Yes, I skipped a huge portion of Galatians. I love the book, as I love all of Paul’s epistles, but I have to take two things into consideration: 1) I want to finish by the end of the year, and 2) The emphasis in Galatians is against legalism, which I honestly don’t think is the main front on which the Enemy is attacking the Church in America. And finally, 3) We've already discussed some parts of this (like here), on the Fruit of the Spirit.
Regarding point # 2 above, one of my favorite descriptions of humanity comes from Martin Luther, who compared humanity to a drunken man on a horse. He gets on the saddle, rides a little ways, and then falls off. He gets back up into the saddle and makes extra sure he doesn’t fall of that side again, and he ends up falling off the other side. In other words, the Church tends to follow the example of the stereotypical generals who’re fighting the last war instead of the present one. I have to prioritize according to fitting everything in by the end of the year, and I feel the need to focus on Scripture which is dealing with the most relevant issues we’re facing. To be brutally frank, the Church in America needs to hear a lot less about the dangers of legalism and more about the more imminent threat of license, the “do whatever feels good” mentality, the antinomianism which is a baptized version of the hedonism which pervades American culture.
The good news is that this balancing act isn’t a new problem. Paul’s message focused so much on grace that he had to fight the accusation of antinomianism, and James thundered against the notion that faith can exist without works. The Church has struggled to stay balanced for thousands of years, and it rarely finds it.
So how do we balance? What’s the solution?
That brings us to today’s passage. Remember, the whole letter to the Galatians was written to counter the legalistic message of the Judaizers that faith in Christ isn’t sufficient to be righteous before God. This epistle has been called the believer’s Magna Charta, his declaration of freedom. We’re free in Christ. We’re saved merely by trusting in Christ. Adding anything to the simple message of salvation by grace through faith is a heresy, one which Paul blasted over and over and over here.
But read today’s opening verse. He says that we’re free, not to live as we please, but for a very different reason, something very counterintuitive: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” The point of this is not to let the sinful nature loose. It’s to serve one another out of love for our Savior.
Then we come to the focal point. . . the antidote for legalism is not license. The antidote for license is not legalism. The answer to both is walking with the Spirit.
To the Christian who’s been listening to the legalists, he says “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the [sinful nature].” Vs. 18 says that if we’re led by the Spirit, then we’re not under the law anymore: It doesn’t condemn us, nor is it a means of pleasing him by trying to follow a bunch of rules.
We’ve talked in depth about the fruit of the Spirit, so I want to skip ahead to call your attention to one more reference to this theme: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” We live by his Spirit. His Spirit infuses life into us. That’s a given. But notice the imperative mood in the latter part of the verse here: We are commanded to keep in step with the Spirit. This is something we have to choose to do on a daily—really a moment by moment—basis.
What’s he talking about here? Guys, this isn’t—as my teacher used to say—rocket surgery or brain science. You cultivate your relationship with him. You spend time in intimate prayer with him. You spend time reading and meditating on his word. You spend time in corporate worship and fellowship with other believers. You deal decisively with any lingering sin in your life.
Where he leads through his Spirit, our job is to listen for his promptings and keep in lock-step with him, like I used to march in formation when I was in the Army. We don’t fall back, we don’t step out ahead, and we don’t go off in a direction that looks like the way to go. We listen to the orders of our commanding officer, and go in the direction and at the pace he directs.
If we do this, we won’t indulge our sinful nature, and we won’t exhaust ourselves trying please a judge that we fear more than we love. This is the way to stay on that horse.
Holy Spirit, you're the key here. Where you lead me, I will go. By your grace, I will not fall behind, I will not step ahead, and I will not wander off. That’s what I’m asking for, please.
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