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STUDIES IN GALATIANS

Copyright © Rosemary Bardsley 2003

STUDY SEVEN: CHRISTIAN LIBERTY IN ACTION [5:13- 6:17]

A. CHRISTIAN LIBERTY IS NOT LICENCE [5:13-15]

Paul here squashes any possible accusation that he teaches it is okay to sin, forestalling any 'let's continue to sin so that grace may abound' (Romans 3:8; 6:1) reaction to his teaching on Christian liberty in Christ. Christians are free from the law as a means of justification, but they are not free to live how they please: God's commands are still valid. It is the responsibility of every believer, along with every other person on earth, to:

Rather than being liberated by the Gospel from the morality and instructions for living contained in the law, the believer is empowered by the Gospel to live in increasing conformity to these laws.

Indeed, on a deeper level, it is only the believer, liberated by the Gospel from a self-centred, self-preserving, self-justifying keeping of the law, who can keep these laws within their intrinsic intention: a God-centred, God-focused life that seeks to praise, honour and glorify God because he is God. As the Scripture says: 'everything that does not come from faith is sin' (Romans 14:23), and 'without faith it is impossible to please God' (Hebrews 11:6).

So Paul says: 'you were called to freedom, only not freedom as an opportunity to the flesh'. There are two references here to intention or direction leading to outcome or result.

True Christian liberty sets us free to be truly for the other.When we trust in Christ we are set free from the need to trust in ourselves, and therefore from the need to 'love' our neighbour in order to gain or maintain our own justification. Karl Barth writes:

'No more must I dream of trusting in myself, I no longer require to justify myself, to excuse myself, to attempt to save and preserve myself. This most profound effort of man to trust to himself, to see himself as in the right, has become pointless. I believe - not in myself - I believe in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.' (Dogmatics in Outline, p18).

In this freedom of faith we have been liberated to be wholly for God and therefore wholly for the neighbour . It is not without significance that Paul chose the word 'douleuete' - 'serve, be a slave to, be in bondage to' one another. This totally committed loving/serving of the other is set in direct opposition and contrast to interpreting/using Christian freedom as an 'occasion' for 'the flesh' and using Christian liberty as an excuse for licence to do as we please.

In contrast to this liberation to love that goes hand in hand with the true Gospel, the perspective of the false teaching, which made distinctions between people on the basis of performance of ritual law, has destructive effects:

'If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.'

It is actually the false teaching, not Christian liberty, that, at a foundational level, 'indulges the sinful nature' or 'gives occasion to the flesh', by making people focus on their own righteousness, by putting distinctions and divisions between people, by creating occasion for superiority/inferiority, judgement, condemnation and guilt.

B. THE SPIRIT - FLESH CONTRAST [5:16-26]

More extensive study: for more extensive study on this contrast see the Studies in Romans on this website: Study 11, Study 12, Study 13 and Appendix.

We will assume that by 'the flesh' ('sinful nature' in NIV) Paul is referring to human nature disconnected/living independently from God - what we are in ourselves, apart from Christ. We will also keep in mind what Paul has said in the preceding verses, that the intention of Christian liberty is not to provide an opportunity for 'the flesh' to take over, and that it is the false teaching rather than the gospel, that actually gives the flesh such an opportunity.

Paul here makes a number of statements:

[1] If you live by the Spirit you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. [If you walk in the Spirit you will not complete/fulfill the desires of the flesh.]

Here Paul contrasts the two arenas: we are either living/walking in the arena of the Spirit, or we are living/walking in the arena of the flesh.

In the arena of the Spirit (which is the Kingdom of Jesus), people are saved by grace, through faith, not by works, the operating principle is that of grace, and the effective means of justification is the righteousness of Christ.

In the arena of the flesh, (which is the dominion of darkness), people stand on their own two feet in the presence of God, dependent on their own merit for the declaration of righteousness, because the operating principle is the law of sin and death.

All Christians are actually in the arena of the Spirit, but people who, like the Galatians, have allowed themselves to be deceived by a performance-based perception of salvation, still have, or have slid back into, the mindset of the arena of darkness, where the operating principle is not grace, but the law of sin and death. Thus they see themselves as still under the law.

This has two effects: firstly, that they will be constantly provoked by that law to want to sin, and, secondly, that they will constantly be striving for a personal righteousness that will make them qualified to gain merit in God's sight - forcing them to compare and contrast themselves with others, encouraging feelings of superiority or inferiority, and condemning and destroying others in the process.

This desire of the human nature to indulge, promote and justify itself is outlawed, inappropriate and disempowered in the arena of the Spirit. If we are living 'in the Spirit' we have disassociated ourselves from the desires of the flesh. These 'lusts of the flesh' may be overt immoral lusts, or they may be the subtle but powerful desire of the flesh to see itself and its actions as righteous, meritorious and significant.

[2] The flesh and the Spirit have contrasting desires, each conflicting with the other, with each making it impossible for the desires coming out of the other to be implemented.

Using the kata sarka/kata pneuma concepts from Romans as headings we will itemize firstly the contrasts made in Galatians up to this point, then the contrasting lifestyles set out in 5:16-26.

The facts about the two ways of relating to God and each other:

 
Kata sarka - according to flesh - facts
Kata pneuma - according to the Spirit - facts
 

2:21

5:4

Grace is set aside

Fallen away from grace

Called by the grace of Christ

Called by his grace

Grace maintained

The promise given through grace

1:6

1:15

2:21

3:18

2:4

Slaves

Freedom in Christ

2:4

2:12

Separation between Jew and Gentile

Unity between Jew and Gentile

Neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female - all one in Christ

2:12

3:28

2:14ff

2:16

3:11

3:21

5:3

Coercion to submit to Jewish customs and observation of the law for justification

No one will be justified

No one justified before God

Law can not impart life

Obligated to obey the whole law

Justification by faith in Jesus Christ

Righteousness credited because of faith

Gentiles justified by faith

The righteous live by faith

By faith - confident expectation

Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has value

2:16ff

3:6

3:8

3:11,24

5:5

5:6

2:21

Christ died for nothing if righteousness can be gained here

Died to the law/crucified with Christ

Baptized into Christ

Clothed with Christ

2:19f

3:27

3:27

5:2

5:3

Christ is of no value

Alienated from Christ

Christ lives in me

I live by faith in the Son of God

2:20

2:20

3:2

3:3

Trying to gain the Spirit by observing the law

Trying to attain the goal by human effort

Spirit received by believing the message

We receive the promise by faith

What was promised is given through faith in Christ to those who believe

3:2

3:14

3:22

3:10

All who rely on observing the law are under a curse

Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law

3:13

3:22

3:23

Prisoners of sin

Prisoners of the law/locked up

No longer under the supervision of the law

3:25

4:2

4:3

4:5,21

4:7

4:30

Subject to guardians and trustees

In slavery under the basic principles of the world

Under the law

A slave

Will never share the inheritance

Sons of God through faith in Christ

Heirs of the promise to Abraham by faith

Received the full rights of sons

The Spirit of God in our hearts cries 'Abba'

A son and heir

3:26

3:29

4:5

4:6

4:7

4:8

Did not know God

Slaves to non-gods

Know God

Are known by God

4:9

4:9

4:25

5:1

Enslaved by weak and miserable principles

Slavery

Burdened with a yoke of slavery

Free

Set free for freedom

4:26

5:1

The lifestyles expressed in and/or appropriate to these two mindsets:

 
Kata sarka lifestyle/mindset
Kata pneuma lifestyle/mindset
 

5:13

Gives opportunity to the flesh to express itself

Serves one another in love

5:13

5:15

Bites and devours each other

Destroys each other

Loves the neighbour as onself

5:14

Walks/lives by/in the Spirit - that is under the direction and authority of the kata pneuma mindset, in sync with the mind of the Spirit

We live by the Spirit

5:16

5:25

Does not bring the mindset of the flesh to expression/fulfilment

5:16

5:17

Is in opposition to the desires of the Spirit

Is in opposition of the desires of the flesh

5:17

5:17

The flesh makes it impossible to do what the Spirit wants to do

The Spirit makes it impossible to do what the flesh wants to do

5:17

[By inference} are under law.

You are not under law

5:18

5:19-21

Sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

5:22,23

Idolatry, witchcraft

Hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy.

Have crucified the flesh and its passions and desires

5:24

Drunkenness, orgies

5:21

Do not inherit the kingdom of God

[By inference] inherit the kingdom of God

We should keep in step with the Spirit - that is, we ought to live in line with the mindset of the Spirit

5:25

Conceit, provoking each other, envying each other are outlawed - they are entirely out of place in this kingdom

5:26

C. IMPLICATIONS OF THE SPIRIT-TAUGHT [KATA PNEUMA] MINDSET [6:1-17]

C.1 What should happen when a Christian is caught in some sin? [1-2]

Sin is to be dealt with within the context of the arena of the Spirit, in keeping with the operating principle of grace, and from the standpoint that being 'spiritual' does not exclude the possibility of being pressured to sin.

C.2 How does one view one's own actions? [3-5]

C.3 Is there any difference between the teacher of the gospel and those who are taught? [6]

C.4 Does the according to flesh/according to the Spirit - kata sarka/kata pneuma - difference really matter? [7-8]

C.5 Isn't this sufficient reason for 'doing good'? [9]

C.6 What should our attitude be to each other? [10-17]

'So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view (Greek = kata sarka). Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.'

In this text the 'he is' is not found in the Greek: it is simply: 'if any one is in Christ - new creation.' Paul teaches that he has stopped looking a people according to what they are in themselves as it appears to human observation of their actions. He used to look at Christ that way, but he doesn't do so any more - that changed on the Damascus Road. Now, he says, rather than look at Christian's actions and access them on that basis, he sees them only 'in Christ', and in Christ it's a whole new set up, a whole new ball game, a whole new way of perceiving a person, a whole new world. This is what he is speaking of in Galatians 6:15 when he says 'neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything: what counts is a new creation.'

Discussion Topic # 12: Which verses from Galatians 5:13 to 6:18 do you find most significant in helping you to live by the principle of grace rather than the principle of law?
Discussion Topic # 13: Identify circumstances in which today's Christians need to learn to 'bear each other's burdens' and to 'labour for the good' of others in the way Paul speaks of in 6:2 and 10.