In Galatians 5, we find what many regard as the key of the whole book. He says, in verse 1, that Christ set us free for the sake of freedom, and we, therefore, should not entangle ourselves again into the chains of this world. This concept of freedom in Christ is something Paul has been building up to throughout the first few chapters of this book, returning time and again to freeing ourselves from the enslavement of the things of this world so we might have liberty in Christ. Prior to Christ, God’s people we under a schoolmaster in the old law, and, in chapter 4, Paul writes that we are redeemed out of that old law into adoption by God. We are no longer slaves; we are sons and daughters of God.
Verse 13, however, reminds us not to abuse or misuse our freedom. In our culture, we value the freedoms provided us by our government, but can freedom be a bad thing? Can we be irresponsible with those freedoms given us? To illustrate, compare how you might have driven with your learner’s permit versus when you got your license. Remember the first time you had time alone in your house without a chaperone of any kind. Can these freedoms be misused? Likewise, we no longer have the crushing mandates of the Levitical covenant, but we must not abuse the freedom we have in Christ.
Abusing Our Freedom
From Galatians 5:13 through 6:10, Paul talks about the proper use of spiritual liberty in Christ. He begins, in verses 13-15, by admonishing us to not have selfish motivations that lead us to biting at and devouring each other. We may think we’re “calling it like it is,” but what we’re really doing is destroying one another with words where we should be loving and serving each other. In Matthew 22:37, Jesus says loving God and loving our fellow man making up the foundation of God’s law. James calls loving one another a royal law in James 2:8. In our Christian liberty, we should be loving one another and serving one another.
Beginning in Galatians 5:16, Paul warns against engaging in sinful behaviors that nullify our freedom in Christ. We cannot think sin stops affecting us once we put Christ on in baptism, nor can we believe our fleshly behaviors are mutually exclusive from our spiritual health. In verse 21, Paul says that those who participate in sinful living will not inherit God’s kingdom. Therefore, we cannot abuse and throw away the freedom we have with these things.
Using Freedom for Good
Then, in Galatians 5:22-24, Paul explains how we properly use our freedom in Christ:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
If we concentrate on these things, if we practice these qualities daily, we will be in no violation of God’s law or man’s. With these, we can know we are in a right relationship with God. Then, chapter 5:25-6:10 lays out some practical ways we put these qualities into practice – restoration, forgiveness, bearing burdens, humility, good works toward all.
As Galatians 6 warns, we should not think so highly of ourselves that we become selfish or boastful regarding our freedom in Christ. Instead, we should be looking for ways to lighten each other’s loads, ways to bear each other’s trials and sorrows, and ways to work good toward everyone we meet. Though we are free to call our God, “Father,” though we are free from the chains of sin, we should use our liberty wisely, understanding the responsibilities that come with this freedom. Our liberty should push us toward gentleness, love, joy, patience, and peace. This is how we ensure we use our freedom properly – we walk by, live by, and produce by the Spirit. We crucify slavery to self to allow Christ to reign in our lives.
lesson by Tim Smelser