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August 1, 2021 | Javan Shashaty
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This past weekend, we continued our “Live Free” series through the Book of Galatians. In this message, Pastor Doug Sauder explained why both legalism and license cut us off from experiencing Christ's power and presence, how we can stand firm in the freedom we have in Christ, what it means to love like God, and how we can walk in the Spirit and not the flesh.
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Legalism and License Take Your Freedom (Galatians 5:1–15): In this passage, the apostle Paul provides us with a rallying cry for the Christian life, a powerful declaration and call to action we can cling to. He tells us in Galatians 5:1 (PHILLIPS), "Plant your feet firmly therefore within the freedom that Christ has won for us."
Theologian John Gill says we’ve been freed “from the dominion, guilt, and damning power of sin; from the captivity and tyranny of Satan, from the law and all its burdensome rites and institutions, from a covenant of works and from the curse and condemnation of it.”
And yet, despite this, we as believers often find ourselves in chains, bound to a system trying to attain God's favor (legalism) or a stronghold we can't seem to break free from (license). In both cases, we have surrendered the freedom Christ won for us.
If you're wondering how to identify legalism or license, here is what they sound like . . .
Legalism: What Christ began by grace has to be finished and perfected by my obedience to the commandments. If I follow the law, if I get circumcised, if I _______, then I'll be right with God.
License: In Christ, I have forgiveness and freedom from sin, right? That means He's already forgiven all my sins, even the ones I haven't committed yet, so I can do whatever I want and still be saved and go to heaven!
Here's the problem . . . both systems cut you off from the power of the gospel, from Christ Himself, and in both cases you are falling away from grace. Does this mean you lose your salvation? No. You simply miss out on experiencing the blessings and benefits of your salvation. You miss out on the peace of God, the presence of God, the promises of God, and the power of God to move and work and transform. And not only that, but both systems lead to bondage. How? Legalism causes you to be a slave to works, to performance, to earning God's acceptance and favor in your life. And license disguises itself as freedom, telling you that you are free to do whatever you want, but that "freedom" always leads to us becoming slaves to the things we indulge in, the things we make master over us, the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19–21).
You Are What You Love (Galatians 5:16–18): The flesh and the Spirit are at constant war with one another inside of you. You cannot satisfy, obey, or walk in both. As Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other" (Matthew 6:24 NIV).
The Holy Spirit wants to orient you to the kingdom of God. He wants to lead you into the good life, where you get to experience the fullness of God's purposes and promises, where you get to enjoy the spiritual blessings that come from being in Christ and walking by the Spirit. The flesh; however, seeks nothing but selfish gratification, vain ambition, and empty pleasures which can damage your heart, divide you from Christ, and often destroy your life.
So, what do you love? What are you giving your attention to? What are you spending your time on? What are you fixing your eyes on? If you fix your eyes on the things of this world, on the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16), then like Peter, you will sink. That’s why Hebrews 12:1–2 (NLT) says, “And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith."
Learning to Love Like God Takes Practice (Galatians 5:19–26): Notice how the apostle Paul, after listing the works of the flesh, tells us that those who "practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Galatians 5:21 NKJV). The Greek word there is prassontes, and it means "the active process in performing (accomplishing) a deed, and implying what is done as a regular practice—i.e. a routine or habit." It's not a one-off failure or shortcoming, it's a life defined by the works of the flesh.
There is no way around it: a life that consistently engages in sinfulness and indulges the works of the flesh cannot produce the fruit of the Spirit. In John 3:6 (NIV), Jesus says, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” Translation: Only the Spirit in us can produce the fruit of the Spirit.
A life that is walking in step with the Spirit—a life the Spirit is working in and conforming to the image of Christ—will produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It will naturally flow from a heart that is submitted and surrendered to Him.
On the flip side, it will be obvious when a life is not submitted to the Spirit, when the Holy Spirit is not working in a life. How? Because that life will NOT produce the fruit of the Spirit. It will practice the works of the flesh—immorality, envy, dissension, hatred, rage, jealousy, and idolatry—which produce the fruit of the flesh: death.
Quote to Remember: When we compare ourselves to others we become either self-condemning or self-righteous.—Pastor Doug Sauder
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
As you think about this weekend’s teaching, here are a few questions to reflect on and consider on your own, with your family, or in your group.
1. Why are both legalism and license so dangerous? How do they cut us off from Christ and His power?
2. How are you guarding your heart from legalism and license? What can you do to remain firmly planted in the freedom Christ won for you?
3. What's currently driving you? What would happen if you let the Spirit drive you?
4. What steps can you take this week to walk more deeply in the Spirit?
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Continuing the conversation from our weekend study of Galatians, this Wednesday we'll dive deeper and explore the heart and context of Galatians 5.
Then, at our weekend services, we’ll wrap up our “Live Free” series with a study on Galatians 6. In this message, Pastor Doug Sauder will explain what the lives of Jesus’ disciples should look like as we explore what it means to be a new creation and experience the fullness of Christ.
Danny Saavedra has served on the staff of Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.