We live in a society that often seems obsessed with freedom. We should be able to do whatever we want whenever we want and we want everyone to celebrate it. As Christians, we often react to this by reaffirming the moral standards that we see in the pages of Scripture. We assume that the solution to an out of control freedom is the law. On the face, this may seem like a good idea, but what we find here in Galatians 5 gives us a far different and far better answer.
One of Paul’s big points in Galatians is that to live under the burden of law-keeping is slavery. To be constantly needing to earn God’s favor by your works is bondage. It is suffocating and crushing. In contrast, the good news of the gospel is radically and gloriously freeing. Jesus has taken the curse and earned the blessing for us. We are free from the demands and the condemnation of the law. If this is true (and it is), then there are several important implications for our lives as Christians.
For one, there should be a palpable sense of freedom and joy in our lives. If people observe in us a sense of being burdened by a list of duties, of being crushed under our obligations, of needing to keep up with expectations, then something is wrong. As Christians, freedom should be part of the atmosphere (or vibe) that we carry with us through life. I can remember talking with a Seventh-Day Adventist at one point. In the course of the conversation I encouraged him to read the book of Galatians and to ask the question, “do I know and experience the kind of freedom I’m reading about here?” I put the same question to you, “do you know and experience the kind of freedom we read about in Galatians 5?”
A second implication that flows from this passage is found in the point Paul makes in the last half of verse 1: “…do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Think about what that means. You are not to allow anyone (including yourself) to tell you that you must keep some sort of law to maintain God’s favor or to be some sort of elite Christian. We might think this is a danger we’re susceptible to, but the reality most of us tend to fall into this thinking functionally. It might be the educational choices we make for our kids, how we vote politically, our consistency in certain spiritual disciplines, or any number of other popular issues in our Christian sub-culture. These might be important issues to think through but they are not a law that we must keep in order to maintain God’s favor! If this is how they’re being presented, don’t submit to them! Even for a minute!
A third implication is the focus of the last half of chapter 5. If we’re not supposed to submit again to living under the law, then how are we supposed to live. For some of us its hard to imagine a moral life without living under the burden and fear of the law. We assume that reaffirming the law and declaring it more loudly is the key to living rightly. It turns out God’s perspective is far different from ours. Yes, there is a right way to live and yes, we are called to love others. But the way only way to truly do this is not through the law, but through the Spirit. It is through the Spirit’s work that we are empowered to put off the works of the flesh and produce the fruit of the Spirit. He alone can give us the desire and the joy and the strength to follow our Savior.
We don’t have to choose between freedom and morality. In the finished work of Christ and in the ongoing work of the Spirit we get to live a life of both rescue and righteousness, freedom and love.