For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love. You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth? Such persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough. I am confident about you in the Lord that you will not think otherwise. But whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty. But my friends, why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching circumcision? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves! For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.Galatians 5:1-15
Many years ago, while still a part of a Pentecostal congregation, there was a particular individual who had come to preach and to provide healing to members of the congregation. When people were not automatically healed, they were informed that they either did not have enough faith, or that they had done something (a vague something) to remove God’s blessing from their lives. In other words, God’s work in this world was dependent upon their actions; if they had sin in their lives or sin in their hearts, God would refuse to work. Naturally, this either spurred people to keep ridiculous man-made requirements, or it caused them to despair of God’s grace, and walk away from the church, knowing that no matter how hard they tried, they would never be able to uphold all of the requirements.
In a sense, Paul is telling the Galatians that by trying to keep the Law, they were taking the work of salvation into their own hands. Granted, this is more of a shift in thought, but the orientation of their thoughts makes a big difference in how their lives would unfold. If they chose to follow the Law, and to be bound by the Law, they would be placing themselves under the obligation to uphold all of the law. And that, of course, as Paul has been saying is something that is not possible to do on one’s own.
What’s more, Paul goes on to say, in the freedom that Christ’s death and resurrection had brought to them, upholding the rules and regulations really meant nothing. In Christ, the only thing that mattered was “faith working through love.” Paul then goes on in the next several verses to explain that the only real thing that matters is fulfilling the law by Loving your neighbor as yourself.
This, of course, is again Paul’s main point. Living in the relationship, attempting to love God and one’s neighbor is where the freedom in Christ comes from. There are no rules and regulations to follow, except for loving one’s neighbor, just as one loves oneself. This is simultaneously easier, and more difficult. Sometimes, loving our neighbors is not easy, even though the commandment is simple. For people who would rather have things be both simple, and easy, they can feel as though they are living up to the requirements by checking things off a list. The trouble is that they will never be able to check off all items.
The caveat to living in this freedom, Paul goes on to say, is that we might abuse that freedom to indulge ourselves. If we do not use this freedom in Christ to love one another, then we become consumed in pushing our own agendas and actions. And when we push our own agendas and actions, we become self-centered, and then we begin to devour one another with our actions that seek to serve ourselves, rather than others.
This sort of devouring and consuming behavior is probably not something that needs an example, as each of us can think of a situation where fellow believers pushed their own agendas despite the needs of others. They loved themselves more than others, and therefore came to a point where their actions proved to be self-defeating.
Mike is a jack of all trades, master of none. He’s a data analyst, programmer, and loves to cook. If he doesn’t have his face buried in a book or is staring blankly at a computer screen, you can find him on a motorcycle, enjoying the ride.
Mike holds a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary, and is a postulant for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona. He will attend Sewanee School of Theology for a year of Anglican Studies in the Fall of 2022.