These are the final verses we will be looking at concerning the issue of freedom as it relates to the message of Paul found in his letter to the church of Galatia. Now that we know we are free in Christ, how do we live? If we are not to live in the circumcision of Law, how will others see us different (set apart) from the world? How can we display our faith in Christ through the Spirit to others so they will know that we are different than the rest? One can almost feel a variety of questions regarding the way of living different (outside of the Law and in the Law of the Spirit). Paul does not leave the brothers without instructions. He writes, “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”” (Gal. 5: 13-14). How sad it would be if those who were freed from the Law by the Spirit of God, being prideful or arrogant, flaunted their freedom like a material object. Paul wants these brothers to realize the freedom they have in Christ is a gift given out of grace. It is not to be waved around or thrown into other people’s face. It should be lived out with a sense of humility, serving others. Calling upon the message given by Christ, Himself, our only action and response to this freedom should be a lifestyle of serving others in love, thus fulfilling the schema.
As I look at my own life, I never went around boasting about a new Bible I had just bought. I never paraded around showing off a Christian shirt or a new bumper sticker I wanted to put on my car. But there have been times in which I have used the freedom of God to satisfy myself rather than serving others in their times of need. We are called as the body of Christ to be a support for those who are in need. Galatians 6: 2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” It is so easy to only look out for number one rather than spending ‘our precious time’ in serving others. It is however, the call we have here in the letter of Galatians and through the words of Christ to fulfill the Law by loving others as we love ourselves. Lightfoot writes,
Whereas previously Paul had argued for Christian freedom against Jewish nomism, here he redirects his thought to argue for Christian freedom against supposedly “Christian” self-centered libertinism. For just as law must never regulate freedom in Christ, so it must never become an occasion for “the flesh.” Rather than laws of license, the realities that characterize Christian freedom are love,” “serving one another,” and “the spirit.” In fact, these three emphases of love, serving one another, and the Spirit appear throughout the exhortations of 5:13-6:10, structuring all that Paul says as the skeleton of a living creature structures all its tissues and form (Lightfoot 236).
As the Church, that might call for a very deep and personal ‘face lift’ in our local body. Thus it is something we should actively seek out in our personal lives and within our community of faith in order to fulfill the Law of Christ. And now, we have the freedom to actually do it without the concern of being bound to a Law that brings for bondage. This is something that Paul held in high esteem. We should as well.
Verse fifteen is a very strange verse and deserves its own thoughts. How do we come to understand the intended meaning of this verse? F. F. Bruce writes,
The introduction of the new teaching into the Galatian churches appears to have provoked controversy and quarrels: this was not the least of the troubles caused by the agitators. Internecine strife is the only ‘work of the flesh’ against which Paul specifically warns the Galatians… But the vice against which he does warn the Galatians here is serious enough; if not check, it could lead to the disintegration of their fellowship and the disappearance of the churches of Galatia. The language which Paul uses suggests a pack of wild animals preying on one another: ‘if you keep on biting one another and tearing one another to pieces, take care lest you be annihilated by one another (Bruce 242).
It amazes me when we have certain freedoms in the body of Christ; those who are in disagreement with our freedom are hurtful and even vindictive towards us. Take for example a newly ordained pastor who has been called to a specific church to minister to a significantly large congregation. When he enters, everyone is wearing three-piece suits with ties and a matching scarf in their suit pocket. Terrified, the young pastor shares the freedom his congregation has in Christ to ‘come as you are’ and wear every day clothes to church. Can you just imagine the anger built up within this older body towards their pastor who has given them the freedom (to be set free) from wearing a three-piece suit to church each Sunday? It is sad that there are churches with people who walk this way. When will we learn to walk in the freedom of the Spirit we have been given? I truly believe this is what Paul is telling us throughout his letter: Live it and watch out for others who do not like it. The same is still true today. What a shame.
The final three verses are very significant in respects to the freedom we have in the Spirit. Paul writes, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are lead by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal. 5: 16-18). The dualism between the flesh and the Spirit are constantly fighting against one another, attempting to overthrow and destroy the other. Paul writes though that our leading by the Spirit of God is a sure weapon against the flesh. It is our armor against the enemy. Ironside writes,
The flesh desires one thing, the Spirit another, and as long as there is not a full surrender to the will of God these two are in constant warfare, and therefore the believer may not do the things that he would… I will find that the will to do well is present with me, but how to perform it is another thing, and so I have to learn that my sanctification is no more through the law than my justification… If you yield to the Spirit of God, if He has the control of your life, if you are lead by Him, then the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit (Ironside 204-5).
The flesh will always be at odds with the Spirit and vise versa. We will was be in contention with the flesh throughout our lives. It is when we, as Ironside wrote, ‘yield to the Spirit of God,’ we are able to live in the manner Christ has called us to live. This is the freedom of God manifested within each believer.
Since we have looked at these verses, it has been my hope that the freedom we have in Christ through the perspective of Christ would be seen. As I have mentioned before and mention once again, we seldom take the opportunity to live in thankfulness for all Christ has done for us through His work on the cross, His giving of the Spirit, and our freedom we have through Him. When we engage though in the Scriptures, we come to realize how important our freedom in Christ truly is. It is a freedom that goes beyond the US Constitution or a freedom resulting in rebellion. It is a freedom we call can enjoy through the love and mercy of Christ given not only to the Gentile believers but also to the Jewish people. We are truly free in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen