I have had a single verse resonating in my mind all week, and it feels a bit cliché since this week, we in the US celebrated July 4th, but the more I meditate on this verse the more it resonates within me. Not only so, but the more I have read it, the more I have realized the necessity to read the whole chapter and the need for us to be aware of this critical passage.
I have long believed that Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians with a singular purpose in mind, and I have found that many pastors and teachers of the Bible disagree with me. I fundamentally believe Paul’s purpose was to address people’s predisposition to long for rules to follow. I believe Galatians pivots on 1 verse (not the verse I have had resonating inside me all week long), and have taught that in the past. Galatians 5:9 says, “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough,” and I believe he was saying the Law of Moses, the little particulars people were getting hung up on (and still are), is the yeast. In Galatians 2:16, as well as 2:18-21, Paul made the case that you cannot live by the law and also live in grace. He says we must set aside one or the other (21). We either set aside the law, or we set aside the grace of God…
As clear as that is (Hebrews 8 presents an equally clear case of removing the law and living in the grace of God), I find many pastors try to teach both, often stating things like, “Paul wasn’t referring to the Law of Moses, but to the other laws the Pharisees had added and enforced at the time.” I cannot see how this is remotely possible, since the Galatians were not a people immersed in Pharisee doctrine (these were Jews and Gentiles living in Greece). I find it heartbreaking when I read or hear about pastors who teach their members to live by the law while preaching about the grace of God. Galatians 3:17 says, “Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them. It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always…” and then he presents his case in 3:21-31. The Law creates slaves to sin and a need for a Savior. To live by it AFTER the Savior has come is to deny the work of the Savior all together. Galatians 5:4 says, “You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
Isn’t this crazy? Christianity has often had a real struggle with freedom, often choosing to focus on each person’s individual behavior, instead of focusing on the finished work of Christ. Let me be clear: you cannot save yourself. Your efforts to be pure will never work. No one is righteous, not even one. But thanks be to God our Father, who has given us a new righteousness, that comes apart from the Law, that comes from faith in Jesus Christ. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely through His grace. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law (I just quoted a few verses from Romans 3).
This leads me to the verse I have been meditating on: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” – Galatians 5:1
God wanted us free. The Law created slaves to sin (Galatians 3:23). Its purpose was to point us to Christ (Galatians 3:24). And now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law (Galatians 3:25). God wanted us free. It’s a beautiful reality, and very difficult for us to fully comprehend. I don’t always feel free… I’m sure you are the same. And the devil doesn’t seem to understand I am free. Sometimes, I feel like I am in a war that I cannot win. You know what’s beautiful? You can’t win. You’re not supposed to win a war against the devil. Jesus already won! Your job, according to Galatians 5:1 is to stand firm (Romans 5:2 tells us we stand on the grace of God), and to not allow the burden of guilt to bring you back into slavery. We don’t have to defeat the devil, only resist his ploys with the knowledge that Jesus has made you free.
Lastly, Galatians 5:13 tells us, “You were called, dear brothers, to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge in the sinful nature, rather serve one another in love.” Paul is being very thorough in this letter. When we participate in backbiting and devouring each other with gossip, resentment, jealousy, anger, malice, and the like we are not loving each other.
God has called us to be free. But He has also paid for us to be free. He has done everything He can. It’s up to us to live freely, and the only way to do that is to love God, love ourselves, and love others. And what would that look like? What would it look like to actually be a people who love each other so much that we pour out grace when others wrong us, make mistakes, and disappoint us? What if we loved each other the way God loves us? And herein lies the point of this blog…
You are free to love people, to live free, and to give grace. It’s up to you. Bless you…
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