Galatians 5:1,13 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.
Freedom was under attack! Paul, the writer of this letter and the founder of these churches in the region of Galatia, knew that the Christians were being attacked by false teachers, which is the impetus for this whole letter. False teachers known as Judaizers were teaching the Christians that they needed to retain the Old Testament laws, especially circumcision in order to truly be a child of God.
But Christ, our Savior, has fulfilled the law in our place and in essence he has set us free from that which once condemned us – the Law! The law, of course, that condemned us was the moral law, or Ten Commandments, because we were unable to keep them. But Christ came, and fulfilled the law and suffered the consequence of our sin by suffering like a law-breaker and in so doing, satisfied God’s eternal wrath and anger against our sin.
Now, it’s important to note that Paul follows up this section in verse 13 by saying, “But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh.” Allow me to explain how this plays out in two very relevant ways for New Testament Christians. Let’s talk about our church attendance and then our church offerings.
First attendance. In Old Testament days, God commanded weekly worship as a body of believers – it was called the Sabbath, which means rest. There were no sporting events to intrude on this day of worship; there was no work to be done; there was nothing but worship of God. In the New Testament the Sabbath has been fulfilled in Jesus and therefore New Testament Christians are no longer under the obligation of a regulated weekly worship schedule. However, don’t use that freedom in Christ as a cloak for indulgence like we see so many doing today. There are all sorts of colorful excuses why God’s people say they can’t get to church for 1 hour a week. But is it really their freedom in Jesus that keeps them away? Or is it because they are indulging their own sinful flesh and despising the Word of God? Ultimately, that will be between them and God, but I’ll just give you a hint – I’m pretty sure recreation, hunting, kid’s sports, and sleep aren’t legitimate uses of our freedom. That’s where it becomes important for us to realize we have a sinful nature and a new nature in Christ. Which one are we going to please by what we do on Sunday mornings or Thursday evenings?
Let’s take another example – offerings. In Old Testament days, God prescribed the tithe, or 10% of a person’s income to be returned to his house to maintain the “business” side of church. I suppose we could say that God figured man could live on 90% of what he gave him while returning 10% to his house, which is another way of looking at giving. You might find this interesting as sort of a side note, but our forefather Abraham and his grandson Jacob gave a tithe or 10% back to God 500 years before it was even prescribed by God to the prophet Moses.
But as New Testament Christians, we have no such instruction to give to God the tithe, do we? Well, yes, and no. Yes, it’s true there is no instruction to give 10%, but no different than this: there’s also no instruction in the New Testament for weekly worship. So here’s the deal – we can abuse the law by only looking at our freedom from it as a license to indulge our flesh. Hear me out. The New Testament call us to be cheerful givers, right? It also says we should not be giving to God under compulsion, right? That’s all found in 2 Corinthians 9:7.
Well, we also find that in 1 Corinthians 16:2 that New Testament Christians are supposed to be guided by proportionate giving, as to what they have received. Well, what does that mean? If I completely neglect my understanding of the law from the Old Testament, how would I know what proportionate giving is, if the law gave me no guidance? Is it 1%? Is it 2% the national average in Christian churches, by the way? Is it 50%? Seriously, how would I know if I don’t pay attention to the law? The fact of the matter is, while the law has been fulfilled in Christ, it is still a useful and helpful guide for Christian living. Ten percent is a pretty good gauge to determine proportionate giving, even as the weekly Sabbath worship is a pretty good gauge for my public worship of God. Not as a mandate or law to be fulfilled on my end, but as a gracious invitation to serve and honor God with my worship and my gifts.
Remember the balance – “You’re free” but… “don’t use the freedom to indulge the flesh.” Ask God to give you wisdom and insight in how to serve and honor him. He’ll show you from his Word.
Pastor Matthew DeNoyer