What started out as a small group of disciples, exploded to over 3,000 people after Peter preached what must have been the best revival sermon ever and the Spirit of God was poured out over them.
In the aftermath of the Spirit’s arrival, and as the message of the gospel spread throughout Jerusalem, Judea, and the entire world, just as Jesus said it would . . . those new believers must have been asking themselves the question . . . what now?
They didn’t have buildings, and they didn’t have sacred places . . . but what they had was one another.
With the coming of God’s Spirit, no longer was God contained in a building, or a single location. God’s Spirit took his dwelling within his people. This was the church. You are the church.
This is why the words, “one another” are used 59 times in the New Testament; “Love one another.” “Forgive one another.” “Regard one another as more important than yourselves.” And the list goes on.
You see, those early church leaders understood that the church is not defined by a building, it’s defined by how you live as “one another’s” for the sake of Christ.
So, what we’re doing this summer is exploring what it means to be the church and how to live and do life with “One another”. First week, we looked at Jesus’ prayer that we might be unified; we would be one as the Father and the Son are one. The second week, we looked at the granddaddy of them all.
It is the one repeated more than any other; nine times, echoed by three different authors in four different books we are called to love one another. It is the one principle on which all the other “one another” principles depend.
You see, Love is the proof of our faith. It is the evidence of what we believe.
With this in mind, let’s listen to our text this morning . . . Galatians 5:13-26
If you remember, Paul had planted this church in Galatia based on the gospel of grace; that you can be in relationship with God through faith in Jesus and what he has done.
The equation is Jesus plus nothing equals acceptance with God.
After he left the region of Galatia, these religious dudes came in and they said, “It’s great that you believe in Jesus – that’s a really good starting point – but if you want to be accepted by God then you also have to follow the Mosaic Law and the sign that you are following the law is circumcision.”
Well of course the Galatians want to be accepted by God, so they start getting circumcised.
And before you know it, they begin following all of these rules and regulations and rituals. And in the process, they become increasingly judgmental and narrow and divisive.
And they begin to lose the joy and love they had for Jesus and for each other. And they become bound and enslaved to religion and ritualism.
And when Paul gets wind of this, he takes a passionate stance saying . . . “No, no, no . . . You are saved by grace through faith in Jesus and there’s nothing else you need to do.”
And I can imagine that there were a group of guys who just finished getting circumcised saying to their buddies, “I told you we didn’t have to do that.”
Now in telling these guys that they are set free, Paul realizes that there will be some that are going to say, “Well, since we’ve been set free, that means that we have the freedom to do whatever we want . . . I mean, If God is the great forgiver . . . And I’m a great sinner . . . that’s a really great combination. I’ll do what I do best and then God can do what he does best.”
So, in case there’s any confusion, Paul makes it clear that you’re not free to do whatever you want. He says, “For you were called to freedom . . . Only do not use your freedom as opportunities for the flesh”
Don’t use your freedom from the law as an excuse to indulge your sinful nature. Then he gives us a list of vices: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, sorcery, drunkenness, and orgies.
A lot of people feel pretty good about themselves at this point. They’re not guilty of these.
But then Paul starts listing sins that don’t look as bad, sins that we tolerate: anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions. Most churches won’t put up with orgies, but they’ll put up with anger and division. Paul puts them on the same list.
Then he says, “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Whoa . . . Wait a minute! Didn’t Paul just finish saying “Jesus + nothing = acceptance with God?” So, why is he saying, “BUT if you do these things . . . you’re out.”
Because good works aren’t the basis of our acceptance with God, but they are a result of it.
If Jesus is truly in our lives, then he will transform us so that this list doesn’t characterize our lives. God accepts us the way we are, but he doesn’t leave us there.
You see, true freedom doesn’t mean that we live however we’d like. This isn’t true freedom at all.
If you use your freedom from the law as an opportunity to sin, you’ve just entered a different kind of slavery. You’re no longer a slave to the law; you’re now a slave to sin.
So Paul shows us two ways to relate to God . . .
One is the religious way: to live according to rules and the law but its dangerous, because it looks like you’re good, but you’re not . . . The other is to trust in God’s grace and then do whatever you’d like.
But neither of these leads to true freedom but instead forms of slavery.
So, what is true freedom? . . . Paul says, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
True freedom expresses itself in love and service toward one another.
Interestingly, our English translations tone down Paul's words to make them easier for us to swallow. A literal translation would read, "So use your freedom by making yourselves slaves to one another in love. Now there's a word that rubs us the wrong way.
But Paul isn't calling for oppression. This isn't permission for us subjugate one another to our will. Paul is calling for servanthood, not servitude. It is the difference between have to and want to.
Servanthood grows from within, where the Spirit of God resides. It blossoms from God’s desire, for us to love God and love one another. We make our self the servant of another, because we love them as God loves them. We desire to serve them.
Paul says that love is the fulfillment of the whole law. In a sense, every command is basically a version of this . . . Want to love your neighbor? Don’t kill him! Don’t steal from him! Don’t lie to him! Don’t seduce his wife!
But you can keep all the commands and still not really love your neighbor from the heart. That’s why the law isn’t enough. That’s why we need the gospel; the gospel gives us a new heart so that the change comes from the inside-out.
It’s really about a renovation of the heart that comes through the Spirit.
And the marks or fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
And it’s important that we notice that that it’s NOT called the fruit of the disciple. It’s the fruit of the Spirit. This is what the Spirit produces in our life as we yield to him.
It just kind of bubbles up from within our heart . . . and this is something you can capture with a fruit of the spirit assessment test, it’s just something that happens when a need arises and you respond to that need and then you walk away thinking, I didn’t know I could do that. And you’re right because it was the Spirit working through you.
True freedom is experiencing the Spirit’s power as we are transformed from the inside out and it expresses itself in loving and serving One Another
When I think about what it means to be a servant, I can’t help but think of Jesus as he gathered around the table with his disciples for one last meal.
After telling his disciples that the way to become great was by serving, he said that he did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Later, he would demonstrate this in a very vivid way.
Then Jesus, got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
To truly appreciate this, we need to step back in time. This was a time when most roads were not paved. They were simply dusty, muddy paths. If you travelled, you went on foot. So, when you arrived somewhere, your feet, and ankles, and calves were caked in dirt and mud.
Because of this, it was common when hosting others, to have a servant at the door to wash the guest's feet as they arrived. If no servant was available, the earliest arriving guest would take it upon himself to wash the feet of others.
Not only was this needed after a long walk, but it served a very practical purpose at meal time. 1st Century Jews did not sit in chairs at a table. Their tables were low to the ground, and they would recline on pillows, they would lie down around the table.
Now picture this in your mind; thirteen sweaty, filthy dudes reclining around this table. One guy's head is right next to the next guy's feet.
As they arrive for the Passover meal, not one disciple takes it upon himself to wash the feet. Instead, they recline to eat, feet unwashed.
We know from Luke's Gospel that an argument broke out at the table about which of them were the greatest. They argue about honor with dirty feet.
I can only imagine what went through their minds as Jesus arose from the table, removes his robe, takes the servant's towel and basin of water, and one by one begins to wash their feet.
Afterwards, Jesus tells them, "Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that l, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
Paul says, in love serve one another . . . You don't have to have great theological knowledge. You don't have to be able to teach Sunday School classes. It doesn't have to cost any money. Just love expressed through service towards one another.
And when you serve, you open your life to God’s Spirit, allowing God’s Spirit to transform not just you, but the community he has called you to be a part of . . . the church.
God has enabled and equipped every one of you to serve within the body. When you serve, God, through his Spirit, works his power, his gift, through you. In humble service you become a conduit of God’s love.
And when you don’t serve, you neglect the body of Christ as that task God has given to you is placed on the shoulders of someone else whom God did not call to do.
So, what do we do with all of this?
Keep the gospel central. Remember: Paul’s point is that we truly change as we encounter the gospel.
It begins with the Cross. It begins when we hear the message of what Christ accomplished on the cross. It continues the same way; through faith and the power of the Holy Spirit.
And where there is the truth of the gospel and the presence of the Holy Spirit, there is freedom; there is life, there is joy that spills over into our lives.
The Christian life should be marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. And expressed through service to one another.
And as we gather for worship we celebrate what God has done and we bring our sins in confession and repentance saying, “Here are the things that I’ve done and failed to do. Here is who I am and have failed to be. Please forgive me.”
This is how we come into relationship with God. This is how we maintain relationship with God.
So, stand firm in the freedom that is yours in Christ. That is the basis of our justification, but it is also the foundation of your growth in holiness. Dwell there. Keep returning to what Christ has done. Make that the major theme of your life.