Christian Freedom: Galatians 5

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Today’s reading: Galatians 4-6.

“If I’m saved by faith, am I free to live as I please?”

Imagine that there was a celestial bus that carried the saved to heaven. What kind of ticket would be necessary to get on that bus? Paul argued in Galatians 3 that only justification by faith, and not keeping the law, would provide that ticket. But what happens once a person punches that faith ticket and gets on the bus? How then shall we live? Paul addressed these questions in Galatians 5.

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. Galatians 5:13-16

Spiritual expression of love rather than sinful desire. Paul said the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love. For those on the celestial bus it’s not faith or works but faith that works – specifically acting in love towards others. Our freedom should not be used to gratify our sinful desires.

Spiritual intent rather than sinful indulgence. We are to walk by the Spirit, not the flesh. Though these two natures war in us, we aim to keep step with the Spirit. In doing so we are free from the old law and instead follow the law of Christ whose commandment is to love others as ourselves.

Spiritual fruit rather than sinful acts. When we walk by the Spirit we bear spiritual fruit: love, joy, peace (describing our relationship with God); patience, kindness, goodness (our relationship with others); and faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (describing our own character). If ongoing sinful acts describe our lifestyle instead, Paul says we will not inherit the kingdom, for “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.”

The person who belongs to Christ has a new heart with new desires that lead to a lifestyle of love. If there is no evidence of this change in a person’s life, and if instead their life is characterized by ongoing sinful desires which lead to ungodly actions, then it is very likely that they have not entered the kingdom of God.

When all guilt and fear and greed have been removed by the assurances of God’s forgiveness and love and power, what force will move us out of our contented living rooms to take upon ourselves the inconveniences and suffering that love requires? What will propel you to greet strangers when you feel shy, to go to an enemy and plead for reconciliation when you feel indignant, to tithe when you’ve never tried it before, to speak to your colleagues about Christ, to invite new neighbors to a Bible study, to cross cultures with the gospel, to admit you’re a homosexual and want help, to create a new ministry for alcoholics in the area, to give an evening to drive a van, or a morning to pray for renewal? None of these costly acts of love just happens. They are propelled from the heart by a new appetite—the appetite for the thrill of experiencing God’s power in your life. Faith loves to rely on God and see him work miracles in us. Therefore, faith pushes us into the current where God’s power flows most freely—the current of love. Faith produces love because in acts of love we feel the power of God conquering our sin, and conquering Satan, and transforming the world. – John Piper

Image by woodleywonderworks on Flickr, CC by 2.0

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5 thoughts on “Christian Freedom: Galatians 5

  1. Amen to that. It is a dangerous proposition to become overly assured of our salvation. The Calvinist doctrine of an elect who can never lose their salvation leads to circular reasoning. Paul clearly rejects the notion:

    “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. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” Galatians 5: 1-4

    To this we could also add 1 Corinthians 9:27; 10:12; Philippians 3:8-14, and 1 Timothy 4:1. Paul seems keenly aware that some could and would leave the path of salvation they initially walked.

    Consider Paul’s list of things that cannot separate us from Christ (Romans 8). What he does not place in that group is ourselves. Free will makes it entirely possible for us to reject God completely. Satan personifies such a choice.

    Newman, verbose in his characteristic way, expresses this idea as he comments on Philippians:

    “The doctrine, then, that few are chosen though many be called, properly understood, has no tendency whatever to make us fancy ourselves secure and others reprobate. We cannot see the heart, we can but judge from externals, from words and deeds, professions and habits. But these will not save us, unless we persevere in them to the end; and they are no evidence that we shall be saved, except so far as they suggest hope that we shall persevere. They are but a beginning; they tell for nothing till they are completed. Till we have done all, we have done nothing; we have but a prospect, not possession. If we ultimately do attain, every good thing we shall have done will have tended to that attainment, as a race tends to a goal; but, unless we attain, it will not have so tended; and, therefore, from no good thing which we do can we argue that we are sure to attain.” John Henry Cardinal Newman

    • The Calvinist doctrine of an elect who can never lose their salvation leads to circular reasoning.

      How so? This seems like rather a strong claim.

      Paul clearly rejects the notion:

      Paul plainly says that, if X happens, then Y happens – if you put yourself back under the law – then grace avails nothing for you. The open question here is, “Can you actually put yourself back under the law?” And that’s much less certain – while clearly Christians can be physically circumcised, it’s less clear that they can re-obligate themselves under the law again. (Which is pretty plainly what Paul has in mind rather than the physical act, given that he circumcises Timothy.)

      To this we could also add 1 Corinthians 9:27; 10:12; Philippians 3:8-14, and 1 Timothy 4:1.

      Or, for proof-texts on the other side, 1 John 2:19: “For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.”

      This is a complex issue, and there’s room for disagreement, but it’s not as trivial a dismissal as what you’re presenting here.

      Consider Paul’s list of things that cannot separate us from Christ (Romans 8). What he does not place in that group is ourselves.

      Given that Paul includes “anything else in all creation,” I’m not convinced that that is true.

      Free will makes it entirely possible for us to reject God completely.

      What do you mean when you say “free will?”

    • There is a fearful uncertainty in Newman’s words that seems to depend on works for salvation. Is that really what he means? Where is his faith in God’s grace?

  2. Pingback: Bible Daily Devotional – Christian Freedom: Galatians 5 | ChristianBlessings

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