Brothers and Sisters,
You were Called to Freedom
DIG: How does Paul navigate between the dangers of those who set rules to live by, and those who want no rules at all? Can an external set of rules restrain evil? What does Paul say is the answer? Who gives the believer both the desire and power to refuse the wrong and choose the right? What is the antidote against using our freedom from legalism as an excuse for sinning? What is the negative side of that truth?
REFLECT: What experience have you had with legalism in the past? When did you recognize it? Have you overcome it? How have you dealt with it? In your culture how is your freedom in Messiah misunderstood today? How does this misunderstanding lead to sin? How do you personally understand your freedom in Messiah, and also guard against using it as an excuse for your favorite sin? How can you help others understand this? In what situations do you find it hard to love others? How will remembering your hope in Yeshua Messiah increase your love?
Paul warns the Galatians not to use their freedom from legalism as an excuse for sinning, thus, turning their freedom in Messiah into an excuse to sin. Instead, he encourages them to govern their lives by divine love produced by the Ruach ha-Kodesh.
Ours is a day that cries out for liberation. Men, women, and even children are demanding more freedom to do as they please. In the name of personal rights, authority is flouted and restrictions are resisted. Like the Israelites in the days of the judges, sinful people want to do what is right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6, 21:25; Deuteronomy 12:8).
But is also a day of addiction, not only to alcohol and drugs but also to sexual passions, violence, and many other forms of bondage in which a person eventually becomes powerless to escape. When people choose to persist in a sin, they develop less and less control over it until eventually they forfeit any choice entirely. Except for the extremity of their situations, debilitated addicts are no different from most of the lost in the world today. I tell you the truth, everyone who [habitually practices] sin is a slave to sin (John 8:34). Fallen people are slaves to their sinful nature, an addict who cannot successfully control his sinful thoughts and actions even when they want to. And ironically, the more they insist on their self-centered freedom, the more they become enslaved to sin. However, in the passage quoted above, Yeshua gave the remedy for true freedom: So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:36). That is the great manifesto of all believers in Messiah and the theme of the letter to the Galatians: freedom in Yeshua Messiah.
Paul had already spoken of our freedom in Messiah (2:4) and presented an analogy illustrating the believer’s spiritual descent from Abraham’s wife Sarah, a free woman (to see link click Bq – Abraham had Two Sons, Ishma’el by the Slave Woman and Isaac by the Free Woman). He declared that it is for freedom that Messiah set us free (5:1). But because the idea of freedom in Messiah is so easily misinterpreted and misapplied, Paul knew the importance of understanding its true significance. Therefore, here, he briefly explains freedom’s basic nature and purpose.133
The sentence: Brothers and sisters, you were called to freedom (5:13a), is transitional, reaching back to all that has come before it, summing up the whole preceding argument for our freedom in Messiah and looking ahead to what fallows, in that it introduces a completely new aspect of the matter of freedom . . . the danger of abusing it. To those who had a working understanding of the Torah, the teaching of our freedom in Messiah might have meant that there is nothing to stand in the way of the unrestrained indulgence of one’s own sinful impulses. During his ministry Paul frequently had people react to his teaching in this way to his teaching on grace. The questions of Romans 6:1 and 6:15, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so grace may abound?” and “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under [legalism] but under grace?” were asked by someone who did not understand grace.
Paul answers these questions in Romans 6, by showing that the control of the sinful nature over the individual is broken the moment a person believes in Yeshua and is indwelt with the Ruach ha-Kodesh. Such a person would, at that time, hate sin and love righteousness, and would have both the desire and the power to keep from sinning and to do God’s will. Paul teaches in Galatians that the power of the Ruach exercises more control over the believer than obedience to the 613 commandments of the Torah ever did, and who gives the believer both the desire and power to refuse the wrong and choose the right, a thing which the Torah was never able to do. As a result, the believer passes out of the control of a mere legal system into the control of a Person, the Spirit of God.
When Yeshua died and was resurrected, we passed from the Dispensation of Torah to the Dispensation of Grace. The Torah was, and is, still righteous (see Af – The Torah or Righteousness), and still valid as our blueprint for living (see the commentary on Exodus Dh – Moses and the Torah). The Torah was not abolished (see the commentary on Exodus Du – Do Not Think That I Have Come to Abolish the Torah). God knew what He was doing. He did not leave the world without a restraining hand. He ran this world for 2,500 years before the Torah was enacted, and He can run it again. He does not need the help of legalistic teachers and preachers in the Church (see Ak – The Hebrew Roots Movement: A Different Gospel) who think they are helping Him control this world by imposing legalism on grace.
Indeed, it is the general ignorance and lack of recognition of the ministry of the Ruach ha-Kodesh that is responsible for the tendency of the Church of adding legalism (baptism, tongues, etc.) to grace. There is a recognition that the flesh was still sinful even though its power over the individual was broken, and, as a result, the feeling that the child of god still needs a restraint, as it should be. But the mistake that is so often made is that the perversion of the Torah, or legalism, is substituted for the restraint of the Ruach ha-Kodesh with disastrous results. Not only does the Torah not restrain evil, but on the other hand, it brings out evil in the believer because our sinful nature rebels against it (Romans 7:7-13). The Ruach ha-Kodesh strove with men before the Torah was given, and He still continues to do so. And moreover, He indwells all believers and has their cooperation in restraining evil. He will restrain evil until the Church is Raptured (see the commentary on Revelation By – The Rapture of the Church). No pastor or Messianic rabbi ever helps his flock live a holy life in Messiah by putting them under legalism and let them smell the fire and brimstone of the Lake of Fire. A policeman on the street corner is a far more efficient deterrent of breaking the law than any number of city ordinances posed for public notice. To understand the ministry of the Ruach ha-Kodesh, is far more productive in our victory over sin than the imposition of any list of rules. Thus, the controlling ministry of the Ruach ha-Kodesh is the key to holy living. And that is Paul’s point here.134
Only do not let your freedom become an opportunity for the flesh (5:13b). Paul warns believers who were tempted to abuse their freedom in Messiah is not a means for satisfying the desires of the flesh, but for opposing it. Flesh here does not refer to the physical body but to the sinful inclination of fallen mankind, the old self, whose supreme desire is to do its own will and to satisfy its sinful appetites. It is a synonym for sinful self-will. Messiah does not give freedom to believers so they can do what they want but so they can, for the first time, do what God wants, because of love for Him. Live as free people, but not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil. Rather, live as God’s slaves (First Peter 2:16). To advocate immorality or corruption in the name of our freedom that we have in Messiah is to deny our Lord, who gives freedom from sin, not freedom to sin. Put on the Lord Messiah Yeshua, and stop making provision for the flesh – for its cravings (Romans 13:14).135
The antidote against using their freedom from legalism as an excuse for sinning, is found in Paul’s appeal: But through love serve one another (5:13c). The Greek word for love here is agape, which refers, not to human affection but to divine love, the love produced in the heart of the yielded believer to the Ruach ha-Kodesh, and the love with which that believer should love other believers. This love is a love whose chief essence is self-sacrifice for the benefit of the one who is loved. Such a love means death to self, and that means defeat for sin, since the essence of sin is self-will and self-gratification. The Galatian believers were rescued from the slavery which legalism imposed, and were brought into a new bondage, that of a loving, glad, and willing service to ADONAI and mankind which eliminates self-will and subordinates all selfish desires to love. This is the secret to victory over the totally deprived nature whose power over the believer was broken at the moment of salvation, when that old sin nature attempts to seduce the believer to use his freedom as an excuse to sin.
Up to this point the apostle had tried to discourage the Galatian believers from once again placing themselves under the bondage of legalism by listening to the false doctrine of the Judaizers. But now he exhorts them to love one another. If they do this, he says, they will fulfill the Torah. For the whole Torah can be [fully obeyed] in a single saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14; Leviticus 19:18; Romans 13:8-10; James 1:27). But how are we to understand this? Paul’s statement becomes clear to us when we understand that the heart of the Torah, and all that it requires, is revealed in love. At the moment of salvation we pass from condemnation to acceptance, from being the enemy of God (James 4:4) to being a child of God. We are adopted into the family of God, not by a set of written commandments, but by the love of God that produces in the heart of the yielded believer both the desire and power to live life by the dominating principle of love. God’s love, which exercises a stronger and stricter control over the heart, and is far more efficient at extinguishing sin than the Judaizers could ever dream of.
Then to reemphasize the need for believers to use their freedom to serve one another (5:13c), Paul stresses the negative side of that truth – in the form of a warning about what happens when believers do not love and serve one another. They become destructive and bite and devour one another (5:15a). The words bite (Greek: dakno) and devour (Greek: katesthio), were commonly used in classical Greek in connection with wild animals in a deadly struggle. We are not specifically told what the deadly struggle was about, but the context dictates that it was the Judaizers who were at the root of all their deadly struggles. By devouring one another, Paul does not mean that they will lose their salvation, but that such infighting, if continued, would destroy the fellowship and witness of the churches in Galatia. So he warned: Watch out that you are not destroyed by one another (5:15b).136
The Ruach ha-Kodesh does not minister in a vacuum. He uses the Word of God, prayer, worship, and the fellowship of believers to build us up in Messiah. When we spend time daily in the Word and prayer, and yield to the Ruach’s working in our lives, we enjoy freedom and build up our fellowship of believers using our spiritual gifts.
Dear Heavenly Father, We love You! We praise You for releasing us from the slavery of trying to follow the law perfectly, of trying to earn Your love by good works. Thank you that chose to make your son became our sin offering. For He made the One who knew no sin to become a sin offering on our behalf, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. (Second Corinthians 5:21). You clothed us with Messiah, for all of you who were immersed in Messiah have clothes yourselves with Messiah. You made us all sons of God through trusting in Messiah Yeshua (Galatians 3:27, 26).
Your awesome, magnificent love causes us to want to love You back with all we have. This world is just a passing vapor. We will be gone in the blink of an eye and the only thing that matters is what we have done for Jesus with a loving attitude. Thank You that though our salvation is a free gift (Ephesians 2:8-9), You allow us the privilege of serving You and You reward those who choose to honor You with Godlike attitudes. Now if anyone builds on the foundation (- which is Yeshua the Messiah (v. 11) with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear. For the day will show it, because it is to be revealed by fire; and the fire itself will test each one’s work – what sort it is. If anyone’s work built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. (First Corinthians 3:12-14).
Praise You that You have not only freed us from sin’s penalty, but You also freed us from sin’s power and will deliver us from sin’s presence. You also allow us the blessing of serving You and You promise to take all who follow Yeshua as Messiah into your eternal Kingdom (Colossians 1:13) and to the home that You are preparing for Your loved ones. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to Myself, so that where I am you may also be (John 14:3). In the name of Your Holy Son and the power of His resurrection. Amen