October 24, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (Galatians 5)

Submitted by Ming U from Gracepoint Davis Church

Galatians 5:1-6, 13-15

  • Note the theme of freedom and slavery in this passage. Apostle Paul warns them that “if you accept circumcision” then you would be “obligated to keep the whole law.” How is keeping the “whole law” slavery when the “whole law” expresses God’s decrees set forth in Scripture?

It is undisputed that the “whole law” as found in Scripture does indeed express God’s decrees. As the Almighty Creator of the Universe, He has clearly made known throughout the Old Testament what He has deemed as “right” and “wrong” and also how His people ought to live. For example, in Exodus 20, He gave us the Ten Commandments, otherwise known as God’s “Top Ten.” So why then is keeping the “whole law” slavery? Is it possible to keep the “whole law” and not feel enslaved?

Keeping the “whole law” becomes slavery when one subscribes to the belief that it’s only by keeping the “whole law,” by perfectly observing and obeying the law, that one is able to be justified, righteous, and (for lack of a better term) “right” and “accepted” before God.

In verse one, Apostle Paul is essentially appealing to the Galatians that in light of what Christ has done for them–setting them free from the enslaving mentality that it is only by keeping the law that one is justified and made righteous before God–that they ought never go back to that way of relating to God. He further goes on by stating that if they, the Galatians, accept circumcision as one of the requirements to being “righteous” or “justified” before God, then they are essentially obligating themselves “to keep the whole law,” the “whole law” being the entire Mosaic legal system. In a sense, what he’s saying is, “Ok, by taking that first step with circumcision, you’re choosing to put back on the yoke of having to keep the entire Mosaic law. Don’t do this.”

Keeping the “whole law” is slavery because: (1) we are sinners (Romans 3:23); and (2) by breaking one of God’s laws, we’ve broken all of them (James 2:10). The truth is that there’s no chance that we’re ever going to be able to keep the whole law and therefore stand justified/righteous before God. No chance…not even one in a million. And that is why Apostle Paul states in Galatians 3:10 that those who “rely on works of the law are under a curse” and “Cursed be everyone, who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”

And naturally the question therefore is, “Why then would anyone ever subscribe to that belief?” While there are many ways to answer this inquiry, I know personally that there have been many times when I have in my pride and lack of faith believed that the only way that I can be right before God, accepted by Him as a son, and embraced, is if I simply “do the right thing” and keep his commands. It’s a mentality that calls for a lot of self-will, resolve, discipline, and the ability to keep going forward despite the inner emotional turmoil that may be raging within. It’s unhealthy, self-driven, self-focused and self-destructive. Why? Because it’s completely focused on what “I” can do vs. what Christ has already done for me on the Cross. It’s a mentality that not only puts the entire burden on my shoulders, but also arrogantly assumes that I am capable of carrying that burden all the way to my intended final destination. It’s a mentality that completely severs one from the grace of God. It’s a mindset that completely ignores Ephesians 2:8-9. Thus, Apostle Paul rightfully states in verse 2 that for those who embrace this mentality, “Christ will be of no advantage to you,” and later in verse 4, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.”

And when I look back at all of the years which I stubbornly held onto that mentality, I can confidently say that it was “slavery.” It was not the way that God had intended for me to live when He made his decrees known in Scripture. And this was not “slavery” as in the “slave to righteousness according to the Spirit” type of slavery found in Romans. Rather, it was like: “This is hard and tiring. While serving God and obeying his commands are tough, it’s the right thing to do. It’s the appropriate response to what Christ has done for me. It’s the law. Unless I ‘trust and obey’, I will be rejected and sent to Hell. And quite frankly, I don’t want to be sent out into the dark ever again.” Overall, I’m thankful that over the years God’s truth was able to finally penetrate into my stubborn and proud heart by the work of many spiritual leaders, the many prayers lifted up on my behalf, time spent in his word, and through the many undeserved blessings that I have received.

  • If Christ set us free from the law, but if this does not mean that we are free to live an unbounded life that recognizes no curbs on our desires, what constitutes the new life of freedom (vv. 6, 13-15)?

As found in today’s passage, what constitutes a new life of freedom is a life in which one’s faith in Christ is expressing itself and working through love (V6). Apostle Paul further states in verse 13 that one way this is done is through works of service to one another. We are to serve one another in love. The underlying assumption he makes is that the source of such service out of love is ultimately one’s faith in Christ. It’s not because it’s the “right” thing to do, or because someone has told you to do it, or because there’s going to be some reward, recognition, attention or compensation. Rather what drives someone to serve another person is his/her faith in what Christ has done for them on the Cross–“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by coming a curse for us. . . so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” (Gal. 3:13-14) He goes on by quoting Leviticus 19:18, which states that the entire law is summed up, and confirmed by Jesus’ command made Matt 22:39, to love one’s neighbor as oneself.

  • What command are we who are “called to freedom,” to obey, and who are we called to “serve” (vv. 13-15)?

The command that we are called to follow is that found in verse 14–“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Having established what constitutes a “new life of freedom”, the key questions that arise in my mind are, “How then can I concretely live this out? How can I live a life of service to others out of love? Who is my neighbor?”

For me the first step is pulling my big head out of the small sandbox called “my worries, anxieties, concerns, ambitions, desires, and weird thoughts” so that I can begin to be aware of the needs of those who are around me starting with the people God has placed in my life. These people include, but are not limited to, my wife and infant daughter, my family, those in my ministry group, the younger staff interns that I’ve been called to raise and lead, the many students who are coming out to investigate Christianity or those want to grow in their walk with God. Often times it’s not that I don’t want to serve, but rather I fail to do so because I’m so caught up with “my life”. Then there are the many whom I serve alongside starting with my spiritual leaders, the other older staff whom I co-work with and who also have kids of their own. Then there are the younger staff/members of our church. And that’s not it, because I know that God has called me to serve and love those outside of the church as well, such as my coworkers and everyone else that God brings into my life.

Not only do I need to be aware of others’ needs, but I am also called to try my best to meet that need. I mean, what good is the intention to want to help or serve another without any subsequent concrete action? It’s akin to saying that I have faith but no deeds to show for it. Well, according to James, faith without deeds is dead. (James 2:14-18) Likewise, if I do not ever concretely love or serve others in my life, what does that say about my faith? In terms of how I can serve/love others, I know that if anything I can pray for them (which first requires that I obtain the necessary knowledge to pray for their needs). I can always encourage others by sharing what God has been doing in and around my life instead of giving into my insecurities and remaining silent. I can choose to spend time with those who are going through tough times by physically being there with them instead of selfishly using it to do what I want to do. I can support those who need financial support. And I know that I can work better at being a person who is able to pause my life entirely, sit back from my laptop, stop what I’m thinking about for a moment and listen carefully (with 100% attention) to the needs of the person who is sitting across the table. And many times, just being a listening ear, prompted by a genuine concern about what the other person is going through, is enough. And if it isn’t, then I can always try my best to do whatever I can to meet that need.

Finally, I can serve others by seizing all of the opportunities that avail themselves in which I can help redirect people back to God. This can be done by pointing someone to a particular Bible verse which addresses what they are going through; sharing my own testimony or perhaps life experiences in which I’ve encountered God with others who doubt God’s existence and/or love; helping someone work out their own confused thoughts re: God, life and who they are; helping another believer return back to the right perspective of life according to the Word; or encourage another soldier on the field of this spiritual battle who is tired and beginning to fall into discouragement.

  • How has the gospel enabled me to live in this kind of freedom?

But for the gospel message, and contrary to what many think, I would definitely not be “free” but rather enslaved by the lies and various mindsets of this world. Of all of the many worldviews out there, I would have remained enslaved to the world’s lie that my value, who I am as a person, my worth, and how much I am loved by others is based upon my performance, such as what I can achieve in terms of my career, what I “do” for others, how great I am in this world relative to others, and ultimately what mark I will leave on the history of humanity. That said, growing up I was pretty much a slave to what others’ thought of me, especially those closest to me. My worth/value would rise whenever I did well in school (or whatever endeavor I was currently engaged in for that matter), and then plummet whenever I “failed”, which sadly was whenever I was not the “best,” “#1” or whenever I got anything less than an “A-”. Growing up my life was filled with much anxiety, mistrust, worry, sleepless nights, darkness and moments of just wanting to end it all.

However, I can say with confidence that the Good News of the Gospel has freed, and continues to free me from such bondage and slavery to the ways of this world. How? By loving others as myself, which entails pointing them to the truth of the Bible, by sharing the Gospel message with others, by directing others to take steps closer to God so that they can be reconciled back to God and freed from whatever worldly mindsets they are enslaved by, I am constantly realigning my life to the Truth of the Gospel message. As a result, my confidence and conviction regarding the truth of God’s Word has been growing such that the possibilities of being enslaved by the other mindsets of this world has decreased a lot over the years.

Submitted by Linda U from Gracepoint Davis Church

Galatians 5:1-6, 13-15

  • Note the theme of freedom and slavery in this passage. Apostle Paul warns them that “if you accept circumcision” then you would be “obligated to keep the whole law.” How is keeping the “whole law” slavery when the “whole law” expresses God’s decrees set forth in Scripture?

By accepting circumcision, Apostle Paul’s Jewish audience would be subjecting themselves to the old requirements of rules and regulation, and subjecting themselves to be “obligated to keep the whole law.” Because this is impossible for anyone to keep the whole law by sheer willpower and effort, anyone trying to please God in this manner would always fail, and this mentality in itself is enslaving. One would be impossibly trying to please a God who is seemingly impossible to please. And especially if the “whole law” is expressed by all of God’s decrees set forth in Scripture, the impossibility of meeting the requirements of the “whole law” is burdensome. The law itself would be seen as a burden, and Christian life would appear to be an enslaving task of trying to please this God who’s impossible to please because we, as sinners, just keep falling short of doing all that’s required by the “whole law.”

  • If Christ set us free from the law, but if this does not mean that we are free to live an unbounded life that recognizes no curbs on our desires, what constitutes the new life of freedom (vv. 6, 13-15)?

The new life of freedom is a life of reciprocating and responding to God’s love. As Christians, we were “called to freedom,” and not slavery (Galatians 5:13). It’s the impossibility for us to fulfill the “whole law” on our own that proves our need for Christ, whom for freedom has set us free (Galatians 5:1). In Galatians 5:14, it says that “the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”’ The “whole law” is fulfilled in love. The legalistic approach towards God and God’s decrees is a self-centered way of living, where there is no love towards God or others, but it’s a life fueled by prideful determination to live out a “good” life in order to please God or at least to avoid His wrathful judgment. This presupposes an entirely wrong view of God because God is a God of love. It is God who first loved us because He created us to have a relationship with Him which led to Him sending Jesus to die on the cross for our sins, which includes our inability to fulfill His laws and our pride that led us to believe we can in the first place. It’s the cross that proves that we are unable to fulfill the “whole law” on our own, and also reveals God’s salvation plan by grace and not works. Thus, Christ set us free from the obligations of the “whole law,” but this doesn’t mean that we live an unbounded life, for by doing so, we would then be returning to enslavement to all of our own desires. What constitutes the new life of freedom having faith in Christ such that the manner we relate with God is not by the legal system, but by love. Just as Christ gave Himself up an expression of love toward us, we can then give up on ourselves as an expression of love towards God and others.

  • What command are we who are “called to freedom,” to obey, and who are we called to “serve” (vv. 13-15)

As people who are “called to freedom,” we are to serve one another and love our neighbors. It’s actually by loving others, which is being completely committed to the good of others, the same way God was committed to that for us, that sets us free from our desires to serve ourselves and become enslaved to our self-centeredness. God calls us into freedom by calling us out of our old lives of selfishness into the new lives of loving Him and others around us.

  • How has the gospel enabled me to live in this kind of freedom?

Before Christ set me free, I only had one master: Me. I lived to fulfill my cravings for success, approval, attention, pleasure, comfort, etc., and I did so on my own terms. I cared only for myself and cared for others only if they would in turn serve my agenda. I lived selfishly, but I lived meaninglessly, without purpose, and without love. And it was a miserable life because the happiness I achieved by satisfying my desires by means of my ambitious pursuits, addictive habits, entertainment, and small successes never lasted long. The gospel captured my heart when it exposed my sinfulness and how all of my misery was due to the fact that I was not properly relating with my Heavenly Father. I also learned that I could do absolutely nothing to make myself a better person, and I couldn’t do anything to make myself less guilty or shameful. When I finally understood and received the gospel, I was forgiven of my sins and freed from all my past guilt and shame. I remember what good news that was to me when I first experienced Christ setting me free from my sin. Not only this, but the gospel has enabled me to live a life of love that continues to free me and protect me from enslavement to sin. I remember the excitement I had when I became Christian in college, how I wanted to tell everyone in my life about my newfound freedom in Christ. As a college senior, I excitedly met with other students in order to tell them about Christ and invite them to Bible Study. I saw every family reunion as an opportunity to talk about God and the meaning of life with my unbelieving cousins and other family members. I excited shared about my church experiences with my co-workers, in hopes that they would ask me about Christianity and give me a reason to tell them about Jesus. These days, I get excited upon meeting people who have never heard about Christianity before, but are seeking to find out what it’s about. I get really excited when I have an opportunity to pray with someone who is making a sincere decision to surrender her life to Christ, and it’s awesome to see that person experience freedom from her sins and freedom to be able to love and forgive others around her, just as she’s impacted by God’s love for her. The truth of the gospel has given me the strength and reason to live this way. I am no longer living to please my own sinful desires. Instead, the gospel gives me freedom to love. It enables me to think about the needs of others, and the joy that comes from my salvation and from being a minister fuels me to keep living this way and not return to my old life of slavery.

Personal Prayer

Father God, as I think back on my old life of sin and the new life You’ve called me into, I thank you for my salvation. I remember all my old addictive patterns of life and how my life was so empty because I was without You in my life. It’s Your gospel that set me free from my sinful patterns, and I was set free to do ministry and love others, and experience real life as a result. Father, I know that I sometimes fall back to my old ways of wanting to please you by doing good works and giving my best performance. You remind me that you don’t require me to fulfill every law and every decree like rules and regulations that I need to keep 100%. The truth is that I can’t. Please forgive me for how I am performance-oriented and when I assess how “well” I’m doing as a Christian by whether or not I’m doing the “right” things in the “right” way. What pleases you is a humble acknowledgement that I need You in my life and I need You to save me. What pleases you is sincere faith in Jesus and what He did on the cross to purchase my freedom from sin. With this freedom, please help me to keep letting go of my self-centered desires, so that I can be freed to enjoy the life of loving others and receiving love from You that lasts. I have already begun to taste such joy through ministry; may I do this more and more, and rely upon Your love to enable me for it.

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 

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