CHRISTIAN FREEDOM Galatians 5–6
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).The Christian is freed from the Law in order to become righteous through Christ.
Law and grace are conflicting principles (5:1–12). Christians are freed from the Law in order to live a life of love, led by God’s transforming Spirit (vv. 13–25). We must be committed to doing good (6:1–10), as God’s new creations (vv. 11–18).
Understanding the Text
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” Gal. 5:1. The Judaizers argued that by rejecting Mosaic Law, Paul rejected righteousness. And this could not be of God! Casting off the Law must lead to licentiousness: man uncaged would have no reason not to sin! Galatians 5 and 6 give Paul’s response. There are two ways to handle the beast in man. The approach of Law was to cage the beast, though it eagerly tried to break out. The approach of grace is to change the beast! Removing the bars is safe if the man’s nature can be transformed. This, Paul tells us, is exactly what God has done! Through Christ God has given us a new nature that can be controlled by the Spirit of God. As we yield to the Spirit, we live righteous lives and we experience a gradual transformation. Christian freedom is no license to live according to our sinful nature. Christian freedom is stepping out beyond the bars, to live a life of love in the Holy Spirit’s power. So freedom from Mosaic Law does not imply a retreat from righteousness. Through grace God has done what Law was never able to do. He has changed us within, and by making us righteous He enables us to live good and holy lives. Don’t be afraid of freedom. Trust Jesus, respond to the Holy Spirit, and use your freedom to live a life of love. “Christ will be of no value to you at all” Gal. 5:2–6. Paul was looking here at the Christian life, not at salvation. If any Christian turns to legalism, represented here by circumcision, and struggles to live a good life by self-effort, his union with Jesus “will be of no value.” Paul made his position very clear by going on. The Galatians who decided to follow the Judaizers and were circumcised alienated themselves from Christ. They fell “away from grace.” What do these frightening verses mean? It’s as if a man with a power lawnmower decided to push the mower back and forth over his yard without ever starting it. He would work harder at mowing than if the motor was on, and would get absolutely nothing done! Paul was saying that when we rely on self-effort, guided by Law, to live the Christian life, Christ, though present within us, is “turned off.” We work so hard. And we get nothing done at all! Don’t fall away from grace. Fall back on it! Rely completely on Jesus, for “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” “Rather, serve one another in love” Gal. 5:12–15. We Christians truly are free. Free to indulge the sinful nature. Free to serve one another in love. Each choice has consequences, of course. But this does not disguise the stunning fact that God now stands back and says, “You choose.” Maybe before, you and I had excuses. We blamed our parents, our poverty, our bad luck, or our temptations for our failures. When Christ made us free, however, all those things became irrelevant. Never mind the poor self-image. Never mind your weaknesses. All those things are in the past. In Christ you and I can choose to live a life of love! “Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” Gal. 5:16–18. The reason that we are truly free isn’t that our past has been changed, or our present feelings have changed. We may still feel inadequate, unsure, hesitant, afraid. We are free because God has given us His Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God within enables us. Freedom doesn’t mean life without conflict. It does mean the possibility of life without defeat! Our weaknesses need not drag us down, our past no longer cripples us. The Holy Spirit is on our side in the war against the desires of our sinful nature. We no longer look to Law, and struggle. We look to the Holy Spirit, trust in Him, and do what is right. “Those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” Gal. 5:19–21. Paul listed activities that characterized man’s sinful nature. Those marked by them are, if we paraphrase, “on the road to hell.” There’s an implied warning to Christians here. In Colossians 1:13 Paul says that believers have been rescued from the kingdom of Satan, and transferred to the kingdom of the Son He loves. We believers have already inherited the kingdom. We live and breathe its richly scented air, and in our spirit we walk with the angels as we talk with God. But never suppose that believers who choose to gratify the desires of the sinful nature will possess this inheritance now! We really can choose between living by the sinful nature and by the Spirit. But we can’t choose the consequences. Those are fixed. And the consequence of the wrong choice is a present life choked with petty miseries. “The fruit of the Spirit” Gal. 5:22–24. We can’t choose the consequences that follow our decision to serve one another in love either. God has already chosen them. What if we make this choice, and live in the power of the Spirit? Then God fills us to overflowing with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Have you ever noticed that along the banks of a stream the vegetation is always abundant and luxurious? This is what the Bible says about us. As the Holy Spirit flows freely in our lives, a rich and beautiful character grows. We are filled with love, with joy, with peace. In every relationship we exhibit that patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control that mark us as God’s own. There is no way, however much we plow and harrow, or cultivate and hoe our character, to produce this crop by ourselves. This crop is produced only by God the Holy Spirit, and only in those who live by Him (see DEVOTIONAL). “Against such things there is no law” Gal. 5:23. The Judaizers insisted that man needs the Law in order to affirm righteousness. Paul has given several answers. (1) Law and grace are opposing principles: you must choose one or the other. (2) Law can be summed up in the call to love one’s neighbor: Christ has freed us to serve one another in love, so Law is no longer necessary. (3) Law cannot release us from bondage to our sinful nature: the Spirit can and so, if we are led by Him, Law is irrelevant. Now Paul made a final point. Laws are passed against sinful acts. No one would think of passing a law against love, joy, kindness, goodness, or patience. It follows then that Law is irrelevant to Christians who live by the Spirit. What need is there for Law in a heart where love, kindness, and goodness reign? Commit yourself to Jesus, actively love others, and trust the Spirit to express Himself through you. Do this, and you need not worry about the Law. “You who are spiritual should restore him” Gal. 6:1–5. What a joy to realize that we aren’t expected to step out into this risky world of freedom alone. God has given us brothers and sisters to walk in the Spirit with us—to restore us when we fall, to hold us up when the load becomes too heavy. There’s a beautiful interplay between verses 2 and 5 in the Greek. The burden we help others bear is a bare, a heavy load. The load we are to carry on our own is a phortion, the normal load for which we were designed. How wonderful that with the aid of God’s Spirit we are now not only able to meet life successfully, but even to help others for whom the burden is too great. “A man reaps what he sows” Gal. 6:7–9. Again Paul expressed a basic truth. We can now choose our way of life. But God has chosen the consequences. Let’s follow the path that leads to abundant life! “What large letters” Gal. 6:11–18. Letters in New Testament times were typically dictated to secretaries, who wrote down the words. The author might pen a few words at the end, as Paul did here. Some see in the “large letters” a suggestion of the eye trouble Paul mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12. Others take it as emphatic: see, I’m underlining this! What did Paul underline? His decisive rejection of the legalistic approach to the Christian life represented by the Judaizers, and his own changeless focus on Christ and His cross. Those who wanted the Galatians to cut their bodies as a sign of submission to Law should go the whole way, and castrate themselves! To impose Law on the Christian Gospel of grace would make the Gospel impotent and void of power. What counts is that we are new creations in Christ. And because of that renewal, we are free!
In Step with the Spirit(Gal. 5:12–26)
It’s such a dazzling prospect! To be free to serve one another in love. To be free from the crushing demands of our sinful nature. To be free to experience love, joy, peace, patience—all those things Paul said the Holy Spirit produces in the believer. But how disappointed many Christians are as they catch a vision of what can be—and tremble to realize that as far as they are concerned, it is not. How disappointing to want the kind of life Paul described here, fail to find it, and never realize why. I suspect for many of us the reason why is given in the little phrase in verse 25: “Keep in step with the Spirit.” If you were in the army, you might hear a sergeant shouting it at you. “Keep in step, Recruit! Move it!” Some folks interpret a legalistic life as a life of trying, and the Spirit-filled life as a life of resting. They wait for the Holy Spirit to direct them. And, all too often, if they don’t feel the Spirit moving, they just sit. Paul said, “Keep in step with the Spirit.” Don’t sit down. Don’t wait for the Spirit to tap you on the shoulder and point. Move it! Paul told the same thing in other ways. We’re to “use” our freedom to serve one another (v. 13). Right there we have the Spirit’s marching orders. We don’t need to wait for further instructions. We simply need to get out and start serving! “The only thing that counts,” Paul said earlier, “is faith expressing itself through love” (v. 6). Again we see the same emphasis. Faith must express itself. Faith is active. It moves! Faith doesn’t sit around waiting. God has work for us to do, and if we really trust God to work in us, we naturally get up and get at it! It seems so simple. And yet so many of us miss it. Do you believe God’s Spirit lives in you? Do you believe He is able to work through you? Then show your faith by stepping out to serve others in love, and in the serving you will experience the Spirit’s power. And in the serving you will find your own character transformed.
God’s Spirit is at work in the world today. Keep in step with Him.
“Every time we say, ‘I believe in the Holy Spirit,’ we mean that we believe there is a living God able and willing to enter human personality and change it.”—J.B. Phillips