Grow in gospel freedom, says D.A. Carson in Southern Seminary chapel
Only gospel freedom can produce inward change, said D.A. Carson during a chapel service at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Nov. 13. Preaching from Galatians 5:16-26, Carson emphasized how the fruit of the Spirit represents the outworking of regeneration, which not only restrains sinfulness but changes the heart.
“Gospel freedom does not merely keep us from sin, it generates goodness,” he said. “It transforms us in such a way that the law cannot condemn us.”
Carson, a noted biblical scholar and research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, opened his message by highlighting two equally legitimate aspects of biblical faith: it cannot be earned by works, and yet it cannot be proven without them. He suggested that Galatians 5 provides a way to integrate these two streams.
According to Carson, the fruit of the Spirit fits within Paul’s larger point about freedom in the gospel — that Christians are not restrained by lawkeeping or moral rules.
Yet Christian freedom is not rooted in any kind of “anti-authority,” he said. Instead, the believer’s identity is transferred from living through the law to living through the Spirit.
“Gospel freedom does not mean you get to do whatever you want,” he said. “It means you want good things.”
Freedom also does not mean Christians never experience struggle, he said, but that the Spirit’s guidance enables believers to struggle successfully against the desires of the flesh. Christians no longer live according to the flesh — which represents the old nature, Carson said — but according to the Spirit.
“An entirely new dimension of conflict begins the day you become a Christian,” he said. “So whatever Christian liberty means, it doesn’t mean there’s no struggle, it means engaging in a struggle you can win.”
Carson outlined the sins that are antithetical to gospel freedom, categorizing them as sexual sins, pagan practices, and relational regression. These sins are patterns of living through the flesh, he said, and are wholly opposed to life in the Spirit. Those who do these things do not “inherit the kingdom of God.”
“The notion of a Christian who is indistinguishable from the world cannot be found in the New Testament,” he said. “For when the Christian does seriously backslide, sooner or later a question mark is placed over that life as to whether that person is a Christian at all.”
In contrast to the works of the flesh, new life is expressed by the fruit of the Spirit, which is the evidence of inward regeneration, Carson said. Gospel freedom will not fail to produce this evidence in the Christian’s life.
“The human heart must be changed, or human beings cannot be saved, and when human beings are changed, so they become new creatures in Christ,” he said. “Wherever there is regeneration by the Spirit of God, then there will be signs of fruit.”
Carson offered brief insight on several manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit in Paul’s list. The Christian notion of the love of God is unique and distinctive, he said. God’s love is not chiefly inward-directed but others-directed; even in eternity past, God’s love was expressed within the Godhead. Christian love, he said, properly mirrors this trinitarian divine love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
This passage points the Christian to the full reality of the gospel, Carson said, not only to the declaration of right standing in justification, but also the dramatic inward change of regeneration.
“The gospel is broad enough and sweeping enough to include not only our reconciliation to God, but also transformation,” he said.
Audio and video of the chapel message are available at sbts.edu/resources.