One of the primary lessons conveyed by the apostle Paul in Galatians 5 is We are Free in Christ Jesus. With this gift of liberty, however, comes great responsibility. We are free, "therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery" (vs. 1). We are free, "only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another" (vs. 13). Yes, we are liberated, but we are still under a type of rule .... one not governing ritual, but relationship. It is LOVE, not LAW, that characterizes the New Covenant. "For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (vs. 14). Thus, those who seek to be justified by law have fallen from grace (vs. 4), they have been severed from Christ (vs. 4), and Jesus is of no ultimate benefit to them (vs. 2). Christ died to set us free, therefore there is no greater betrayal than to return to slavery. Those who seek to live under a legal code are under obligation to keep it perfectly (vs. 3), which, of course, they can never do.
Thank God we have been set free! Those of us who have accepted His gift of liberation, and who allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit, are no longer under law (vs. 18). Rather, we abide under the Rule of Love; we walk by the spirit of law rather than the letter of law. It is not just a covenantal change, but also a conceptual change. We are "servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor. 3:6), and "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (2 Cor. 3:17). "Now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter" (Rom. 7:6).
Just as there is a responsibility not to become enslaved to a system of legislative restriction and regulation, so also is there a responsibility to place ourselves willingly under the guidance of the Spirit of our Lord. "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit" (Gal. 5:25). With this surrender to His influence in our hearts and lives comes a divine assurance: "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh" (vs. 16). "For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace" (Rom. 8:5-6). "You, however, are controlled not by the flesh but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him" (Rom. 8:9).
There is within each of us a war being waged. It is the carnal versus the spiritual; the lure of this world versus the leading of the Spirit (Gal. 5:17; cf. Romans 7). If we give in to the former, we manifest the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21), and we shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If we surrender to the latter, however, we display the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), and we find ourselves being transformed daily into the image of God's beloved Son. "For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God" (Rom. 8:14). "Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Gal. 5:24; cf. Rom. 6:6).
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Gal. 5:22-23). These nine godly qualities should be present and prospering in each of our lives. We are all familiar with them, and have doubtless heard them listed numerous times, as well as countless sermons and classes on them. Many are able to quote the above passage by heart. But, I wonder .... how many of you realize I didn't quote all of the above two verses? When we list the works of the flesh we generally quote the statement at the end which informs such persons that they will not inherit the kingdom of God. However, most times when we quote the passage dealing with the fruit of the Spirit we fail to finish the thought given by inspiration. Verse 23 concludes with this statement: "...against such there is no law."
I have heard this explained to mean that God hasn't made any specific laws forbidding any of the nine qualities which comprise the "fruit of the Spirit." In other words, God never commanded, "Thou shalt not love," or "Thou shalt not be kind," or "Thou shalt not practice self-control." Thus, there is no law prohibiting men from displaying these qualities in their lives. I wonder, though, if this is a failure to correctly perceive authorial intent. Is it possible this statement could mean, at least in part, that our God has not legislated against the specific methodologies of our manifestation of these qualities in our daily lives? For example, I may employ a different method of exhibiting love, kindness and goodness toward widows and orphans than another disciple of Christ. My demonstration of the fruit of the Spirit in my life may differ from yours in some areas of application. But, if I am genuinely meeting the needs of these widows and orphans in love, and in the process God is being glorified, can one truly declare as "sinful" such a differing methodology?
Let me be more specific. I recently heard some law-bound brethren strongly condemn those in a so-called "liberal" congregation for taking funds from their "church treasury" and sending it to their fellow disciples in another location who were suffering the effects of a natural disaster. Such a benevolent action was deemed unlawful, and thus sinful. For many generations we have witnessed certain disciples condemning and castigating their brethren for acts of love and kindness toward widows and orphans, or in assisting victims of natural disasters, for example, because the methodology employed by these "liberals" differed from theirs.
However, Paul seems to be saying here that NO law has been given by God which stands "against" the manifestation in our lives of the fruit of the Spirit, nor against the particulars of the methodology of that manifestation. The Greek preposition used in this phrase in Gal. 5:23 is kata, which, when used with the genitive case (as it is here), means "down upon; against." Isn't it wonderful that God, in His matchless grace, has given no legislation which comes down upon or against any of His children in the practicing and displaying of any of the qualities of the fruit of the Spirit?! Brethren, we are free! We have been liberated from law; we are released from regulation. There is no law against the showing of love to orphans. There is no regulation of acts of kindness. There is no restriction on faithfulness, nor any limitation of joy. We have been liberated to "walk by the Spirit," rather than being shackled by restrictive law. If someone tries to regulate by law your manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit in your walk with the Lord, they are legislating where God has not. When you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law (Gal. 5:18). "Against such there is no law" (vs. 23).
The Bible Knowledge Commentary, in its exposition of this phrase, asserts confidently, and somewhat naively, "obviously no one would make laws against people who practice such things." I agree that no one should, but many do. Legislation is not conducive to spiritual growth and maturity. The fruit of the Spirit can only develop in a heart set free. Notice how the version known as The Message renders this phrase in question in verse 23: "Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way." Legalism quenches the Spirit in our lives; it puts the Spirit on a leash and restricts His operation. Legalism stifles spirituality. It makes the Spirit sterile and incapable of producing fruit within those in whom He dwells. It is for this reason our God issued no law against such. To do so would defeat His purpose for our lives. Albert Barnes said of those who are led by the Spirit, "There is no law to condemn such persons. These, therefore, are the true freemen; free in the service of God" (Barnes' Notes on the New Testament).
"The gospel of Christ is not a weary round of prohibitions, but is a glorious system of positive attainment, in a Divine life, which is loving, joyful, peaceful, and humane to its deepest depths" (The Pulpit Commentary). "In the graces of the Spirit there is nothing to restrain" (ibid). "Those, whose lives are adorned by the above virtues, cannot be condemned by any law" (Clarke's Commentary). "The law, as Paul has said, was given to restrain evil; but these qualities do not need to be restrained" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary). Brother J. W. McGarvey noted, "All those who do these works of God find no law of God interfering with them in the exercise of their labors." In similar fashion, Brother David Lipscomb wrote, "Neither God nor man makes laws against such qualities and virtues as these, because they work good to all, and ill to none."
And yet, some misguided, law-bound brethren do indeed seek to restrict, restrain and regulate the expression and manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of other disciples of Christ. In so doing, they create and bind laws where God has not; adding to the Word, only to end up being severed from the Word become flesh. It is time some of God's children cease hindering and harming their brethren by seeking to bind their own law in matters where these freemen have been loosed from law by the Lord. May God help those who are still enslaved find their way to the freedom His Son died to secure for us all, and may we who are free continue to call these wayward brethren out of the darkness and into the light of liberty.
From a Reader in Texas:
Dear Bro. Al .... The picture in Reflections #35 brought back memories of my flying days and how time changes everything! Looking at the Stealth fighter, and thinking of my old B-29 days --- what changes! We don't stand still, and the same goes for our relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. Your writings make us realize that we are responsible for change in our relationship with Christ. Are we going to accept the change, or are we going to stick our head in the sand and duck our responsibility? Tell the good Capt. "Well done!" from an old, retired USAF Lt.Col. of yesteryear, and stay on course with Christ.
From a Reader in North Carolina:
I have very much enjoyed your Reflections, and have printed and shared them with my family and friends. Thanks for the good work you do. Keep the Reflections coming -- they are a source of encouragement to us!
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, This is in response to the excerpt from the 28-page letter of condemnation against you that you mentioned in Reflections #32. It truly saddens my heart to see the spirit of condemnation that continues throughout the Churches of Christ and their stubbornness in holding on to the "truths" that have been handed down through the years.
I am reminded of something that A. W. Tozer wrote in The Pursuit of God --- "One hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other. They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which one must individually bow."
I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your Reflections and am in agreement with what you say, not because it makes sense, but because God has already revealed these truths to me personally. He never ceases to amaze me, how He will bless me with insight and a deeper spiritual understanding of Scripture, and then I read these same truths being taught by someone else --- only to confirm my own insight and understanding. This is the unity that comes from being "tuned to the same fork." Keep up the good work!
From a Reader in Texas:
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