Finally fully free
FINALLY FULLY FREE (Acts 15:20-29)
justification by grace through faith not only provides eternal life, but a new way of life here and now. Both Jews and Gentiles don’t go back to how they used to live. Grace brings us into true freedom
Free from the flesh (Rom 6)
Free from the Law (Rom 7)
Free for Christ (Rom 8)
Free to love (Gal 5)
Open your Bibles to Acts 15. We been working our way through the book of Acts and have come to Acts 15. Acts 15 is the central chapter in the book. It deals with one of the most important counsels in church history and settles 2 central doctrines in theology: 1) The nature of salvation and 2) the nature of the church.
Read Acts 15:1-2
As Paul finished his first missionary journey and returned to Antioch to report back to the church, there are a group of Jewish believers who supposedly have come from the Jerusalem church and the are saying, “Stop die bus!” Stop right there.
· Salvation is by faith in Jesus….and obedience to the Mosaic Law
· Membership in the covenant community is by faith in Jesus and circumcision.
· So they see continuity between what God was doing in the Old Testament under the Old Covenant and what He is doing through Jesus. They envisioned a way of life, both personal and communal – which was essentially the same as the way of life under the Old Covenant, and you just added faith in Jesus as the cherry on top.
· Their gospel was faith in Jesus and….law keeping, faith in Jesus and circumcision, which is contrary to salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
So the church at Antioch sends a delegation up to Jerusalem to get clarity on this matter.
Read vs 4-5 – God had been saving people from among the Gentiles and calling them into the New Covenant community called the church – but some said, no – they can’t be saved apart from obedience to the law and they can’t come into the covenant community apart from circumcision. Believe in Jesus, yes, but you need to add to your faith – these works in order to be saved and become fully fledged members of God’s covenant people.
Read vs 8-11 – After much debate they reach a unanimous verdict – salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone.
VS 10 James says, we should not put God to the test. In other words we should not be found to be acting contrary to God, opposing God and what He is doing. How would we be doing this? By putting a yolk on the Gentile which not even the Jews have been able to bear. In vs 19 he speaks of it as troubling the Gentiles, burdening the Gentiles.
What is the yolk he is speaking about? The yolk of the Mosaic Law. Perfect obedience to the law was an impossible standard for people to live by, in order to gain and maintain a right relationship with God. The law never helped anyone get right with God, it merely showed them how far they were falling short. Why, having been made right, would we place them under that yolk again? That’s James’ point.
Faith in Christ frees us from obligation to the law. Salvation by grace alone through faith alone frees us from a way of life which is regulated by the law, all that we must do for God – for a different way of life – which is governed and regulated by grace – all that God has given us in Christ.
Our problem is that while we formally affirm the doctrine of justification by grace through faith – we don’t consider the implications this has for the Christian way of life. That is what I want to spend some time doing this morning. I don’t want to just rush on from Acts 15 before helping you grasp the earth shattering implications of this doctrine for our daily lives.
To do that I want to go to Romans this morning – In the first 5 chapters Paul lays out the gospel of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Then in Chapter 6-8 he spells out the implications for the Christian life.
Does salvation by grace alone through faith alone change the way we live the Christian life after we are saved – or does it free us from the penalty of sin in order for us to go back and live just like we did before we were saved?
· For the Jews that would mean going back and living under the law and for the Gentiles that would mean going back and living under sin.
· The Jews would go back to their legalism and the Gentiles would go back to their licentiousness and salvation would have had no impact on their way of life.
Of course the N.T teaches just the opposite – justification by grace through faith not only provides eternal life, but a new way of life here and now. Both Jews and Gentiles don’t go back to how they used to live.
I’ve called this message “Finally free” Grace brings us into true freedom
1) Free from the flesh (Rom 6)
2) Free from the Law (Rom 7)
3) Free for Christ (Rom 8)
4) Free to love (Gal 5)
1: free from the flesh (Rom 6)
If we have trusted in Christ and been freed from the penalty of our sin by grace through faith – does that mean we are free from the penalty of sin in order to go back and live in sin and for sin just like we used to?
6:1-2 – By no means! Absolutely not!
6:2-7 – Look carefully at Paul’s answer here.
· Vs 4 Christ died in order that we might live/walk in a completely new way.
· It’s not that grace has set us free from the law so we ought not to sin
· It’s that grace has set us free from the controlling power of sin – so we cannot continue to sin.
· Look at 6:6-7. The gospel does something more than free us from the penalty of sin – it also frees us from the controlling power of sin. Faith in Christ not only changes our standing before God, it changes our inner disposition and relationship to sin.
· Read 11-14. We have a responsibility to consider, to recon, to choose to believe this truth, to lay hold of this reality by faith, that we are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ….and then to live accordingly.
· The Christian life is lived by faith, by believing this truth – that in Christ God has given us a gift – He has free’d us from the controlling power of our sinful nature, He has permanently changed our relationship to sin.
· Read 15-18. He comes back to this same point – grace doesn’t free us to sin, it frees us from sin. Grace changes our disposition so that we become enslaved to, obligated to, bent toward – righteousness rather than sin.
So in Acts 15 they affirm that the Gentiles who been reconciled to God by grace through faith – should not be placed under the burden of the Law and here in Rom 6 Paul is expanding on what this means and why this is.
He puts Law and Grace in contrast to each other as two opposing dispensations or era’s. The era of law brought condemnation, it lead us to see our need for a saviour. The era of grace brought that saviour and gives us freedom.
· Under the Mosaic covenant, God blessings were secured by obedience to the Law, by my works. Under the New Covenant God’s blessings have been secure by Christ’s obedience to the Law, by His works for me – that’s grace.
Listen to this definition of law:
“the system of rules which a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members and which it may enforce by the imposition of penalties.”
· So we impose laws to regulate behaviour
· We enforce those laws by imposing penalties because its assumed without penalties – people won’t obey the rules.
· Without laws in this country and enforcement of penalties of penalties for law-breaking – what would this country become – lawless chaos.
Illustration – ruled by sin
Which parent ever called their children together ages 3-15 and said – right family, we need to lay down some rules for this family.
· You need to be selfish and remember not to share any of your toys with your siblings.
· You need to be more diligent about your lying and make sure you tell at least one lie a day
· And we’re going to send you for some extra lessons in how to mess up your room and keep it messy.
We don’t need to lay down laws about sinning because sinning comes…. naturally – we need to lay down laws to try and curb sin, to stop it from running out of control.
· Now what would happen if I were no longer under the controlling power of sin, but the controlling power of righteousness?
· Look at Rom 6:17-18 again
· What would the role of law be in our lives if we desired righteousness?
· Would it matter if the penalty for sin was removed, if we didn’t have the desire to sin in the first place?
Read Rom 6:20-23
· Two things are set in contrast here: 1) the life of those enslaved to sin which leads to death and 2) the life of those saved by grace which leads to eternal life.
· Vs 22 – look carefully at vs 22 again. What is the fruit of salvation by grace alone “The fruit leads to sanctification” What is the root or primary cause – justification, being set free from the controlling power and influence of sin, what is the fruit = sanctification that we live lives characterized by righteousness rather than sin and what is the end result – eternal life.
· There is no third way! Saved and living in sin. Saved by not sanctified. Save but that has no effect on the way we live.
By grace we have been freed from the controlling power of the flesh, our fallen sinful nature. And because of that, we have also been freed from the dispensation of law, which is what the Jerusalem counsel concluded as well.
2: Free from Law (Rom 7,8)
Read Rom 7:4-6
· Life lived under the law brought only condemnation and death. Life lived under Christ results according to vs 4 “bearing fruit for God” fruitfulness!
· So we are no longer under the law as a set of rules laid down in order to regulate our behaviour and impose punishments when we don’t conform.
· What stops us living lawlessly then?
· We’ve come under another controlling influence – grace.
· Vs 6 under grace, we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not on the old way of the written code.
· What was contrasted in Romans 6 was the way of sin, fleshly indulgence, licenciousness in contrast to the way of grace. What is contrasted in Rom 7 is the way of law, of legalism which leads to death and the way of grace that leads to life.
So justification by grace through faith alone – has implications not just for how we get saved, but for how we live the Christian life.
The Christian way of life is not governed by a set of laws designed to regulate our behaviour with the threat of punishments which are meant to restrain us from doing what we would otherwise want to do.
Our lives are governed by a different, in fact an opposite principle – the principles of grace. The way of life under grace is totally different from the way of life under law.
Read Rom 8:1-11
· Through the person and work of Christ, God has not only fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law – but he’s given us a new life and a new way to walk – vs 4 not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
· VS 10-11 - Though the remnants of the fallen flesh still remain – yet the Spirit is constantly renewing us into the image of Christ.
· By the power and the leading of the Spirit – we are enabled to put to death the sinful deeds of the flesh and walk in newness of life. Read Rom 8:12-14.
Grace does for us what the Law was powerless to do – it frees us from the penalty of sin, the controlling power of the flesh and gives us the propensity, the desire for righteousness. It frees us from the rule of Law in order to be ruled by Christ and lead by His Spirit.
Again, there is no middle road, no other road. All who are justified are children of God and lead by the Spirit on a pathway of sanctification – vs 14.
What is our responsibility – to recon, to believe according to Rom 6,7. Here in Rom 8 – to set our minds on the things of the Spirit 8:5. Actually Rom 8:5 is not presented as a command, but as a reality – this is what the Spirit does, He fixes our minds on the things of the spirit as opposed to the things of the flesh.
Now the things of the flesh are what? Sin… The things of the Spirit are what? Christ.
3: Free for Christ (2 Cor 3:4-18)
So I’ve given you a brief survey of Rom 6-8 which is the application of the gospel of justification by faith. Rom 6-8 outlines the implications of what they concluded at the counsel in Acts 15 – We are no longer under the law as a system of rules designed to regulate our behaviour, with the threat of punishment for law-breaking. Instead we are governed by grace and grace operates by the Spirit working within us, transforming our desires from within.
What is the principle agent the Spirit uses to transform our desires? The gospel, the truth about what God has done for us in Christ.
As we focus on Christ and His performance for us, rather than ourselves and our performance Him, we are transformed into His image in increasing measure.
2 Cor 3:4-18
· 4-6 God has done for us what we could not do for ourselves or for him.
· The New Covenant is the way of the Spirit where the law is not written in letters on tablets of stone, but engraved in our hearts- internal transformation brought by the Spirit.
· 7-11 He contrasts the glory of the Old Covennat with the glory of the new. The way of law was temporary destined to be surpassed by the way of the Spirit which is infinitely more glorious.
· Vs 18 how does the Spirit lead, what does He focus our minds on? What does the ministry of the Spirit illuminate? CHRIST.
In other words, the Spirit leads believers to lawful living – not by pointing us to the law, what we must do for Christ, but pointing us to Christ, what God have given us in Christ.
The focus of the Christian life is not the law, its not what we have or must do for Christ – the focus of the Christian life is on what Christ has done for us.
· Do you spend more time thinking about and praying about yourself and your sin – than you do thinking about Christ and what He has done for you?
· Do you spend more time confessing your sin than confessing the righteousness of Christ for you?
· Are you more burdened by your sin than you are comforted by the righteousness of Christ given to replace your sin?
See we’ve got our focus all wrong when it comes to the daily implications of justification – we have been freed from the controlling power of sin, freed from the Law as the regulating principle of our life – free to focus on and live for and enjoy Christ – free to love Him and others.
THE FOCUS OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS CHRIST!
4: Free for Love (Gal 5)
Maybe another way of putting the previous 3 points would be simply to say this: The Spirit moves us away from loving sin and loving self-righteousness - to love Christ
It’s out of love for Christ that we then trust and obey Him. But love is not the same as law.
· When we love our wife and buy her flowers as an expression of our love – that’s something totally different from being required to buy her flowers by some marital contract.
· When your wife tells you – you better buy me flowers or else – you’ve just lost the freedom to buy her flowers as an expression of love. Grace frees us for love.
· When you love your children, you don’t need to be obligated to give them money each month. You definitely don’t go around asking other parents whether you should give them 10% of your gross of net income. Yet that is the question I am asked more than any other when it comes to tithing.
Rom 5:5 says that God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. God’s very love has been given to us freely and lavishly – so we are free to love God and to love others – and that desire to love God and love others motivates us to live righteously, not out of external obligation, or fear or punishment – but as an expression of love.
Love is inner obligation
Let’s not confuse love with feelings. When I say we are free to love, I don’t mean we are free to do whatever we feel like doing. True love is not directed by feelings but directs our feelings and our wills. True love obligates us, love constrains us – a couple who really love each other will obligate themselves in the covenant of marriage – to love each other no matter what. But this is a willing obligation which is grounded in love rather than the external obligation of law.
Out love love for Christ and for others – we freely give of ourselves and our time and our money and our resources. We freely lay down our lives for Christ and for others – and in so doing – we more than fulfil the legal stipulations of the law.
Illustration: driving past school kids
If I am really concerned about the wellbeing and safety of some school kids who are playing next to the road – I will slow down and make sure that my driving won’t do them any harm because I care about their safety. If that’s the case, I am not doing it because there is a sign telling me to slow down and I’m afraid that if I don’t I’ll get a hefty fine. In both cases I reduce speed – but the one is motivated by fear, the other by love.
Grace has freed me from the flesh, grace has freed me from the law, grace has freed me for Christ, grace has freed me to love- lets look at how Gal 5 brings these all together – hopefully this chapter will make a whole lot more sense to you now….
· 5:1-2 salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone changes the way we must live – it frees us from slavery to live by grace.
· 3-6 we are free from the obligation to the law – vs 6 free to live by faith working through love.
· 7-14 we have been set free – not to go back and serve the flesh. We’ve been set free from the controlling power of the flesh to love Christ and others and vs 14 love is the underlying principle of the law – true love leads us to fulfil the law.
· 15-18 We have been freed from the Law as the means for restraining the flesh. The Spirit is the agent who subdues the remnants of the flesh and leads us toward true righteouness.
· 19-25 He sets the deeds of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit in contrast. The fruit of the Spirit is the righteousness that He produces which is contrary to the misdeeds which the flesh produces. The fruit of the Spirit is not against the law but fulfils the law. Those who belong to Christ have had their flesh crucified with Christ and by grace freed from its controlling power and by grace given the Spirit to lead them to righteousness and given the propensity to love, to truly love Christ and others..
· So we live, vs 25 by trusting in what God has done for us in Christ – by letting the Spirit lead us back to Calvary – from whence grace continues to flow – grace to cover our sin, grace to subdue our sin, grace to conform us to Christ.
The Christians life is a Christ-centred life. Justification is the root and foundation for our sanctification as daily the Spirit leads us back to Christ, back to the cross, back to grace, back to what God has done for us – so that there we might behold the glory of Christ and be transformed into His image.
HYMN – JESUS KEEP ME NEAR THE CROSS