Paul had just made some very strong statements about the false teachers who had come into the Galatian fellowship, trying to pervert the gospel of Messiah. Paul then continued.
Galatians 5:13 (KJV)
For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.
The Galatians had been called into liberty (verse 13). Paul's readers of the day understood what he was referring to, but here in the twenty-first century it is much more difficult, because we read Paul's letters through many centuries of our own traditions and assumptions that may or may not be true. For most of these centuries it has been believed that Paul was contrasting living under grace as opposed to living under Torah, but this has not been the issue of Galatians. The foundation of Galatians, as we've seen, has been that mankind is saved by grace through faith and nothing else.The false teachers ultimately were denying that Yeshua's death and resurrection accomplished all that was needed for mankind's salvation. They believed faith was not enough, but that ritual conversion had to be added. So, what liberty was Paul talking about?
If we remember back in chapter 4, Paul had stated that when individuals come to faith in Messiah Yeshua, they are freed from the bondage of the principles of the world. The believers have gone from bondage to what the principles of the world required, to freedom now under the reign of Yeshua. It didn't matter either, really, whether the believers were Jews or Gentiles. In either case the unbelievers were subject to trying to appease the gods. The rules or methods required needed to be followed meticulously so that the gods were happy with the subjects. Man-made religion is superstitious in nature. The followers are stuck in a never ending cycle of following rules, but never knowing if what they had done was enough. This was what the false teachers were espousing. In contrast living by faith in Yeshua meant knowing that His sacrifice had saved the believers and they were free from the treadmill of constantly following rules in the attempt to appease. Rather, they could live as God wanted them to live, but without the constant superstitious striving. When they did sin, the faith relationship was not destroyed. They were not living by their own attempts at righteousness.
Paul continued in verse 13 with a caution not to use that liberty as an occasion to the flesh. In other words he didn't want the Galatians to use that liberty as an excuse to sin. Although they didn't have to be consumed with trying to be righteous in order to be saved, the Galatian believers were not to intentionally engage in sin.
This should ring true in all of our hearts, because when we know that God has saved us, there can be a tendency to feel, prior to sin, that it doesn't really matter because God will forgive us. Certainly, this is not necessarily a conscious decision to go out and sin, but instead, in the heat of emotion, take anger for example, the normal Christian response is exchanged for the fleshly sinful response. Yet, in that emotion, in the seconds that it took to process the anger, that tendency of knowing God will forgive, can come into play, and we respond in sin. This was Paul's caution.
Paul's idea of liberty was not a turning away from Torah. God's laws were not the bondage that the Galatians had been freed from. Believers are freed in order to live righteous lives as God intended.
1 John 5:3 (KJV)
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
When John and Paul were writing there was no New Testament that was viewed as Scripture (See here:). John's comments about keeping the commandments, which are not grievous, could only refer to the Torah. Obviously, Paul could not have been speaking about being freed from the Torah either.
Paul's last instruction in verse 13 was that instead of sinning, believers were to serve one another in love. In my next post we will deal with that topic.