Christian Liberty

Walking in the Spirit: A Study in Galatians

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Walking in the Spirit graphic

Galatians 5:1, 13
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. . . . For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.

Embedded in the fiber of the United States and make-up of the Western psyche is the belief that freedom is our birthright. We learn it in the Declaration of Independence and quote it in the Pledge of Allegiance. However, far beyond the freedom we enjoy as citizens of a free country is the freedom we enjoy as citizens of heaven. Throughout the book of Galatians, Paul unfolds the exhilarating truth that the birthright of every believer is spiritual liberty.

The Understanding of Liberty

Salvation

Of the many different terms used to describe being a Christian (e.g., saved, born again, believer, follower of Jesus), a few describe the initial point of salvation (e.g., conversion).

All of these are just part of the wonderful spiritual blessings that we have in Christ. Paul speaks of these as the “unsearchable riches of Christ.” (See Eph. 3:8.) What Paul is establishing in Galatians 5 is that liberty (or freedom) is one of the special blessings that believers enjoy.

Jesus perfectly kept God’s laws through His obedient life and was then crucified as our substitute on a Roman cross to bear the curse of our sins. That means that Jesus lived under the obligation of the law and kept it perfectly, but He also died under the penalty of the law as the perfect substitute. And He did both—lived and died—in our place! So when we turn to faith in Christ, we receive His life as our life and His death as our death. By His life, we are counted righteous; by His death, we are freed from the penalty of sin. His righteousness is offered to all men as a free gift and is received by faith—without the keeping of the law. True Christian liberty is freedom from the law through faith alone in Christ alone!

Galatians 5:1
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

WORD STUDY

Stand fast—persevere; keep on holding your ground

Liberty—freedom from the yoke of the Mosaic law as a basis of a relationship with God

Free—liberated

Entangled—ensnared; trapped

Yoke of bondage—bound to; being a slave of the Mosaic law

This is Paul’s challenge to the Galatians: “Don’t go back to putting yourselves under the heavy burden of slavery to the law in order to gain a right standing before God. Keep holding your ground and stay put in the freedom Christ has gained on your behalf.” In other words, avoid the “legalism ditch” on the side of the road. Persevere in your liberty from the works of the law as a means to justification.

Sanctification

Liberty includes not only our initial salvation but also our daily sanctification. Sanctification is the inward work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life to grow him into the image of Christ. How are those who have been justified conformed into the image of Christ? Does God put us back under the law in order to mature us in Him?

In Galatians 3:3, Paul is pointing out that we are no more made Christlike by following the law than we are counted righteous by following the law. What we are going to see is that God sends His Spirit into our hearts to enable us to overcome what is called the flesh.

When a person receives salvation, he realizes quickly that there is a problem: the old carnal, sinful nature (flesh) is not eradicated. But, along with the flesh, the presence of God in the person of the Holy Spirit also dwells within him. That means a true believer will face a raging battle: he has a passionate desire for God because of the presence of the Holy Spirit, but at the same time he face a constant struggle with sin because of his flesh.

Now, as you consider the raging battle between your flesh and the Spirit, notice what Paul says in Galatians 5:16. The fact is that Paul could not have made a more dogmatic and emphatic statement than what he stated in verse 16. In the Greek, the phrase “ye shall not” is a strong double negative. Paul is simply stating it this way: “When you walk in the Spirit you wil never (literally, ‘not not’) fulfill the lust of the flesh.”

The reality is that it is an impossibility to give in to your sinful, carnal, fleshly nature if you’re walking in the Spirit. Now that’s freedom! That is true liberty. It extends to both justification and sanctification.

The Abuse of Liberty

When Christian liberty is rightly understood and properly lived out, it leads to a life of fruitful victory; however, if Christian liberty is abused, it leads to a life of frustrating defeat.

The flesh seeks to twist a true understanding of freedom into an opportunity to gratify the flesh’s desires. But Christian liberty is freedom from sin, not freedom to sin. When Christians begin to focus on their own personal rights and freedom from restraints, liberty is abused.

Galatians 5:15
But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.

WORD STUDY

If—a condition that assumes reality; literally, “since”

Bite—to bite with teeth; to wound a person

Devour—to consume by eating

Heed—to see, discern, or understand; to turn the thoughts; to direct the mind

Consume—to expend or use up

The sad thing is that instead of operating by the law of love, Christians operate by the law of the jungle. We “bite and devour one another.”

The Proper Use of Liberty

Here is the reality of liberty: we are freed from being slaves of sin to become servants of righteousness. We have been liberated from self in order to fulfill the highest law. (See Mark 12:30–31.) So how do we know when Christian liberty is actually operating correctly? It is clearly when believers are denying themselves to actually serve each other in love.

We have been set free from the slavery of self so that we can become slaves in serving others. That means if we do not choose to love, then our only option is to be controlled by our flesh. This will inevitably breed adversity and rivalry among believers. In the end, our fellowship with one another will disintegrate, our churches will be destroyed, and our impact for the Gospel will diminish. So Paul’s challenge to the libertarian who wants to enjoy his freedom by satisfying his fleshly lusts is this: you are free to serve one another in love.

Question: What does all this have to do with walking in the Spirit?

Answer: Walking in the Spirit is simply the way to properly live out Christian liberty. That’s just the way it works. And when you’re living out Christian liberty, you are actually living a lifestyle of selfless, sacrificial love toward others.

That’s why walking in the Spirit is the only way to live the Christian life. Nothing else works!


Listen to Dr. Pettit’s chapel messages on Christian liberty:

Part 1

Part 2

Join us for chapel every Monday through Thursday at 11 a.m. EST.

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Steve Pettit traveled for many years with the Steve Pettit Evangelistic Team before becoming president of Bob Jones University. His ultimate goal for BJU is to prepare students to serve and love others, no matter their vocation.