On Avoiding the Starboard Side by Jumping off the Port Side (Galatians 5:13–15)

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“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. …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.” —Galatians 5:1, 13

In standing firm and not submitting we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that defending the north side of the fort is the same thing as defending the fort. What is most important is the freedom stood in, not the legalism stood against. If you make standing firm against legalism on the north your only concern, you’ll be blindsided out of the south by libertinism.

In standing firm against legalism, it is easy to fall backward into libertinism or antinomianism—(anti: against; nomos: the law). Luther colorfully said, “The world is like a drunken peasant. If you lift him into the saddle on one side, he will fall off again on the other side. One can’t help him, no matter how one tries. He wants to be the devil’s.” The world is doomed to fall off one side or the other. The saints can be taught to ride. They can learn to run well and walk by the Spirit down the straight and narrow. Even so, we, the saints, never keep it perfectly between the lines and it is easy to drift. Our ears must be tuned to the Word so that we hear the warning rattle of the rumble strip as we’re making our way to the ditch.

The danger stands not only on both sides, but within. The flesh wants to drift from the center of gospel freedom. Likely, you recognize your steering has an alignment issue towards the left or the right. Which son are you? The older brother or the prodigal? The legalist or the libertine? It’s good that you’re aware of your bent, but you must also beware of the danger of overcorrecting. It is in this letter, containing Paul’s sharpest rebuke of legalism, that we find this warning concerning antinomianism. The recovering legalist shouldn’t reason from grace to sin. “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (Romans 6:10).

Jumping off the starboard side is not a good way to prevent falling off the port side. If standing firm against legalism is your sole concern, you’ll fall off the other side. The point of standing firm isn’t simply to avoid falling off of one side of the boat. Our chief concern shouldn’t be what we are standing firm against, but what we are standing firm in.

We are standing in the gospel, in freedom, to by the Spirit, unto God and in obedience to Him, love our neighbor. Stand firm. Do not submit. You’re free! Use that freedom to by the Spirit, love your neighbor for the glory of Christ.

Free Spirit vs. Freedom of the Spirit (Galatians 5:1–6)

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” —Galatians 5:1

If justification by faith alone in Christ alone is the central doctrine of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, why is it hailed as the Magna Carta of Christian Liberty? Because as 5:1 demonstrates, justification by faith is bound to freedom as an attempt at justification by works is bound to slavery. Here we have the central commands of this letter: “stand firm” and “do not submit.” These are really one command. Standing firm is not submitting; not submitting is standing firm. This imperative flows from this gospel indicative, “for freedom Christ has set us free.” Christ, in whom we have this freedom, is laid hold of through faith; the Christ grasped through faith is our righteousness.

What is freedom? Certainly it is freedom from something. It is freedom from the law’s demands (3:23), the law’s curse (3:10), sin (3:22), and the elemental spirits of this world (4:3–9). We are freed from these things, but what are we freed to? Is our freedom only negative?

What is freedom? Consider this, one of the most famous works of Jonathan Edwards is his treatise The Freedom of the Will. One of the most famous of Martin Luther is The Bondage of the Will. What might surprise some is how harmonious the two are. It is all a question of what is meant by freedom. Luther, ever the blunt one, says that the will is in bondage to sin (i.e. John 8:34, Romans 6:17). Edwards, in his more sophisticated style, first says that the will freely does whatever it wants. The problem is, the only thing fallen man want’s to do is sin. Fallen man freely does as he wants, but his want-to is enslaved to sin. So, as Calvin says, to insist that such a will is “free” is to use a big word for a small thing.

What Edwards demonstrates is that being free to do whatever I want to do isn’t truly freedom. Yet, this is exactly what our modern, individualistic connotation of freedom is. As fallen a man, being free to do whatever you want is bondage to self—a self who is a damned fool. As a fish is free in water, so we are free when we bow to the Sovereign who is life, goodness, beauty, and truth. When a creature tries to play creator and cast off God’s Lordship, he embraces death, evil, ugliness, and lies. He embraces bondage. Bondage willingly embraced is the worst kind of bondage. The soul might be free when the wrists are shacked, but, though the wrists are unshackled, they are not free if the soul is chained.

So again, what is freedom? At its core is the redemption of Christ purchasing us unto Himself, so that we are counted righteous in Him, reconciled to God, and adopted as sons with all the benefits and promises thereof. But central to this freedom as Paul now wants to work it out is life in the Spirit. When Paul began laying down his defense of the doctrine of justification by faith alone in chapter 3 he asked, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Paul will bring this full circle in 5:16–18.

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”

What beautiful irony: walking by your own desires is bondage whereas walking by the Spirit is freedom. In the former we are under the law and break it. In the latter, we are free from the law and keep it. What is this life in the Spirit? It is living unto God by God. It is living as a creature in love and dependence on the Creator. It is not a life that strives for justification. It is a life that stems from justification.

The Mercy of Second Times (Jonah 3:1–10)

“Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying…” (Jonah 3:1 ESV).

Jonah deserved no “second time.” God would have been just to have left him to the depths. Jonah deserved no “first time.” The commands of God come to us as honors high above our station.

Remember the disobedient man of God in 1 Kings 13. In obedience, he delivered a powerful word to Jereboam I. He was also instructed not to return by the way he came, but another prophet lied to him saying that an angel appeared to him and that the man was to eat at his house. Once the man of God was at his home, the word of God did come to the lying prophet informing him that the man of God was to die for his disobedience. A lion killed him on his way home. If we think this harsh, we don’t understand the God who is commanding us and the honors He extends.

How many employers would be so gracious? God is no employer. He is Lord. We are his slaves. When He commands, He calls us to immeasurable privileges. We spurn these blessings and disobey. And yet, following repentance and faith, He so often gives us a “second time.” How great the mercy of God, that it not only forgives us our sins, but extends to us again the privilege of obeying our Lord?

Remember, Remember, Remember… (2 Peter 1:12–21)

“Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things” (2 Peter 1:12–15 ESV)

Though the saints instinctively know they need the word of God, I’m afraid many go astray in realizing how it is they need it. Many go to the Bible seeking some kind of mystical experience. It is as though they’d rather hear something through the Word rather than simply understand the intended meaning. Certainly, reading the Bible is a supernatural experience. Through the word God creates life. Through His word He sustains life. But what if I told you that one of the principal reasons you should read and study the Bible is to remember? Would you be let down? Are you wanting something more? Is this too plain and simple for you?

When I take time to seriously study the Bible I almost always learn something new, and yet, more than that, I am remembering afresh. Approaching the Bible always looking or something new is a dangerous venture. Heresies are born that way.

Here Peter writes to remind those who are established in the truth. Unfortunately, many have sat under such poor teaching that they are not established in the truth. Even so, those who are truly children of God know enough so that their biggest problem is not what they don’t know, but what they’ve forgotten.

We all need to grow in knowledge, a knowledge that is essential to our spiritual vitality, still, the greatest threat to our spiritual health isn’t what we have yet to learn, but what we might forget. How many of your sins involve forgetting that God is holy? How often do you act as if God were not omnipresent? How frequently do you respond to life as though God were not sovereign? Likewise, how often do you forget the Father’s unfailing covenant love and mercy to you in the Son? How often do you forget that the saints stand justified by the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ?

Oh how great is our forgetfulness. It is not as though these are minor details. We’re not forgetting to brush our teeth. We’re forgetting to breathe. Beyond forgetting the weather forecast, we forget that the Sun has risen. Indeed, our greatest problem isn’t ignorance, but forgetfulness.

But there is grace. A grace to remind us of grace. The Bible is a book of reminders. Gather on Sunday to sit under the preaching of the word to be reminded. Sing to one another to remind each other. Partake of the Lord’s table to remember. Read good books to remember. Listen to and sing songs rich in Bible theology to remember. Read and study your Bible every day to remember. Meditate on the Scriptures throughout the day so that you remember. Memorize Scriptures so that you might recall them. Work through your catechism again and again to remember. Listen to good sermons or podcasts while you drive, exercise, or work to remember.

Martin Luther knew all to well our propensity to forget. I leave you with these words from his commentary on Galatians.

“It [the gospel] is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consisteth. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.”

Watching Sitcoms in the Midst of a Battle (1 Peter 4:1–6)

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“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin…” —1 Peter 4:1 (ESV)

“Arm yourselves!” The word has as clear a military connotation in the original language as the English translation suggests. The noun form of the word translated “arm” is often rendered “weapons.” This is a call to weaponize.

With what are we to arm ourselves? “The same way of thinking.” It would be progress for much of the evangelical church to arm herself with any kind of thinking. Mark Noll has lamented, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” As you sit in the average American church, is the mood predominantly one of amusement or muse-ment? Here’s a test, if you lose electricity, does the worship gathering fall flat? Often a lot of thought goes into such gatherings, but are they thinking about thinking? If their thinking has any links to the academy, it is likely to the one in Hollywood.

We mustn’t pit the mind against the heart, but when the heart is mindlessly moved we have a word for this—manipulation. Collectively, the Christian masses aren’t so much moved by the Spirit as they are manipulated by men. What we want is for the heart to be moved by the mind. If this isn’t so, then our hearts are affected by our own imaginations rather than God’s revelation and we’re found to be worshipping an idol. Ours should be the ambition of Jonathan Edwards, “I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with.”

If we are far from arming ourselves with thinking, how much more so from arming ourselves with a kind of militant thinking that is ready to suffer? We are at leisure in the living room of the world rather than at the ready in God’s armory. If the Christian mind isn’t fighting, it’s surrendered. If our minds are not sober, they’re drunk (1 Peter 1:13–14).

Suffering Slaves and the Suffering Servant

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“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” —1 Peter 1:21–25 (ESV)

Peter calls on slaves to suffer for doing good, motivated by the exemplary and empowering suffering of Christ. As you read 1 Peter 2:21-25, it is clear that Peter is drawing from the most familiar passage in the Old Testament concerning the sufferings of Christ, Isaiah 53. When you read Isaiah 53, you must begin with Isaiah 52:13 where the one suffering is addressed by God as “my servant.” Peter then is telling slaves that they were called to suffering because of the suffering of the servant of Yahweh. Further, the letter makes it clear that this is not just the calling of these saints because they are slaves, but of these slaves because they are saints.

Jesus’ suffering stands underneath our suffering in two ways: it is exemplary and empowering. This isn’t multiple choice. This is all of the above. But one of the answers is foundational, standing underneath the other. If Jesus’ life is only an example, it is a crushing one, for none of us measure up. Worse, if Jesus’ death is only an example, then it is one of insanity. Tim Keller illustrates:

“Imagine that you are walking along a river with a friend, and your friend suddenly says to you, ‘I want to show you how much I love you!’ and with that he throws himself into the river and drowns. Would you say in response, ‘How he loved me!’ No, of course not. You’d wonder about your friend’s mental state. But what if you were walking along a river with a friend and you fell into the river by accident, and you can’t swim. What if he dived in after you and pushed you to safety but was himself drawn under by the current and drowned. Then you would respond, ‘Behold, how he loved me!’ The example of Jesus is a bad example if it is only an example. If there was no peril to save us from—if we were not lost apart from the ransom of his death—then the model of his sacrificial love is not moving and life-changing; it is crazy. Unless Jesus died as our substitute, he can’t die as a moving example of sacrificial love.”

Jesus’ death was not a meaningless suicide. Jesus death is more than a sign telling us to go this way. It is gas burning in our tanks.

You can only follow Jesus because of how you cannot follow Jesus. The empowering aspect of Jesus’ death stands under the exemplary aspect of His death. As James and John learned, there is a way that we can drink from the cup of Christ’s sufferings, and there is a way that we cannot—that we dare not.

When Jesus died on the cross, He did so as our substitute, accomplishing what we could not. He bore our sins, cursed of God in our place on the tree (cf. Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13). His death not only delivered us from the guilt of sin but also from the bondage of sin. Our sins were born by Christ, so that, in union with Him, we might die to sin and live to righteousness (Romans 6:4–7). When one suffers for righteousness’ sake, living honorably, and then endures that suffering not reviling but trusting God, all this righteousness is empowered by Christ’s substitutionary wrath-bearing suffering in our place.

It is only because of how you cannot follow Jesus, that you can follow Jesus. Christus exemplar flows out of penal substitutionary atonement. Because Jesus suffered in a way we can’t, we can suffer like Him. And if we suffer with Him, we will also be glorified with Him (Romans 8:17).

Moody Bible Literacy (1 Peter 1:13–17)

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The Bible is moody, in a perfect way, and you need to know what sets off the mood swing. Sentences have moods. In the original language 1 Peter 1:3–12 is a single elephantine sentence. Some sentences really should run on. Clarity, brevity, and simplicity are virtues, but sometimes the subject is too grand to distill. Sometimes the matter really is that complex, deep, and wondrous. When we enter into salvation in all it’s fullness, I believe such run-on sentences of praise will be commonplace.

This whopping sentence is in the indicative mood. It indicates. It simply states the facts. But this is no stoic, “just the facts, ma’am.” This is good news. This is the gospel.

Following this hefty sentence are three lightweight ones in vv. 13–17. These sentences are in the imperative mood. They command. But the mood of this mood is still joyful.

When the Bible changes moods, you shouldn’t. For this to happen, it is essential that you see how the imperative and the indicative relate. A “therefore” lies between them. One mood produces the other, and it should always be the indicative first. The imperatives follow the indicative.

This is always the case for God’s people. Covenant, promise, and redemption came before Sinai. When God gave the law he prefaced it saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” Here you have the same two kinds of sentences and the same “therefore” is implicitly understood to lie between them.

As the commands of God are planted in the soil of God’s grace, they are a tree of life. Try to plant them somewhere else, and you’ll only get poison apples.

Sinner, if your life has been nothing but one long stuttering incomplete imperative sentence, hear this gospel exclamation. What you cannot do, Christ did. He kept the law and bore the wrath of God for sinners so that all who trust in Him might have their sins removed and His righteousness imputed to them. If the Spirit takes that sentence deep into your soul and causes you to be born again, then you’ll find that your mood has changed, a mood that loves all the moods of the Scriptures.