“So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you. I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses. For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace (i.e., unbelievers who are seeking salvation through the law). But we who live by the Spirit eagerly wait to receive by faith the righteousness God has promised to us. (Perfection, sinlessness in our glorified bodies in heaven.) For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love. (Loving and serving others through dependence on God’s power.) You were running the race so well. Who has held you back from following the truth? It certainly isn’t God, for he is the one who called you to freedom. This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough! I am trusting the Lord to keep you from believing false teachings. God will judge that person, whoever he is, who has been confusing you. Dear brothers and sisters, if I were still preaching that you must be circumcised—as some say I do—why am I still being persecuted? If I were no longer preaching salvation through the cross of Christ, no one would be offended. I just wish that those troublemakers who want to mutilate you by circumcision would mutilate themselves. For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself. But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.” (Galatians 5:1 -15 NLT)
Free at last! “The common sense definition of freedom is to be able to do what you most want to do and only in the power of the gospel are we able to do what we now want to do as new creatures in Christ: please, obey and glorify our God. (See 2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 7:22.) This is the very purpose for man’s existence and at last our new desires conform to the realities of the universe.” (Tim Keller) “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)
Being free means free from the power of sin and the curse of the law (3:10-14; 5:1, 13) because we are now loved and accepted by God through Christ’s work (and this alone) and are declared righteous by Him. But does this freedom mean we can sin boldly since we are saved and have our ticket to heaven? No, as Paul explains in this section. Christian freedom is living a life apart from legalism (rule-keeping), apart from license (sinning boldly), and instead living according to the Spirit, a life of love and service to God and man.
As Christians, instead of (external) rules (the law) telling us what to do, we have God Himself indwelling us by His Spirit (internal) guiding and empowering us to obey Him as we submit to His leadership (through His Word and by His Spirit). So we are free through Christ (His atoning work) and free in the Sprit. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Cor. 3:17) The Holy Spirit is God Himself, like the Father and like the Son. The Spirit gives us freedom from the power of sin, and the condemnation of the law. We are not free to do what we want independent of God but free to do God’s will in dependence upon God. (Rom. 8:1-4)
We are also free from the power of Satan and evil spirits that had power over us before we were in Christ as we call upon His power and authority over them. Jesus says, “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions (i.e., evil spirits) and to overcome all the power of the enemy.”(Luke 10:19; See Eph. 6:6-18; Col. 2:15) And we are set free from the power of the flesh – independence, autonomy and self-centeredness in order to be in a right relationship with God and man. “But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal. 5:13, 14)
So we are set free from all the above in order to be set free for God; to be His child and to do our Father’s will, His “good pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom. 12:2) We are also set free to become slaves of Christ as we choose by our own free (freed and empowered) will to submit to Him – “like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart (i.e., it is now our heart’s desire to obey God). Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men.”(Eph. 6:6)
But as Paul warned the Galatians we need to, “Make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.” (5:1) This means do not go back to performance-based acceptance with God. Religion, moralism, or our idols can put us right back into bondage again. “Any idol is a curse because if I fail my idol it will not forgive me. If it is threatened by circumstance I become uncontrollably anxious. If it is blocked by a person I become uncontrollably resentful. If I lose it through personal failure I become self-loathing. And even if I succeed with my idol it will not fulfill me for it is a non- god.” (Tim Keller)
Only God can satisfy our soul (Ps. 63:5) and only pleasing Him will fulfill us. For example, if as a parent your greatest desire (idol) is your children’s happiness you will be in bondage to this and even if they are happy it will not give you total fulfillment. Or if success in your work is your highest desire (idol) even if you are very successful you will not be fulfilled. Solomon’s lament in Ecclesiastes proves this. He was eminently successful and had all a man could want in abundance (money, sex, power) and said, “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?” (Eccl. 1:2-3) In summary, in the gospel, love replaces law as our heart’s motivation to obey God. The law says if I don’t obey God I will not be accepted by God and I will be punished; so I serve Him only out of fear and only to get what I want from Him. The gospel says in spite of my great sins against God past, present and future, God passionately loves me and will not punish me for my sins because Jesus paid for all my sins. So now my motivation to obey God is out of love and gratitude and I am able to obey Him by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Questions for reflection and application:
1. As Christians, instead of (external) rules (the law) telling us what to do, we have God Himself indwelling us by His Spirit (internal) guiding and empowering us to obey Him as we submit to His leadership. How do we live this out in our relationship with the Lord and other people? For example, how can we discern God’s “internal guidance”? How can we appropriate God’s enabling power within us?
2. We are set free from the power of the flesh – independence, autonomy and self-centeredness in order to be in right relationship with God and man. “Serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal. 5:13, 14) In light of the following passage how and where can you apply this in your life? “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
3. “Any idol is a curse because if I fail my idol it will not forgive me. If it is threatened by circumstances I become uncontrollably anxious. If it is blocked by a person I become uncontrollably resentful. If I lose it through personal failure I become self-loathing. And even if I succeed with my idol it will not fulfill me for it is a non-god.” (Tim Keller) Where may you get back under the law (performance based acceptance) by looking to an idol for your fulfillment and self-worth?
Until He comes, Len and Kristen