Adoption: The Obligations of Adoption

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on November 5, 2003

Galatians 5:1-15

Galatians 5:1-15
The Obligations of Adoption: Liberty Not License
Dr. Ligon Duncan

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you turn with me to
Galatians chapter 5, as we continue to work through the series that Derek began
back in September on the doctrine of adoption.

Tonight we’re going to be looking
at the subject of what our adoption is to lead to in terms of living a life
of holiness
. And Derek has given us the title, “The Obligations of
Adoption: Liberty Not License,” and, of course, in that title he’s implying for
us a difference between Christian liberty and license: a freedom which is used
to do what we please without regard for our concern for one another, our
fulfillment of God’s command of love, love to God and love to neighbor etc. And
Paul is dealing with that situation here in Galatians chapter 5. Derek has
already looked at this passage from a couple of different angles on other
Wednesday evenings during the course of this study, but we’re going to look at
it asking this one question: What are we freed to by the work of Christ in
salvation? What does Christ free us to and for?
In this passage, Paul
makes it clear that Christ in His redeeming work has set us free, and so we have
to ask the question: what are we set free to? Or, what are we set free for?
Or, to put it in another way, we might ask, what kind of freedom is Paul talking
about here

This can be a somewhat confusing
passage and I want to try and give you a context for it, just walking you
through Paul’s line of argument from one to fifteen. Then, really I only want
to zero in on two main truths and explain and apply those truths. The first
truth we’ll pick up and see Paul expand on and illustrate in verses 1 through
12. The second truth we’ll see in verses 13 and 14 especially, but we’ll be
looking to 13 to 15 tonight. The first truth reminds us that we as Christians
are set apart by virtue of faith in the cross of Christ, not Christ plus
something else. So the freedom that is ours is ours through Christ and His
cross received by faith, not through faith plus something else or Christ plus
something else. That’s the grand truth that Paul makes clear in verses 1
through 12. Then, in verses 13 and 14, he makes it clear, ironically, that we
are freed to serve. We are free to serve. Those are the two things I want to
drive home as we look at this passage tonight, but first we’ll outline the
passage, and then we’ll look at those two points. Before we hear God’s word
read and proclaimed, let’s look to Him in prayer and ask for His blessing.

Heavenly Father, we thank You
for Your word. It is Your truth. We know that Your word is a lamp to our feet
and a light to our path. And so as we come to a passage of great importance but
also some difficulty, we ask that by Your Spirit You would open our eyes to
understand it; but more than simply understanding it, we pray, O Lord, that this
truth would by Your Spirit be engrained into our hearts and would so transform
us that we would walk in the truth and not simply know the notions of the
truth. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Hear God’s word then in Galatians chapter 5 beginning in
verse 1:

“It was for freedom that Christ
set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke
of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ
will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives
circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been
severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen
from grace. For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of
righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision
means anything, but faith working through love. You were running well; who
hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion did not come from Him who
calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. I have confidence
in you in the Lord, that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is
disturbing you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is. But I, brethren, if I
still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block
of the cross has been abolished. Would that those who are troubling you would
even mutilate themselves. For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not
turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one
another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You
shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another,
take care lest you be consumed by one another.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired,
inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

Paul’s point in this great
passage is that Christ has bought us for freedom. He presses that truth home in
the first 12 verses, and then he explains to us the kind of freedom that He’s
bought us for in verses 13 to 15. Let’s walk through the argument tonight,
because it’s important for us to understand what Paul is saying that we have
been freed from and what we have been freed to. Or, to put it this way, Paul is
talking about a certain kind of freedom, not just any old freedom–not just, say,
a freedom from responsibility or a freedom from norms but a freedom to a kind of
life. And so it’s important for us to understand the kind of freedom that Paul
says that Christ has gained for us when He says, “It was for freedom that Christ
set us free.” So let’s walk through his argument and see if we can follow it
carefully in the language.

I. Christ bought us for freedom.
First of all, Paul
states his fundamental thesis in verse 1: he says that Christ bought us for
. The language doesn’t use the terminology of Christ buying or His
redeeming, but it’s implied even in the language of freedom. When one went to
the market in the Roman world and bought a slave, that slave was being redeemed,
he was being bought back from his servitude to another master, and you could, by
rights as the owner, give that slave freedom. And so the New Testament language
of redemption comes out of that setting: where someone is bought out of
servitude, bought back from servitude and freed by his gracious savior and
master. And Paul’s point in verse one is, since Christ has bought you out of
slavery, don’t allow yourself to be re-enslaved by someone else. Since Christ
has brought you into a marvelous freedom, don’t allow yourself to be

Well, how could one do this? How could one be
re-enslaved? There are many ways that a person could do it, but Paul is dealing
with a specific context here, and you see him address it immediately in verse
2. These people were facing a teaching which basically said to them, “Good.
It’s good to accept Jesus as Lord and Messiah, but in addition to accepting
Jesus as Lord and Messiah, in order to believe, in order to be a Christian, one
must keep the law of Moses” and particularly, the ceremonial law of Moses, and
that meant being circumcised, following the dietary laws, and various other
commands of the ceremonial code. And Paul in verse 2 argues very clearly that
we as Christians are freed from the requirements of the old covenant ceremonial
law. “Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will
be of no benefit to you.” This is his way of saying, “Don’t act as if you are
bound to keep the ceremonial law of the Old Testament as the way in which, or a
way or a part in which, your righteousness is established. Your
righteousness is established by Christ
. It is received graciously through
faith. It’s based on what Christ did not what on you did, and it is not
required of you to keep the ceremonial law.”

Now let’s pause for a second and remember that Paul
has two different approaches to dealing with old covenant ceremonial code in the
New Testament. In some cases, when Paul is seeking to reach out to Jewish
people, he will bend over backwards to observe certain Old Testament
ordinances. But the minute that someone tells him he has to observe those
ordinances, he’ll say, “No I don’t,” and he’ll make a show of it. So if it’s
simply a matter of avoiding offense and sensibility, he is perfectly willing to
abide by those commandments; but the minute that someone says it is necessary
for you to obey the code, he will make a public showing of the fact that we do
not have to obey that ceremonial code. So, Paul is not being contradictory.

You remember that one of Paul’s people who
accompanied him on the missionary journey, Paul had circumcised; another he made
a point of not circumcising. So when he says, “If you receive circumcision
Christ is not of benefit of you,” the point is not simply to receive
circumcision; it’s receiving circumcision because you think it’s required,
receiving circumcision because you believe that you are under a religious
obligation to do this. And so Paul says here, we have been freed form the
requirements of the old covenant ceremonial law.

Then in verse 3 he goes on to this part of his
argument and he says, “Look, if you’re going to trust in the old covenant
ceremonial law, if your going to trust in circumcision to set you apart: to mark
you out as part of the people of God, to indicate that you are a holy person, a
follower of God, a follower of Christ–then you need to understand that you’ve
got to keep the whole law. If the ceremonial law is going to be the thing that
sets you apart, that makes you holy, then you can’t just depend on obeying these
outward acts of the ceremonial law; you’ve got to keep the whole law perfectly,
because that’s what Jesus did. He kept the whole law perfectly so that all
those who trusted in Him were declared right with God because of His actual
righteousness. And so if we are going to go the road of establishing our own
righteousness, “Mere ritual observance,” Paul says, “won’t cut it. You’ve got
to keep the whole law, perfectly.” So Paul is making the point that if you’re
going to trust in ceremonial ritual law to make you holy, then you better keep
the whole law.

Let me pause and say here that in the New Testament
Christians faced various kinds of criticisms. From the Romans, they were
sometimes confused with the Jews; they were sometimes accused of being
superstitious. From the Jewish side, Christians were often told one of two
things. Whoever wrote the book of Hebrews was writing to a Christian
congregation, and someone was saying to that Christian congregation, “Look, you
can have everything that you think that you have found in Christianity in this
brand of Judaism. And if you’ll just turn your back on Christ and come back to
Judaism, you can have everything that you think you’ve gotten in Christianity
and still hold onto your Jewish roots.” And, of course, the author of Hebrews
is saying to the Christians in that congregation, “Oh, no, you can’t! And if
you turn your back on Christ, you’ll not only lose Christ and salvation, but
you’ll lose your Jewish roots too, because He’s the fulfillment of everything
that the whole religion of Israel was pointing to.” And so the author of
Hebrews argues against that argument being made against Christians.

Now the other kind of argument that Christians were
given in the New Testament was by people who said, “No, it’s not that we need to
go back to Judaism, but it’s that we need Christ plus the Mosaic ceremonial
law. Christ plus the ceremonial law equals Christianity.” And Paul says, “No,
no, no, no. Christ plus the ceremonial law does NOT equal Christianity–it
equals apostasy; it equals heresy. It’s Christ; it’s the cross of Christ alone;
it’s the grace of God alone and the cross of Christ alone received by faith
alone that equals Christianity. And any plus to that is a minus. Any addition
to the righteousness of Christ actually denigrates the righteousness of Christ,
and it’s that which Paul is having to deal with here.

Whoever this individual is that he refers to in
verse 8 and in verse 10 is teaching a “Christ plus” view of righteousness and
Christianity. And Paul is saying here, “No, no, no, no, no, no! If you’re
going to say ‘Christ plus the ceremonial law,’ then you might as well make it
‘Christ plus the whole law’ because you’re making your righteous standing
based on you, or Christ plus you, instead of Christ alone.” And Christ
alone is the gospel that Paul is preaching. And Christ plus the ceremonial law
is the false gospel that is being preached by the people that he calls the
Judaizers. And so Paul’s arguing against that.

Then, fourthly, he elaborates on this. Look at
verse 4. He says, “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be
justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” In other words, if you add to
Christ you take away from Him
. “Christ plus the ceremonial law for
justification” does not equal Christianity; it equals apostasy and heresy. It’s
turning our backs upon the full and free redemption that is offered to us by God
through the work of Jesus Christ!

You understand the logic: if you say that something
needs to be added to Christ in order for you to be fully Christian, in order for
you to be declared righteous, then you are saying that the righteousness of
Christ was not enough. I, for one, do not want to stand before the judgment
throne of God and announce to Him that His Son’s righteousness was not enough
for me, that there were some things that I needed to add to that in order to
make it sufficient. It would be the height of arrogance as well as stupidity to
do such a thing before the living God! And yet, unwittingly there are teachers
teaching this to the Galatians. So Paul argues against them.

Now here’s what he says positively in verse 5. He
says that the Spirit, not the ceremonial law, is the dynamic of our Christian
. The Spirit is the one who sets us apart, not our keeping of the
ceremonial code. “For we through the spirit by faith are waiting for the hope
of righteousness.” What was it that visibly set Israel apart from the nations?
Well, in large measure it was the ceremonial law. Israel was called upon to
wear funny clothes. Israel’s males were called upon to wear their beards and
hair, frankly, a little funny. There are some of them whom you can see today
still wearing their hair in that fashion, and they still stand out. That was
God’s purpose, you understand, for them to stand out. So that when you walked
into a marketplace you could say, “Ooop, there’s a follower of Jehovah.”

But Paul is saying, “That is no longer what marks
us out. What marks us out is the Spirit, and what marks us out is faith alone
in the Messiah alone, and the life that the Spirit brings is what is now going
to mark us out from the nations.” And, so, he makes the point here that we are
justified by faith, not by the law, and we are set apart by the Spirit and not
by the ceremonial law. In verse 6 he goes on to say this, “That the state of
being circumcised or being uncircumcised no longer has any religious
significance for the Christian”–for the one living after Pentecost, for the one
living in the new covenant–“for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision or
uncircumcision means anything.” His point here is that the old covenant
requirements have passed away; they’re not binding on the Christian anymore.

So what does matter? Well, he tells you in the
second half of the verse. What matters? Faith working through love: that’s
what matters in the new covenant
. Not circumcision, not uncircumcision, not
the ceremonial law–but faith working through love. That’s what’s important.

Now in verse 7 he says, “You know once upon a time
you seemed to understand this. You were running well. Who hindered you from
obeying this truth?” And so what he’s saying is this: “You seemed to understand
this; you seemed to embrace it; you seemed to be living like this. What
happened? Who turned you around on this?” And then in verse 8 he says this,
“This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you.” What’s he saying? “This
idea that you’re being taught doesn’t come from God the Father. This idea is
from the Old Liar because God the Father would never say, ‘Begin with Christ and
finish with your works. Begin with Christ and add a little dash of the
ceremonial law. Begin with Christ and add a little dash of your own
faithfulness and those two things together will save you.’” No, the Father
would never say that. The Father didn’t send His Son to do a work that was
unfinished. He sent His Son to complete a job, and, as I recall, among His
Sons’ last words were, “It is finished.” And so the apostle is saying here,
“These people who are teaching you this didn’t get this from God. In fact,
whoever is teaching this, he isn’t a Christian; he doesn’t know the grace of

In verse 9 he goes on to quote something that he’s
quoted before. He must have liked to repeat this expression. Years ago, I used
to go out to lunch with Reed Miller, the former pastor of this congregation.
And my first few years when I was in Jackson teaching at the seminary, we
couldn’t get through a lunch without Reed saying one of his famous, little
aphorisms. And one of the ones that he always would say is, “Ligon, we don’t
want to be famous; we just want to be faithful.” And I could guarantee that
somewhere in the lunch that statement was going to come up. Well, this must be
one that Paul liked to say a lot: “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.”
He says it in 1 Corinthians. He liked this statement. Jesus makes this
point Himself. Well, Paul quotes this little statement from time to time. In
other words, what he’s saying in verse 9 is, “Beware allowing this kind of
influence. It can mess up a whole church.” You allow one teacher to teach a
congregation this, and it can mess up a whole church. Some of you don’t know
how relevant that is for us right now in Jackson, Mississippi.

In verse 10 he goes on to say this–it’s a word of
compliment to them–he says, “Look, I, I know you’re gonna come out right on
this. I know you’re going to end up orthodox. I know you’re going to believe
the right thing.” He says, “I have confidence in you, in the Lord, that you will
adopt no other view. I know you’re gonna be right on this. I know you’re going
to believe in salvation by grace alone and justification by faith alone, that
you won’t attempt to admix the ceremonial law with your justification. But…” he
goes on to say in verse 10, “whoever is teaching you this, God is going to judge
him. God is going to deal with him. He is going to be judged by Christ.”

In verse 11 he says this, “But I, brethren, if I
still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block
of the cross has been abolished.” In other words, he’s saying, “The cross, you
see, rules out all other ways of righteousness with God. If righteousness comes
by the cross, then righteousness can’t come in some other way unless you say
that the cross was not enough.” And that is something that God is not prepared
to say. How could God have possibly justified giving His own Son if it was not
enough? And how could we dare say of the gift of the heavenly Father of the
infinitely precious and perfect Son of God, His life and death was not enough;
that I, some paltry thing, that what I am going to do is going to add to that to
make it sufficient? The thought itself is blasphemous! And so the apostle Paul
says, “Look, if I were running around preaching circumcision as the thing that
you needed to do for righteousness, I would be making the cross of naught,
because the cross rules out all other ways of righteousness with God.”

Now in verse 12 he says something very nasty about
the people who are teaching this particular teaching. He did not mince words,
and, boy, does he not mince words in verse 12…but I won’t translate that for

II. The kind of freedom for which God intends us.

Let me skip on to the
next part of his argument, the final part of his argument. Verse 13, he says,
finally–he’s been showing you what you are not called to; now he’s going to show
you what you’re called to: “You’re called”–to what kind of freedom? –“not to
license but to liberty.” You are called to freedom, but don’t turn your freedom
into an opportunity of the flesh, but through love serve one another. You see,
he’s saying that you’re freed to serve. Isn’t that interesting? It’s the
reverse of the way we normally think. Indentured servants served in order to be
freed. Christ people are freed in order to serve. That’s why the image of the
bondservant, the permanent servant, is one of the favorite images of the
Christian in the New Testament. And it is also one of the most freeing images
because you’re freed from self; you’re freed from the eternal search and quest
of self-justification to give yourself away in service to one another. That’s
how the Christian fulfills the law: not by keeping the ceremonial code but by
living to serve. And he concludes in verse 15 by saying that if we fail to
love, then we are contradicting to our own calling and our freedom, because
we’ve been freed to serve one another.

III. Application
Now that I’ve outlined
the passage, let me make my two points. In this chapter, Paul makes it clear
that we are freed by what Christ has done, not by what Christ has done
something that we do. In this case it was people who believed that we
were freed by Christ plus the keeping of the ceremonial code. In our case, it
may be somebody who thinks, “Well, you’re not a real Christian until you
experience the second blessing of the Holy Spirit. You’re not a real Christian
until you speak in tongues. You’re not a real Christian until by faithfulness
you persevere.” Whatever “Christ plus” is in your theology, it is a denigration
of the fullness of the sufficiency of Jesus Christ.

I have a Lutheran friend who ends
every email he sends me with this final salutation: “Covered by the completely
sufficient, imputed righteousness of Christ.” Bless his Lutheran heart! He’s
got it just right. He’s covered by the completely sufficient, imputed
righteousness of Christ. His righteousness does not add one whit to his right
standing before God. We are freed by Christ’s work, not by Christ
something else
. That’s Paul’s first point.

But the second point is this:
We are freed to servitude
and it’s the most freeing servitude that anyone
could possibly experience. And that servitude is the servitude of loving one
. Now that’s hard. You know, it’s easy to serve one another when
you’re being nice to one another. But we don’t live in a world where even
Christians are always nice to one another. You know, there is no doubt in this
room tonight, in this gathering of Christians–what? 100, 200 folks? There are
folks in here who’ve let you down. There are folks in here who have hurt your
feelings. There may be folks here who’ve really wronged you deeply…and you’ve
been freed to love them. And that’s not something for the faint of heart.
Only the Spirit can engender that kind of love. And Paul is saying it is that
kind of love that marks us and sets us apart in the world. It’s not wearing
funny clothes. It’s not wearing our hair funny. It’s not obeying certain
ritual laws. It’s people loving one another, or the others who break their
hearts, who show that the Spirit indwells them as the temple of the Lord, in
this crazy world.

You know, doesn’t it remind you
of something that Jesus said in the upper room? “They will know you are My
disciples when you love one another.” You see that’s exactly what Paul is
getting to here. The thing that makes us different is not the ceremonial
law; it’s the Spirit working faith by love that makes us different in this world
We’ve been freed: freed from bondage to the ceremonial law, freed from bondage
to sin, freed from bondage to our own quest to justify ourselves. We’ve been
freed to love one another, and by that loving one another, we will be
unmistakably seen to be the Spirit indwelled people of God even by the world,
Jesus and Paul both say. May God enable us to live that way together. Let’s

Lord, what a glorious freedom
You have set us free to, and how far short do we fall from that liberty.
Sometimes we use that liberty as an excuse for license. Forgive us. Sometimes
we use that liberty without a thought for the needs of our brothers and sisters
in Christ. By Your Spirit cause us to live up to this reality which is already
ours in Christ. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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