In the fifth chapter of Galatians, Paul deals with the problem of legalism in the church there. A lot of the recently converted Jews were telling the Galatians that they still had to live under the law, most specifically that they had to be circumcised in order to be saved. Paul speaks emphatically against any such requirement, reminding the Galatians that they were saved by grace through faith and not by living up to any legal requirements.
Then, having led them out from under the law and into the freedom of grace, he warns them against letting that freedom become license. Here’s what he says in verses 13 and 14:
13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
This has been a conflict within the church ever since the first century. It seems like a large portion of the body wants to live under legalism. We build all sorts of rules and regulations—do this, don’t do that, dress this way and never dress that way, don’t drink—the list goes on and on, depending on the particular rules of whatever individual happens to be talking.
We lead people to Jesus, telling them they are saved by grace. Then, as soon as they’re born again, we start telling about all these rules. How hypocritical!
The other extreme is complete license. We receive the salvation Jesus provides, and then we decide that since we have fire insurance—knowing that our ultimate destination is heaven and not hell—we can sin all we want to. If it feels good do it. When we do that, we miss the whole point of salvation.
Yes, the ultimate result of salvation is eternity in heaven, but there is more to it than that. The moment we are saved, the Holy Spirit enters us and resides in us for the rest of our lives. He gives us the power to resist sin if we’ll allow Him to, and He also begins a work in us the moment we are saved to perfect us, to conform us to the image of Jesus. This work will not be completed in this lifetime, but the more we submit ourselves to the Holy Spirit, the closer to perfect He can make us.
Paul put the key to this in verse 16, which says:
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
We do not have the power within ourselves to overcome our flesh, our sinful nature. But the more submitted we are, the more He can lead us to overcome it. It’s not we who conquer sin. It’s the Holy Spirit in us.
What does ‘walk in the Spirit’ mean to you?
If you abide in Me and My word abides in you, then you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.
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