Freedom in Christ (Galatians 5:13-16)

The fact the believer is free from the Law should not necessarily lead to the view that the believer may indulge in sinful behavior (Galatians 5:13). Does Paul contradict himself in this verse? He has consistently argued in Galatians that the believer is free from slavery to the Law, but now he says the believer ought to re-submit to slavery, this time to his neighbor. Freedom from Law is not a freedom from everything. There is always some sort of obligation to fulfill, whether to the government or family, etc. Here in Galatians 5, Paul has in mind our obligation to serve God by serving one another.

Galatians Freedom in ChristSince the one who is in Christ is free from the obligations of the Law, they now must voluntarily re-enslave themselves to the Spirit. For Paul, there are only two possibilities, either one is enslaved to the flesh, or one is enslaved to the Spirit. Paul will unpack what he means by flesh and Spirit in the next paragraph, but for now it is important to understand these are the only two options for the one who is in Christ.

Based on what Paul says in Galatians, the Law is not an option for living out a life “in Christ.” Nor is it acceptable to blend a life “in Christ” with something else, such as a Greek philosophy or worship of another god. Paul would be just as critical of the Galatian churches if they chose to live out a new life in Christ through popular Stoic or Epicurean ethical philosophy as he is with the Gentiles trying to keep the Law.

The fact we are free from the Mosaic Law is not to be used as a reason to indulge in sinful behavior. The noun here refers to a starting point, like capital for a business venture or a military base from which an assault is launched. By the first century, the word was used for “pretext” or “occasion, opportunity.” In 1 Tim 5:14 it is used for an “excuse” for Satan to slander unmarried widows for moral lapses.

Since the believer in Christ is free from the Mosaic Law, it is possible some people took Paul’s gospel as a license to sin. Paul must deal with this problem here and in Romans 6:1-1-4 since there were people who did take their freedom too far. Some of the problems described in 1 Timothy and Titus are a result of people “sinning so that grace might abound.” The letter of Jude deals with people who “pervert the grace of our God into a license to sin” (Jude 4). If someone is free from all restraint of the Law, what keeps them from indulging in all sorts of sin?

Someone might say, “If election and preservation means I cannot lose my salvation, then I can behave any way I would like and still be saved.” Paul would never agree with this statement. This is an issue of spiritual maturity. For example, imagine the first taste of freedom a teen has when they go to college. Mom and Dad are not watching them all of the time so they have the freedom to do whatever they want. As a result, many college freshmen get into trouble (or at least the freshman fifteen….or twenty!)

While it is possible for a person to understand their freedom in Christ in this way, Paul says it is inappropriate for the one who is “walking by the Spirit” to indulge the sinful nature.

What is an example of a Christian using their freedom as an excuse for sin? Based on Galatians, how would Paul respond to that sort of misuse of one’s freedom in Christ?

15 thoughts on “Freedom in Christ (Galatians 5:13-16)

  1. Like you said, Paul would not agree with the statement, “If election and preservation means I cannot lose my salvation, then I can behave any way I would like and still be saved.” Paul says, “[D]o you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9-10). Although, what Paul says agrees with what you said about how Grace is not to give you the license to sin, what he says seems almost contradictory to basically everywhere else in the Bible that speaks to the dispensation of Grace, like what Paul wrote in Romans 10:13 and Luke wrote in Acts 2:21: “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” This includes everyone! Anyone can be saved even if they are still perpetual sinners. Perhaps, Paul just means if people are sinning deliberately and willingly, not caring if it is a sin, then it is not possible they are saved. How could one be saved and not feel conviction about their sins, unless they never really chose to invite Jesus into their lives and trust him?

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  2. In my opinion using grace as an excuse for sin has become a much bigger thing among our teenagers and even more people than ever before. To give an example of this, while I was in high school, many of my friends would commit crimes such as stealing items from the grocery store across the street from the school and think everything was alright. The next weekend They would be at church or youth group on Wednesday nights acting like nothing happened, or something along those lines. It is blatantly obvious throughout scripture that stealing is not morally correct in the eyes of the Lord as shown in Exodus with the Ten Commandments, and again in Romans 13:1-7 where it says to obey governing authorities. I am in agreement with what you said about Paul, “the Law is not an option for living out a life “in Christ.” Nor is it acceptable to blend a life “in Christ” with something else (P. Long, above). Longenecker in TTP says this about Paul’s vision of the flesh’s ways compared to that of the Spirit, “the ‘flesh’ promotes ways of life that destroy individual and corporate life” (Longenecker, 103). Giving into our fleshly ways brings our life away from the Spirit that is what accepts the freedom given to us correctly, and not mis-using as our fleshly selves do.

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  3. You said this is your blog, there is no way that Paul would agree to the statement that being free from the law gives someone the right to sin as they please with no punishment. That is not what he had intended for the people when saying the time of the law is over. Then this raises a question, are people today using their salvation as a right to sin? In some cases it seem like that, especially with our younger generation, or even people who go to GBC or a different Bible college. They use the reasoning, its ok I go to a Bible school, like that gives them a free pass to act or do certain things. As you said we are either a slave to the flesh or a slave to spirit. If we are truly a slave to the Spirit, how is it that there are no convictions for the sins that are being committed, and why do they keep occurring. In Acts 2:21 we are told that whoever calls upon the Lord shall be saved. If we are calling upon the Lord and we have brought him in to help lead our lives there should be a moral compass and convictions to lead us away from the sins, and to not deliberately sin.

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  4. Although the time of the law is over, that does not give the people of the church to do as they please. We could easily apply this to today in our society. Society pushes that we are to make our own decisions and that if one chooses to conduct in sexual immoral behaviors or take drugs or promote music that is against the Bible–then that is one’s right to do so. This is not true in our beliefs; for although we no longer have to follow the law, we do have the Bible and an understanding of what God does and does not desire for us. Paul writes for us to divert from this behavior and avoid those who commit this behavior: “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler,drunkard, or swindler–not even to eat with such a one…Purge the evil person from among you” (1 Cor 5:11-13. The law may be over, but people of the church are still to continue to follow God’s word and not to just do as they please–for the people of Galatia, Corinth, and today.

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  5. To many times the Gospel is preached as a ‘give some, gain a ton’ gospel. You can draw the parallel by thinking of grace like a credit card. The ENTIRE bill has been paid, in advance, so you (as any believer can) get to the point where you don’t feel conviction for using the ‘grace credit-card’. Jesus Christ died for our sin, so that we could be free from them, but, like you said, that doesn’t mean we can sin just because they are already paid for. One of the types of sin that generally gets overlooked is sexual sin (whatever it may be). It becomes something the church doesn’t care about enough about, and because it is such an emotionally based sin we don’t want to step on anyones toes. Swipe the grace card. I appreciate Paul’s view of being a slave. If you are either a slave to Christ, or to sin, then choose already! Longenecker puts it like this: “In fact, this kind of slavery-in-freedom or freedom-in-slaverz is itself the was in which the entire law becomes “fulfilled” among Christians (5:14).” (TTP p, 102-103). Paul speaks extensively to this in Galatians 5, but also would respond with a 1 Corinthians 3:16 type of address. Don’t you know that your body is the temple of God? And do not sin that grace may abound. (Rom. 6:1) It is the difference between seeking our own benefit or seeking the benefit of others.

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  6. This misconception is very common in the church today, especially for our generation. Many people think that salvation is a one time thing, and then for the rest of their life, they can do whatever they want. Many people have the mentality of, ‘Well, I’ll just ask for forgiveness later.’ But now they are intentionally sinning and God hates that. In ethics class, we talk a lot about the cycle of sin. We are told not to do something, then we sin because we are human, and then we get mad at ourselves for sinning, but anger is a sin, and now your angry about that, etc, etc. It is a vicious cycle. But like Chris said, “the ENTIRE bill has been paid, in advance, so a believer can get to the point where they don’t feel conviction for using the grace credit-card’. But that’s where people go wrong and think that means they can do anything and they will still be right with God. However, Paul says in Galatians 5:13, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh…” Paul would be angry with Christians today because of their behavior. Even students at a Christian college will go out and party on the weekends because they think it is okay. ‘I go to a Christian college, and I’m saved, so it’s okay.’ No, it’s not okay. Paul would not say it was okay either. Paul tells these people that if they participate in this kind of behavior, they will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:21). Paul was not saying that people were free from the law in order to do what they want. “When Paul writes in 5:23, ‘against such things there is not law,’ he means that when communities of Jesus-followers are saturated in a character comprised of these spiritual attributes, the law become irrelevant in its function as a control on behavior” (TTP 95). He meant that we are no longer slaves to the law. We are free to live in grace; the grace Christ has given us.

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  7. I think Christians are the only ones that can say that they have the right to choose to sin or not. Because Christians have freedom to live life with or without sin. Christians are no longer slaves to sin. John 8:32 says “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” God has given us the right to free will, however that doesn’t as Christians we are to engage in sinful ways. Our biggest excuse as Christians is to say that God will forgive us every time we sin. Yes God does forgive us for sinning when we repent. However, that doesn’t mean we can go off and do what we please, knowing that we can ask forgiveness when we are done. We should strive to be more Christ, despite knowing that we are forgiven for our sins. 1 Peter 2:16 tells us that “live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves”.

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  8. I think Christians today use their freedom as an excuse for sin a variety of ways. If someone swears, rather than attempting to change that behavior because it may cause other believers to struggle (as is Biblical (1 Cor. 8:12)), give the excuse that ‘Jesus understands’ that picking up bad habits is hard not to do. Someone who overeats may give the excuse that the Preacher in Ecclesiastes tells us to “eat and drink and be joyful” (Eccl. 8:15), while we are also instructed that whatever we eat or drink should be for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). Paul would argue that we are to use this freedom, not for our own benefit (such as an excuse to swear or overeat), but to serve one another in love (Gal. 5:13). What benefit does swearing have to those around you? Do you want to make other believers think it is okay? Or kids for that matter? Is that language good for edifying others (Eph. 4:29)? Wouldn’t using positive language be a better way to show love to those around you? As far as overeating goes, if we do not take of ourselves physically, we will not be able to serve others to the fullest extent we would be able to if we did. In sum, Paul would argue that anyone who is abusing their freedom in Christ should think of how their actions are affecting others, rather than focusing on their own enjoyment. Longenecker and Still put it well when they say that “While Jesus-followers are “free,” this does not mean that they are able to do nothing with their faith, or to live irresponsibly. With freedom comes responsibility” and this responsibility it to “serve one another humbly in love” (TTP 102).

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  9. The “greasy grace” that Paul explains here is a poison to any Christian group. Any person who looks on at Christians using God’s unlimited forgiveness to act however they want is not going to see any point in conforming to Christianity and fully understanding God’s grace. People who do nothing but lust all the time and never feel bad about it or who don’t take any measurements to try to get rid of it are ones who take advantage of this grace. I think that Paul would react by asking them what do they think Christ died for? His expected answer would be that we are to live by the Spirit and not gratify the sinful desires we have. Based on how he talks in Galatians, he might just yell at the person quite abruptly.

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    • I like what you said towards the end here Ben. “What did Christ die for?” I think that our human perspective is often very weak here. We want to earn grace but we cannot, and in this we must simply accept it and do our best to live Christ would. I don’t think that a true and whole-hearted believer could do anything else. It just wouldn’t make sense.

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  10. As I have been reading Paul, my new understanding of morality is that Paul funnels it through the lens of the gospel itself. For example, we read in 1 Corinthians; “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” While this isn’t particularly applicable to morality we often read that Paul talks about the Gospel in such high regard that it is as if he desired everything to be understood through this lens. In this way, morality is best understood (in my opinion) as a way of glorifying God through “lifestyle evangelism.” In other words, when we live under the crucifixion rather than the law which was a placeholder for Christ and cannot save us, we cheat God of his wonderful saving Gospel. To answer the question, I think it is best said from the perspective of an old friend of mine. “You don’t wear a seat belt because you are told to or have to, you wear it because you want it to save your life.” This is why we do not use the freedom of Christ as a license to sin. It simply doesn’t fit with the holistic concept of faith. Who could live that way and really truly believe in Christ’s resurrection?

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  11. An example of a Christian using their freedom as an excuse for sin would be doing something such as stealing. This is something that is said to be morally wrong over and over throughout the Bible. It is written out clearly in the ten commandments in Exodus. Paul might respond by saying something such as if you keep using your freedom as an excuse for sin then you are going to eventually destroy yourselves and others around you as well.

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  12. While it is possible for a person to understand their freedom in Christ in this way, Paul says it is inappropriate for the one who is “walking by the Spirit” to indulge the sinful nature.

    What is an example of a Christian using their freedom as an excuse for sin? Based on Galatians, how would Paul respond to that sort of misuse of one’s freedom in Christ?

    Although it is improper, there are most likely some Christians out there, maybe newly converted Christians, who sometimes use their freedom as an excuse to sin. Some examples might include cheating on things, stealing perhaps, white lies, or indulging in some other immoral things, none of which are good but which I feel are the most likely for people to continue doing if they have had sinful habits in the past. People like excuses to get away with things, but that is not how Christ’s gift to us ought to be, I am sure Paul would agree with me, and in fact be enraged against current day Christians, as much as at the Galatians from back then, regarding acting sinfully because they’d already been forgiven in advance for their future sins. Still and Longenecker point out in their book that, ” the characteristic for self-giving that marks out the story of Jesus is intended to mark out the story of Jesus’ followers,” (TTP, 95). Galatians 5:22 also gives a great example of the behavior we are expected to try and carry out, the opposite of selfishly living a purposely sinful life.

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