Freed from, Freed to

Freedom isn’t free. The history of this country proves the point. Thus, we Americans treasure being free from all manner of oppression and injustice.

Perhaps that’s where your heart and mind go – we are “free from” – when choruses of national song and anthem wave over the land of the free and the home of the brave. Perhaps that’s also where your heart and mind will go, as you listen to this morning’s Scripture lesson, as the apostle Paul fires off to the Galatians yet another passionate salvo of Christian faith: “For freedom Christ has set us free.”

But before we get too wrapped up in the Christian patriotism of God-given freedoms and certain, inalienable rights, know that that’s not the brand of “free from” that Paul is celebrating. The “free from” that he’s talking about is liberty from believing that the Cross and the Empty Tomb aren’t enough.

That’s one of the biggest bones of contention in the fractured Church of Galatia. For some, Jesus alone isn’t enough. If you yearn to one day walk through the pearly gates of heaven, Jesus alone isn’t enough. You have to do more: Like following the Old Testament law down to the letter, all-the-while fearing that you’ll never be “good enough” in the eyes of the Lord. Because you’ll never be able to obey fully every jot and tittle of the 613 commandments that compose Old Testament Law, and you’ll never make it past St. Peter when the roll is called up yonder. Consequently, you live in constant dread of eternal damnation.

Into the crisis of faith steps Paul with the Good News that you and I are “free from” all that nonsense. Your faith and belief in Jesus Christ as God’s long-promised Messiah frees you from wasting your precious time trying to curry God’s life-saving favor. Jesus really and truly is enough!

One of the great things about grace is that you don’t have to do a blessed thing to earn it.

You don’t have to be loving. You don’t have to carry joy and exude peace. You don’t have to be patient and kind, good and honest, gentle and reserved. God will love you just the same in spite of your broken self and perennial trespassing. You and I are “freed from” thinking anything to the contrary. Jesus really, and truly, and finally is enough!

But, if Jesus Christ really, truly, and finally is your Lord and Savior, you will want to be loving, joyous, peaceful, patient, kind, good, honest, gentle, and reserved, because those qualities of your character mirror God’s character and reflect how much you love God. You and I are “freed from” as much as we are “freed to” – freed to love God, friend, neighbor, and stranger, and freed to produce fruit – the fruit of the Holy Spirit!

Listen, now, for the Word of the Lord to you this day.

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

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:1, 13-26)

If you look up into a tall, slender, palm-like tree and see large bunches of long, yellow fruit hanging from its top, you instantly recognize the pods as bananas.

Or, if you peer into a shorter, leafier tree and spy bright red fruit the size of baseballs dangling from its branches, you immediately know that the apples are ready for picking.

It’s painfully obvious: The fruit declares the identity of its tree. But here’s the big reveal: In the same way, the presence of the fruit of the Spirit is a reliable sign of who lives in Christ and a remarkable signal of where God’s Holy Spirit in Christ dwells deeply.

As a provider puts a patient through a battery of medical tests to diagnose a physical problem, God through Paul provides a biblical template to lay upon our lives and check for spiritual problems.

“[T]he fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” Paul imparts. Their presence reflects spiritual health; their absence suggests malignancy. So, let’s ask some diagnostic questions to take stock of our spiritual wellness.

Love, a deliberate attitude of unconditional goodwill and steadfast devotion to others. Love gives freely, as we last Sunday heard Paul tell the Corinthians, with disregard for whether the other deserves it. And love gives without expecting anything back. Are you motivated to do for others as Christ has done for you, or do you give only with the expectation of receiving something in return?

Joy, unlike happiness, is gladness completely independent of the good or bad things that happen in the course of your day. In fact, joy emanates from a supernatural gladness given by the Spirit that actually seems to show up the most and the best during the hardest of times. Joy is the result of fixing your focus on God’s promise to work together unto good in all things rather than obsessing on miserable circumstances. Do you experience joy regularly, or does joy hinge on your day going smoothly?

Peace, not the absence of turmoil but the presence of calm, even in the midst of chaos. Peace is a sense of wholeness and completeness that feels God present and working in all events of every day. Do crashing waves of turmoil frazzle your life, or do you abide in peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7)?

Patience – lenience, forbearance, perseverance, and steadfastness, the ability to endure ill treatment at the hands of others without lashing out or paying back. Do unexpected setbacks and irritatingly different people easily set you off, or are you able to keep a heavenly perspective in the face of life’s irritations, see God in everyone and find God in everything, and trust that events are unfolding and people are growing in God’s good time?

Kindness. When kindness is at work your life, you are flexible. You look for ways to accommodate and meet the needs of others, sometimes at the expense of your own. Kindness is the overflow of moral goodness and the absence of malice. Do you serve others with kindness, or are you too focused on yourself to let the goodness of God within you overflow to others?

Goodness. It reflects the grace-filled character of God. Goodness in you desires to see goodness in others, which means that goodness is not separateand apart from confronting, correcting, and forgiving. Does your life reflect the grace of God, and do you desire others to experience the grace of God as richly you do?

Faithfulness shines brightly in a person of real integrity, someone who sets an example, a saint truly devoted to others and to Christ. Where in your body lie those sore spots of hypocrisy and indifference, and do you walk with walk as much or more as you talk the talk?

Gentleness – meekness, not weakness. Gentleness is not powerless but instead chooses to defer to others. It forgives, corrects, and lives in tranquility. Do others consider you brash and headstrong, or do you think (and pray) before you speak or act?

Self-control. Raw human desire, Scripture says, is forever at odds with God’s Spirit in Christ and always wants to be in charge. Self-control demands releasing your grip on instinct and impulse and choosing instead to be controlled by the Holy Spirit. It is the power of heaven brought to bear in the living, moving, and breathing of a disciple. Are you continually guided by the ways of the world, or seduced by its lies, or distracted by its shiny baubles? Or, do you let the Holy Spirit point you in directions that please God and serve others?

Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done!

God promises that, if you and I are able to admit that for far too long we have been walking our own way, and are willing to let the Holy Spirit convict us of those things not working properly in our lives and broken in our world, and are ready to seek the Lord’s forgiveness, and are prepared to rely solely on his grace, then God will empower us through the Spirit to live above ourselves and beyond our dreams, rich in the abundant life for which we were created.

Freed from, and freed to.

Freed from sin, and free to blossom, grow, and produce fruit.

Ancient words, ever true. Amen, and amen!

Pastor Grant M. VanderVelden shared this message on Sunday, September 18, 2022, as part of his current sermon series, “Becoming Disciples: The Story of God with Us.” Scholarship, commentary, and reflection by Doug Bratt, Stan Mast, Frank Santora, and Scott Williams inform the message.

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