Theme: The Third Charge
This week’s lessons teach us what the idea of falling from grace really means, and that the freedom of God’s grace in Christ produces a holy life.
Scripture: Galatians 5:4
The gospel Paul preached leads to loose living. The third charge against Paul was that his gospel of grace through faith abolishes restraints against sin. The Jews had the law, and they had stressed rigorous morality. Therefore, they looked down on Gentiles who did not have the law and lived immoral lives. What would happen if the law should be removed from Gentile churches? Clearly, lawlessness would increase and immorality would rise, according to the legalizers.
In the final section of the letter (chs. 5 and 6), Paul argues that this is not true. And the reason it is not true is that real Christianity does not lead a believer away from the law into nothing, still less into lawlessness. Rather it leads him to Jesus Christ, and that means, to put it in other language, that the Holy Spirit comes to live within the Christian, giving the person a new nature, creating love for God and a desire to obey him, and providing the ability to do what God requires. In other words, the gospel leads to an internal transformation. So it is from within, rather than from without, that the Holy Spirit produces good behavior. The key texts say,
“In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 5:6).
“You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” (Gal. 5:13).
“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Gal. 5:16).
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22, 23).
According to these verses, life by the power of the Holy Spirit is entirely different from either legalism or lawlessness. Legalism imposes an outward code, but it does not change a person’s inner nature to enable him or her to please God. Lawlessness gives vent to the sinful nature, allowing the unregenerate person to express himself in self-indulgence and debauchery. Christianity maintains the moral law but also provides the inner desire and power to obey God and so be all God intended us to be, which is true freedom, and to serve God fully.
Now let’s go back to the beginning of chapter 5 to the verse that is at once both the high point and key to the entire letter. It says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (v. 1). The first part of the verse sums up the preceding four chapters. The second part is a challenge from which the ending of the letter flows. To put it in the terms of this study, Paul is saying, “Do not fall from grace. Rather stand in grace.” Why? For the following reasons:
Legalism does not lead to holy living. Normally we think it does, because whenever something is not right or some great wrong is done, our natural instinct is to pass a law to correct it. And with the law goes punishment. If a person disobeys the law, he or she should be punished. Impose a fine. Send the criminal to jail. Execute the murderers. But even our own culture should tell us that this does not work. To some extent law does restrain evil actions. We might not do something for fear of getting caught. That is one reason why God gave the law, to restrain sin. But neither law nor punishment produces holiness. And if the truth be told, law and the fear of punishment does not even restrain sin very much. What is the problem? The problem is that sin is seated in the heart and passing laws is at best only an external attempt to solve the sin problem.
Jesus said this when he was explaining his attitude toward the dietary rules of his day. He said, “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean’…For within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly” (Mark 7:15, 21, 22). This is why despotic political regimes never produce morality among their citizens but only feed corruption. I would argue that the only time any nation ever really moves forward in the area of morality is in revival periods.
Why doesn’t grace lead to loose living? What has happened to the person who has genuinely become a Christian that enables him or her to please God apart from the Mosaic law?
What is the first reason given for why we should stand in grace and not in law?
Why is the law unable to produce holiness?
Application: Is there anyone you know who has a wrong understanding of grace and therefore does not take sin as seriously as they need to? How might the book of Galatians help you to provide direction for them?
Key Point: [L]ife by the power of the Holy Spirit is entirely different from either legalism or lawlessness. Legalism imposes an outward code, but it does not change a person’s inner nature to enable him or her to please God. Lawlessness gives vent to the sinful nature, allowing the unregenerate person to express himself in self-indulgence and debauchery. Christianity maintains the moral law but also provides the inner desire and power to obey God and so be all God intended us to be, which is true freedom, and to serve God fully.