Learning to Live Free
© C. O. Bishop 5/11/15; THCF 5/17/15
Paul has spent four chapters warning against Legalism, and stating the free position of the believer; a half-chapter introducing Liberty as a life-concept, and now is having to give the “directions and warning label” for Liberty.
Unlike the legalizers, he makes no apology for the Christian having the liberty. Quite the opposite: he warns us against letting anyone rob us of it. But he does warn against the danger of misuse—the danger of allowing “liberty” to cloak licentiousness. (Verse 13). So, one might ask, how do we strike a balance? How do we live in liberty, and still not fall into licentiousness? It would be easy to smugly say something like “self-control!” or “moderation!”, but that is not what Paul preaches; He preaches the living, breathing, walking, talking love of Christ. We are free in Christ! That is a positional truth, and a “location” truth. “In Christ!”
There was once a short time in US history during which there were some states where slavery was permitted, and some where it was prohibited. It was critically important to an escaped slave that he or she should stay in a place where it was illegal to enslave another person…because in that place he or she was free! Were they safe? No, not completely, because the laws had not become federal, yet, and it was quite common for an evil person to kidnap such an endangered soul and take him or her back into a slave state. They lived in fear that they might be taken back into slavery. We would do well to think of that, ourselves: We are only safe and free in Christ.
Satan still desires to enslave us, though we have been permanently set free. He can do it either through legalism or licentiousness. Those are the twin traps into which he tries to lure all believers. Those are the two “ditches” on every road the believer walks. Both are deadly snares; traps that are really difficult to escape. So what does it look like to be on the road between the ditches…walking with Jesus, and not wavering into license or legalism? Paul says it is to be summed up in one word:
14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
If you know that your sin could result in someone else spending eternity in Hell, because they used your sin as an excuse to reject the Lord, shouldn’t that make you more conscious of your actions and words? Therefore, loving our neighbor with agapé love should be among our primary concerns as committed Christians. (Compare Leviticus 19:18)
Agapé love implies “Being committed to the good of the recipient of that love, without regard to the effect in one’s own life.” This is the kind of love—the only kind— that Jesus commanded; and it’s the kind He demonstrated at the Cross. It has absolutely nothing to do with feelings, but is entirely about doing. It is “commitment with shoe-leather”. It is doing what is best for the other person. Ironically, it is also what is needed for you! This is how you stay on the road where you belong.
This is how you walk with Jesus. He said in John 13:34, 35 “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” So, Paul is reiterating that the entire Christian walk is one of allowing the Holy Spirit to pour through us the Agapé love that is only available from God. That is our outreach to the lost around us, and our fellowship with the believers around us. That Agapé love is what it is all about.
15 But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.
OK, so here is a big one: you may think, “Well, this person is already a believer, but they are frustrating me, or mistreating me, so I am free to ‘give them a taste of their own medicine!’”. No! This is precisely what He warns against! There is more damage done to unbelievers and to the credibility of the Gospel by “bickering believers” than perhaps anything else.
I have repeatedly been informed that the single most common reason for missionaries leaving their chosen fields of service is the fact that they and their co-workers were not getting along at one level or another. Sometimes they tried to hang on, and endured for years before they broke down, but the hard-heartedness that believers demonstrate toward one another (and the sins that come along with it) makes the worst possible testimony. How did Jesus say the world is to know that we are his servants? He said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples….” How? Because we are constantly fighting against one another? No! The Agapé love applied consistently between believers is the strongest testimony we can produce.
Unity as a Result of Agape Love
And how did Jesus say the world would know that He himself was sent by God? He said in his prayer (John 17:21) “…That they may be one…that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” Unity in the Church is the other half of the testimony of the church. In fact, if you think about it, you can see that Jesus gave the World two means by which to judge the Church: Agapé Love, and Christian Unity. Whether we like it or not, we are being judged by the World, as directed by Jesus Himself, and…we are found sadly wanting. If we allow ourselves the luxury of anger, bitterness, or self-will, then what we demonstrate to the world is that the message of the cross is false, and/or that we ourselves are not the servants of God.
In fact, even when we want to do right, we find ourselves thwarted, either for the simple cause that it takes two people to be in unity and a loving relationship, but only one wants it; or, because in our human ability we simply cannot bring ourselves to be at peace with someone because they have hurt us badly, or we don’t trust them, or, conversely, that we feel guilty because we know that we hurt them.
Either trap can be fatal.
So… what is the answer? We agree that we can’t do it, so… Who can?
Only the Holy Spirit can do it
16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.
It is funny that we should say that we “can’t do it”…that is exactly what God says, too! God warned the Israelites that they could not keep his Law. Paul has warned the believers that they cannot please God in the flesh. God never has given us a difficult assignment; He has almost always given us an impossible assignment! The Christian life is not difficult, it is impossible… apart from the moment-by-moment control of the indwelling and presiding Holy Spirit.
Only God can live the life that his righteousness demands. Jesus demonstrated God’s righteousness, as “God in the Flesh.” He fulfilled the righteous judgment of the Law upon us at the Cross, and His righteousness was imputed to us (deposited in our accounts) the moment we trusted in His finished work for our salvation. But we still somehow think we ought to be able to do in our flesh what even He himself did by the Holy Spirit. (Jesus pointed out that what he did he did by the Holy Spirit.)
17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.
This is a very important concept. Paul has laid out the problem in stark terms, not padding the truth at all. We still have a sin nature, but we also have a new nature. The new nature is a created being; completely obedient to God, and completely in harmony with the Holy Spirit. But we still have a will, and, even now, we can choose to submit to the Holy Spirit, and “walk” (day-by-day, step-by-step) with Him, or not. There is a war going on, and we have to choose, moment-by-moment, whose side we will serve.
18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.
Remember that Paul made a similar statement in Romans 8:14 “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”
If you are a child of God, you are not under the Law…and, by the Holy Spirit, it should become clear to all observers that your life does not need the constraint of the Law, because you are under God’s direct control. If you insist on putting yourself under the Law, then you are defeating the purpose of God’s Grace. So, what is the “measuring stick”, so to speak? How are we to see the difference, day by day? Paul introduces two contrasting concepts; “works” (plural) and “fruit” (singular). He pairs them with two mutually exclusive persons; the old Sin nature of every believer and the Holy Spirit of God. He says that our old sin natures produce certain traits in character and behavior that are observable to any person watching, and rejectable by all, as well. Think about this: sins of the flesh, while a source of pleasure to unbelievers, are a source of condemnation from those same unbelievers when they are practiced by believers. Why? Because, for better or worse, the World holds us to a higher standard of righteousness, and it is always looking for ways to condemn us.
But if you walk in the Spirit, there will be nothing to condemn. Doesn’t that sound attractive to you? It does to me. I read in the book of Daniel that his 120-some worst enemies, who unanimously wanted him dead, could find nothing wrong with him except his relationship with the God of Israel. My friends don’t have to look very far to find fault with me. My enemies certainly can find cause to condemn me. And I yearn for the time when I will finally be freed from my sin nature, and can rest from the war between the flesh and the Spirit.
But I remember that Daniel was living that way in his normal human body, not in some sort of “exalted state”. He simply was unfailingly doing at all times exactly what he was supposed to do. There is no evidence of his ever having spoken unkindly, or having stirred up arguments, having made accusations, or anything else of a counter-productive nature. Ironically, though, in his recorded prayer, he identified closely enough with Israel that he said “…we have turned our backs on You…” (Not “they”, but “we”.)
What will it look like?
So, what are the earmarks of the flesh-controlled life, and that of the Spirit-controlled life?
19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
I find it fascinating that the “works” (plural) of the flesh are listed seventeen strong, with an eighteenth item that is a “catch-all” phrase: “and such like”. The list is literally twice as long as that of the fruit of the Spirit, and the last item extends it to include everything that the human heart can imagine. And it is plural; if you are partaking in any of these, then you are in the flesh; it’s as simple as that.
But the next “list”, the fruit of the Spirit, is half as long, and is singular: it is not a “smorgasbord” from which you can choose what you would like to exemplify. It is a “nine-fold” fruit, singular; a fruit with nine aspects, or characteristics, and all nine aspects, or characteristics, have to be present or it is not the Holy Spirit who is producing it.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
Notice that last bit? “Against such there is no law…?” Why is that even an issue? It is because the whole context of the book has been the separation of Law and Grace. If you are walking in the Spirit, the Law will have no effect on you because it does not touch the things of the Spirit. That is why the enemies of Daniel could find no cause for accusation in his life. He walked in the Spirit, and there was no cause for offense. There was literally nothing to condemn. I would love it if all my enemies found in me that same problem: nothing to condemn. But the honest truth is that my friends can find fault with me.
I did discover recently that a man I have known for 25 years, and of whom I had heard via the workplace “grapevine” (nice word for gossip) that he strongly disliked me, actually disliked me because I am a believer. That is a relief to know. I learned it, ironically enough, from another unbeliever. (He said the exact word used was “Bible-thumper”…which I guess is OK, but I do hope I did not cross some line and offend him by my words. If it is God’s Word that offended him, I am in the clear, but if I did it, then he may have had reasonable cause for offense.) I will probably never know for sure, but I don’t think we have ever had an argument, or any sort of cross words. We only worked together a short while, and I think I was always relatively friendly…but who knows? James says we all offend with our tongues. Looking forward, all I can do is to try to be vigilant to walk in the Spirit, so as to not cause offense, but, instead, to be productive for God.
This next verse is easy to miss, and nearly as easy to misread:
24 And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
Please take note that this is past tense: Whatever the verse is about, it already happened. This is not a command to “get crucified”, or to “crucify the flesh”. It is a statement of Fact, that if you belong to Jesus, then the crucifixion is a done deal. We just need to learn to walk in the daily reality of that fact. God sees you as being permanently separated from your old sin nature. He dealt with your sin at the cross, and will no longer see you in your sins. In fact, that is what Romans 6:1-14 is all about. You are dead to sin (whether you believe it or not), and do not have to continue in it. In Romans he points this truth out and says that it is incumbent upon us to believe it and rest in that truth, taking shelter in the fact that we are no longer slaves to sin. Here in Galatians, he says we are to walk in that truth.
25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
This is an “it just makes sense” sort of statement. “Since you already have been saved, redeemed, resurrected and baptized into the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit, and since, in fact, you are already seated with him in Heaven…doesn’t it make sense that you function by that principle as well? That you, in fact, allow Him full ownership in your life?”
And what would that look like if you did?
Paul’s final messages in Galatians are to tell the believers how to treat one another. But if the fundamental principle is confessed and agreed to, (that, since I am spiritually alive because of Christ and Him alone, and have been joined to him by the work of the Holy Spirit, not my own works) then it is a logical necessity that I complete the transaction and walk with him.
When I was first born again, something a friend said made perfect sense to me: “If I belong to Him, I ought to work for Him.” That stuck with me ever since. And, as I look at this verse, I realize that that is exactly what Paul says. If I belong to Him, it makes sense that I act as if I do.
Spend some time thinking this over: if you see that the fruit of the Spirit is pretty thin on the limbs, so to speak, then perhaps you need to confess that you are not walking consistently, and you need to allow God to work a full repentance—a turnaround—a change of course. “Walking” must become a continuous exercise of faith, not just a series of failures, in the flesh. Bear in mind that as a toddler is learning to walk, he or she falls down a lot. That is OK…success means getting up one more time than we fall down. Eventually we learn to walk in a stable manner.
Let’s look to God to teach us to walk with Him.
Lord Jesus, help us to see ourselves through your eyes, and to be sober about our strengths and weaknesses, our successes and failures, and to confess them for what they are, without excuses. Allow us to be healed by your Spirit and so to lead others to You.