‘Free in Christ’ is “Alive in Christ” (Galatians 5:13-18)

Free in Christ is Alive in Christ

Liberty is not license, but freedom comes by life in the Spirit–Galatians 5:13-18

Sometimes, it almost seems like it has become fashionable for students to reject their parents’ faith–especially Reformed parents who believe God chooses those who will be saved. Instead of Reformed theology being trendy, now believing Reformed truth has become an issue for a few students who are indoctrinated in the world’s faulty fairness doctrine. These lost students will say, “How come God didn’t save everyone? If it depends on God and He alone can save, why doesn’t He choose everyone?” They say, “It sounds to me like God is unjust.” How do you answer that? Well, you say . . .

1)  Why does God save anyone? No one deserves salvation at all. No one is deserving. God is not being unfair–God is being merciful to some. It is only because He is merciful.

2)  All of us are headed to Hell by our nature and by our choices. It is only grace that causes God to pick some out of the horde of humanity, who are all rebelling against Him.

3)  God does save, but each person is also responsible to believe (Philippians 2:11 to 12). You can believe Christ died for sin, and God will hold you responsible to embrace Him in faith.

4)  God has graciously made Himself known to all humanity–through your conscience internally, and through creation externally. And through His Spirit (John 16:8), convicting the world of sin, righteousness and judgment.

5)  The call to salvation is given throughout the Word of God. On the heels of Romans 9 (election), is Romans 10, you must believe to be saved.

6)  God desires all men to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

7)  Luke 13:24 calls sinners to press into God’s Kingdom by denying self, losing your life. Churches and parents must teach the truth, speak the truth, and stand upon the truth.

But even more pointed for you parents is this–along with the truth, your children need to be in an environment where they see the truth lived out, where they see the Lord work in a supernatural way in and through people. They need to hear the roles of men and women being taught. But they must also see the roles of men and women lived out. The truth must be taught, but also must be applied in order to be doers of the Word and not merely hearers. Seek to have them in an environment of truth and grace–truth lived out, truth practiced.

Sometimes doctrine and instruction can be difficult to understand. Plus God’s Word is definitely contrary to what the world demonstrates and the enemy teaches. When your students battle with doctrine and struggle in their faith, it is important and powerful if they have also seen the truth of God’s Word lived out in the home and in the church. It’s crucial they get to see God transforming sinners, and the Lord working through people. It’s important for them to witness friends surrendering to Christ, so when they struggle with truth, they can say, “I’ve heard the truth, but I have also seen the Lord work–I know Christ is alive and I know He is true. I’ve seen Him work.”

It is not required, but so helpful for your students and for all of us to see the dramatic, miraculous and powerful things God does in the lives of people and through the ministry of a church community—through salvation, testimonies, baptisms, spiritual gifts exercised in service, God’s providence, wisdom from older saints and more? So parents–are you buying up the opportunities at FBC to see Christ lived out, the power of the Spirit demonstrated, and the gracious hand of the Father in providence?

Do you attend baptism services to celebrate the testimonies of changed lives? Are you interconnected with God’s people, to be impacted by the Spirit through them? Are you experiencing the power of the Spirit expressed in ministry through your giftedness? Are you keeping a record of answered prayers? Are you seeking God’s wisdom through His Word and through His people for specific trials? Are you watching for, and recalling, the providence of God being expressed daily in your lives? Are you keeping track of spiritual victories–how God overcame evil and glorified Himself?

If you’re casual and convenient about your faith, you will miss the Spirit’s work, and so will your children. If you remain distant from the body, you’ll not see Him. The apostle Paul wants the Galatians to walk intimately with Christ, to see the work of Christ and be alive in Christ as you live through His Spirit. The Gospel Paul teaches, salvation by grace through faith, is founded upon a 24/7 dependence upon the Holy Spirit. And this new state, where you are forgiven for all your sins, past present and future, doesn’t create a life where you are free to sin, but salvation creates a heart that enjoys the freedom to obey and enjoy Christ.

Thus far in this letter to the Galatians, Paul has been battling legalism–the false teachers telling Christians to return to obeying the Law in order to get saved. Now Paul shows us he is also battling libertarianism–where false teachers accuse Paul of teaching a Gospel which creates a licentious lifestyle and a freedom to sin. Paul will now correct both legalism and license in chapter 5, verses 13 to 18. The new heart causes all Christians to want to serve and love others, and not pursue sin. It’s living by the Spirit which helps you overcome sin and not partake in sin. There are two major points.

First, Pursue God’s PURPOSES for freedom. Read with me verses 13 to 15, “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. 14For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 15But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”

The second major point is, Rely on God’s SPIRIT to live free. Now read aloud verses 16 to 18, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” Do you remember living lost when you were a slave to sin? Some of you even remember what it was like to be a slave to religion, when you tried to earn your spot in Heaven. Your Lord wants you to live free in Christ—therefore . . .

#1  PURSUE God’s PURPOSES for true freedom  Verses 13 to 15

Everyone wants to be free. American’s have a free country–a free-market economy, and free enterprise. People want to have a free hand, a free rein, and a free lunch. But people get in trouble whenever they pursue freedom without responsibility. Unfortunately, this is what most of your friends want. And some Christians get this wrong as well–they don’t understand Christian freedom. There are those who teach that the grace of God gives you freedom to sin without fear or consequence–after all, you’ve been made righteous by grace, not works.

But Paul strongly disagrees in Romans 6:1 and 2. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” Jude warns us there will be those who will teach that God’s grace is a freedom to sin–to say what you want and do what you want. Jude 4, “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” A lifestyle of unrepentant sin is a denial of the Lordship of Christ and a distortion of the Gospel. And Paul reminds you in verse 13 . . .

First  You are freed, not to SIN more, but to SERVE more  Verse 13

Galatians 5:13, “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.” You were called to freedom, liberty–you’re free from the slavery of religious customs and keeping religious laws as a means of salvation. And you’re free from the curse of God’s Law, which was death. You should die because of your disobedience to God’s Law, but Christ bore that curse for you on the cross. Our Savior died for you.

Liberty must always be defended from its two great enemies–legalism and license. So Paul clarifies, the freedom Christ purchased for you never turns into, verse 13, “an opportunity for the flesh.” “Opportunity” was often used to describe a central base of military operations. Your freedom was never intended to turn you loose to live sinfully. Your freedom in Christ is not to do what you want–or an opportunity to indulge in sin.

The word “flesh” is used different ways in the New Testament–but here it refers to your sinful inclinations. As a Christian, you no longer have a nature that wants to sin. Romans 6:6, but you do have the memory of sin, the inclination of sin, a sin residuum in you–a humanness. One day you will be fully redeemed, in a glorified body, with no more inclination to sin. But until then, even though you have been saved from the penalty of sin and actually delivered from the power of sin, we still battle with the presence of sin, along with the memory of sin, and the desire for sin, called “the flesh” here–and that memory of sin has quite a pull toward evil. In Christ and through His Spirit, we can partially overcome this evil pull–but Paul reminds us here, the freedom Christians have is not to become a base of operations from where we can freely sin without consequence.

John MacArthur gets pointed when he says, “Under the cloak of Christian liberty, some professed Christians claim they are free to get drunk, enjoy worldly amusements, feed their minds on smutty books, magazines, and movies, and live in almost unrestrained self-indulgence. But such a person gives strong evidence that he is not a Christian at all. Although a true believer may fall into serious sin, his renewed conscience and Christ’s own indwelling Spirit will not allow him to enjoy it for long. And he surely will not continually try to justify sin as a legitimate expression of Christian freedom. The new nature hates sin and loves the righteousness of God.”

With the enemy, we need to battle with the sword of God’s Word and stand on truth. With the world, we defeat our love for the world by intensifying our love for the Father. But with the flesh, most often we must flee and not create opportunities to sin. Sometimes, foolishly, Christians create bases of operation for the sins of the flesh–maybe allowing themselves to watch things on the computer or flat screen which result in sin. Maybe excusing their idol of alcohol, drugs, sweets, caffeine or Dr Pepper and nachos.

Maybe creating a base of sin by showing more loyalty to sports and entertainment than to Christ. Maybe justifying a heart given to leisure with hobbies, amusement parks, or food. Maybe you have created a base of operations to satisfy your desires to sin. The grace of God forgiving all your sin, past present and future, is not a license for you to live sinfully or irresponsibly. No, your freedom, bought by Christ, given to you by grace through faith, is not a freedom for you to do what you want, but a freedom to do what God wants.

Wait–before you think that’s self-serving, remember who we are talking about. Who is the greatest, most perfect, most loving, most sacrificial being in the universe. Who bought your salvation by His own suffering and death and whose presence is the greatest joy, the greatest delight, the greatest gift anyone can ever experience? Jesus Christ. Salvation is actually knowing Christ. Paul says the best in this life is dung, compared to knowing Christ.

So, the freedom that lets you enjoy Christ and do what He wants–which, by the way, is always best, is true freedom. Which is why Paul commands you in verse 13, “but through love serve one another.” Christian freedom allows you to be like Christ. And what was Christ like? A servant. The greatest among you are the servants, who serve as a way of life, from a heart of service. Christ came to serve. So real freedom is not for pursuing your wants and certainly not sin–your freedom is not for selfish fulfillment, but for serving others.

Do you remember what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:15? “And He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” What Christ did for you is so compelling, it should alter who we live for and what we live for. And Paul’s charge to you in verse 13 is not for you to run from sin. Look carefully–Paul’s point is, you are freed for you to run to Christ, to love Christ and serve Him.

The command to serve is literally a command to slave for Christ. Paul is shocking here–telling his readers they are freed from sin to be the slave of Christ. The command to slave is for you to obey continually from your heart. Not just in ministry, but at school, at home, with your friends, at work, when no one is watching–you flee sin by exercising a loving heart of service. This is pointing right at you. The reason some of you are losing your war with sin is simply because you are not serving Christ. Paul could not be clearer in verse 13–you are to flee the sin of the flesh by running towards faithful loving ministry to others. You have been freed by Christ to serve others, not sin.

Second  You are Freed from the LAW so you can LOVE  Verse 14

Galatians 5:14, “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” When a Christian loves others, he fulfills all the moral requirements of the Mosaic Law towards others. God’s nature has never changed, nor His standards for right and wrong. Jesus echoed this truth with the greatest Old Testament Law in Matthew 22:36 to 40 when He declared that “the great commandment in the Law” was, “37You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. . . 39The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.’ ”

God had always called His people to serve and obey Him because they love Him. And this love is not a feeling, but a self-sacrificing giving of oneself for the betterment of another. Christ loved us, so we love Him and we love others. Verse 14, Christ freed you from the demands and penalty of the Law so you could love others.

The very first law given through Moses after the Ten Commandments is a beautiful example of serving the Lord out of love, rather than mere duty. This law stipulated that if one Hebrew bought another Hebrew as a slave, the slave had to be freed after serving his master for six years. But Exodus 21:5 to 6 says, “If the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, … I will not go out as a free man,’ 6then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently.”

The purpose of Christian freedom is for believers to do exactly like that Hebrew slave did, who permanently surrendered his freedom to the master he loved. He willingly gave up his freedom to serve his master. Paul is saying–you give up your sinful desires to become slaves of God, whom you love. And as you love, you prove you are freed from the Law and enslaved to God Himself. Love is the main reason Christ made you free.

Third  You are freed to serve and love, or you will EAT each other alive  Verse 15

Not only is license self-enslaving, it is also self-destroying, as Paul goes on to say. Galatians 5:15, “But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” “Bite and devour” is the picture of wild animals savagely attacking and killing each other–a graphic picture of what happens in the spiritual realm when believers do not love and serve each other.

This is part of the reason some churches implode–they are filled with those who don’t love and don’t serve. Instead of seeing service and sacrifice as the desire of Christ, they come to church for their own desires. Instead of a commitment to look at each member as spiritually gifted, making them a unique expression of the person of Christ–they only see the flaws, weaknesses, and sin bents of one another. So they eat each other alive. They harm others, attack others, are critical of others in a feeding frenzy of spiritually laminated gossip.

Look at verse 15–Paul commands you to “take care”, meaning open your eyes, see this correctly. This is why you are to labor in service and maintain a heart of love for one another. The alternative is verse 15, you chew each other apart. Notice twice Paul uses the term “one another” in verse 15. In the New Testament, we are to love, build up, care for, encourage and serve one another–never “bite and devour one another.”

Paul has just explained that the ruling principle of Christian freedom is always love. The believer with an unnecessarily strict conscience (the legalist) and the one with a freed conscience (the libertine) are to lovingly accept and serve one another in Christ. Otherwise, they will devour one another. Lovelessness is destructive, so you are called to freedom–the freedom to show, give and care in love, which is the solution to both extremes of legalism and license.

You were freed to cultivate a community of love and service, and not a community of critics and faultfinders. But sadly, we can’t live this way in our strength–even though you’re free, so . . .

#2  RELY on God’s SPIRIT to live free  Verses 16 to 18

First WALK by the Spirit to overcome the flesh  Verse 16

Galatians 5:16, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” Every genuine believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit–once you are in Christ, the Spirit is in you. All believers have the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Romans 8:9b is direct, “But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.”

The Holy Spirit is your personal power for living to please God. In order to live free, alive in Christ, and not give into your fleshly desires, Paul commands you to walk by the Spirit. Obey this Christian–you are to live by the Holy Spirit. Giving the command to walk proves it can be done–walk is walking, continuous action, or a habitual lifestyle, implying growing, progressing and maturing in the Spirit.

Many of you know Ephesians 5:18, “But be filled with the Spirit.” Though every Christian is indwelt with the Spirit, not every believer is filled with the Spirit. To be indwelt is to have all the Spirit–to be filled is for the Spirit to have all of you. To be filled with the Spirit means controlled, directed, led, and empowered–by being saturated in the Word, obedient to the Word, dependently reliant on the Spirit, confessing all known sin, with a desire to please Christ, serve Him and share Him with others. Now get this–being filled with the Spirit is a moment-by-moment dependence upon Christ and His Word. That reliance upon the Spirit and humble obedience to his Word, where you continually say, not my will but yours be done Lord–not what I feel, but what you command.

When that moment-by-moment surrendering becomes a habit, that is when you have a walk in the Spirit–an ongoing dependence upon the Spirit and a choice to obey God’s Word over your thinking, feeling or circumstances. Your spouse lights you up with a cutting remark, but you respond with gentle silence, with a tender heart, with a brokenness over the comments with kindness toward them. Your desire to watch evil seems uncontrollable, but you cry out for help in prayer as you depend on the Spirit–quoting Scripture, then going to serve someone in love, fleeing the temptation.

As you develop the habit of walking in the Spirit, you’ll not give into the inclination to internally or externally sin. That sin residuum will less and less show itself. That memory of a sin nature and actions of sin will have less draw upon your life. Or as Paul says it, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” But never forget, until Heaven, this struggle will remain with you. As a Christian, you will be known more for the Spirit than for the flesh. When you became a Christian, you were immediately in the Spirit and no longer the flesh. But the flesh, the memory of a sin nature and actions of sin are still with you. So . . .

Second  Live aware of the TENSION between flesh and spirit  Verse 17

Walking by the Spirit is never simply a matter of passive surrender–never. The Spirit-led life is a life of conflict, because it’s in constant combat with the old ways of the flesh that continue to tempt and seduce the believer. Galatians 5:17, “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

The flesh opposes the work of the Spirit and leads the believer toward sinful behavior he’d not otherwise be compelled to do. Again, the flesh is a term Paul often uses to describe the stink/distortion of the “old man” after a person is saved. It refers to unredeemed humanness–the part of a believer that awaits future redemption at the time of his glorification. Until then, he has a redeemed self, living in an unredeemed humanness, and that creates great conflict.

Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” In verse 17 here, the flesh as it relates to Christians is your fallen humanness–the memory of your nature and corruption from sin, causing a propensity to sin again. The flesh is that part of a believer that functions apart from and against the Spirit.

An unsaved person often regrets the sinful things they do because of guilt or painful consequences, but they have no spiritual warfare going on inside them, because they only have a fleshly, fallen nature and are devoid of the Spirit. Though they may be disgusted by their sin, their basic nature is to be God’s enemy and a servant of the devil. But a saved person has the indwelling Spirit fighting against the fleshly inclination to sin. Only Christians can say with Paul in Romans 7:22 to 23, “I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind.”

Believers do not always do what they wish to do—amen? There are moments for every Christian in this room when the wishing is present, but the doing is not. The Spirit often halts what our flesh desires, and the flesh often overrides the will that comes from the Spirit. It is no surprise, this frustrating conflict led Paul to exclaim in Romans 7:24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” Although the Christian life is warfare, it is warfare where victory is always possible.

Third  The Spirit FREES you from external religion  Verse 18

Galatians 5:18, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” Take your choice–these are mutually exclusive. Either you live by the power of the Spirit, which results in righteous behavior and Christlike attitudes–which Paul is about to describe as the fruit of the Spirit in verses 22 to 26. Or you live by the power of the Law, which can only produce unrighteous behavior and ungodly attitudes—which Paul is about to describe as the fruit of the flesh in verses 19 to 21.

To be led by the Spirit (verse 18) is the same as walking by Him–but this verb carries an additional emphasis on His leadership. We do not walk along with the Spirit as an equal–but we follow His leading as our sovereign, divine guide. And never forget, the Spirit of truth will only guide you as you depend on, obey, and follow the truth of God’s Word. When you are dependently led by the Spirit of God, then you’re no longer under the Law–no longer trying to do religion, do works, do deeds, but depending on God to save, sanctify you and glorify you by bringing you home to Heaven.

The Law is what you do–being led by the Spirit is what God does. It’s the Spirit-filled, Spirit-led, Spirit-directed walk which frees you from religion and places you firmly into a relationship with the living God–alive, real, personal, intimate. Depend upon the Spirit of Christ as you follow His Word in obedience. My brothers and sisters–live intimate with Christ. Don’t live legalistically by Law and don’t sin liberally by license, but walk with Christ in service and love through His Spirit.



The power for Christian living is entirely from the Holy Spirit, just as the power of salvation is entirely in Jesus Christ. But both in the justifying work of Christ and in the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, your will is active, and a commitment is called for. The Christian is not to sit on the sidelines simply watching the Holy Spirit do battle for you. You must consider yourself dead to sin–refuse to let sin reign in you. Present your members as instruments of righteousness and don’t lose heart in doing good.

The believer who is led by the Holy Spirit must be willing to go where the Spirit guides him and do what the Spirit leads him to do. You must dependently act. You don’t wait for a feeling–you live by faith to serve. You don’t wait for opening or opportunity–you obey in reliance. To claim surrender to the Holy Spirit but not be personally involved in God’s work of faithful, ongoing service, giving what you have away in sacrificial love towards others, is to call Jesus, “Lord, Lord, and not do what He says” (Luke 6:46).


With all this talk of freedom, it would be easy to think the Christian life is one spiritual triumph after another. We are free from sin–so If we live by the Spirit, we will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. And we are free to serve–as we are led by the Spirit, we fulfill the law of love. Yet reality is, Christians often suffer bitter spiritual defeats. We still sin. We do not always want to serve. Meaning we fail to fulfill the law of God’s love. How can we live with the apparent contradiction between our freedom and our failings?

Allow verse 17 to help you. Say in prayer, say to yourself, “Fred/Frieda–you will never be completely without sin, because you still have the flesh. Therefore, you will always be aware of this conflict Paul described, as he said, ‘The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit.’ But Fred, do not despair–Heaven is coming. But until then, do dependently, fight back, do not gratify the desires of your flesh, stay in the war. Long to hear, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ “


The moment Christ transforms you in salvation, the Holy Spirit enters simultaneously. And when the Spirit indwells you, He will begin to lead you in the way of freedom (Galatians 5:1), holiness (5:16), truth (John 16:13 to 15), fruitfulness (Galatians 5:22 to 23), access to God in prayer (Ephesians 2:18), assurance (Romans 8:16), witnessing (Acts 1:8), submissive joy (Ephesians 5:18 to 21), and from today, service to others and love for others.

Do you see the obvious fruit of the Spirit in and through your life? Right now–not perfectly, not without struggle, not without failure, but you will see His fruit. If you do not see His fruit, then turn to Christ in repentance and faith. Turn from an external Christianity to enjoy an internal transformation. Turn from your sin in repentance and depend on Christ by faith, trusting in His life and His work on the cross alone to save you from your sins—and do that now. Let’s pray.

About Chris Mueller

Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church - Murrieta.

Leave a Comment