Date: 28 Aug 2022
Sermon Text: Galatians 5:1-6 Speaker: Dn Lee Pak Choon
Singapore ‘s Story of Independence
We just celebrated the 57th birthday of Singapore. It was a sea of red at the Marina Bays’ floating platform where the National Day Parade was held. People from all walks of life gathered there to celebrate the biggest event of the year. Against the backdrop of MBS and the skyscrapers in Central Business District, the panoramic view of the Parade was spectacular.
We have certainly come a long way from a small fishing village to a vibrant cosmopolitan city that we are today. But the day of independence, 9th of Aug 1965, was fraught with uncertainty, disappointment, and anguish.
At 10 am on 9 Aug 1965 , the proclamation of Singapore’s independence was announced over radio. Simultaneously in Kuala Lumpur, the Tunku of Malaysia announced the separation of Singapore from Malaysia to the federal parliament. He then moved a resolution to enact the Constitution of Malaysia (Singapore Amendment) Bill, 1965, that would allow Singapore to leave Malaysia and become an independent and sovereign state. The bill was passed with a 126-0 vote and given the royal assent by the end of the day. Singapore TV also aired the press conference called by LKY, the then Prime Minister of Singapore at 4:30 p.m.
I remembered watching the scene on TV many years later when LKY announced the separation with his eyes brimming with tears. For the first time and never before in all of his speeches that I have heard since, he choked on his delivery. It was a moment of anguish for him.
3 years earlier, in 1962, he and the PAP, the ruling party of Singapore, had managed to get the majority of Singaporeans on a referendum to go for a merger with Malaysia. One year later, in 1963, Singapore officially joined the Federal Malaysia as one of the 14 states.
Singapore badly needed the support of Malaysia then as its economy was struggling. Trade was declining. Unemployment rate was high. Housing was inadequate. Crimes were rampant. The outlook for Singapore was extremely bleak. That was the motivation for LKY to want a merger with Malaysia. But continual political and economic wrangling between Malaysia and Singapore political parties made the merger untenable, resulting in Singapore ‘s separation from Malaysia.
The day of Independence on 9th Aug 1965 was not celebrated in style as we see today on our National Day. There were no fireworks and parade. Instead, it was a tense, sombre and momentous moment in our history.
Freedoms in Singapore
Do we call our independence a freedom of sorts?
It did not appear so at that time. But on hindsight, that decision on 9th Aug 1965 gives Singapore the freedom to become what she aspires to be and can be.
If we have not gone independent, we might not be able to enjoy all the freedoms that we have achieved today - the freedom of being a multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-cultural nation, the freedom of election, the freedom of a fair, equitable justice system, the freedom of equal opportunity for all, the freedom to excel , the freedom to reach our full potential in life and even the freedom to walk on the street in the night without being mobbed.
Does it not surprise you that despite our differences in race, language and religion, we Singaporeans are able to live under one roof and work together to build our nation to what it is today? We have Malays, Indians and Chinese sitting together in the coffee shop drinking kopi today, whereas in 1964, we were all fighting each other with parangs and knives. We have certainly come a long way to achieve this freedom of peace and unity.
History, however, teaches us that even great nations can become fragmented by widely different political ideologies or divided along the lines of race and religion. Therefore, we should treasure, defend and protect the freedoms that we have strived for. And we must never forget that the freedoms we now have all boil down to the one momentous decision that was made 57 years ago.
Your Decision on Spiritual Freedom
Yet, there is one decision that is even more important than the decision of sovereign freedom. And it concerns you. It is the decision of your spiritual freedom. This decision will affect the whole of your life and also your past, present and future.
And I will get right to the heart of it with this question: Are you a Christian and walking in the freedom of Christ?
Are you burdened with a load of your sins, guilt and fears and yearning to be freed? Or are you trying to earn your salvation through your own efforts of righteousness and yet never know if you are truly saved and forgiven of all your sins? If you are, I have good news for you. Christ has come to set you free.
God, in His mercy, have given His one begotten Son, Jesus Christ into the world to save us from our sins so that through believing in Him, we might have eternal life. This eternal life is the life of fellowship with God, our Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ. We are freed from the power of sin through the death and resurrection of Christ and freed to love and enjoy God through Christ.
Let me say this: You who are seeking for answers to life’s big questions – what is life ? How should I live my life? Is there a God ? How do I know Him? How can I be forgiven ? – are indeed a very privileged people in this generation.
What do I mean?
The complete revelation of God and His plan of salvation for mankind and the answers to life’s big questions can be found in the Bible. Today, the Bible is easily accessible. Through the internet, you can search and access the Bible anytime, anywhere and on any devices. If you have a hunger to seek answers about life and about God and salvation, but have no one to turn to, you can simply go online and read the Bible. Read the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They give you a good understanding of who Jesus is and the reason for His coming into our world.
As you read the Bible, I would urge you to keep an open mind and a receptive heart and be willing to believe what is said by God in the Bible. May God guide you to a discovery of His plan of salvation for you.
Another privilege that you have is the freedom of religion in Singapore. There is hardly any religious persecution here. This is hardly the case in the times of the early Church and the days of the Reformation where Christians are martyred for standing up for their faith. Here, you can listen to the online sermon or attend a Bible-believing church without any fear of persecution and we warmly welcome you to our Church. Our Pastors and Elders and our members can share more about the Christian faith with you.
So, you are living in an opportune time and place. God has opened this door of opportunity for you. So, seek the LORD while He may be found ; call upon Him while He is near. I pray that by the grace of God, you will find salvation and freedom in the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
I mentioned about walking in the freedom of Christ. There is something unique about this freedom. It is not the freedom as we do what we want regardless of obligations and consequences. But freedom in Christ liberates us to be the kind of people that we are created for – a people of God, regardless of age, gender, race and ancestry, freed from the burden of sin , hatred of one another and fears of the unknown , and rooted in God’s love so that we are free to love and serve one another out of the love of God.
On this aspect, I would like you to turn to Paul’s letter to the Galatians 5: 1 – 6 for our understanding.
1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”
Now I would like you to keep your Bible open to the scripture text as we will be referring to it often in this discourse.
There are two distinct emphases in this text: we might call them “freedom from” (verses 1–4) and “freedom for” (verse 1 and 5–6).
The question for us this morning is this: What is Christian freedom? And this passage answers in two clear parts – Freedom from and Freedom for. And then we’ll find at the end a third aspect that is more subtle, and easy to miss, and so perhaps all the more important to draw out. That is Freedom with.
So, what is Christian freedom?
First, Paul is clear about what Christian freedom is freedom from. Look again at Galatians 5:2–4:
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.
Why did Paul write the letter to the Galatian Christians? He wrote it because certain false teachers had infiltrated into their churches and told the Galatian Christians that they must observe certain religious festivals, rites and rituals according to Mosaic Law in order to be saved. They opposed Paul directly in the face by saying that he was not one of the original twelve apostles who were with Jesus and his teaching on salvation in Christ without adding the Covenantal Law of Moses was erroneous.
The crux of the issue in this letter is justification, that is, how you get right, and stay right, with God. On what grounds, and by what means, might sinners like you and I be fully accepted by God, and have right-standing with him?
Paul’s answer is that justification is by faith alone. Your full acceptance by God, your right-standing with God, is based on the work of Christ alone and accessed and received through faith alone. For justification before God, we cannot combine our doing with Christ’s as the basisw, nor our doing with believing as the instrument. We both “get in” right relationship with God, and “stay in,” by faith alone.
In the 2nd part of verse 1, Paul says, “stand firm and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery”.
Freedom is a calling and Paul also states it clearly in verse 13 -“For you called to freedom, brothers “. Christian freedom, grounded in justification by faith, is a freedom to be defended.
It is clear in the letter of Galatians that Paul, the apostle defended the gospel strongly by refuting the false teachers’ position on adding the rituals and rites, religious festivals and works of the Law to the Gospel of Christ.
It is foolish, Paul says in Galatians 3 that having begun with the Spirit, the Galatian Christians now turn to perfection through the flesh meaning earning their salvation by the works of the Law. They have been freed from sin and justified through faith in Christ, but now they are giving it away by attempting to perfect their faith by our own works of righteousness. By so doing, they stand to lose the freedom in Christ that they once had before.
So, in verses 2–4 Paul issues a succession of three warnings, because the Galatian Christians and likewise for us, must be able to discern and distinguish the true gospel from the false.
Freedom from Circumcision
Christian freedom, then, is freedom from what?
The most immediate freedom from in these verses is freedom from circumcision. What is circumcision ? It is the surgical removal of the foreskin of a male. In Jewish rites, circumcision was required of all of Abraham’s descendants as a sign of the covenant God made with him (Genesis 17:9–14; Acts 7:8). The Mosaic Law repeated the requirement (Leviticus 12:2–3), and Jews throughout the centuries have continued to practice circumcision (Joshua 5:2–3; Luke 1:59; Acts 16:3; Philippians 3:5).
Galatians 5:2 is the first time in this letter that Paul has mentioned circumcision, but this is the flashpoint in Galatia. Because of the pressure from the false teachers, the Galatian Christians seem to have already added the Jewish festivals to their Christianity (Galatians 4:10), and are contemplating accepting circumcision as the decisive step of taking up old-covenant law. So, circumcision represents taking the yoke of old-covenant law, believing it to be a necessary step to belong to God’s people and be found “righteous” on the day of judgment.
So, in verse 2, Paul says, “Look: I, Paul . . .” In other words, Listen, it’s me. You know me. I brought the gospel to you. Listen up : “if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.” It’s not because circumcision is wrong or a curse in itself.
But, in this instance, accepting circumcision would mean that the Galatians now believe that Christ, and faith in him, is not enough to be right with God, and so, to be circumcised would be to rebel against God and Christ. That’s the first warning.
Freedom from the Law
Then a second warning in Galatians 5:3: “I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.”
When Paul says keep there, the word is literally do. In this situation, where the old-covenant law, through circumcision, has been made an issue (by the false teachers) of right-standing with God, to embrace it is to turn from Christ and his new covenant.
They cannot just add circumcision; to go there is to turn to the whole law. And if you “add the whole law,” you must do the law perfectly. But we all know that no man can do the old-covenant law perfectly. The Law is the perfect standard of God which is given to man so as to reveal to him his sins. It is not the solution to the problem of sin.
Now, how are we to deal with the Law if we cannot do everything in the law perfectly but we are told to be justified by it ?
Galatians 2 : 16 give us the answer to the dilemma.
Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:16).
This passage reveals that the Law cannot justify or make righteous any man in God’s sight, which is why God sent His Son to completely fulfil the requirements of the Law for all those who would ever believe in Him.
Christ Jesus redeemed us from the curse that has been brought through the law by becoming a curse for us (Galatians 3:13). He substituted Himself in our place and upon the cross took the punishment that is justly ours so that we are no longer under the curse of the Law. In doing so, He fulfilled and upheld the requirements of the Law.
This does not mean that Christians are to be lawless, as some advocate today—a teaching called antinomianism Rather, it means that we are free from the Mosaic Law and are instead under the law of Christ, which is to love God with all of our being and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Christ became the end of the Law by virtue of what He did on earth through His sinless life and His sacrifice on the cross. So, the Law no longer has any bearing over us because its demands have been fully met in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Faith in Christ who satisfied the righteous demands of the Law restores us into a pleasing relationship with God and keeps us there. No longer under the penalty of the Law, we now live under the law of grace in the love of God.
Freedom from Earning Righteousness
Then, a third and final warning in Galatians 5:4: “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” “Grace” here, as with doing in verse 3, gets at the underlying issue.
To accept circumcision, Paul says, will be to fall from grace, because circumcision represents an adding to Christ for justification and unavoidably introduces law and doing into the grace and faith of being right with God through Christ.
What does it mean, then, practically, to live the Christian life by this grace when there are commands in the new covenant?
Living the Christian life by grace means that, at bottom, we get and stay in right relationship with God by faith alone, based on Christ alone. And as we obey Christ, and spend daily quiet time with Him in his word, and respond to him in prayer, and gather with this body on Sundays to worship and during the week for fellowship, we do not seek to secure or maintain our standing with God by our doing.
But our lives and our obedience to God and the outflow of our faith in loving others are channels of God’s ongoing grace to us. Not obligations for justification, but expressions of what we call sanctification. Which leads, then, to what our freedom is for.
Now verses 5–6 in Galatians celebrate freedom for what and summarize the whole letter, from beginning to end — and note the emphasis on faith:
For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
Our first question might be, what’s this “waiting for the hope of righteousness”? In Christ, don’t we already, by faith, have right standing with God?
So far in Galatians the emphasis has been on the past (Christ’s completed work) and present (we are justified, now, by faith). What’s this future aspect?
Future Hope of Freedom
Paul has the final judgment in view in verse 5, and he does not change his emphasis on faith. Faith in Christ is how we now enjoy full acceptance with God and how we will be found in the right at the end. We enter by faith, stay in by faith, and will be confirmed by faith. Same basis: Christ’s work, not ours. Same instrument: our faith, not our doing. What hope then remains for the future? God’s public declaration of our righteousness in Christ, by faith, for all to know, at the final judgment, confirmed by real evidence of change in our lives.
Freedom for Loving and Enjoying God
So, what, then, about freedom for? Paul says in Galatians 5:5 that this is “through the Spirit,” which is critical in understanding Christian freedom.
The Holy Spirit changes us. He takes out the old, natural heart of stone, and puts in a heart of flesh. He gives us new desires. He begins his lifelong sanctifying work in us, and we become new. He frees us to be adopted as sons and daughters. And he frees us for the inheritance of all things, which means that freedom in Christ — freedom for — includes “the things of earth” that God has given us to enjoy him.
In Christ, through the Spirit, we are free to love God and enjoy His good gifts to the full — which means receiving those gifts consciously from his hand, and tracing the gift to the Giver. And there’s more.
The great new-covenant prophecy in Jeremiah 31 captures so well the “freedom from” and “freedom for” of the Christian life.
In Christ, we have freedom from : “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).
And listen to how Jeremiah casts the freedom for:
I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts (new desires, by the Spirit!). And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 31:33–34)
Christian freedom is freedom for knowing God. For being his, and having him as ours. Through the Spirit, we are freed for holiness, freed for true life, freed to be sons and daughters in the happiest family, freed to enjoy the inheritance of everything, and to enjoy Jesus now and forever. Christian freedom is for enjoying finally and forever what we were made for — who we were made for: God in Christ.
But there is one final reality in this text to understand Christian freedom. And this is Paul’s accent at the end of verse 6:
In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. It does not matter whether you are a Jew or Gentile. It is the outflow of faith that matters which is love for one another.
Paul is not here saying love justifies us before God. He is saying that the faith that justifies us before God is the kind of faith that “works through love.” It is an active (not lazy) faith, a lively (not dead) faith, a Spirit-empowered (not self-mustered) faith. And this love (for others) is a freedom, not a burden. In Christ, we have been freed to love. Which means, third and finally, Christian freedom is not only freedom from , and not only freedom for, but also freedom with.
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.
Again, we note that (1) we are called to freedom. Freedom from earning God’s acceptance through our doing, and freedom from sin, and law, and death is not optional, but essential.
And (2) freedom is for joy, for holiness, for life, for knowing God — not “an opportunity for the flesh” but life in the Spirit.
And then finally, (3) freedom with: “through love serve one another.”
Justification by faith frees us to love others. It frees us from the burden of earning our standing with God. It frees us from being fixated on our status and deeds. And it liberates us, then, to love others — to give attention to their needs, and take the initiative, and expend effort, to meet them.
And not only is Christian freedom for loving others, but it is a freedom with others. We’re not alone in the freedom of Christ.
In fact, if you are careful to read the whole passage in Galatians 5 , the pronouns used are all in the plural : “us”, “we”, others, one another.
What does it mean then for our freedom in Christ ?
It means that Christian freedom is not freedom solo, but freedom together. It is not the kind of liberty that moves us away from each other, to protect our rights, and guard our space and our own freedom But it is a freedom together, a freedom with, a freedom that is greater and more enjoyable with others.
In Christ, we are free to serve others, bless others, love each other; we are freed from self-justification, self-focus, selfishness. We are free to make the happy choice to not exercise some personal right, at times, for the sake of love, as Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 9–10: “though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all.”
And the freedom of joy together through love is a greater freedom than self-focus. The sweetest, most enjoyable freedom is not alone but together — and often is enjoyed by denying ourselves some personal “rights,” or lesser freedoms, for the sake of others and enjoying the greater joys and greater freedom of love.
That is the beauty of the Church. We who have been set free from our sin and death and hell are also set free for life in the Spirit and joy and love and holiness.
The early church in Acts 2 sets a good example of the expression of the freedom of Christ. They are set free together for meeting to learn from the teaching of the apostles , to worship and fellowship , to the breaking of bread and prayers. They were set free to love and care for one another by being together for one another, by selling their possessions and distributing to all who are in need.
I know we may not be there yet, nonetheless, the more we understand and treasure the freedoms we have in Christ, and the more we walk by the Spirit, the more we would want to open ourselves up and find expressions to love others.
May God help us in our walk in the freedom of Christ. Amen.