If you have waited many thousands of years – since the dawn of history – for freedom, then its arrival seems especially good! Mankind, having been held captive by sin, by the Devil, and by religious legalism, has at long last found freedom in Christ. So, it is with extra urgency that Paul begs the Galatian Christians not to give up on salvation by faith in Christ. We have been given freedom; we now have control over much of our spiritual lives and we therefore have a responsibility to use that freedom wisely, choosing to be sons who serve the Living God. There are two opposite temptations that attack our new-found freedom: either we yearn for the old familiarity of being told what to do (religious legalism) or we abuse that freedom by choosing to please ourselves.
Paul then emphasises that, with the Law of Moses, it is all or nothing! You either rely totally on God’s grace or you have to keep every little bit of the Law without ever failing. You cannot mix the two. And if you continue with the Law, then you fall away from grace. I notice that many Christians seem to want to contribute a small amount towards their salvation – probably for the sake of their pride – rather than relying totally on Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Did He pay the price for every one of your sins – past, present and future – or did He not?
In this chapter, Paul finally blows away any remaining thoughts about God having two kinds of church: Gentile and Jew. Some theologians mistakenly think that the Jews are provided with an alternative ‘route’ to salvation, separate from the church. But Paul says: “In Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value, the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love”. (v6). See also 1 Corinthians 7:19; Galatians 2:21; and Galatians 6:15. There is only one way!
Galatians 5:7-8: “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you…”.
Paul enquires why some of his disciples have lost their way and have been side-tracked from their real purpose and calling in Christ. Have we been elbowed out of our ‘lane’ by the forces of darkness? We need to be aware that we are in a constant spiritual battle, and we need an alertness of the possibility of attack.
Paul then shows us that we have been set free in order to serve. Not a contradiction at all since we exercise our freedom by choosing to serve. Our mission is to please Christ not to please ourselves! How do we do this? How do we daily choose God’s way, rather than the temptations of our sinful nature? A couple of verses next give us the answer: “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (v16) and: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (v25).
If we had a good honest God-fearing friend who spent every moment of our waking hours with us, we would find it hard to indulge in any ‘undercover’ sinfulness. His/her presence would provoke us to good behaviour, and we would not want to upset him/her. Paul is therefore identifying a practical solution to the temptations of sin: walk with the Holy Spirit throughout your waking day. As you get used to his presence, you will lose all temptation to sin by indulging in selfish, anti-social or destructive behaviours.
The Spirit’s presence (God’s presence) in us is not just a warning against bad behaviour, but He also produces positive, good actions in us. His ‘fruit’ – as the bible calls it – is nothing less than ‘Jesus in us’. The qualities of Jesus are: love, joy, peace… etc, etc. Notice two things: It is ‘fruit’ (singular), not ‘fruits’. All these qualities are part of the single Christ-like nature that the Spirit births in us. Secondly, ‘Fruit’ is a living organic outcome of a living creature. We produce fruit because we are alive, and Christ is alive within us.
The opposite comes from the sinful nature when left to its own devices: Sexual immorality, idolatry, witchcraft, jealousy, selfishness, etc, etc. The fact is that there is a straight fight between the forces of good and evil within us; the very good news is that the work of the Spirit in us is stronger and should win. God has deliberately set up this battle to operate in this way. (v17).
So, we have been set free from slavish observance of the Law, free from sin, and free from Satan… in order to give ourselves freely to serve the Lord Jesus and one another. As we submit daily to the Spirit, we can resist ‘getting our own way’ and instead learn the greater joy of submitting to his ways.
That’s real freedom!