There’s a tendency for the pendulum to swing between legalism and licentiousness, with liberty right in the center:
Legalism <-> liberty <-> licentiousness
As a legalist, you have “do’s” and “don’t’s,” and the licentious person will stress they can do “whatever” so long as they love Christ and others.
Language around this argument has overtaken our country.
Legalism is a system of do’s and don’t’s that somehow measures or quantifies faith. Licentiousness – license – is to do whatever I want to do under the guise of “God loves me and forgives me, I can’t lose my salvation, so I can do what I want.”
Can we measure what a person believes by their behavior?
We’re all consistently inconsistent in our Christianity. How do we say “this is how you ought to live”? We’re all inconsistent in practicing Christianity, yet we can’t sanction sin.
But as an individual Christian, do I have a conscious sensitivity to my own sin? Am I aware when I’m angry? When I’m gossiping? Am I aware when I’m saying things that slide to the edge? That awareness is a marker that says the Holy Spirit is working in you, and the Holy Spirit is better than a guilty conscience.
Are you teachable? Are you growing? Are you learning?
Those, to me, are induces of a person how is following Christ and trying to live faithfully – not within a system of do’s and don’t’s, or with license to “do whatever” because “I’m a Christian.”
“The Epistle to the Galatians has been called “the charter of Christian liberty.” It is Paul’s manifesto of justification by faith and the liberty it produces. (Paul confronts) … -people who are willing to give up the priceless liberty they possess in Christ. Certain Jewish legalists are influencing the believers in Galatia to trade their freedom in Christ for bondage to the Law. Paul writes to refute their false gospel of works, and to demonstrate the superiority of justification by faith.” (1.)
To demonstrate the superiority of justification by faith.
“Paul is angry and frustrated.The gospel in Galatia has been attacked and undermined by a damaging lie. And it is also being suggested that Paul himself isn’t a true apostle.
The question becomes, how Jewish do you have to be before you can be a Christian?”
Paul offers a brief Christology and moves on to confronting their errors.
“Galatians is not only a proclamation of liberty, it is also a protest against legalism. “Legalism” is both a belief and a practice. As a belief, legalism is the conviction that we can make ourselves acceptable to God by keeping rules. Often the rules in view are those imposed by man, not those required by God. However, misapplying biblical laws is also a form of legalism. As a practice, legalism is the keeping of rules with a view to gaining merit with God. In a larger sense, legalism is the belief that we can make ourselves acceptable to God by our good works. Of course, the only thing that makes us acceptable to God is our trust in Christ’s good works. He satisfied God’s demands for us. We are saved by good works, but it is Christ’s good works, not ours” (3.)
Perhaps: the only thing that makes us acceptable to God is Christ’s works.
Legalists are rarely “chapter-and-verse”-ing you, they’re telling you “you can’t do X.” Or “a person can’t be a Christian and do X or Y.” Legalism is most insidious when we lay our man-made rules upon other believers and judge them by our standards.
Don’t put your ‘do’s and don’t’s’ on other Christians.
In the debate over grace, free grace, easy grace; to the other side of proofs of faith, tests of law, it’s striking that Paul writes about his personal change. He does not dismiss change nor does he set out to measure it, he chronicles his change (Galatians 1:15, Galatians 1:23-24)
While changed life is not proof of his salvation, his salvation resulted in change.
If the Gospel of Jesus Christ has not, and is not changing you, something’s wrong. There are only two options: you either haven’t embraced the person and work of Jesus Christ, or you’re growing in discipleship and maturing in Christ.
A benchmark passage for many: Galatians 2:20
A seminal argument for the Galatian believer to assure salvation: by law, or license, or liberty?
- The Holy Spirit is given by faith, not works.
- Abraham was justified by faith, not works.
- Justification is by faith, not works.
Galatians 4 expands on the fact that believers are free from the works of the law. The law leads us to faith in Christ, not works.
Galatians 5 establishes our freedom in Christ
It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1
A study for us all:
Galatians 5:19-25 + Galatians 5:26-31
Lay these two beside one another:
The deeds of the flesh are evident, but the fruit of the Spirit is love.
The flesh is focused on trying to satiate the insatiable.
The solution isn’t to follow a set of rules: don’t do this, do this…
The solution is: are you being controlled and governed by the Spirit? Following Christ by the Spirit is saying no to the flesh.
Who controls you and me, the flesh or the Spirit?
I have the freedom to obey. But I also have the joy of letting the Spirit, who is love, control me.
When you’re in a moment of temptation, have you ever called out to the Lord and simply asked for help? “Jesus Christ, by the power of your Spirit, would you help me?”
We don’t need to make this religious or seminarian, just ask Him for help, because the fruit of the Spirit is love – not guilt. Joy – not sadness. Peace – not consternation.
Paul wraps his letter up with chapter 6: a practical handbook instructing that we and the Galatians bear one another’s burdens, do not lose heart in doing good, and boast only in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Bruce Wilkinson and Kenneth Boa, Talk Thru the Bible(Nashville: T. Nelson, 1983), 393.
- Significantly edited, taken from Andrew Knowles, The Bible Guide, 1st Augsburg books ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2001), 603
- Constables notes on Galatians