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There are three words beginning with 'L' that I wish to speak on from the passage that we read. The first word is the word 'legalism'. The second is the word 'liberty'. The third is the word 'licence'

Let's read the word of God together this morning. We're reading, as I said, from the letter to the Galatians - Paul's letter to the Galatians in your New Testament - and we're reading from chapter 5 of Paul's letter. Chapter 5 of Galatians - let me say also that if the Youth Fellowship Committee would wait behind after this morning's service, after the Lord's Table, so that I can talk to them for a while.

We're reading in Galatians 5 and verse 1, Paul says and addresses them: "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love. Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be. And I, brethren, if I yet", or if I still, "preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? Then is the offence of the cross ceased. I would they were even cut off which trouble you. For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh".

Now I want you to look very carefully at this passage, because what I say is not of importance unless it is coming from what God has said in this portion of scripture. That is what we always have to be careful of, that what we are saying is not of ourselves but is of God. Galatians chapter 5.

United Parcel Services in America takes pride in the productivity of its delivery, and of the deliverers - the men and women who go about the countryside, the cities, delivering parcels on their behalf. On average a UPS driver deliverers 400 packages every working day. The company gets such a high productivity by micro-managing the details of a deliveryman's routine. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Robert Frank says this, and I quote: 'With a battalion of more than 3000 industrial engineers the company dictates every task for its employees. Drivers must step from their trucks with their right foot forward. They must fold their money face up, and carry packages under their left arm. UPS tells drivers how fast to walk, three feet per second, how many packages to pick up and deliver each day - 400 on average - even how to hold their keys, teeth up with the third finger. Those considered slow are accompanied by supervisors who cajole them and prod them with stopwatches and clipboards to keep them going'.

This approach may work well in this packaging service, and that approach may work well in the delivery business, but I want to say to you this morning right from the outset: such an approach does not work in the spiritual business. When spiritual leaders begin to imitate those industrial engineers, such as these, controlling every movement of their followers - what it leads to is a word beginning with 'L'. It is the word 'legalism'. There are three words beginning with 'L' that I wish to speak on from the passage that we read this morning. The first word is the word 'legalism'. The second is the word 'liberty'. The third is the word 'licence'.

There was a heresy that had infiltrated the church at Galatia

So let's look at the passage that we read together this morning, thinking of the word 'legalism' first of all. If you're familiar with the word of God you will know that the book of Galatians, as was every letter, was written to a specific situation. These Galatians were in a problem, in fact it was bigger than a simple problem: there was a heresy that had infiltrated the church at Galatia. False teachers, people who were claiming to be converted from Judaism to Christianity, had now come from Jerusalem. They had come as missionaries into this church at Galatia after Paul had written to them, and they had come in and were beginning to preach another gospel.

These people did claim to be converted, these people sang - if you like - about the blood of Christ. These people would have probably dotted all your 'i's', and crossed all your 't's'. They believed in faith, they believed in grace, but they believed in a little bit more. You see, their brand of the Gospel, and their belief was that: yes, you believed in the word of God, you believed that Christ died for your sins, you believed that He shed His blood to justify you - they believed that you to come to Him in faith, through grace, but they also believed that you needed to do a little bit more. Yes, do all those things that we believe, but they say: 'Listen, you can't throw out the baby with the bath water, you can't throw out Judaism as a whole. You have to keep it, you have to - Christians in Galatia', these people said, 'you have to keep the law, the ten commandments. You have to keep all the law of Moses, the food law, the dress laws, the purification and cleansing laws, that you find in the first five books of the Old Testament. You have to keep them all. You have to keep the law, you have to be circumcised, men - you have to keep that sign of the covenant with God'.

So Paul is writing into the situation, where these Galatians believers are confused - because Paul told them that all they needed was to have faith in Christ, all they needed was not their works, not their religion - they could leave it all behind and walk into the glorious freedom and liberty that they could find in Jesus Christ. You find that the Galatians didn't just have this problem, but when you look at the Gospels, the first four Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John - you find that this was the primary target and enemy that the Lord Jesus Christ faced. They were personified in the Pharisees, in the Scribes, and in the Sadducees. It was their principles, their philosophy, that Jesus Christ was opposed to - and, in fact, Jesus Christ was a stumbling block to.

These people wanted a pass mark with God. They wanted a line, whether it be 50%, 40%, 60%, 70% - they wanted a line which they could strive to, and then they would know they were OK in the sight of God

You remember on one occasion - and I'll just cite one example - where some of the Pharisees and Sadducees came to Him and spoke of a woman who was married several times. She was actually married at this time, and some of her husbands were deceased. These wise religious men came to the Lord Jesus to trick Him, to trip Him up and say: 'Now look Lord...', the Sadducees didn't believe in the resurrection, they said: 'Look Master, Teacher, whose wife will she be in heaven?'. Another incident, where the Lord Jesus Christ was talking about divorce, the Pharisees came to Him again and asked Him, tried to trip Him up, and asked when it was lawful for a person to divorce their husband or wife. On all of these occasions, as you read the word of God, as you read the Gospels, where the Pharisees and Sadducees come to the Lord Jesus Christ, usually when they question Him there is one motive behind it.

These people, now listen to this, these people wanted a pass mark with God. Have you got that? They wanted a line, whether it be 50%, 40%, 60%, 70% - they wanted a line which they could strive to, so they could put all their energies and get to that line, and then they would know they were OK in the sight of God. That's why they came and said: 'When is it alright to divorce your wife? When she burns your dinner? When she doesn't dress the way you want her to? When she nags at you?' - that's what they actually did! They wanted Jesus to tell them when it was OK to do these things. They wanted to know it first of all so that they could get to heaven, so that they could have salvation, so that they could have their sins forgiven. But secondly, they did it because they wanted to live it up.

Have you got it? They wanted to know how far they could go before it was too far. I wonder could you be here this morning, and perhaps you're not a Christian? Perhaps you are a Christian, but you have a mentality like this, you have a philosophy like this: that there is a certain criteria that you believe God wants you to get up to, or you would long for someone to tell you: 'Look, do this, be this good, and then God will smile upon you, then God will be gracious to you'. Perhaps you're a Christian, perhaps you know that you've been saved by God's grace, but like the people that we were thinking about at the start of our message this morning in that delivery company, you're watching everything you do, you're being careful about every footstep, you're afraid to even move, or to look, or to think, or to talk - because you're afraid that you will fall out of favour with God.

You are living, perhaps, as a Christian with a 'pass mark' mentality. The very opposite was the case with the Lord Jesus Christ. When He answered the Pharisees and Scribes about the issue of divorce, He didn't give them the criteria so that they could sit down and say: 'Well it's alright for you, and he can get away with it, but he can't - there's no loophole for him'. That wasn't why Jesus said what He said, but Jesus said those things to show - as He did in everything - that we must seek first the kingdom of God. We are to give everything to God, we are to give our whole lives - not just part of it, not say we've reached this goal and now we'll go and live our lives the way we want to - we've to give everything to Him!

Are you living as a Christian with a 'pass mark' mentality?

We have with us today, in our churches, in our movements, modern legalism. We have a party spirit, so that if you wear a certain clothing, if you read certain books, if you have certain views on this issue or the other issue, you can be in our gang - but if you fall down on one of those little criteria, well you're not really fully fledged. We have modern legalism. Now don't get me wrong: it is with the crowd that believe themselves to be sound, to be able to dot every 'i' and cross every 't', to have every doctrine, every area of the word of God worked out - it is with those, and it is also with those who are on the more modern way. Because if you are not modern, you are seen as not being forward thinking, not moving on - and those people also can have their own little party spirit, that if you're not like them you can't be a member of their gang either.

That - whether it be with the sound crowd, or whether it be with the modern crowd - is legalism. Charles Swindoll, in his book, calls them 'grace killers'. Grace killers! People who are wanting to kill grace, who are wanting to squash you into not God's mould, or even the world's mould, but their mould - they want you to be like them, because they believe that they are right. Whether it be that party spirit, whether it be denominationalism, it could all be labelled under the label of 'legalism'. I want you to see that that comes from the law. That is the same spirit of the law, it is the same spirit of those who think that by keeping every iota of the law, by following what they were - like the Judaisers in Galatians, being circumcised, keeping the law, being a fully fledged Jew - that in the sight of God, because of doing those things, you could be in more favour with Him, He would be more pleased with you.

You can never be free when you're under the law

I want you to see what the law really was. I heard a story recently, and I'm going to quote it to you again, about a man - and you try to imagine that this man or woman is you, and they're in a prison cell. Try and imagine that this prison cell is the law, it is the law. That's what the law is like, because you can never be free when you're under the law, when you're watching your every move you don't experience freedom, but you're kept like in a prison - you don't feel free. Every day the warden would walk past him and give him his food and so forth.

One day the warden stopped, and knocked on the door of that cell. You come to the door, and the warden says to you: 'Listen, I'm going to make a deal with you. If I come by tomorrow, and I come into your cell and I look about it, and it is clean - pristine, not a speck on it - I'm going to let you out'. So you stay up the whole night, you get the duster out and Mr Sheen and everything, and you scrub everything, and you get carbolic and put it on the floor, and spray scent all around the room. You do the cobwebs and clean the lights, clean your bed, wash the linen - you do everything to make sure that when he comes by you'll get out. Sure enough the next morning he comes by and he knocks on the door, and he starts to inspect - and, lo and behold, underneath the bed in the corner there's a little cobweb. He points it out to you, and you say: 'I don't believe this. I thought I'd went everywhere, I thought I'd done everything. I thought...but that little cobweb, you're not going to keep me in for that little cobweb?'. He said: 'Well, that was the deal, if you had it perfect then I'd let you out'.

So, he says: 'Don't worry, I'll be back again tomorrow - in fact I'll be back every day until you have it right'. The next day, sure enough, after you have stayed up and you've done all the corners under the bed, all the corners above, to get all the cobwebs away - you've done everything you feel you can, and you're absolutely shattered, you're standing like a zombie because you've been up all night. He knocks again at the door, and he comes in, and to your utter amazement as soon as he walks through the door, at his foot there's the wing of a fly. You say: 'The wing of a fly? You can't keep me in for the wing of a fly!'. He says: 'Listen, the deal was this: that if it was perfect you would get out - perfect!'.

Suddenly, over his shoulder, you spy a man on the other side of the prison. He looks strange, you've never seen him before. When the prison warden is gone he wanders over and he comes to your prison door, and he knocks. His name is Jesus. You open the door to Him, and He says to you: 'Do you know what I'm good at?'. You say: 'What?'. 'I'm good at cleaning out cells', He says, 'If you would just let me, for a few moments, come in here and just leave me alone, don't help me - just let me come in and clean this whole place up for you, I guarantee you that you'll get out'. You say: 'This is too good to be true. How can He clean it any better than me?'. But He convinces you to do it, so you leave Him.

The only way you can be set free is for Jesus Christ to come in after you've surrendered everything

As you come back He's standing there, it looks the same to you. He winks at you, and He says: 'Don't say a word now'. The next morning again, sure enough, the warden is coming past and he knocks on the door. You open the door, and he says: 'Well, I'll have a look at it today' - and to your utter amazement, you're expecting again a blank refusal, he says: 'Away you go, away you go!'. You can't believe it, you're dying to tell him what happened, but you can't tell him. 'Away you go'. While you're running with your knapsack on your back to freedom, you look back - and when you look back you see Jesus on one side of the corridor, and to your amazement you see on the other side of the corridor: the prison warden. One winks at the other, and they say to one another: 'That's another one out, let's work on cell number 8'.

Listen: that is what the law and grace mean to one another. Galatians, the book of Galatians says this, that the law is our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. The law is working in cooperation with God, the law, the ten commandments, is simply to show you that no matter how much you beat yourself, no matter how much you agonize yourself over not keeping it, you can't keep it! The only way you can be set free is for Jesus Christ to come in after you've surrendered everything, to show Him you can't do it, and let Him come in, clean your cell, and you'll get out! You'll be out of the prison, you'll be taken from under the law, you'll be free to live, free to skip, run and dance - you'll be free!

So Paul, in Galatians, tells this message - and that's what I want to tell you about - it's liberty, it is freedom. He says: 'Stand fast' in verse 1. It's hard today to find people, even in the Christian church, who do stand fast. I remember hearing a pastor say to me one day that a person who didn't agree with him came up to him, and said: 'Listen, I don't agree with what you stand for, but at least you stand for something'. We have Christians today who don't stand for anything, but Paul is saying here in this passage: 'Whatever you do stand firm in the freedom, the liberty, for Christ has set you free'. He says: 'Be no longer bound and in bondage to a yoke of slavery'. You all know what a yoke is, a yoke is the thing the oxen put on - the farmer puts it on them, and it's heavy, it's a plough and they use it to work. He's saying: 'Don't be under the yoke of the law again, don't be burdened with it, don't be working - but enter into the freedom, the liberty, that Christ has bought for you with His own blood'.

He says in verse 2: 'Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing'. Now what Paul is saying there - he's not a downer on circumcision, sure he was a Jew, and sure God ordered circumcision. What he is saying there is that the notion, the idea that by being circumcised - or in fact by doing any religious ritual, coming to church, or saying your prayers - that by doing these things you have favour with God, he says that's not the way it is. Christ will be nothing to you if you start to run around even believing in the death of Christ, yet you don't believe that that's all that is needed - Christ is useless to you!

Christ will be nothing to you if you start to run around even believing in the death of Christ, yet you don't believe that that's all that is needed - Christ is useless to you!

So he says in verse 3: 'For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law'. Isn't that what we were saying? You needed your cell totally clean, totally clean. As James said in chapter 2 and verse 10 of his little book: 'If you keep the whole law, yet offend in one little speck, you're guilty of it all'. Paul says in Galatians that the curse of the law is the fact that you have to keep every whit of it, every bit of it. Paul says in verse 4: 'Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace'. You see, grace is God doing something for you that you can't do for yourself - but the law is you doing everything. Paul is saying that if you strive after the law and obedience, God cannot help you - because He can only help you when you let Him do everything for you.

In verse 6 he says: 'For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision', and if you substituted that word 'circumcision' for 'works', you could read it, 'good works will not profit you anything, nor not doing good works'. Dos and don'ts - with God that doesn't matter, what matters is that you are open to the grace of God, you're open to Christ coming in and cleaning your cell. 'Ye did run well', that's what he says in verse 7. You can almost hear the downer in his voice: 'You did run well, once you ran well, but now what has happened to you? You believed these religious liars'. In verse 8 he says: 'This persuasion', this doctrine, this teaching, 'does not come from God, the one who calls you'. Do you know why? Because legalism - listen - legalism contradicts the grace of God.

You see, the Gospel is this: God doesn't want men who think they can do things themselves. God wants men and women who know that they can do nothing. 'A little leaven', he says in verse 9, 'leaveneth the whole lump'. If it gets in, like pride, thinking that you can do it, you can do anything - even in your Christian life, if you think because of your conduct or your walk, or because of your specific secondary views on doctrines, that you are something better than the rest - think again! What does leaven do in a lump of bread? It puffs it up. You could be puffed up this morning, because you think you're a cut above the rest, because of something you believe - yet, in reality, as God looks at you all He sees is not your specific views, all He sees is the righteousness of His Son. That's all that commends you to God.

The reality of it is this: that the only thing that brought you near to God was your sinfulness, not your righteousness. Paul says in verse 11: 'And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution?'. These false teachers were probably saying to the people in Galatia that Paul even teaches this, but Paul is saying: 'Look, if I taught that you could be saved through believing in Christ and working for your salvation, if I taught that - why are the same people persecuting you and me for preaching it?'. We can take a sign from that, that if we faithfully preach the word of God and faithfully preach the gospel of God, we will be persecuted.

Are you here Christian, and you are still trying and striving to please God, when you don't realise that you can be living in the freedom, the liberty, the deliverance, the emancipation of knowing that Christ has done all for you!

'I would they were even cut off which trouble you'. Another translation says: 'I wish they would even go away and emasculate themselves' - that's terrible language, isn't it? He's saying these people, these men think that by being circumcised and obeying the law they are better with God - if they are so fervent in zeal of their religious devotion, why don't they go the whole way? Some of them did. Can I ask you, and we're rapidly running out of time, can I ask you this morning - listen, Christian, non-Christian: there are two religions in this world, two religions - and whether you're saved or unsaved you could be living still in a reality of one of those - there is the religion of works, and there is the religion of grace. You could be with Isaac today, who was Isaac? He was the son, Abraham's son of promise. He received everything from God, why? Because he opened his arms to God's promise. Or you could be the son of Ishmael - who was Ishmael? God promised Abraham that God would give Abraham a son, Abraham was nearly 100, and he says: 'God must have got it wrong somewhere'. Sarah, Abraham's wife, says: 'We've got to do something, we've got to do this ourselves - God's not going to do it for us'. So she went and got Hagar, a handmaid, and told Abraham to go and sleep with her. They had a child, and it was by the work of man.

Are you here Christian, and you are still - even though you're saved - trying and striving to please God, when you don't realise that you can be living in the freedom, the liberty, the deliverance, the emancipation of knowing that Christ has done all for you! All you have to do is walk into that freedom! Let me say in closing that it is not licence. Paul says does it mean, because of grace, that sin can abound and we can do whatever we want, and we can live in sin? Well, Paul says, no, that's not the case. It's not an excuse for the flesh, he says, in verse 13: 'For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh'. You see, we have freedom from sin not freedom to sin.

Liberty is for us who were afar from God to approach God, not for us to wallow in our sin. Now let me stamp down a lie that is in our society, and our young people listen to it, and our young people - even me at times - start to believe it. It's this: freedom is doing what you want. If we did what we wanted in society that would be anarchy, that is not freedom. Because people around us vent their emotions, passions, and lusts around, it doesn't show freedom - but what it does show is that they are out of control. They are controlled by these things. They are slaves to sin, but being free in Christ is to be able to refuse sin, and to be able to serve God.

Liberty, secondly, is not licence to exploit our neighbour. He says that, it's all summed up in this little verse: 'Love one another'. He says: 'Once you, in your sin, were self-centred - you only pleased yourself, and you only helped other people if it helped you' - isn't that true? Maybe you're a believer and you're still like that, but now we've been freed! We've being freed not to harm other people and get away with it, the freedom of Christ is to be free to help other people when we couldn't do it before.

How should Christians relate to the law?

Thirdly Paul says that liberty is not licence to ignore the law: 'But we now', listen, 'we now in Christ can fulfil the law in love'. How should Christians relate to the law? Do you just forget about it seeing as we're not under it? No, but what it means is this: we're not bound to try and strive after it - why? Because the Spirit of Christ, and Christ is the fulfilment of law and the prophets, that Spirit is living through us - and we are free from it, but we are not free to disobey it, we are now free to obey it, to fulfil it in Christ.

If you've never read, and I close with this, the book: 'The Grace Awakening' by Charles Swindoll, I would encourage you to read it. He, in that book, describes and recalls the sense of freedom that he had as a teenager when he first received his driver's licence. You can remember - maybe it's too long ago to remember - how you felt when you got the freedom of having a drivers licence. Because he got it, because he achieved that goal, his father rewarded him - and he writes in his book, I'll read it word for word: 'Tell you what, son', his father said, 'You can have the car for two hours all on your own'. Swindoll says that those four words, only four words, were so wonderful: 'all on your own'. He says: 'I thanked him'. He says: 'My pulse rate must have shot up to 180 as I backed out of the driveway and roared off. While cruising along all on my own', he says, 'I began to thing wild stuff like: this car can probably do 100 miles an hour, I could go to Galveston and back twice in two hours if I averaged 100 miles an hour, I could fly down the Gulf Freeway and even run a few lights - after all no-one is here to say 'Don't'. We're talking dangerous, crazy thoughts', he says. 'But, do you know what? I didn't do any of them. I don't believe I drove above the speed limit', he says, 'in fact a distinctly remember turning into the driveway early. I had my Dad's car all to myself with a full tank of gas in a context of total privacy and freedom, but I didn't go crazy - why? Why?', he says. Listen: 'My relationship with my dad and my granddad was so strong, that I couldn't. Even though I had a licence, and nobody was in the car to restrain me, over a period of time there had developed a sense of trust, a deep love relationship, that held me in restraint. In the same way, our love for Christ keeps us from abusing the freedom that He gives us'.

I remember hearing a preacher say this: 'What is the law? Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal - you know them all, the ten commandments. What happens when we become a Christian? Are those all thrown out? No, but the emphasis is changed, and it goes like this: 'You shall not commit adultery. Now, because of your freedom, you shall not kill, you shall not steal'. If we walk in the Spirit, we shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.

Transcribed by:
Preach The Word.
June 2001

This sermon was delivered at Portadown Baptist Church in Portadown, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape, titled "The Road To Freedom" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.

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