Faith Working through Love
Following Christ as Lord and obeying his moral law of love is not good enough for some people. We have to obey their legalistic rules. Just as legalists were telling the early Christians that they must adhere to the dictates of the Mosaic legal code, so today, people set up their denominational, church, or personal standards, and they judge others by those standards. Holiness, of course, is not legalism - it is a requirement. Man-made rules however, are legalistic, and an external adherence to rules will never save anyone. In fact, man-made rules can be set up in the place of God’s law of love and can cause people to go astray.
The deception of these legalists had confused the Galatian Christians and they had indeed been led astray. They had fallen from grace. Some understand this to mean that they had left the sphere of liberty and had become entangled again with the yoke of bondage, yoke of slavery, and had thus brought an unnecessary burden upon themselves. Others take this to mean that they had stopped following Christ and had instead chosen to follow the Mosaic legal system, thus they were debtors to the legal system and had exposed themselves to condemnation. Paul told them “Christ has become of no effect unto you” (KJV), or as the CSB renders it, they were “alienated from Christ.”
Paul asked, “Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?” It’s not enough that we begin the Christian race; we must run well if we want to obtain the prize.
Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. (1 Corinthians 9:24-25 KJV)
It is doubtful that anyone has ever run the entire race perfectly, but we must keep moving forward. If we sin, we must repent and get back to following Christ. We start out on the road to eternal life through a submissive belief, but the life of faith that is required of us involves obedience. There are many pitfalls that a Christian can fall into, and we must grow in awareness and remain diligent. The dangers that loom for us and our families are numerous, and we need to equip ourselves and our families to be able to withstand the fiery darts of the devil. I have genuinely sought to equip my wife and my children, and it can be a daunting task, to be sure. There are not only the dangers of a dark and perverted world, there are also dangers of deception in Christian circles that can affect us in a negative way. I was once a part of a legalistic circle that I now look back on with less respect than I once did.
Those who have yielded to the Lordship of Christ have been set free, but we are not free to indulge in carnality. How I regret times before where I have acted on the impulse of the flesh, not taking into full account the ramifications of my sin, and my disrespect for God, thinking God would forgive me afterward. What a shameful attitude to have toward the mercy of God. Thankfully, his long-suffering has given me the opportunity to repent, not only of my sins, but of my presumptuous attitude toward his mercy.
Christ redeems from the curse of the Law, but not from moral responsibility to God. The Christian is freed from condemnation, and freed from the burdens of the Mosaic Law, but we must move forward in love. Symbolic actions like circumcision profit us nothing. Religious activities do not save. Only the “faith which worketh by love” matters. Love is the fulfilling of the Law. Not a permissive, sin-excusing love, but a love for the ways of God and the love that seeks the well-being of those around us.
Man’s greatest battle is with his flesh. Certainly, we understand this as it pertains to the sins listed in verses 19 through 21 in Galatians 5. Paul made it clear that those who “do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” It’s also true that the flesh can cause people to turn from obeying the moral law of love to the setting up of flesh pleasing religious rules and restrictions. Some people, and this includes individuals in church positions, like power, and they will set up rules that will give them control of others. Some become deceived by these power-hungry individuals, and some find in their system an opportunity to join in on the control and critical attitudes inherent in the system. The flesh itself is not sinful, it is the vehicle through which we can do good or evil. But the flesh wants to be indulged, and is indifferent to whether it is gratified in accordance with the law of love or outside of God’s boundaries. God did not create man for him to be controlled by the flesh, God created him to be obedient. The selfish person is controlled by his or her flesh, and this is why we must be born again. We must give our hearts to Christ, that is, we must change our hearts and make God’s law of love the preference of our lives. If we act selfishly as a Christian, choosing self-gratification over love for God and others, we must repent. I have had to do so multiple times since I first yielded to Christ.
It’s not just obvious wrongs that can be fleshly motivated. The flesh can lead us to go to church meetings, to teach Sunday school, and to sing songs in church meetings. What is the motivation that lies behind our actions? Is our motivation one of obedience to God and love for our neighbor? It must be for it to matter in the eyes of God.
The fruit of the Spirit (22-23)
The person that is walking in Christian love will bear the fruit of the Spirit - maybe slowly, more so at some times than others - but surely.
We can be talented and intelligent, but without love, it will profit us nothing. Love is the substance of the Christian life. Christianity is love in action.
Our circumstances are not always something to be joyful about, but following Christ should be joyful to us – not a grievous burden.
The Christian life is a battleground. As we fight the temptations of the flesh and the lies of the devil, we may feel like peace is allusive. However, the result of obedience to God is the “peaceable fruit of righteousness.”
The person who has developed this fruit doesn’t rush to retaliate or avenge a wrong suffered. It is associated with the word “mercy.” It can be tempting to be impatient with others, and to respond angrily when someone does wrong, but instead we should “love mercy”, and remember God’s patience with us in our own lives.
Some people have a milder disposition. Some of us, not so much. There is a time for sternness, but gentleness must be our norm. May we be bold to speak and act with severity, if necessary, but we should not be characterized by unkindness.
The Christian is a good person. People hated the Lord Jesus because of his goodness, and they hate his followers. Be that as it may, we must not stop doing good when they slander and revile us. Furthermore, we must remember that goodness is defined by the Word of God, not the world.
We should be trustworthy and dependable. People should be able to rely on our word and character.
We should be humble, not thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought. Arrogance has no place in the life of a Christian.
We all have our temptations that we must deal with. Some are tempted more strongly in some areas than others. We must not indulge the flesh. We must not go to extremes. We must discipline ourselves in the Christian life.
It is extremely important that we help each other as Christians when it comes to the development of the fruit of the Spirit. Some churches and some family settings do not provide the right atmosphere for growth. This can be an unfortunate hindrance. Our homes, and our church fellowships, must be ruled by love – love for God and love for each other. Legalism, discord, a lack of kindness – these must be forsaken.
In conclusion, and to summarize, it is submission to Christ that gives us liberty. Living under the yoke of the flesh, in any capacity, enslaves us. Christ offers us a yoke of liberty.
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
This does not mean we are free from the obligation to be holy. We are not free from the obligation to be righteous. We are not free from the obligation to obey. We are free from condemnation. We are free from the burden of the Mosaic Law. We are free from the legalism of religious systems.
Make no mistake about it: the Christian life is demanding. Without holiness, no man shall see the Lord. It is a life of learning and of discipline, and a person must abide in Christ to make it to the finish line.
In reality, we are all a slave to something or someone. Becoming slaves of Christ is the only way to be free, for his ways are pure, holy, good, and just. Following him, we live the way God intends us to live. The shackles of legalism, whether speaking of the external features of the Mosaic Law, or the rules of a certain religious organization, enslaves us. God wants our hearts, and when we give the Lord our hearts, we can know the freedom and peace of righteousness.