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Sun, May 16, 1999

49 - Freedom to Serve God

Galatians 5:13-15 by Robert Dean
Series:Galatians (1998)
Duration:1 hr 5 mins 38 secs

Freedom to Serve God
Galatians 5:13-15

Galatians 5:13 NASB "For you were called to freedom, brethren; only {do} not {turn} your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another." These are the third and fourth key words: love and serving. In contrast to self-centred arrogance which is the result of the sin nature control of the soul there is love through serving one another. What we need to pay attention to is the continual contrast that Paul is setting up. Notice how he contrasts freedom versus slavery, then the flesh versus love and serving one another. Then we see the positive command in verse 14 and the contrast of gossip and running down other people, malicious comments, slander, libel, etc. in verse 15. Then we have another contrast: walking by means of the Spirit and carrying out the desires of the flesh, and this is going to be elucidated in the following verses. 

In these passages we are going to see that nothing is more important in our lives than to advance to spiritual maturity, to come to a level of spiritual maturity, where we can fulfil the mandates of verse 13, "serving one another in love," through impersonal and unconditional love. That exemplifies the mature spiritual life. It is in fulfilment of this level of spiritual growth that we have, and will have, inheritance in the kingdom.

The mechanics of Galatians chapter five are so crucial for us because God has a plan for the believer, and that plan is going to eventually culminate in an evaluation judgment that takes place at the judgment seat of Christ. We are saved (phase one salvation) and we enter into a new life. In that new life the issue is: are we going to operate on God's principles or are we going to continue to operate on the world's principles, on human viewpoint energised by the flesh? It is either the sin nature control or Holy Spirit control. We operate under Holy Spirit control under the filling of the Spirit, we learn doctrine, we go through various tests or examinations in life to see if we are going to apply the doctrines that we learn. If we stay in fellowship and apply doctrine we go through a cycle which leads to spiritual maturity. We die and are face to face with the Lord and then after the Rapture at the judgment seat of Christ those who are successful believers and have advanced will receive rewards and an inheritance. Those who fail the test, who do not learn doctrine, who do not make doctrine and the application of doctrine the priority in their life and stay under the sin nature control will have a life characterised by sin, human good, temporal or carnal death, weakness and instability, spiritual regression, a hardened heart. When they die and are face to face with the Lord at the judgment seat of Christ they will lose rewards and there will be temporary shame. That is why in Galatians chapter five after Paul talks about sin nature control he says, "those who [continue to] practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." This is the realm of non-inheritance; they will be in the kingdom but not an heir or possessor of the kingdom. Those who are successful are rewarded and are possessors and heirs, and will rule and reign with Jesus Christ. In the overall scheme what God is doing is preparing a people in the heavenlies who will rule and reign with Him in demonstration of the falsity of Satan's whole hypothesis. God is conducting this experiment in time for all time and eternity, before all creatures, that only by living a life on the basis of God's plan in orientation to the authority of God, orientation to grace, orientation to doctrine, exemplified in humility, serving one another in love, can the creature be glorified forever and ever. And it is done as a side effect of first glorifying God. So if we are going to glorify God we must first advance to spiritual maturity.

The issue in Galatians 5:13 is that God has called us to freedom. We are free from sin nature control; we do not have to obey the desires and lusts of the flesh. We have all been called to spiritual freedom. God has given this to us as part of the package that we received at the moment of salvation. "…only {do} not {turn} your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh [sin nature]…" Liberty is not licence. If we follow the flesh then we will be in what the Bible calls carnality, and that produces carnal or temporal death which is the result of following the lusts of the sin nature, according to James chapter one: "when sin is conceived it brings forth death." The opposite is, "…but through love serve one another." What is interesting here is the connection that Paul brings together. In opposition to licentiousness which is self-centredness he brings forth the mandate to love which is not self-centred. The problem here is that most people do not understand love. We think of love in terms of emotion, in terms of romantic ideas, in terms of sentimentality. But that is not how the Bible thinks of love.

We are not to turn "our freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love [we are to] serve one another." One of the interesting things about Scripture is a principle called progressive revelation. What progressive revelation means is that God did not historically dump everything at one time on the first man. God did not gives us a systematic theology. He gave us the Bible written in terms of narrative, stories, people's lives, how God interacted with them, so that as time went by He revealed more and more things about Himself. So that we live in an era of history when John has completed His revelation and He has given us everything. But we don't find everything in the Bible categorised; that is up to us. We go through the Scriptures and classify them according to the subject matter. Each passage that refers to love tells us a little more of the facets to love that may not be in another passage. What we see in this passage is this emphasis on serving one another and that this is a function of love. It is not simply the absence of mental attitude sins—harbouring bitterness, hostility, anger, etc. toward someone else—there is something very positive about loving one another. We all know that there are certain believers that we can't stand. There's nothing wrong with admitting that; it's human nature. There are some personality types that we just don't get along with, that we don't enjoy being around, that we have nothing in common with. There are a lot of believers that we don't have any natural affinity with whatsoever, so that is where we have to kick in impersonal love. But impersonal love doesn't just mean live and let live; it doesn't just mean loving them from afar. Some of these people work at a desk next to us, sit at the other end of a pew from us, at times married to us, are our children, and there are other people from whom we cannot escape because they are closely entwined in our sphere of existence. They are the opportunity that God has given us to advance to spiritual maturity by learning the principle of "through love serve one another." The basis for this is not in the other person. That is our problem. We want to think of love in terms of attraction in the object of love. When we put the emphasis on the attraction, the approbation, the beauty of the object that is what we call personal love, because we have a personal knowledge of the individual, a personal attraction, a personal affinity. But when we don't know that person, when we do not even like that person, then we can't love them because of who and what they are. We have to love them on the basis of our own character, which is not our character but the character of Christ—"Christ formed in you." That is why loving one another as a mandate to the believer is not something that we are going to master as a spiritual infant. This is why this exemplifies spiritual maturity because it demands a tremendous knowledge of God. In fact, it is preceded by personal love for God, which is the motivation. For love to have any significance it has to be based upon integrity and virtue. Love is virtue dependent. We don't have that in us, it is ours only to the degree that Christ's character is formed in us. We are going to be able to love the unlovely, love those we don't like, only because of who God is and what Christ has done for us. The more we become aware and our mental attitude is oriented to the person of God and the work of Christ the more we are going to be able to fulfil this mandate.           

What this mandate is talking about is that God is going to bring certain people and certain opportunities into our periphery or sphere. To some we are going to fulfil this mandate at a higher level than others. We have to use wisdom and discernment in making those choices based upon a priority system. But whether we serve to a greater level or a lesser level the attitude of impersonal or unconditional love remains the same. We do not have unlimited resources to give, to love, to pray for everyone, but we are to have this underlying attitude so that when God gives us the opportunity, depending on the resources that God has given us to meet the need at that point of time, then we are willing to utilise whatever we can with wisdom and discernment based on the doctrine that we have in our souls.    

Galatians 5:14 NASB "For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the {statement,} 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' [15] But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another."