The Countercultural Disciple: Truly Free
Pastor Russell Scoggins
Sermon Date: 7/21/2019
Bible Reference: Galatians 5:1,13-25
5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
Last week we had “Our Ministries Sunday.” We spoke about some of the wonderful things God has done in our midst over the course of the past year, we spoke openly and boldly about the monumental challenges we face, and then finally we spoke about where our hope is found in the midst of our challenges. As we discussed the challenges we are facing, one of the things we spoke about briefly is the fact that we have a lot of cultural headwinds that we are facing right now. For decades, the Christian church lived comfortably—they had a minimal amount of cultural headwinds. But in today’s world, it seems we are drowning in them. And as we look at God’s church in America, it would seem that we are struggling to navigate these headwinds. So, we’re going to start a 7 week sermon series that serves as a good follow-up to “Our Ministries Sunday.” We’re going to discuss some of the cultural headwinds we are facing, and we’re going to talk about how to live as disciples of Christ—in spite of the headwinds we are facing. Our sermon series is: The Countercultural Disciple. We are people who follow Jesus and live differently that our culture does. That’s what we’re getting at with “countercultural”—we live differently than our culture does. Today, we talk about what it means to be free as a disciple of Christ. [Service introduction]
As we talk about the cultural headwinds that we face… I think that one of those cultural headwinds is wrapped up in the very message and identity of our nation. You’re free to disagree with me on this point, but I think that there is a very damaging false gospel that our American culture preaches. Here it is: America can offer you true freedom. The illusion of being able to achieve true freedom here on earth is one of humankind's greatest deceptions. Don’t get me wrong, in some ways, we experience a lot of unique freedoms that citizens of other countries do not… but without realizing it, we are enslaved in other ways that are just as devastating—maybe even more devastating. As humans, we are never truly free. When we have freedom on one front, we end up experiencing slavery on another. Let me tell you a story to show you what I mean.
There was an American businessman on vacation in South America. One day, as he is walking along the beach, he sees a fisherman relaxing next to his boat under a palm tree. He’s sitting there playing guitar and enjoying a glass of wine. The businessman walks up to him. When he gets close, he sees there are several large fish in this man’s boat. The businessman asks the local, “How long did it take you to catch those fish?” “Not very long at all,” replies the fisherman. “Well, why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” Asks the businessman. “Why would I do that?” The fisherman asks. “Well if you caught more fish, you could sell them and make money.” “Why would I do that?” Asks the fisherman. “If you made more money, you could buy a bigger boat and better fishing equipment, then you could catch more fish and make more money.” “Why would I do that?” Asks the fisherman. “With more money, you could hire people to work under you, they could catch even more fish, and you could make even more money.” “Why would I do that?” Asks the fisherman. The business man replies, “Well, once you’ve made enough money, you can retire, sit on the beach, sip wine, play guitar, and enjoy the rest of your days…..”
The illusion of being able to achieve true freedom here on earth is one of humankind's greatest deceptions. We enjoy some unique freedoms here in America, but we’re not truly free, rather, we are enslaved by other things. That little story shined a light on something that many Americans are enslaved to: what was it? Materialism. The pursuit of wealth. We could come up with a whole list of things that we are enslaved to as Americans. But we’re not going to focus on that list today, rather, we’re going to ask how we can flip the situation on it’s head for our advantage as God’s people. I think our culture is starting to realize that although it is free in one sense, it is enslaved in many other ways. As Christians, we have something truly unique to offer to a culture that is enslaved by materialism, busy schedules and shallow relationships: we have the true freedom that is found in God’s Word. We have the true freedom that is offered in Christ.
Outside of Christ, true freedom does not exist. That is a countercultural message. It’s the message that our verses speak about. Your government cannot offer you true freedom. Your bank account can't offer you true freedom. Your right to free speech can't offer you true freedom. Whatever group you belong to can’t offer your true freedom. Only Christ can. And because you are in Christ, you have and you experience true freedom. As Christians, that is something that we confess, but it’s something we struggle to truly grasp.
Let’s go back through some of our verses. “5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Right from the start, Paul is making his intentions clear. He’s looking to protect his brothers and sisters in Christ. He’s looking to protect us. As Christians, we have true freedom in Christ, but there is always a danger that exists. It we are not careful, we can slip back into a state of being enslaved by the things of our culture. That’s why Paul says, “Stand firm. Don’t let yourself be burdened again by slipping back into spiritual slavery.”
So what’s he talking about? “13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” We look at the things that our culture is enslaved by, and all of them come back to this point Paul brings up right here: indulging the flesh. Indulging the flesh is the opposite of freedom. Looking out for number 1 is the opposite of freedom. Building my own dream and my own kingdom here in this life without giving thought to others is the opposite of freedom. Convincing ourselves that we are king of our schedule and our life is the opposite of freedom.
It’s not just our culture that slips into this way of living—we also slip into it as Christians. But Paul tells us how to reverse the trend. What is the remedy for this way of living? “Serve one another humbly in love… Love your neighbor as yourself.” We’re going to circle back to this point in closing, but let’s finish up the verses first.
Paul goes on to come up with a pretty comprehensive list of behaviors that come from being enslaved to ourselves, enslaved to our flesh, enslaved to sin. Let me tell you what, that list, it’s intended to be humbling. If we are not humbled when we read that list of englaving sins, we need to check our pride. The temptation is to read that list and let the big words jump out at us: witchcraft, debauchery, orgies. The temptation is to look at some of the words like that and immediately say, “Oh WOW! This list doesn't apply to me… this list is for SINNERS.” Uh-huh… No, no, no. This list should hit us all. Paul places those sins we mentally categorize as BIG sins as being just as devastating and enslaving as the sins we mentally categorize as LITTLE sins: Anger, jealousy, selfish ambition, being a divisive and stubborn person, and envy. Paul places all the sin on the same playing field. All of it has the power to enslave us. All of it robs us of our true freedom. All of it causes us to turn our focus inward and think about ourselves before we think about our neighbor.
But then Paul gives us another list—often called the fruits of the Spirit. That previous list, that list of enslaving sins, that was who we were formerly. That list was our primary identity… But in Christ, our primary identity has changed. Will we, at times, struggle with slipping back into the slavery of some of those sins Paul mentioned? Yes. That’s life as a sinner/saint. However, they are not our primary identity. In Christ, our primary identity has shifted. In Christ and by his power, these are the words that now define us: “love, joy, peace, forbearance (patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” That is who we are in Christ. That is who we are because of the Spirit who lives in us. Life according to THAT list of qualities is true freedom. It’s freedom from sin and selfishness and it’s the ONLY true freedom that exists. Christ’s death and resurrection paid for your sin and set you free from the slavery of sin and selfishness.
Now, our closing question, how do we—countercultural disciples of Jesus—use this conversation to better reach our culture? It’s found in those verses I told you we’d circle back to. “13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Let me get to the heart of this like this…. Call out the answer to this question: What is the most effective form of evangelism? That’s correct, friendship evangelism. If that is the most effective form of evangelism, then what should we be doing as Christians? Some of our primary goals should be: making new friends, building new bridges, and strengthening new relationships…. Our enslaved culture is hungry for authentic face-to-face relationships. Let’s form them with the goal of leading people to Christ.
Admittedly, as I examine my own life, and the lives of American Christians in general we are losing the ability to do this very thing—make new relationships and bring people into the family of Christ. We’re losing the ability to do it. Why? Because we’re allowing ourselves to be enslaved by the very things that enslave our culture—busy schedules, increasing our bank accounts, our to-do lists... and so on and so forth… It’s a vicious cycle.
Here’s our parting encouragement: let Christ help you break the cycle. Fight for the true freedom you have in him. Control your schedule, don’t let it control you. Control your money, don’t let it control you. Intentionalize loving your neighbor as yourself. Intentionalize the forming and strengthening of relationships. Internationalize your humble service to others. Is it a difficult thing to do considering the enslaving pressures our culture places on us? Yes. It’s difficult. But it is far from impossible. In fact, I dare say that, with a little practice and with Christ as your guide, breaking the cycle is not nearly as difficult as we think. Christ realigns our priorities. Let him help you live as the countercultural disciple you are—one who is truly free in him; one who seeks to bring the freedom Christ offers to others. Amen? Amen.