Because of the Gospel, we are free in Christ! But if we are to live a life of freedom it will require us to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to live the Christian life.
It is through the Spirit that the believer finds the power to faithfully follow Jesus. In Galatians 5, Paul tells us of three things that the Holy Spirit enables us to do.
13 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. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
Paul starts out by talking about our Calling. He says we are called to be free.
So, if the Christian is free, what all does that mean?
It means we are free from the guilt of sin because of God’s forgiveness. We are free from the penalty of sin because Christ died for us on the cross. And, through the Spirit, we are free from the power of sin in our daily life.
We are also free from the Law, with its demands and threats. Christ bore the curse of the Law and ended its tyranny once and for all.
But we must remember, freedom doesn’t just mean we can do whatever we want!
In the next breath, Paul cautions us not to use our freedom to indulge the flesh, but rather to use it to serve.
Christian liberty is not a license to sin. Here’s another way to say it, “Liberty from sin is not liberty to sin.”
Let’s talk about license for just a minute. Do you remember getting your driver’s license? I know for me; it was a consuming thought for about the whole year leading up to my 16th birthday. I dreamed about the freedom that having a driver’s license would be. What I didn’t anticipate was all the responsibility that came with it. It’s that reason that getting a driver’s license for me was an extremely anticlimactic event. As great as being able to drive was, it also meant that I had to run errands, I had to take myself to school, I had to pick up my little brother and take him places, and my days of napping in the car were over!
And so, what I had to learn was that, yes, a license meant freedom, but it also meant responsibility. The same is true with the freedom we have in Christ. We are free, and that freedom brings with it the opportunity to serve.
And that’s exactly what Paul says. You’re free — now see that freedom as a chance to “serve one another humbly in love.” (v. 13)
The key word here, of course, is love.
Has there ever been a simpler, yet more profound truth than these simple words: “Love your neighbor as yourself”!? This is the Law of Love. It’s a truth that is found in the Old Testament and expounded on by Jesus. We call it the golden rule. And it is as profound as it is straightforward.
Apparently, the Galatian believers were lacking in this kind of love because they were “biting and devouring one another” and were in danger of destroying one another (Gal. 5:15). The picture here is of wild animals attacking each other. The church that turns on one another is void of love and will surely destroy itself. That’s what Paul is getting at here.
Let’s look now at the next section, verses 16-21.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
The first section was all about how the Holy Spirit enables us to fulfill the Law of Love. Now we read about how:
It is not law on the outside but love on the inside that makes the difference. As we live the Christian life, we need power from within, and that power comes from the Holy Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit enables us.
Warren Weirsbe said, “What God the Father planned for you, and God the Son purchased for you on the cross, God the Spirit personalizes for you and applies to your life as you yield to Him.”
Notice a key idea in this section is that we are to walk by the Spirit.
To “walk” by the Spirit means the need to yield to the Spirit every day and in every way. The word for walk is a Greek word that means “to walk around after someone or to walk in a particular direction.” For the Christian, to walk by the Spirit, or to be led by the Spirit, means to follow our Teacher around, sticking closely with Him.
And here’s the crazy part, the promise is that if you do this — walk by the Spirit — then you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
Those who yield to the Spirit daily have the promise that they will not gratify their fallen human nature.
Paul then lists some of the “works of the flesh.” (You will find similar lists in Mark 7:20-23; Rom. 1:29-32; 1 Tim. 1:9-10; 2 Tim. 3:2-5.)
This list in Galatians can be divided into three major categories:
They include sexual sins (summarized by sexual immorality), superstitious sins (like sorcery), and social sins (like hatred, discord, anger, jealousy, and selfish ambitions)
But how does the believer handle the old nature when it is capable of producing such horrible sins?
The Law cannot change or control the old nature, but the Spirit can.
Let’s look at the last section:
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
Verse 24 is key to understanding what’s most important here. The old nature must be crucified.
Christ not only died for me, but I died with Christ. Christ died for me to remove the penalty of my sin, but I died with Christ to break sin’s power.
We must accept what God says about the old nature, that it has been put to death, and we must daily choose to walk in this new way of life!
When we do this, we get to experience:
The contrast between works and fruit is important. A machine in a factory works and turns out a product, but it could never manufacture fruit. Fruit must grow out of life, and, in the case of the believer, it is the life of the Spirit.
The flesh produces “dead works,” but the Spirit produces living fruit.
The New Testament speaks of several different kinds of “fruit”:
The “fruit of the Spirit” listed in our passage has to do with character (Gal. 5:22–23).
I believe that the proper vernacular is fruit, singular, because what we have listed here is not a shopping list we choose from. Rather, these describe the work of the Spirit in our lives. And NO one gets to specialize and simply say, “That fruit just doesn’t grow on my tree!” No! God wants to produce ALL these things in our lives as the natural man is put to death, and the Spirit of God brings new life from within.
With that, let’s look at them.
The characteristics that God wants in our lives are seen here listed as the fruit of the Spirit. Paul begins with love because all the other fruit is really an outgrowth of love.
This word for love is agape, which means divine love. This divine love is God’s gift to us.
When a person lives in the sphere of love, then he experiences joy — that inward peace and sufficiency that is not affected by outward circumstances. This “holy optimism” keeps Paul going in spite of many difficulties. Love and joy together produce peace, “the peace of God, which passes all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).
Then we see forbearance (which is courageous endurance without quitting), kindness, and goodness (love in action) followed by faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
The old nature can counterfeit some of the fruit of the Spirit, but the flesh can never produce the fruit of the Spirit.
When we think about these, we must remember that we produce these through “keeping in step with the Spirit” — that means we are not to run ahead and not to lag behind.
We must remember that this fruit is produced to be eaten, not to be admired and put on display. People around us are starving for love, joy, peace, and all the other fruit of the Spirit. We bear fruit so that others might be fed and helped, and that Christ might be glorified.
As we live the Christian life, it’s only by the Holy Spirit that we experience what freedom is all about. God alone gives freedom from sin and self. The Holy Spirit enables us to fulfill the law of love, to overcome the flesh, and to bear fruit.
We need to remember that the intersecting work of grace can transform our lives life today.
2 Timothy 1:8-14 provides powerful instruction on how to remember your calling. There is great encouragement here for modern-day believers.