Galatians

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

~ Galatians 3:23-29

Saving faith is a gift of God through the work of the Holy Spirit. We know that God does not hear the prayer of the unrighteous (Proverbs 15:29; 28:9; John 9:31) which kind of refutes the idea of a “sinner’s prayer” providing salvation to someone, and we also know that the heart of man is deceitfully wicked (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:23). We also know that no one seeks after God on their own (Romans 3:10-13), and that the an unrepentant sinner can’t even understand the things of God without His direct intervention (1 Corinthians 2:14), and that it’s God who has to call sinners to repentance, not men or by our own works (John 6:44). The biggest point here is that it’s impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6) as we must first believe that God exists and then have such a strong faith that we reject control of our lives and trust in Him alone for our salvation, as well as every other aspect of our lives.

All of that stated, if we have no faith in God to save us, we are damned under the curse of the law. Before Jesus came, the repentant Jew would trust in the promises of God and keep the civil and ceremonial laws. They had faith in God and not the law to save them. The law was merely a guardian, keeping us under control and acting as a watchful instructor who reminded us when we strayed that God’s standard was very high and that we should trust that God would provide a Savior for us.

Now that God’s chosen Savior has arrived, however, we are free from the curse of the law – we need that old guardian no more. In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” This statement defines the separation from believers under the old covenant and those under the new – we are no longer slaves to the old system of sacrifices, special offerings, etc but are adopted by God as sons and daughters through faith. How do you know this? It’s not necessarily your baptism that does this, but the baptism is a symbol of what you’ve already experienced in your life when you rejected the control of your former life (baptism symbolism: going under the water) and you are now reborn anew to live in Christ and He to live through you (baptism symbolism: rising from the water).

Now that we are a new creation, new people under a new covenant, serving an eternal King, what does that mean for us? We are all equals. How can we, who have been plucked from death and restored to new life, hold our own experience over anyone else’s? We can’t! Am I “more saved” than the person next to me? No! That’s absurd! Was I more deserving of salvation? The point of the gospel is that no one is deserving of salvation. Paul openly sought to see those who follow Christ murdered for the sake of religion, and now He is a shining example of God’s grace and mercy as he is used by God mightily to bring salvation to the Gentiles. Are you better than he? God doesn’t choose us based on our own merits, but by His own will and at His own time. There is no one who does good, no one who is righteous, and no one who pleases God. It is therefore God’s right to choose His own people from those who hate Him, to transform their lives, and to set them in a place of honor, along with everyone else who trusts in God alone for their salvation. That’s why he makes the claim here that there is no longer any distinction between anyone who is in Christ Jesus – all are equal before the throne of God.

Then he finishes with a startling claim (one that my dispensational brothers may have trouble with) – if we are in Christ, we are then the recipients of the covenant that God made with Abraham – and we are heirs along with Abraham’s *spiritual* descendants – and part of the true Israel. See the line here? Are you a genetic Jew? I know I’m not, but I am part of the true Israel, redeemed by God and set apart by faith in Christ Jesus. Is this replacement theology? I’d say not. Instead I see it as a continuation of God’s chosen people through the ages, consisting of everyone who, like Abraham, trusted in the living God alone for their salvation.

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

~ Galatians 4:1-7

Seeking to expand the idea of Christians being free from the law, Paul now goes into detail about what he meant in that a slave who is adopted by his owner no longer is under the same obligation as he was before. As a slave, you are bound to do what you’re told, but as an adopted child, you have the freedom to do as you please. Practically, it works like this – Jews who are under the bounds of legalism inside of the law cannot eat pork or shellfish and are bound to do no work on the Sabbath. Those who are freed in Christ, however, are free from those limitations and can eat pork and shellfish, and since we find our rest in Christ (the Lord of the Sabbath), we are not under the same legal restrictions that they were. Granted, some laws remain, the moral laws, for instance, as well as those proclaimed to us in the New Testament (abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality) but that’s a far cry from the legalism that Jews experienced under the old covenant.

Paul explains that God chose to send His Son at a time of His choosing to live according to the law of God, in a manner that no one could do on their own, and as a result we are freed from the curse of that law. We are no longer bound to it, but freed from it by our rebirth in Christ who, through His adherence to it, and our relationship to Him, has fulfilled the law for us in our place. His fulfillment of the law, now that we are in Him and He in us, carries over to us and it no longer has any control over us.

I know this explanation is a little tired, but I think it may help here. Let’s say that you’re speeding along the road and, in your ignorance, you blow through an area that was set aside for a blind children’s convention. You’re pulled over and the officer says that he clocked you going 125 mph in a 25mph area and that you had endangered the lives of many special needs children. He takes you to jail and the next day you learn that the fine for doing so is $145,000 and if you can’t pay it then you’re looking at 30 years in prison. The only problem is that you don’t have any money at all. You’re busted, dead to rights, and there is no hope for you. The judge is about to drop his gavel and sentence you to prison when a man walks into the courtroom. You’ve never met him and you have no idea who he is but he runs up to the judge and whispers something into his ear. A moment later the gavel drops and the judge orders, “Release the man and take my son into custody!”. You’re shocked to hear that the man says that he knows who you are, despite the fact that you have no idea who he is, and he loves you so much that he’s offered to take your place. Justice is fulfilled and the law no longer has any hold over you.

This, while a weak example, describes why the law no longer has any hold over us as Christians. The difference is that the penalty for our sin is death and Jesus, as our substitute, took our place on the cross of suffering, was tortured, mocked, beaten, and eventually killed while taking our sin on Himself. When He died, He redeemed us and set us free from the bondage to the law – it no longer has any claim over us. More than that, as a result of His death in our place, and us trusting in Him alone for our salvation, we have His righteousness deposited into our account and we are adopted into the family of God. We, with the Holy Spirit living inside us, are able to call out to the Father and call the great, I AM, “Father”, and He will listen to us just as if we were His own Son.

Thus we are no longer a slave through the law, but a child of God, adopted through the blood of Jesus.

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

~ Galatians 4:8-11

Paul is pleading with the Galatians here to seriously consider what they are considering. If they abandon the grace of God and adhere to the law again, they are not only abandoning their “sonship” with Jesus – and their adoption into the family of God, but are seeking after nothing shy of demonic practices. Put simply, any religious system that does not seek the God of the Bible is worshipping demons and false gods. God has made His stance very clear on this in the ten commandments, dedicating His first three commandments (the eternal moral laws) to protecting His name (how we refer to Him), His image (as in, don’t make anything to worship since God the Father is spirit, and not corporeal) and His preeminence in our lives:

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”

~ Exodus 20:2-7

How do we worship false gods? Simple! In fact, I’m pretty sure that most of you have done the same. Have you ever, before God saved you, read something in the Bible or heard something about God that you didn’t agree with and said to yourself, “nooo… that can’t be right! My god would never believe that!”. You, my friend, have just created a god in your own image. You rejected the God of the Bible and created one that met your personal needs. The problem here is that God will not be mocked and He has no tolerance for those who reject Him. That’s one of the things you can do when you’re God. See, He’s given us a book where He tells us about Himself and, because we’re prideful and prone to ignoring outside influence, we listen to what He says and reject it, substituting our own plan, or ideas, or theology. But God is who He claims to be.

Let’s say that you and I was in another country and you, because you were a close friend of mine, wrote me a letter every week detailing your life for me. You pour it all out and describe who you are and what your life is like and how you respond to things that happen to you. When I finally meet you, I call you by another name, tell all my friends lies about you that, if I read the letters you sent me I’d know to be untrue, but still said that I knew you personally because you had written to me about your life – what would you think about me? In the same way, when we reject the God of the Bible and insert our own theology, and then tell people that we are followers of that God we are lying about Him and deceiving many who listen to us.

So, how does that tie back into the text we have before us today? The Galatians were dangerously close to abandoning the gospel of Jesus Christ and laying themselves beneath the law, but still were calling themselves followers of Christ. Paul sees their dilemma and lays it out for them – they’re in danger of falling back into their own false religion and false system of legalism. He even openly states that he fears that he may have wasted his effort in trying to convert them to begin with.

Now, for those who are in Christ Jesus, truly saved and transformed, God will allow you to wander off the reservation a bit before bringing you back to Himself but once you are truly in Christ you are a new creation and God will not allow you to leave. That would insinuate that He was incapable of finishing a work that He started in you. But for those who are false converts – people who put on a front of Christian behavior yet who are not actually saved, they will eventually fall away. Therefore test yourself to be sure you are in the faith.

Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong. You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. What then has become of the blessing you felt? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.

~ Galatians 4:12-20

Pastor Paul now reaches out the to Galatian believers based on their knowledge of him. He lived with them for quite some time and they all got to know him personally. As a result, they know from personal hands-on experience in living and working with him, the kind of man that he is. Paul speaks simply and clearly, “become as I am.” They know that he, though born and raised as a Jew, and as someone who lived under the strictest of the Jewish sects, now lives a life free from the boundaries present in the Mosaic law. Paul also makes an interesting claim here – that it was “because of a bodily ailment” that he had preached the gospel to them. There is much speculation as to what this entails, but it is fair to say that he had some sort of impairment that kept him from continuing on and, as a result, he took that opportunity to preach the gospel to them. It also seems as though they had to endure with him in this ailment but at the time none of them took that as a reason to mock him or belittle him and instead they received him as a man who loved them and wanted to preach the good news of Jesus Christ with them.

So, Paul asks, what happened since then? The people in the churches he planted there loved him very much, why do they suddenly turn against him? The Jewish officials who came through after Paul left told them that he had been lying to them or not telling them the whole truth, insisting that they had to follow the Mosaic laws and follow a modified form of Judaism. Paul, however, firmly defends his position and asks them if, by telling them the truth about God and the good news of Jesus Christ that he has become their enemy. These Jews, seeking their own glory in their pride, desire to create for themselves a group of people to follow their sect, to the exclusion of everyone else. Paul then explains to them that, while it’s good to be solely focused on a specific task or thing, that’s a good thing to seek but only when it’s done for a good purpose. In this case, he argues, they are not doing so and are instead sinning.

Paul finishes this section by asking them to consider their position. He loves them very much and is obviously in anguish over his tone with them. He’d like to break past this and to see them grow in the Lord but, as a result of the confusion that was brought in by these intruders, they are unable to get past this and he fears that he may need to come back and start his work all over again. This is the heart of a pastor who loves his church – Paul wants nothing more than to see Christ glorified through these people who he has labored over in love.

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written,

“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;
break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than those of the one who has a husband.”

Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

~ Galatians 4:21-31; 5:1

Welcome to the Gospel as described in the Old Testament! Paul, still revealing to them the folly of placing themselves under the law again when they have finally been set from it, now explains to them the doctrine of election and what it means to be free from the law. In describing the two children of Abraham, he is able to reveal to them the impossibility of works to fulfill the promise of God and show how God’s plan of redemption brings complete freedom from the law.

Briefly, Abraham was promised that he would father a great nation. This promise was fulfilled both in physical children (the nation of Israel) and in spiritual children (obedient Jews and later Christians). The problem was that Abraham was impatient and, when his wife determined that she was now no longer able to bear children she asked that her husband (who was 86) would, uh, procreate with her young handmaiden. He reluctantly obliged and his wife’s handmaiden, named Hagar, bore him a son named Ishmael. See what happened here? They quit waiting on the Lord and instead acted on their own. So, Abraham finally created a child! This should be the child of promise, right? Nope! God tells him that Ishmael is not the child of promise, and that he will not take over the blessing (and carry the covenant) of Abraham. God does, however, bless Ishmael and he becomes the father of the Arab people who are still a mighty nation to this day.

About 13 years later, God visited with Abraham and reminded him of his promise to make him the father of a nation. His wife, now much older than before, laughed at the notion. God, on hearing he laugh, says that they must name their son “Isaac” which means “laughter”. 1 year later, God fulfills that promise and Sarah bears him a son.

See the difference here? Isaac is the child of PROMISE whereas Ishmael is the child of WORKS. Abraham’s wife believed that God would not make good on His promise to Abraham and therefore, by her own effort, sought to do the work that God had said that He would do. He does not, therefore, honor that act, but acts on His own at a time of His choosing to show that He is the one with the power over that situation. Carrying this further, Ishmael is the son of a slave and as a result is under slavery himself, whereas Isaac was born free as a child of the father. We, as Christians, are dead to the law and buried at our conversion (symbolized in the act of baptism) and we are born again as a child of the Spirit, free from our previous obligation to the law.

Given that information, Paul proclaims that, Jesus has set us free fro the yoke of slavery to the old ceremonial laws. We, as a new creation in Christ, are no longer bound to the law like Ishmael was, but we are free in Christ, like Isaac.

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

~ Galatians 5:2-6

Finally content with his explanation, Paul makes it very plain to the Galatian believers – if you accept circumcision, and as a result, place yourself under the yoke of the law, you are “falling away” from your initial conviction to Christ and are instead abandoning your trust in Jesus to save you and are placing the responsibility for your salvation on your own shoulders. This is the most terrifying piece of scripture that I have read in some time. On the surface, it states that people who are soundly saved can fall away from grace, and choose to leave the God who saved them so that they may pursue their own path of salvation. But, is that possible?

As we’ve read before, no. Paul, in his letter to the churches in Ephesus, states that, “God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will” (Ephesians 1:4-5) and in his second letter to Timothy he proclaims, “God saved us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of His own purpose and grace, which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9). God, when He starts a good work in us (our conversion) is intent to see it through to its completion. We cannot simply walk away from our faith, not if we were truly set apart from before He spoke and the universe leapt into existence. We are chosen by God, set apart for salvation, and God will never abandon us, nor will He allow us to shipwreck our faith.

So, since it’s not the real Christians who are in danger here, who is it that Paul is talking to? Those who put on the veneer of Christian orthodoxy, but who, in heart, are merely pretenders. They are false converts who hold to the good news of God’s salvation for us so long as it appeals to their conscience and once a “better deal” comes along they jump ship and run to the next flashy thing. You know these people as pew warmers. Many become involved in their churches and some even attain the role of pastor or elder, yet they’ve never truly repented of their sins and trusted in Jesus alone for their salvation. Getting circumcised is, for them, just another religious duty for them and they’ll happily take on the legalism of the Mosaic law to appease their desire for religion. It’s for this reason that we are told to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). The apostle John, who knew and lived with Jesus, has provided an a great resource for us in 1 John 3:1-10. If this is a concern for you, I suggest reading that passage and seeing how you do. If you are truly saved God will not allow you to wander far, but it’s wise to investigate this as much as you can.

Paul then finishes this section by reminding us that it’s through the Holy Spirit, who lives in the hearts of those who are truly saved, by faith that we are pursuing righteousness, but apart from the law, because it is impossible this side of the veil of death. Our righteousness is in Christ, not in our own works, and anyone who abandons Christ to pursue it on their own is a fool. For those who are in Christ, nothing matters but our faith in Christ to bring salvation upon us and that, when it is within you, it produces love.

You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

~ Galatians 5:7-12

The Christians in the region of Galatia were living obedient and fruitful lives when Paul last left them. Just like in the lives of every Christian, there were stumbles and mistakes, but all in all they were doing well. Paul recognizes this and asks them who it was who stopped them in their path. This is, of course, rhetorical, but he is making an important point here – anyone who dissuades you from following Christ or who offers a different path outside of what the Bible teaches, is of the devil.

Paul now uses Jesus’ example (Mark 16:6, 11-12; Mark 8:15; Luke 12:1) with “leaven” (yeast) and bread. In this day and age, everyone made their own food. While there were some shops around, it wasn’t like today where you could head down to the Claudius-Mart and pick up a loaf of bread. Most people used a local oven that everyone shared and made their bread daily. This description was not lost on them – when you add yeast to dough, you only need to add a little bit and it will expand and permeate the whole loaf, changing its shape, elasticity, smell, everything. In the same way, a little sin or a little compromise will slowly work their way in and drastically transform your theology.

Is there cause to be worried? Paul doesn’t think so – he states that he is confident that God will only allow this distraction to stick around for a little time, but that the one who caused them to go astray will not go unpunished. He then reveals to them the problem with that “little compromise” of combining the free grace of God through Christ with the works of the Mosaic law in that he is willing to suffer, even to death to defend their separation. The gospel swings on Christ’s sacrifice for our sake being the only thing necessary for our salvation because if we were able to redeem ourselves, then there is no reason that Jesus should have to die in our place. Paul feels so strongly that he pushes it even more by stating that he wished that those who sought to have the Gentile Christians would do the same to themselves, but go all the way. He clearly has strong feelings about this subject.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

~ Galatians 5:13-15

In yesterday’s post, Paul was describing how important it is that we not intermingle works with grace. Why is that important? We were not called to be under the yoke of the law, but we were called to freedom in Christ. This freedom scares many Christians because we are born with an innate desire for legalism. We like to know rules and we feel comfortable when we know how far we can go before we are in danger of trouble. The free grace of Christ and God’s commitment to holding us tightly to Himself allows us to live free from even the laws we place on ourselves. The ESV Study Bible puts it this way – “Far from the Christian life being enslaving, it is the only way to resist the various slaveries offered by the world.” In Christ we find our everything – our peace, our satisfaction, our joy, our love – so that we don’t have to settle for the cheap knock-offs that the world provides.

What does that look like? If it’s not sin for me, I am free to drink in moderation to the glory of God. By a sin I mean it is your idol – your god that controls you and you are unable to stop drinking. Then it becomes a sin. In the same way, we are free to partake in worldly exercises like watching TV as long as we do it to the glory of God and watch to keep ourselves free from sin. We must not flaunt this freedom, however, before those who, for the sake of their conscience, do not partake in these things. For instance, if you have a friend who was an alcoholic, don’t offer him a beer, and don’t drink one in front of him. He may see this and believe that if it’s alright for you then it’s alright for him and he would fall back into sin. This principle can also be applied to anything where you are likely to sin or to find yourself unable to keep from sinning. Strip clubs? Yeah, we have freedom but not THAT much freedom.

We cannot allow ourselves to break God’s eternal moral laws while exercising our freedom in Christ. As Paul states, our goal is love and not division, and we do not want to lead our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ into sin. We, as Christians, live in service to one another and if we are not being good servants of one another then we are mocking the God who died in our place to save us from our sins. Division feeds on pride and once it starts growing it’s hard to put a stop to it. Seek, therefore, to live peaceably with one another, promoting love first and devoting yourself to seeking Christ. What does THAT look like? We’ll read more on that tomorrow.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

~ Galatians 5:16-26

Walking by the Spirit is not as easy as it sounds. It requires us to abandon our own desires and plans for our life so that we can embrace God’s plan for us. Ultimately it is “better”, but that’s now why we should do it. In the same way that you don’t want your kids to obey you because they are afraid of the punishment that comes to them if they reject your will, God doesn’t want an army of mindless robots, nor does He desire us to cower in fear every time He leads us to do something. Instead, He seeks us to love Him so much that our natural state is one of obedience. That is the mindset that Paul is describing here. How is that? Well, if we love God with all our that we are, we will seek His pleasure in all of our actions. The Spirit led Christian, actively seeks to avoid things that He knows will offend God, despite his desire for them, because he loves God so much.

Let’s say that you were out with your wife for dinner and while you love onions, you know that she doesn’t like the smell of them. Since you love her, you resist your desire for onions so that you may please her. You don’t do it because you are afraid of her reaction to you, but out of love. On a much grander scale, we restrain ourselves not out of the fear of God’s punishment, and not because we are bound to the law, but because we love Him so much that we want His interests fulfilled before we seek our own. It is the goal of every Christian to seek God’s pleasure in all things because of what He has done for us. Not that we are earning any favor from Him, that would be impossible, but we are reflecting back to Him what He has already done for us in our salvation, and doing so in gratitude and love.

Paul then describes a list of generalized sins that mirror those of the eternal moral laws of God. Each of these things are horrible sins before God, and each carries with it the sentence of death. But, as Christians, our sins have been paid for by Christ on the cross. But what of the Christian who was soundly converted but continues to struggle with pornography, or drugs, or any other thing that controls his life? Are they damned to Hell if they sin in this way? The short answer is simply, “no”. God will not abandon you because you fail. When God saved you, He knew you were a failure who would continually sin against Him but He showed you mercy in that He died in your place, the perfectly just and holy for the worthless degenerate who is incapable of any good action before his Creator. Though we are now forever raised with Christ Jesus in the Heavenly places, we are still trapped here, in this temporal realm, where we continue to struggle with our wretched desires, but instead of being bound by our sin, locked in a cycle of death and self destruction, we are now freed from our requirement to sin and, by the power of the Holy Spirit within us we are able to choose not to sin against the God who has paid the ultimate price to redeem us from His own wrath and punishment. There is no such thing as perfection to be found this side of the veil of death, but as converted Christians we are redeemed from our body of death, unshackled from our guilt and shame, to walk freely in newness of life in Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is what it means to walk in the Spirit – to trust that, while we continue to sin and fail before our sovereign creator and redeemer, that His sacrifice on our behalf was enough to redeem us from our sins, and now we are able to serve Him with pure motives.

As it was stated before, the walk of a redeemed Christian is not one of perfection, but direction. You will do well and you will fail. You will succeed and you will fall, sometimes running, back into sin. Recognize your failure, call it for what it is, repent before your redeemer, and seek to honor Him with your life. This will not redeem you before Him, that is impossible. What it will do is to bring you back into submission where you recognize Jesus alone as your King who forever loves you and it will remind you that He empathizes with your struggles and acknowledges your suffering but will lead you through it for your good and His glory.

So, what does it look like when we walk in the Spirit? We already have seen the end of the natural man – who lives without Christ, what is the end of the spiritual man who walks with the Spirit? His life is marked with love instead of death, joy instead of sorrow, peace instead of anger, patience instead of anxiety, kindness instead of greed, goodness instead of hatred, faithfulness instead of lies, gentleness instead of wrath, and self-control instead of untethered self-centered ambition. Is this a complete list? No. Is it necessary to hold onto all of these at the same level to be counted as a Christian? No. Every Christian is different and every Christian is at a different place on their journey to sanctification. One year you will grow in patience, the next you will grow in peace, and in another year you will gain self-control. Some come sooner than others and some take a while to grow within you, but all of these are the marks of a life spent with Christ; each are the evidence of a Spirit filled life.

So, what if I’m more patient than the Christian next to me, does that make me more holy than they are? Should they strive to be like me? No. We should all strive to be like Christ. Whereas I may struggle with self-control, you may struggle with gentleness. While God may be leading me through a time in my life where I am learning what it means to live in the joy of the Lord, you may have finished that course of your life and are enjoying it while God is starting a new direction for you where you learn to rely on Him for everything you have. Paul makes the case in Romans 14:4 that it is before God alone that we will stand and that we should not judge one another based on our own standard of holiness. God knows who the sheep in His are and He will tend to their needs as He deems fit. Instead, seek to serve one another in love as God has served you. Are you in a place where you have already learned to wait on the Lord and trust in Him? Seek those in your local body of believers who are struggling with this and partner with them to help them through their struggles. Are you having trouble living in the joy of the Lord? Seek someone in your church who lives in the joy of the Lord daily and ask them to partner with you. By so doing we are strengthening the body of believers, weaving our lives together like a tapestry of grace, and glorifying God along the way and that is the mark of the community of the Spirit.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.

~ Galatians 6:1-5

Within the fellowship of believers, as mentioned in my last post, we will continue to struggle with sin. For the most part it will be temporary, but sometimes we will fall into a season of sin where we may be deceived into thinking that we can handle it and get out of it ourselves, or we may not even realize that we are in sin. So, how should a Spirit led, Christ focused church respond to a flagrant sinner in their ranks? Banish him? Burn him at the stake? Unfortunately, this is very often the case. Paul, however, reminds us that we are nothing more than sinners who were redeemed by the same good news of salvation from God on the unrighteous. It is therefore our duty as fellow believers to partner with that sinning brother or sister and help to restore them. If they are sinning such that they are leading others astray or causing division within the church it may be necessary to separate them from the body for a short period of time, but only while under the care of the body with a desire to see them brought back into fellowship.

Let’s say that one week your donation plate comes up short at your church. You know you put in $150 and that you saw others place more cash in as well, but there is only $75 left when it is counted at the end of the service. There is something obviously wrong here. After a short investigation, and a public proclamation that there has been a theft from the offering, a new member stands up, shaking and in fear, and confesses that they took the money to pay their rent. They didn’t know what to do and were short on time, they saw the money and when no one was looking they took enough to cover their needs. What is the response of your church? Should they be kicked out? Should the police be called to handle it? Let’s examine the situation:

First, the person who took the money did not make their need known to the body. This could be from a fear of man (pride issue), or because they did not know that the church would happily help those who have a need (lack of knowledge). The other issue is that the body did not know of their need and seek to help them. Not that we should know everyone’s financial status, but that we should make it known that we are able and willing to help in any way we can. The church is not just a place where our spiritual needs are met, but where our Christian family comes together to meet all the needs of one another.

So the right response may be that the church apologizes to that person for not making their availability known to them. Maybe there is a set restitution schedule to help them pay it back, or maybe the church allows them to keep it and, in a show of God grace, gives them another $1,000, free of any strings, just to help them get through this time of trouble. Maybe someone in the body who is a financial adviser should schedule some time to meet with them and to help them through their struggles. What would your church do?

Now let’s change it up a little. Let’s say that your internet-based email client tweaks out one day and emails everyone in your contact list your web history and there are more than a few pornographic sites listed within? Would you cover one sin with another and lie about it, or confess your sin and seek help from your local body of believers? In that case, what do you think the response from your church should be toward you?

It is in bearing the burdens and struggles with one another that we fulfill the “law of Christ” in that we are to love one another as Christ first loved us. As we are all going to have to stand before God alone, it is in our love for one another that we focus first on helping each other finish the race well, so that we may all stand before God knowing that we have done our best to honor Him and His sacrifice on our behalf. Again, not that our actions or works achieve anything for us, but that we are merely reflecting God’s love toward us on others for the elevation of the whole body of believers.

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(e.g., John 1 or God's love)

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