Through Grace: We are Free Indeed
Writer: Kathi Grzanowski
Big Idea: Freedom is one of the greatest ideas of human kind. People sacrifice themselves for the idea of freedom, but what does it mean to be truly free? Our freedom should never come at the cost of others, especially for our own selfish gains and desires, but Paul lays out the true freedom that comes from the Spirit. It is a freedom that sets us free from the thoughts, habits, attitudes and behaviors we know are self-destructive. The Spirit sets us free to become what we long to see in our world. Paul is clear, when we recognize God’s deep grace for us, it replaces our sin nature with the fruit of the Spirit. Grace transforms us from the inside out.
Invest and Invite: How are you growing spiritually and helping others in their journeys in understanding the crucified life of being led by the Spirit.
In May 1993, I laid face down in a pool of tears. For 37 years I chased the world’s glitter without restraint, only to learn it was fool’s gold. I’d become hopelessly shackled to alcohol to cope from a lifetime of poor choices and their consequences were weights on my soul. “If there is a God who cares, help me!” That very night, God sent a neighbor to share the Gospel, that simple faith in Jesus dying for my sins was all I needed for the free gift of salvation. Instantly, the shackles seemed broken and the weights lifted. “God loves me? I’m His child? I can know Him?” The joy from these truths propelled me on a spiritual journey, like the Hebrews exodus from Egypt, walking with my Heavenly Father in the freedom of salvation. Freedom from sin’s penalties of guilt, shame and hell. Freedom from being a slave to worldly desires. Freedom from fear of death. Freedom to walk on a new road with a Father who would guide me. But was I free of me?? Jesus pulled me out of my Egypt, filled me with His Spirit to lead me, but now a struggle began in my heart to be free of the Egypt still left in me. There were two of me and I struggled to get free of the worldly me.
In the church in Galatians there were two groups of believers biting and devouring each other in their opposing beliefs about getting and keeping salvation. And some of these opposing beliefs prevail and divide churches today. There is a tension in the Christian’s growing spiritual life, between working hard to grow spiritually (legalism) and purely resting in God’s finished work and living as one pleases (license). Satan is out to destroy the faith of God’s children and divide Jesus’ church by moving individuals from unity through love unto “devouring one another” (Gal 5:15).
Paul begins by addressing a group of Gentile believers, who had experienced the joys of salvation, but legalistic Jewish believers were telling them they needed to add circumcision for salvation. Jewish believers brought their old ways of keeping rules and rituals into their spiritual journey and now began to impose their beliefs on others. They planted fear and confusion, which was dividing the church. They were trying to live out their salvation like orphans, trying to control their flesh with a list of “don’t do” rules. Paul cautions them, that they would be slaves to their efforts to become righteous and end up in bondage to keeping the whole Law. This “works” attitude is like yeast invading a lump of dough, it would prohibit their salvation and continue to corrupt the young church over time.
I can relate to these legalists. I was raised attending a church that was more of a religious institution. It taught me to follow rules and rituals to join the club and stay in God’s good favor. On top of this, the world ingrained in me a performance mentality to achieve its goals. The “old me” carried these attitudes into my spiritual journey. I felt like an orphan, not God’s child, trying to overcome sin and live holy. About 20 years into my journey, I began doubting the assurance of my salvation. I was terrified when reading lists of vices which I did, like in Galatians 5:19-21, and virtues which I didn’t do, like in Galatians 5:22. Fear replaced freedom with performance. Satan’s fiery darts attacked my mind. “You haven’t changed. You are still doing the same sins. You’re a phony. God’s mad at you”. Praise God for a pastor who pointed me to Galatians 5:17 to assure me that this struggle with sin proved I was filled with the Spirit. There was a battle for my mind, the attitudes of the “old me” (flesh) and the desires of the “new me” (indwelling Holy Spirit). Yet, how could I be free of sin and the old me?
Paul continues with how the law is fulfilled by loving and serving each other, not tearing each other down and focusing on fixing “self”. Paul’s solution to be free of sin and self, and allow His love to flow through us, is found in Galatians 5:24 – 25: crucify the flesh or old nature and let the new person be led by the Spirit, moment by moment. Reckon dead the “old me” and its destructive attitudes, habits, thoughts and behaviors. When the old me, along with all its desires surfaces in trials and circumstances, the Spirit promises to remind me of the truths of Scripture and empowers me to walk in them. Paul had this same struggle against sin in Romans 7 and assures us in Romans 8 that there is no condemnation in Christ; we can enter our Heavenly Father’s presence to repent and receive His gracious help to change our thinking and align our thoughts with His.
Now Paul turns to the other group of Galatians to address their issue of taking license with sin by gratifying their flesh nature, thereby cheapening grace. These “believers” were practicing sins
(Gal 5:19-21) and Jesus said if you sin, you’re a slave to it. They were enslaved to and not fighting against sin. Paul has a stern warning to them: in living led by the flesh and practicing these behaviors they would not inherit Kingdom of God.
Both legalist and license were led by the old flesh nature. Paul said die to flesh and be led by Spirit. To die, we have to acknowledge that we are capable of all the behaviors (Gal 5:19-21). As we walk forward, the Spirit leads us to Scriptural truths. When we spend time in His presence, His grace and love flow into us which naturally overflows towards others. The Spirit will change our hearts and that will transform our actions. This is Jesus, growing more and more alive in and through us. “Not of ourselves, lest we boast” (Ephesians 2:9).
Throughout this series we want to create the space to hear each other’s story and testimony. Pick someone who would be willing to share tonight – if you need some help, consider these questions:
- When/how did you become aware of God’s love?
- Who were the people who played a key role in your spiritual journey? How?
- What are 2/3 key moments in your relationship with God?
- Take a moment to ask questions.
- Where are you being led by your flesh, rather than the Spirit, and what will you do about it?
- When do you find yourself judging people without loving them and getting to know their hearts? How will you ask the Holy Spirit to reveal your heart about this attitude?
- What fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22) do you need the Holy Spirit’s power to walk in?
- What does it mean to die to yourself and “crucify sin”? What behaviors and attitudes is the Spirit calling you to crucify?
- Describe a situation when the Spirit was prompting your mind in one direction, but you chose another and let the flesh rule. What was the result?
Readings: Romans 7 – 8:1-18; 1 John 2:15-17; 1 John 3; 1 John 4:7-21; Luke 18:9-14; Philippians 2:12-13; Titus 2:11-15; 1 Peter 1:13-19; 1 Peter 2:21-24; 1 Peter 3:10-13
Weekly Prayer Focus: Pray that we would give up our bonds of slavery and ask God to fill us with the fruit of His Spirit; love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Prayer: take a moment to share prayer requests and pray for each other.