“Freedom, Flesh, and Fruit” (Galatians 5:1, 13-25)

Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 26, 2022

“Freedom, Flesh, and Fruit” (Galatians 5:1, 13-25)

Our text today is the Epistle from Galatians chapter 5. In this text, St. Paul takes up three points that very definitely affect you and the way you live. And they are “Freedom, Flesh, and Fruit”: the freedom we have in Christ; the works of the flesh that we are to put behind us; and the beautiful fruit that the Spirit will produce in our lives. So let’s go.

Freedom is a wonderful thing. It’s a relief to not be shackled down by restrictive oppression. However, freedom can be abused. Freedom can be used as an excuse or license for wrong behavior. So the question is: What are we using our freedom for? That’s the question St. Paul takes up here in Galatians. What are we using our freedom for? And what Paul tells the Galatians–and us–is that, yes, we are free in Christ, with a true spiritual freedom. But that freedom is not meant to be used as a license for immorality or any other sin. Rather, we have been set free to live differently from what our sinful flesh would have us do, and instead, to be led by the Holy Spirit.

In the earlier part of Galatians, St. Paul has definitely emphasized the freedom that we have in Christ. No longer are we slaves under the law, bound and chained to keeping the law’s demands perfectly in order to be saved. No longer do we stand condemned and doomed by the law’s accusations. No, Christ Jesus has set us free from that slavery and that guilt.

So the freedom we have in Christ is essential and foundational. Don’t let anyone put you under the yoke of slavery again. As Paul writes: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

You see, there were these Judaizers going around, doing just that. They were trying to get the Galatians to think that, in addition to faith in Christ, now you also had to keep the law’s demands in order to be saved. The so-called circumcision party was going around trying to convince the churches that Christians, whether Jew or Gentile, had to keep the whole law of Moses, or else they weren’t really up to snuff. Circumcision, the dietary laws, the Sabbath laws–all those laws that were in effect for Old Testament Israel were still in effect and necessary for Christians to keep. That’s what Paul’s opponents were saying, and they were having some success in deceiving the Galatians into falling for that trap.

But Paul says, No! If you go back to thinking that you are saved by works of the law, then you have missed the whole point about Christ’s coming. And you will only be condemning yourself if you want to be judged by how well you keep the law, because you will always fall short on that test.

Do you get that? Do you realize that you have broken God’s law, the Ten Commandments, in all sorts of ways–in the things you have done wrong and in the things you have failed to do right? You are a sinner. You don’t love God well enough. You don’t love people well enough. The law isn’t going to save you.

What the law can do is to show you that you have not kept it. And you need to know that. Otherwise, you would have no interest in hearing about a Savior. You would think you can make it on your own. You’d think you’re good enough on your own. And if you believe that, you would be lost forever. But God loved you enough to let you look into the mirror of his law and see yourself there as a sinner in need of a Savior. The law tells you that you need help from outside yourself. This is necessary to know, so that your ears are open when the gospel tells you that God has sent a Savior to deliver you from your sins.

And that Savior is Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, sent from God, “born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law,” as we heard last week. Christ sets you free by virtue of his holy life, fulfilling the law in your stead. He sets you free by his sacrificial death, his holy blood shed on your behalf. He sets you free by the power of his resurrection, so that now, baptized into Christ, you are God’s own child, sharing in the everlasting life of Christ. Friends, you are free and forgiven, redeemed and righteous, and heirs of heaven, all because of your Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Don’t let anyone ever take that freedom away from you. Don’t look to yourself or your own performance for assurance on how you stand with God. By that scale, you will never measure up. And if you think you do, you are only deceiving yourself. Stand fast, stand firm, in the freedom that Christ has won for you.

Yes, if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. But at the same time, Paul says, don’t use your freedom for the wrong purpose. “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.” Having avoided the ditch on one side of the road–the ditch of falling into the slavery of the law–now Paul adds: Don’t fall in the ditch on the other side. You are free and forgiven, but don’t use that freedom as an excuse for indulging your sinful flesh. And Paul lists a whole laundry list of works of the flesh, and dirty laundry it is: “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.”

Indulging the works of the flesh: You know how it goes, don’t you? We think: “Well, God is all about forgiveness. I know I’m forgiven. So in that case, I’ll go ahead and do things that I want to do, even though I know they’re wrong. But I’ll block that out of my mind, because God will forgive me anyway.” How many times have you let those thoughts go on in your head to rationalize doing what you know to be wrong? It’s a tired tape loop.

So we avoid the ditch of legalism and fall into the ditch of licentiousness. The trick is to walk down the middle of the road and not fall into either ditch. And this is where the Spirit will lead you. The Holy Spirit will lead you on the path of righteousness, so that you walk in step with the Spirit, in the freedom you have in Christ. Neither legalism nor license is the way of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit, given you in your baptism, will strengthen your faith through Word and Sacrament and lead you in the right direction

And the Spirit will produce in you the power to bear good and healthy fruit that pleases God. When you bear the fruit of faith in your life, you are saying no to the pull of the flesh. These two things, the leading of the Spirit and the pull of the flesh, go in opposite directions. The sinful flesh, which still clings to you, is essentially selfish. It is only interested in other people insofar as what they can do for you. The fruit of the Spirit is essentially to love, to love God and to love your neighbor. This is what the Spirit will work in your life, work in your heart, to produce the good works that you do.

In contrast to the works of the flesh, Paul now lists the fruit of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Notice, it’s the fruit of the Spirit–“fruit,” a collective singular. Because it’s not like the Spirit will produce just one or two of these things in you. Instead, it’s the whole thing, all the fruit coming up together. The Holy Spirit is working all these beautiful, excellent fruit in your life, in your character. It’s what he does.

Can you see the fruit of the Spirit maturing in your life? Or do you only see the works of the flesh? Then confess your sins, receive God’s forgiveness, and ask for God’s help. He will give it to you. God is committed to you. He baptized you, didn’t he? Christ died for you, didn’t he? The Holy Spirit will keep you in the faith, won’t he? Yes, to all of these. God keeps his promises. Stay connected to Christ, and you will bear much fruit.

This fruit is not just for display, like a bowl of wax fruit that looks good in a still life. No, this fruit is alive and active, producing real results in real life. The fruit of the Spirit–love, joy, peace, patience, etc.–will show up in how you live toward others. You don’t need your good works–Christ has already won your salvation by his good works. You don’t need your good works, but your neighbor does. And God uses you to be his channel of blessing to those around you. God extends his love to people quite often, quite usually, through other people. People just like you. You have been blessed to be a blessing.

When we live according to the flesh, we only seek to satisfy our own desires, and we’re not much good to others. We get into fights and conflicts, because we’re always seeking after self. But when the Holy Spirit leads us in the way of love, then we are fruitful and helpful to others. That’s exactly how God intends us to be: loving and serving, with a joyful heart, from a free and willing spirit. Which the Holy Spirit gives us.

Now if I were to go out to an orchard and tell the fruit trees, “Trees, I want you to bear peaches and cherries and apples and all sorts of delicious fruit,” guess what those trees are going to say? They’ll say: “Great! That’s what we want to do anyway. That’s what we’re designed to do. It’s in our nature as fruit trees to bear fruit.” Well, dear Christians, it’s in your nature–your new nature in Christ–to bear the fruit of the Spirit. God has arranged it so that you will produce beautiful fruit in your life and, through you, for others.

Freedom, flesh, and fruit. Our message today is this: You have wonderful freedom in Christ. Christ has set you free from the crushing burden of trying to keep the law in order to win your salvation. Only, now that you are free, don’t use that freedom as an excuse to indulge your sinful flesh. Instead, let the Holy Spirit guide you and strengthen you through the means of grace, and you will produce beautiful fruit in your life of love and good works.

Published in: on June 25, 2022 at 2:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: