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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:To be a Christian is to be free
Text:Galatians 4:8-5:1 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Grace
 
Preached:2014-05-18
Added:2014-06-10
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Bible translation:  NKJV

Book of Praise:  2010 APV

 

Psalm 81:1,2,9

Hymn 11:1,2,9

Psalm 34:1,2,7

Hymn 18:1,2,3

Psalm 18:6

Read: Genesis 16; Galatians 4:8 – 5:1

Text:  Galatians 4:8 – 5:1

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

One of the most well-loved hymns of the Christian faith is “Amazing Grace”. 

“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound

that saved a wretch like me!

The man who wrote this hymn was John Newton, some time between the years 1760 and 1770.  “Amazing Grace” was a personal song for Newton, for he was the wretch who once was lost but then was found, who was saved by God’s amazing grace.

John Newton was born in London in 1725 and when he was 11 years of age he went to sea with his father, the commander of a merchant ship.  Later he went off on his own, went through many troubles and eventually ended up being a slave trader.  In 1748 Newton turned to the Lord and from there began to live out of the grace that is ours in Christ Jesus.  He remained, however, a slave trader for some time after his conversion but as he grew in faith he also grew in his conviction that the freedom that was his in Christ was incompatible with the slavery that he was imposing on others.  Then finally in 1788, 34 years after he himself had ceased his involvement with the slave trade, John Newton joined William Wilberforce to work towards abolishing slavery forever. 

John Newton went on to become an ordained minister of the Word, but he never forgot the grace that was his in Jesus Christ.  And to remind himself of God’s grace to remember to both preach this and live out of it, Newton had the following Bible text in a prominent place in his study, Deuteronomy 15:15.

“You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you.”

You shall remember that you were a slave!  This text, Deuteronomy 15:15 was given to God’s people in the context of how they were not only to free a Hebrew slave after 6 years, but also to supply him liberally with all that the LORD had blessed them with.  For, God said, since you have been freed, not only are you to live in that freedom but also call others to enjoy that freedom with you.

Newton, who himself had been treated as a slave before becoming a slave trader understood this:  he knew what it was to be both slave and free.  And he knew what it meant to be free in Christ.  And that’s why this text from Deuteronomy was so dear to him:  “You shall remember that you were a slave . . . and the LORD your God redeemed you.”

And indeed we too must remember both of these things:   you were a slave, but now you are free.  And since it was for freedom that Christ has set us free, let us beware that we do not go back to a yoke of bondage, a life of slavery.

I preach to you this morning about the freedom that is ours in Christ under the following theme:

To be a Christian is to be free.

  1. The threats to freedom.
  2. The life of freedom.

1. The threats to freedom.

You would think that someone who had been a slave but is now free would do everything he could to avoid becoming a slave again.  But it does not always seem to work that way.  And it most certainly does not always work that way when it comes to the freedom that is ours in Christ.  Every time we hear God’s 10 commandments in churches we first hear the words,

“I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage”

and we need to hear these words every week again to be reminded that we are free!  Some people still seem to think that to be a Christian is some sort of slavery.  Some people seem to think or act that to be a Christian is lose your freedom rather than gain it.  But that is not true:  to belong to Christ is to be free!  Without Christ we are slaves, slaves to sin and Satan.  But in Christ we have become God’s sons!  And as His sons we are His heirs.  We have full rights and complete freedom in the Father’s house.  And yet it can happen so quickly that we lose sight of who we are in Christ and that we end up living not as sons but as slaves.

This is what had happened to many in the Galatian churches.  In Galatians 4 the apostle Paul reminded them how they had heard the gospel in the first place.  It appears that Paul had not originally planned to visit them, but he ended up spending time with them due to some kind of illness.  Galatians 4:13 says,

“You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first.”

What this physical infirmity was is not clear; verse 15 seems to suggest that he had some sort of an eye disease for the Galatian Christians would gladly have plucked out their eyes and given them to Paul.  I think that this is likely, also because in Galatians 6:11 he wrote,

“See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand!”

which may also imply that his eyesight had been damaged.  But others think that this was just a figure of speech and that his illness was likely to be something like malaria.  The point however, is that even though Paul preached the gospel to them on account of some sort of physical infirmity and even though verse 14 says that this trial was in his flesh, that is, he was a sick man, the Galatians did not despise or reject him but rather, verse 14,

“. . . you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.”

The Galatians loved the apostle Paul as they loved Christ because they received him as a messenger of Christ.

But how things had changed!  After Paul  had once more departed, other men came from Jerusalem, Judaizers, who taught that to be accepted by God by believing in Jesus Christ and being free in Him was not enough: they had to become Jews and bend themselves under the yoke of the law so that in this way they might be saved.  And so while the Galatian Christians had started so well, they soon began to turn away from the grace of God in Christ, and turning to a different gospel – which was no gospel at all.  And so their relationship with the apostle Paul had become strained to the point that Paul asked them in verse 16,

“Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?”

And verse 19,20 –

“My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you, I would like to be present with you now and to change my tone; for I have doubts about you.”

It can happen so quickly that our freedom in Christ is exchanged for a life of bondage.  The threats to our freedom are such that we can be in danger of being enslaved when while we insist that we are free!  That was what was happening to the Galatian Christians.  In Galatians 4:8,9 Paul reminded them of the time “when you did not know God, [when] you served those which by nature are not gods.”  That was before they were converted, when they were worshiping idols.  But now, Paul writes, they were in danger of

“turning again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage” (verse 9.)

They were in danger of going right back to where they had started – not by turning back to their old idols but by trying to earn their own salvation by obedience to the Old Testament law.  In other words, biblical legalism, that is trying to either become accepted by God or to remain accepted through keeping the law is in effect no different to rejecting God’s law all together and serving idols!  For in both cases you are trying to save yourself and in both cases you are no longer free but a slave.

  Now you need to understand what this is not saying.  This is not saying that obedience to God’s law, specifically His moral law, the 10 commandments, does not matter.  Sometimes you may have it for example that when you confront a person asking where they were last Sunday, why they were not in church in the morning or perhaps the afternoon, that you will be accused of being a legalist.  But that’s not legalism!  If you don’t come to church, if you willfully and deliberately stay away from the church community in which God has placed you, to put it plain and simple that’s just sin.  It is not legalism to insist on the importance of the law of God – all 10 of God’s commandments.  In fact, Galatians 5:19-21 says, those who live a sinful life and practice the works of the flesh “will not inherit the kingdom of God.”  You see, if you are saved in Christ, then you will also live in Him, and if you live in Him then, as a son of the Kingdom, you will eager to do what the Father wants.  But legalism is when you do these things, when you try to obey the law and “check off all the boxes” so that somehow by doing this you will be accepted by God and perhaps also by others.  Legalism is, to use the words of Galatians 2:16, an attempt to be justified not by faith but by works of the law.  And legalism says that only those who are good and upright in and of themselves, or only strong Christians coming from good families can be sure of being accepted by God.  And that’s why legalism is a threat to the freedom that we have in Christ.  Legalism is bondage, it is becoming a slave all over again.

And then the apostle Paul goes on in Galatians 4, using what for the Galatians would have been a shocking illustration to drive his point home.  He writes to them about Hagar and Sarah, Ishmael and Isaac.  Galatians 4:21-26,

21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. 23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, 24 which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar—25 for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children—26 but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.

“You say you are a son of Abraham”, Paul writes to the Galatians.  “But which son are you?  Abraham had two sons, remember, so which son are you from:  Isaac or Ishmael?”  To understand the point that Paul makes here, we need to go back to the book of Genesis.

  In Genesis 12 the Lord had promised Abraham that He would make him a great nation, that He would make Abraham’s name great, that all the families of the earth would be blessed through him.  And in Genesis 12:7 as well as in chapter 15:5 the LORD had promised Abraham that he would have many descendants and they would receive the land of Canaan.  But Genesis 11:30 had said,

“But Sarai [Abraham’s wife] was barren; she had no child.”

So how was Abraham then to have any descendants?  Abraham was 75 years old when the LORD called him and gave him the promise of children, and Sarah 10 years younger.  But despite their advanced age, Abraham and Sarah waited another ten years before Sarah gave up hope of having a child herself.  And then Sarah decided to follow the customs of the land and give her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar, to Abraham so that Sarah might have a child through her.  Genesis 16:2,

“So Sarai said to Abram, “See now, the LORD has restrained me from bearing children.  Please go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.”

And so Hagar has a child and Abraham calls him Ishmael.  But now notice what the Bible emphasizes in Genesis 16.  Sarai gives Abram her maid, Hagar with the idea that if a child was to be conceived the child would belong to Sarai.  But when Hagar becomes pregnant, she despised her mistress, acting as if she was Abram’s wife.  Sarai complains to Abram, who reminds Sarai in verse 6 that Hagar was still Sarai’s maid; she could treat her how she pleased.  Hagar is subsequently mistreated and she runs away.  But then when the angel of the LORD speaks to her, he reminds Hagar who she is.  Genesis 16:8,9

“Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?”  She said, “I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai.”  The angel of the LORD said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.”

Hagar does so, she gives birth to a son – but the son remains Hagar’s not Sarai’s.  Genesis 16:15,16

“So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael.  Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.”

But the Lord remained true to His promise and so in both Genesis 17 and 18 He promised that Sarah would have a son.  Abraham laughed about that in Genesis 17:17 as by then he’d given up hope, and he said,

“Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old?  And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”  And Abraham said to God, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before you!” (Genesis 17:17,18.)

But the LORD had said that the promise would come through Sarah, not Hagar.  And so turn with me to Genesis 21:1-3 to see how the Bible emphasizes that Isaac was born to Sarah.

And the Lord visited Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had spoken. For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. And Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him—whom Sarah bore to him—Isaac.

Notice how Sarah’s name is repeated four times here.  Sarah, the one of whom Genesis 18:11 said was well advanced in age and had passed the age of childbearing, was the mother of Isaac.  And so of Abraham’s two children, on the one side there was Hagar, a slave-woman who gave birth to Ishmael, the son of a slave woman, born the normal way, born “according to the flesh.”  And on the other side was Sarah, a free woman, who gave birth to Isaac, who was born through God’s promise.

And then Galatians 4 takes these facts and applies them in a very interesting way.  Hagar, Paul writes, is symbolic of Mt Sinai and the law that God gave there.  And that then corresponds to Jerusalem – to the place where the Judaizers had come from!  Whereas on the other side, Sarah corresponds to the covenant of promise (based on faith) – and that then corresponds to the Jerusalem that is above, that is, the New Testament Church – and true Christians who live out of the grace of God are then the children of the Jerusalem that is above, for they are free! 

So then, Galatians 4 asks us, “While Abraham might be your father, who is your mother?”  These Judaizers, Paul was effectively saying, these Judaizers who are so bent on insisting that they have Abraham as their father show by their life and theology that they have Hagar as their mother!  Whereas those who rest in the gospel of grace and the freedom that is ours in Jesus Christ are the true Israel, for we have Sarah as our mother!  And it is those who have Sarah as their mother who are children of the promise, heirs of the Kingdom, sons of God.

And so Galatians 4 begs the question:  to which mother do you belong?  To be a true child of Abraham, to be a true son of God is the greatest blessing we could ever receive.  But it is not enough to claim Abraham as your father.  For who is your mother?  Do you believe the gospel of God’s grace, that you are saved in Christ alone through faith alone?  Do you know what it means to be free in Christ and what it means to live out of that freedom?  Let us beware of the things that threaten the freedom that is ours in Christ Jesus.  Let us remember that we are not slaves but sons!  And let us then live as sons.

2. The life of freedom.

There is, I fear, a legalist hiding in the heart of each one of us.  There is the tendency to see the Christian faith as little more than a code of conduct, a way to live our lives.  There is the danger that we evaluate ourselves on the basis of what we do for God, rather than what God has done for us in Christ.  But when we think that being a Christian is all about what you do, then you become a slave like Ishmael.  Then your mother is Hagar and not Sarah.

It was Sarah who bore Isaac, the child of Promise, not Hagar.  This was not, however, because Sarah was more worthy than Hagar.  It was, after all, Sarah’s idea that Abraham have a child through Hagar.  Sarah mistreated Hagar, and when Sarah overheard in Genesis 18 that she would have a son, she laughed in unbelief – and then lied about it.  But the Lord showed His grace to barren Sarah and He upheld His promise to Abraham and Sarah had a son.  And that made Sarah laugh again – but this time is was not the laughter of unbelief but of joy in the goodness and the grace of God.  Genesis 21:6-7,

And Sarah said, “God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me.” She also said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? For I have borne him a son in his old age.”

Sarah – and Abraham – had tried to find their own way to bring about God’s promise, but their own way (through Hagar) only led to trouble and disappointment.  But God showed them the joy that comes with receiving all things from Him. 

            Years later God showed His grace again to what was, in a different sense, a barren people.  In Isaiah 54:1, Isaiah wrote for the people of God in Exile, a people who thought that they had come to the end, who thought that they would never return home again, that the nation of Israel was finished, that God’s promises had failed.  But then God said, “Not so!  I will bring My people back, I will fulfill My promises, and I will send my Son so that through Him I will have a people for Myself.”  And it is in this context that Isaiah 54:1 is quoted in Galatians 4:27 as saying,

 “Rejoice, O barren,

You who do not bear!

Break forth and shout,

You who are not in labor!

For the desolate has many more children

Than she who has a husband.”

The LORD gives new life to those who trust in Him, who live by faith in the promises of God!  And God’s blessings, His promises, are for those who know they can not do it, who know that they need God’s grace, who know that they need a Saviour.

But when we come to God the Father with empty hands, simply looking to Jesus Christ, acknowledging our total dependence on him for all things, then the Father also fills us with all things so that we, with Sarah, might laugh with joy on account of the grace of God and His gifts to us.

And then we should no longer be tossed to and fro with doubt.  Then we should no longer be led astray by those who would say or teach or even imply that Christ is not enough.  For then not only, as it says in Galatians 4:9, would we know God, but it would also be assured that we are known by Him.  And since He knows us, that is, since He declares us to be children of the free woman, children of the promise, then we may live in the sure confidence that we are accepted by God not because of what we have done but because of what Christ has done for us.

Brothers and sisters, do you see how beautiful it is to live that way?  Do you see how magnificent it is to live in the freedom that is ours in Christ?  Do you see how we can rejoice in the fact that God calls us His children?  Never let go of the gospel!  Never stop living the life of freedom that is yours in Christ Jesus!  And then living in the freedom that is ours in Christ, let us laugh, let us rejoice and let us sing unto God from Hymn 18:2,

“His faithfulness He has now shown

that we might serve Him without fear,

that all our days with upright hearts

we in his presence might appear.” 

Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2014, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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