Paul talks of spiritual freedom, but what does that mean? Freedom to do as we please and feed our egos, or freedom to follow the urgings of the heart? At one time we were all shackled with fetters of the past, but they fell away the day we believed in Jesus and were forgiven our sins. We're free, reborn with new hearts. We abandoned our old lives to follow Christ’s example, trying each day to be more like Him, loving Him, acknowledging His constant presence, serving each other with love, so it’s easy to understand Paul’s frustration with the backsliding Galatians.
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Paul equates circumcision to slavery, warning that all who resort to it must accept the whole Law, as well as alienation from Christ and God’s grace. He denigrates the carnal rituals of the Law to goad the Galatians back into thinking in terms of the Spirit, through which he and they at first hoped to become righteous. Paul’s legalistic training shows in the way he constructs his arguments.
His constructs are a delight, first praising the Galatians for how well they were doing only to warn that “a few bad apples spoil the whole barrel,” and that whoever persuaded them to look to the Law for righteous fulfillment would pay a penalty for it! His wish in verse 12 shows there’s just a touch of Saul left in him! He cleverly reminds them of their former freedom and the opportunities it opened to lovingly serving one another, that in loving “your neighbor as yourself,” the law is fulfilled. But he reminds them not to remain divided, for doing so risks destroying everything.
When Paul admonishes them to “walk by the spirit” and not “gratify the desires of the flesh,” he’s talking about the difference between temporary and eternal. Treasure that we lay up through the Spirit last forever while — to paraphrase Solomon — everything carnal is meaningless. By comparing the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit, he makes his case, that those leading a carnal lifestyle will not inherit the kingdom of God, but that those who abide by the Spirit have by doing so crucified their carnal passions and desires. There can be but one conclusion. If our new lives and hearts are in accord, love becomes the foundation of our lives and in obeying God we obey ourselves.
Food for Thought:
What did Paul mean by “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?”
How should freedom in Christ be expressed?
How does a Christian avoid bowing to their sinful nature?
What does it mean to "crucify the flesh with its passions and desires?"