5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
These words which open chapter 5 of Galatians remind us of the freedom that Christ brings in the lives of those who are committed to Him. But we might well ask, to what freedom is St Paul referring us? There are a number of freedoms we can enjoy as we see in this passage of Galatians chapter 5.
Freedom from the obligation of obeying the law to get right with God
The major freedom seems to be freedom from the obligation to obey the law as a means of getting right with God. No human could ever obey the law of God perfectly, as Paul wrote in Romans 3:23-24, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” In other words, our right standing with God comes as we trust in Christ for salvation. When we do so, God declares us as righteous and acceptable to Him in His sight.
Freedom to live as we should
However there is another freedom that is particularly pleasing to believers. It is the freedom to become what we want to be, by the grace of mercy of God. We want to be obedient to God as His children, seeking to please Him in all we say and do. What we could not do in the power of our old nature, the flesh, we are able to do, as we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and are empowered by Him to live as we should. Paul explained it like this, “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:3,4. It is only possible for us to obey the law as we keep on walking by the Spirit. That means that our lives must be led and empowered by the Holy Spirit at all times.
Freedom from the dictates and power of our old nature, the flesh
Paul wrote in Galatians 5:16 -18, “Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.” While we are being led and empowered by the Holy Spirit we no longer have to give in to our old nature’s demands on us.
What are the flesh’s demands on us? 5:19-21.
If we have not given our lives to God to enable Him to transform us by the power of the Holy Spirit then we are still under the control of our old nature, the flesh. It works itself out in practice. That’s why Paul described it as “the works of the flesh.” Later in chapter 5 he goes on to describe the characteristics of the flesh in verses 19 to 21. “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” As John Stott has written, these “seem to belong to at least four realms—sex, religion, society and drink.” [NOTE 1]
By contrast, the Spirit produces His fruit [God’s character] in our lives. 5:22-23
We note here the difference between what the flesh “works“ out in our lives in practice, and the inevitable fruit that is produced in and through us by the indwelling Holy Spirit. “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.“ 5:22-23. As John Stott wrote about the fruit of the Spirit, “So we may say that the primary direction of ‘love, joy, peace’ is Godward, of ‘patience, kindness, goodness’ manward, and of ‘faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’ selfward. And all these are ‘the fruit of the Spirit’, the natural produce that appears in the lives of Spirit-led Christians. No wonder Paul adds again: against such there is no law (verse 23). For the function of law is to curb, to restrain, to deter, and no deterrent is needed here.” [NOTE 2]
The secret to successful Christian living
Paul adds in 5:24 “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” This is similar to what he said of his own life earlier in Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Gal 2:20.
We see here the secret to successful Christian living. It is to recognise that when we became believers and received the Holy Spirit, it was as though we had been crucified with Christ so that the old nature we were born with had lost its power over us. It means that if we continued to live perfectly by faith in Jesus and no longer submitted to the power of our old nature, it would be as though the old nature had come to an end in Jesus’ [and ours with Him] crucifixion. It would be as Paul expressed in Galatians 2:20 that Christ was now living His life in and through our totally committed lives as we continually died to ourselves.
Another secret to successful Christian living. 5:25.
It is easy for believers to be deceived and led astray from a total commitment to Jesus. So Paul advises us to maintain our victory in Christ by allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us in our everyday lives. “If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” Galatians 5:25.
It is true that the Holy Spirit has given us [eternal] life but we still have a life to live on earth. We need all the guidance we can obtain to make the right decisions in a complex world.
Jesus, before His death, had promised His followers that the coming Holy Spirit would be able to guide them into all the truth “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” John16:13. Paul reminds his readers that the Holy Spirit will be able to guide them. He wrote in Romans 8:14, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” That is, it is a characteristic of the children of God that they are guided by the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is interesting that the word Paul uses here in 5:25 for “being led” is [stoicheō, στοιχέω] meaning to walk in military rank (or to keep in step). We need to keep in step with the Holy Spirit as He leads us in God’s way.
Praise God for the victories He has given us in our Christian lives. It goes to show thar His grace and mercy remain on us throughout our lives. Praise God that we can walk in the freedom He imparts to us by His indwelling Holy Spirit. Praise God that we are enabled to keep in step with His Holy Spirit as we continue our Christian pilgrimage! Praise God!
NOTE 1. John Stott in the “Bible Speaks Today New Testament Series” on Galatians.
NOTE 2. John Stott. Ibidem.
Blog No.401. Posted on www.jimholbeck.blog on Monday 13 June 2022.