In this post I would like to analyze Galatians chapter 5 as I feel it has tremendous impact on how we practice our Christianity. We covered part of this chapter in Sunday School today, but there is much of the chapter that we didn’t cover which is also important.
Christ has Set Us Free
the ESV has aptly titled this passage “Christ has set us free” and I think it is an apt title. Paul starts out by warning these Galatians that they have been set free from the Jewish law and telling them not to “submit gain to a yoke of slavery.” (v1 esv) Christ reminds them that if they claim circumcision, in other words if they claim to be under Jewish law, they are required to keep the whole law (verse 3) This is because God is a holy God and he expects perfection. By attempting to follow the law to the letter we lose our connection with grace. We cannot do it on our own, hence our need for a savior.
In verses 7-12, Paul condemns those who have crept into the church to teach salvation by the works of the Law, and expresses his confidence that the church will see the error of it’s ways and return to following Jesus. We must also correct false teachers, in love, where possible and condemn them, again with love, where not possible. I believe this is one of the most important issues in Christianity and it is what separates Christianity from other religions. In Christianity there is no set of rules, no lists of dos and don’ts that you can neatly check off a box to guarantee entry into heaven. Instead we are simply told to believe in Jesus and trust him as our Lord and Savior and we will be assured eternal life (JOhn 3:16, acts 16:31, Ephesians 2:8-9) This is much easier and much harder than simply following a set of rules, as we shall see below.
No Rules, not so fast
Starting in verse 13, Paul balances and clarifies what he has just said in the first 12 verses. “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.” Notice it does not say serve only those who give you something in return, or only those who look like you, or any number of other qualifications we may try to add to that verse. It simply says one another, which means the entire body of believers. Now I am not saying that we should always help everyone with everything, we must practice discernment and some of us are able to serve in different ways and with different needs than others, but the point is we are to use our freedom in Christ not to satisfy ourselves but to love our neighbor as ourselves. In verse 16 Paul gives us the way we accomplish this. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” This is an interesting statement. So many times we think of Christianity as a list of Don’ts. DON’T engage in sexual immorality, DON’T lie, DON’T steal, etc. but this verse points out that what we DO is just as important as what we DON’T DO. In verse 18 Paul says that if we are led by the Spirit, we are not under the law. The Spirit is a comforter which through god’s word will help guide us and do what is right. (John 16:7 indicates that Jesus will send a Helper, the Holy Spirit, to guide us in our Christian lives.)
Works of the Flesh
In verses 19-21, Paul discusses the works of the flesh. This is a sobering list. So many of the characteristics listed here are prevalent and even celebrated in society. Sexual immorality is rampant. Envy is perhaps even more so. Idolatry is even rampant. Many times we think of idolatry as bowing down to wooden statues, but it is much more than that. Many idolize their job, sports team, favorite musical artist, even family and friends. These are all good gifts that God has given us, but we cannot allow them to come before Him in our lives. Note Paul’s warning in verse 21 that those who do these things (meaning continually and without remorse) will not enter the kingdom of God. This is not because there are specific laws against them, though there are in the old testament, but because doing these things shows that we have not excepted Christ and the Spirit as Lord of our lives.
Fruit of the Spirit
Next Paul discusses the fruit of the Spirit. I won’t list list all of these, you are perfectly capable of reading them yourselves, but remember the more you seek the fruit of the Spirit, the less you will wish to fulfill the desires of the flesh. It is not always easy. It is not always easy to love the difficult coworker or friend, show self-control during a specially difficult situation (or at least one you perceive as being difficult in the moment.), showing patience toward that crazy child of yours. But this is the essence of the Christian life. The more you engage in these practices, the less the desires of the flesh rear their ugly head. And we can then be confident that our sins are forgiven, and that Jesus will continue to use his spirit to sanctify us (make us more like him.) Praise God for that.