'm going to do what I'm going to do now, not because I think judgment is coming but because my judgment has come on another. He died for me, and I'm going to live now for him."

It says, "…the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.""I love this Jesus. He rules me, and so I worship, not just an hour, but all day every day." You see, it's a better way. I want to read this to you real quick. It's a statement from Napoleon. Napoleon looked at leaders. Napoleon would have gone to Leadership Summit, because he wanted to learn how to be a great leader.

When Napoleon was exiled, and he was sitting there, he asked a guy who came to him one time, "Who do you think Jesus is?" The guy said, "I don't know who Jesus is." Napoleon said, "Well then, I will tell you. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I myself have founded great empires; but upon what did these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His empire upon love, and to this very day millions will die for Him. […]

I think I understand something of human nature; and I tell you, all these were men, and I am a man; none else is like Him; Jesus Christ was more than a man." I love this statement. "I have inspired multitudes with such an enthusiastic devotion that they would have died for me…" Listen to Napoleon's humility here. "…but to do this it was necessary that I should be visibly present with the electric influence of my looks, my words, of my voice. When I saw men and spoke to them, I lighted up the flame of self-devotion in their hearts.

Christ alone has succeeded in so raising the mind of man toward the unseen, that it becomes insensible to the barriers of time and space. Across a chasm of eighteen hundred years [at the time he said this], Jesus Christ makes a demand which is beyond all others difficult to satisfy…" Watch this. He's saying, "Jesus asked for more than I ever did, without the present fear at that moment of anything other than the fear of missing out on his incredible love."

"He asks for that which a philosopher may often seek in vain at the hands of his friends, or a father of his children, or a bride of her spouse, or a man of his brother. He asks for the human heart; He will have it entirely to Himself. He demands it unconditionally; and forthwith His demand is granted. Wonderful! In defiance of time and space, the soul of man, with all its powers and faculties, becomes an annexation to the empire of Christ. All who sincerely believe in Him, experience that remarkable, supernatural love toward Him. This phenomenon is unaccountable; it is altogether beyond the scope of man's creative powers."

He says, "I will tell you, I know men, and Jesus Christ is no mere man. He wins their hearts, and he doesn't win their hearts to rule them like I do. He wins their hearts to set them free." Why would you leave this Jesus? Why wouldn't you surrender everything to him and say, "Okay, Lord, you who did not spare your own Son but delivered him up for us all, how will you not with him freely give us all things? I'm going to do whatever you say, because I see that what you ask from me is the way of life."

If I had to summarize all of Galatians up into two verses, I would do it right there in verses 5 and 6. This is what it says. "For we through the Spirit…" Not through our works. Through the Spirit. "…by faith…" Not through our works. By faith. "…are waiting for the hope of righteousness." We know we're righteous by faith that God has accomplished. "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love."

That's it. That's what Paul keeps going back to. "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." Because our hearts are ruled by this lover who is a King, who has provided for us everything.

Then he says in verse 7, "You were running well…" You were doing so great. You responded to this message, this truth. "…who hindered you from obeying the truth?" Who came behind me? "This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.""Don't drag in religion to this relationship. Focus on my love."

Can I tell you guys? This is really important. This is why God's Word has to rule your life. This is why you have to say, "It is my authority, conscience, and guide. I'm not going to adjust it. I'm not going to tweak it." Guys will come along and say, "Okay, it's good you love Jesus, but let me tweak what he says for you."

You start to do that in one area, and then all of a sudden what you've established is, "This is not your authority. You're your own authority." That means God is not your King. You're your king, and you have left him. That's not going to be good for you. That's going to lead to choices, which leads to bondage and not freedom.

One of my dearest friends in life, a guy who I loved and love to this day, not long ago I sat with him and his family. He looked at me and said, "I'm out, because I have a different philosophy than you right now." I go, "Wait a minute. I don't have a philosophy other than the Scripture." He goes, "I have a different philosophy about that."

Philosophy literally means love of wisdom. What he's saying is, "I'm not going to love the wisdom from Scripture anymore. I'm going to go my own way." Then he went on and said, "And the Spirit? I have a different spirit than what you have." I go, "Oh. What Spirit do I have? A better question. What spirit do you have? I heard you just tell me you didn't care where you were going. You didn't care if it meant the death of your family, that you were going to follow that spirit."

I go, "Let me ask you a question. Does that sound like a Holy Spirit who would lead your family to death? Remember that statement, man, because I'll tell you where that spirit is going to take you. It's not good." Do you see what Paul says right here? The exact same thing. This persuasion…to justify, rationalize, and edit, to bail out when it's hard…did not come from him who died for you. I'd be careful with that spirit."

"A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough." Stay focused on the truth, because it's the truth that sets you free. Paul says in verse 11, "But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted?" He's coming along and other people are saying, "Hey, Wagner is saying what I'm saying. Paul is saying what I'm saying."

These guys came behind him, and he said, "Look, why are they then hating me so much? If I were saying what they were saying, they wouldn't want to kill me. They want to kill me, so don't listen to them when they tell you I'm teaching religion. I'm not teaching religion. I'm talking about a relationship with a lover. Do you know him?"

He says, "Would that those who are troubling you…" It's a pretty strong statement. "…would even mutilate themselves." Not just cut off their dead flesh, but they'd cut off their dead teaching. He said earlier in the book, "I wish they would be anathema." Cursed by God. "I don't care if an angel tells you something other than Jesus Christ, crucified, dead and buried, resurrected on the third day. There's no hope in anything but him. Let him by accursed," Paul says.

This isn't just Paul's idea. The reason Paul hates it is because, first, when you bring in religion, it makes the death of Jesus look unnecessary. It mocks our Lord. Secondly, because Paul, like Jesus, loves you. He doesn't want to see you taken into bondage. He wants to see you experience freedom. I'm going to tell you next week what freedom should produce, but get your arms around this Jesus.

Are you here today and are you burdened because you wonder if God will ever love you? He loves you. There's nothing you can do to make him love you more. Nothing. There's nothing you can do to make him love you less. There is much you can do to respond rightly to him because you love him in light of his love for you. Folks, we love because he first loved us and gave his Son to be a sacrifice for our sins. May that love constrain you.

If you have never experienced that love, I'm here to tell you that love 2,000 years ago was fully expressed when Jesus Christ nailed your sins to the cross in the person of his flesh, when God made him who knew no sin to become sin on your behalf, that you might become the righteousness of God in him.

All you have to do is say, "I am out on the résumé-building. I am in on the relationship. I'm not going to earn righteousness through acts. I'm going to take the righteousness of Jesus and be found, by faith, in him." Will you come to that Jesus? Will you live in response to that Jesus? There's freedom there, and it is good.

Father, I pray for my friends, that they would be so radically responsive to the cross of Jesus Christ, to the love of God, that the world would go, "Who are you people? Who is your King that you are so wildly passionate about serving him?" and that we could say, "Our King is good. Our King is benevolent. Our King is not taxing us. Our King has won everything. We are his stewards. We are his sons. We are his servants. Not because we are slaves, but because we have given ourselves to him and sworn our allegiance to him until he takes us to be with him.

He has dealt with the penalty of sin. He has overcome our flesh and has given us the ability to overcome the power of sin in our lives. There will be a day when the clouds will be rolled back like a scroll, and he will take us to where we are free even from the very presence of sin. For now, it is our privilege to live for him and to die for him, to preach of him, to sing of him, to serve him, and to steward everything we have for him. May you see that fervency in us, because we have a King who is worth our all."

Lord, I thank you that that is who you are, that you are a God whom we can't help but worship when we get a glimpse of who you are. May that mark us as your people. May we love each other as you have loved us. May we live in surrender to you, knowing it's the truth of Christ that sets us free.

May we experience, Father, the fruit of sowing your Word into our lives and the fruit of the Spirit in our lives as we go here today changed men and women, full of love, gentleness, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control because we go not with our spirit. We must decrease; you must increase. We go with the Spirit of Christ.

Father, in Christ alone we live. As we leave, I pray those who don't yet know that being in Christ alone is life, I pray they would come and they would meet Christ. Those who know Christ, I pray they would go and live for him. Amen.

If you don't know Christ, would you come? If you do, would you go and be faithful?


About 'Galatians: The Longer Reach of Freedom'

Performance-based acceptance vs. acceptance-based performance. Galatians, more than in any other in the Bible, explains the difference between the two. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul makes it clear that we can never perform our way into a relationship with Christ, and that the law was in place as a demonstration of God?s standards, rather than a means for us to earn our salvation. In short, Galatians paints a vivid picture of why we all are in need of a Savior.<br /> &nbsp;Examining chapters 5 and 6 of Galatians, Todd Wagner explains why bondage to legalism and performance is so dangerous to the Christian life. And what being truly free from the need to earn God's love looks like, how we live it out, and how it will ultimately bless us and honor Christ.