Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Galatians 5:13-18

13You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature [or flesh]; rather, serve one another in love. 14The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ [Leviticus 19:18]. 15If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 16So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

V13 continues the theme from v1, adding that freedom in Christ is to be used not selfishly “to indulge the flesh,” but selflessly to “serve one another in love.” Calvin says, “Liberty is not granted to the flesh, which ought rather to be held captive under the yoke, but is a spiritual benefit, which none but pious minds are capable of enjoying.” While legalism, amounting to salvation by faith plus works, is a gross, right-leaning error, we must also guard against the left-sided error, antinomianism, which may claim that grace is magnified through sin, so sin is no longer a problem over which to struggle. Paul briefly notes that truth throughout this letter (see Galatians 1:6-7; 2:17-20), and he does so in more detail in other letters (Romans 6 for example), but he now elaborates that “faith expressing itself through love” (v6) is actually the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:8-10). Kim Riddlebarger adds, “As Paul sets this out, there is both a negative and positive element to the imperative – the negative is that we are not to use our freedom in Christ as a pretense for sinning, and the positive command is that we are to ‘serve one another in love.’ This certainly is a further elaboration of the Apostle’s previous comments about true faith being a faith which leads to works done in love (Galatians 5:6b). Christians, now free from the guilt and power of sin, are free to serve one another as Christ has served us (cf. John 13:2-12).”

Calvin intercedes, “Piety to God, I acknowledge, ranks higher than love of the brethren; and therefore the observance of the first table is more valuable in the sight of God than the observance of the second. But as God himself is invisible, so piety is a thing hidden from the eyes of men; and, though the manifestation of it was the purpose for which ceremonies were appointed, they are not certain proofs of its existence. It frequently happens, that none are more zealous and regular in observing ceremonies than hypocrites. God therefore chooses to make trial of our love to Himself by that love of our brother, which He enjoins us to cultivate. This is the reason why, not here only, but in the Epistle to the Romans, (Romans 8:8, 13:10,) love is called ‘the fulfilling of the law;’ not that it excels, but that it proves the worship of God to be real. God, I have said, is invisible; but He represents Himself to us in the brethren, and in their persons demands what is due to Himself.”

Paul quotes Leviticus 19:18, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” which “sums up or fulfills all the other commands that pertain to human relationships,” as Vincent Cheung says. He adds, “But if the former [love] sums up or fulfills the latter [all the other commands], then means that the latter is not ignored or abolished, but rather respected and carried out by the former.” Paul does not abolish the law in his teaching against legalism anymore than Christ, who fulfilled it perfectly (Jeremiah 31:33). Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18).

Rather than living under the yoke of the law, which sin takes advantage of and which gets ugly – both corporately (v15 speaks of biting and devouring one another unto destruction, probably in doctrinal disputes) and individually – due to the failures of the internal heart attitude to be conformed to the outward behavioral aspects of obeying the law for its sake, we are to live by, or be led by, or walk in, or keep in step with, the Spirit (v16) – both corporately and individually – to fight the sin nature, enabling the inward heart attitude to drive the outward behavior and conform it to righteousness. One commentator says that we walk by the Spirit through the sacraments and studying God’s Word.

Ultimately, we have an intense conflict, a battle of desires within (which is often manifested without), as v17 declares (along with its parallel in Romans 7:14-25), between the indwelling Spirit and the old sin nature (flesh). Calvin notes that the battle is a good sign, saying, “Carnal men have no battle with depraved lusts, no proper desire to attain to the righteousness of God. Paul is addressing believers.” And Kim Riddlebarger concludes, “Nowhere in this whole argument does Paul remotely hint or imply that this will be easy. Paul does not state that by ‘walking in the Spirit,’ we will be able to subdue all manifestations of the sinful nature in our lives, and therefore attain a state of perfection in this life. The sinful nature is not eradicated at the moment of regeneration, but the sinful nature is cut off from its source of life. It will slowly but surely whither and die. But though a defeated foe, it will nevertheless fight a determined guerrilla war until we die or until Christ comes back, whichever comes first. …Therefore, according to the second use of the law, our own inability to love our neighbor as we ought actually condemns us and should drive us to the cross of Jesus Christ for forgiveness.”

Paul wraps up here by saying, “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.” Riddlebarger paraphrases Calvin in commenting: “It is important to carefully qualify what Paul means when he says we are not under law. There are three ways in which those who are in the Spirit are not under law. First, Paul means that we no longer suffer the law’s curse for our infractions of God’s perfect will, Galatians 3:13 – “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” The curse has been done away through the death of Christ for us. Second, We are no longer under the slavery of the Law (Galatians 3:22; 25; 4:1-3), since Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1). Third, we are free from all of those ‘things indifferent,’ things which are not expressly forbidden in Scripture. The Spirit gives life and freedom – something the Law cannot do. Although we are not under the Law as a means of justification, this does not mean that Christians are not to strive to obey the law. …We are now free to obey the Law…out of gratitude because we are justified. Now we can serve one another in love since this fulfills the Law, as this is the Spirit’s work in our lives.”

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