Reasonable and Prudent
Preached by Pastor Jason Abbott
From 1995 to 1999, the speed limit on Montana highways was posted as “reasonable and prudent”—meaning that drivers were left a great deal of freedom in choosing how fast “reasonable and prudent” was for them at any given moment. But, it also meant that the Montana State Police had an equal measure of freedom in determining how fast they believed “reasonable and prudent” should have been for drivers at any given moment.
I was in college during those five years. I took long trips across the country during those five years. I may have driven, during one of those cross country trips, through Montana during those five years. I may have at some point thought “reasonable and prudent” meant 110 mph while descending a small mountainside in a 1997 Honda Civic during those five years.
I am 110% certain that no Montana Trooper would’ve considered 110 mph “reasonable and prudent” during those five years! And, I am also 110% positive that Paul and Jesus wouldn’t have considered 110 mph a “reasonable and prudent” use of my Christian freedom while driving during those five years.
Which begs an incredibly important question: What does it mean to be free? What does Christian freedom—a “reasonable and prudent” Christian freedom—look like? And this is precisely the question Paul takes up and answers here.
Let’s read the passage together and, then, pray that God would instruct us concerning “reasonable and prudent” use of our freedom in Christ.
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.
7 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion is not from him who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!
13 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. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
As we consider Christian freedom, we’ll first try to establish what it is not and second try to establish what it is.
1. What isn’t Christian freedom?
From this passage, I think the Holy Spirit working through the apostle Paul tells us that Christian freedom isn’t (at the very least!) two things: (a) it’s not law. It’s not legalism or slavery to regulations. On the other hand, (b) it’s not license. It’s not unrestraint or a lack of control or lawlessness. Let’s consider each.
a. It’s not law (vv. 1-4).
This is Paul’s main concern for the Galatians here—that they’d not regress, moving away from living as a people saved by grace to living as a people who try, by works of the law, to save themselves. Look again at the first four verses.
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. [What’s this “yoke of slavery”? Paul explains:]
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 (vv. 1-4).
Readopting the mindset that God will accept people based on their merits (Paul argues) is not Christian freedom but, rather, a brutal and oppressive slavery because it is simply impossible for us “to keep the whole law” of God (v. 3). Nobody can! God’s holy standard is perfection at every point.
If you’re a non-Christian visiting, you may be thinking God needs to relax—that his acceptance standards are too high, that his divine panties are on too tight. You may be thinking that setting a slightly lower bar would make life more fun and the world a better place.
For just a moment, I’d encourage you to consider the salvation standard you’d set. What would your minimum requirements be for entrance into eternity? Probably the Hitlers and bin Ladens and Mansons of the world don’t make the cut. But, what should one do to make it?
Do you have the beginnings of your salvation list in mind? Now imagine, with me, that you come to the end of your life and that God asks you for your list. Suppose he says, I won’t grade you upon your obedience to my holy standard; rather, I’ll only evaluate your obedience to your own standard.
How do you think you’d do? I’ll bet (even by your own standard of shoulds) you would still be in extreme need of God’s grace. I’ll wager that you would find (even your own moral laws) a pretty cruel slave master.1
I live off of a fairly busy street. The speed limit there is posted as 25 mph (15 mph when the school nearby is in session!). These laws are regularly ignored. This continuously annoys me—Look at this punk! He’s got to be doing 50 mph! This turkey needs to slow way down, or she is going to kill some kid! These types of statements regularly roll off my tongue in judgment.
(I’m such an old curmudgeon that my kids sit at the table and imitate me: That guy’s driving like a maniac! Slowdown Mad Max!)
Of course, if this is my standard—my “Ten Commandments” of driving—how am I measuring up in other people’s neighborhoods? How am I measuring up on the roads of Montana?
Paul therefore says that works of the law (certainly God’s and even our own) will never bring us Christian freedom. So that’s one thing Christian freedom isn’t. But there’s another thing Christian freedom is not.
b. It’s not license (vv. 5-6, 13-15).
Our freedom is not about doing whatever we choose whenever we choose. That’s never been part of Christian freedom. Look at what Paul writes.
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 (vv. 5-6).
Then a few verses later, he continues:
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. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another (vv. 13-15).
Allow me to make a few observations.
- In verse five, there’s a something—“righteousness”—for which we wait. Christian freedom doesn’t mean we get to choose our ultimate hope.
- In verse six, this freedom (we’re set free for) doesn’t mean total leisure. Instead, Christian freedom comes through a sincere faith (in Jesus Christ) that puts the believer to work through love.
- In verse thirteen, this call to freedom does not mean that anything goes since Paul immediately warns those who are free not to use their freedom for sin but, rather, for the loving service of one another.
- In verse fourteen, the law still seems to play a role in Christian freedom since Paul explains that it is fulfilled by loving your neighbor as yourself.
As you and I read through the New Testament, it is abundantly clear that Christian freedom cannot mean believers have license to do whatever they choose whenever they choose. In fact, throughout Scripture there are many lists of sins, things believers (those who are set free in Christ!) are commanded not to do.
Before we move into a conversation about what Christian freedom really is, let me take a moment to highlight a myth about freedom which we regularly buy. Often we think we’d be free if we just had a bit more money in our bank accounts, or we think we’d be free if we had more time to spend on weekends or vacations. This, however, is an ironic lie we’re buying.
It’s ironic because as soon as we think freedom will be found in more cash or more leisure or more anything, we’ve made ourselves slaves to that very thing. I’ve never met a person who believed they didn’t need a bit more spending cash. And, while I have met people who have tons of time for pleasure (i.e. retirees), none of them ever seemed particularly content and free and happy to me.
What good is more money when the thing it buys regularly fades before us? What good is more time when we have no better purpose for it than to feed, constantly, our transient appetites and desires?
Friends, don’t wed your hope of freedom to such fleeting, temporal things. Rather, wed your freedom to the purposes of the only constant and eternal One!
And this brings us to our final question.
2. What is Christian freedom?
Consider two short verses from this passage on Christian freedom with me. Right in the middle of his discourse, Paul writes this:
You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you (vv. 7-8).
Notice, in urging the Galatian church to freedom in their service of Christ, that Paul says there’s a race (a purpose!) and one who calls you to run it (a coach!). Or (in different terms) there’s a mission and a master to true Christian freedom.
In Chariots of Fire, there are two very different sprinters who run in contrast to one another. One is the hardnosed English sprinter named Harold Abrahams. The other is the much gentler Scottish sprinter named Eric Liddell. For a second, consider their views on running as depicted in the movie.
Abrahams, in speaking to a teammate before the 100 meter finals says:
And now in one hour’s time I will be out there again. I will raise my eyes and look down that corridor, four feet wide, with ten lonely seconds to justify my whole existence. But will I?… I’ve known the fear of losing but now I am almost too frightened to win.2
In contrast to Abrahams’ view in life, Eric Liddell confesses at another point in the movie:
I believe God made me for a purpose, for China, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.3
Friends, the difference between these two great sprinters—the difference between running the race in slavery or running the race in freedom—is really only about master and purpose.
- If like Abrahams, performance is your master and winning your purpose then you will run your life in slavery—falling short and losing right there at your heels.
- But, if like Liddell, God is your master and his pleasure your purpose then you will run your life in freedom—content that the victory is yours in the person and work of Jesus Christ. (This is true freedom!)
So, business professionals, are you looking down the corridor of your career as thirty years to justify your entire existence? Or, will you believe God made you for a purpose and a calling, and when you work at it for him that he takes pleasure in you? The first is a life of slavery; the second is true freedom.
So, students, do you see your school studies as a performance that will either bring you glory or condemnation, make you valuable or worthless? Or, do you see school as one way among many ways in which God has called you to praise him? The first leads to slavery; the second to true freedom.
It is Mother’s Day. Moms, how do you view what you do in that domain? Are you making your children’s performance your slave master and their success your purpose? Or, are you experiencing the freedom of God’s pleasure upon you when you mother for him? Live for his pleasure; live in his freedom.