Galatians 5:13-16 – Freedom in Christ

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 Timothy 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?

18 thoughts on “Galatians 5:13-16 – Freedom in Christ

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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).

  4. 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?

  5. Throughout reading this blog it reminds me of growing up and how we are raised with obligation to follow all the rules we were raised with. I have heard individuals say that they grew up in the church but what they believed was more what their parents believed. The freedom we have in Christ allows us to grow and have a relationship with Christ at His pace. We are not always growing in the same way and I think that that’s okay. As mankind we do battle flesh and Spirit, I would be wrong if I said that individuals do not take advantage of this. There comes a point when you choose to surrender your entire life to Jesus and become intentional with Him, that you separate what is of the flesh and what is of the Spirit. For someone who is new to faith in Jesus, perhaps how the Galatians were, they will follow what they’ve always known and that was the Mosaic law.
    To live by the Spirit and remember the freedom we have is hard. We are not perfect and with life comes things of this world. One way a Christian could use their freedom as an excuse for sin is overindulging in alcohol. In scripture it talks about drinking wine and enjoying yourself, but we should not get drunk because with that comes sin. “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). Those who have interest in drinking and getting drunk could use scripture to defend their sin. God wants us to enjoy ourselves, but we are not called to misuse what God has given us. Galatians 5:16-18 is such a beautiful reminder that when we walk with Christ, darkness cannot have a hold on us. Flesh and Spirit are always opposing but to stand against the desires of this world we must be led by Christ. The gospel comes before the law and we are set free by the word of God.

  6. After reading through Galatians 5 and than through this, I wonder if Paul wrote Galatians 5 to be two sides of an argument? An argument that discusses whether or not you are allowed to give into sin and be saved or you must still keep the Law to be saved. I read through Romans 6 and the end of the letter verses 15-18 shows that Paul probably matured in his understanding. It starts with this, “15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law by under grace? By no means!”. Compared to Galatians 5 it is straight to the point, no you are not free to sin without punishment. Proverbs 21:15 says this, “15 When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.”. Jesus tells Nicodemus in John 3:21 about righteous and the unrighteous that their deeds will are seen by God. So even though we are not slaves to sin doesn’t mean we can’t sin, it means that, 1 Corinthians 10:13, “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear…”, we have an out given by God. Paul maybe saying that we no longer are slaves to the Law where we will forever perish if we commit a sin and to repent we must preform a sacrifice. Rather we must repent to God who turned himself into the sacrifice releasing us from that restraint of needing to sacrifice? Looking back at Romans 6 verse 20, “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness” this doesn’t mean God didn’t have control. But we may not have had the Holy Spirit in us before the death of Christ.
    So back to Galatians 5 and the two sides, the first mention about circumcision could be saying being circumcised doesn’t mean you are automatically saved. The first part of the letter to me is seen as you can sin all you want, but the judgment of God will always be there. You will still need to deal with the punishment for your sins. The second part title “Life by the Spirit” in NIV could be seen as we not slaves to sin but to God seeing that God is now able to be with us in spirit. So no matter what sin we are entrapped in, God will always be there to help us through it.

    • I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this post. I enjoyed how you brought in another work of Paul’s, the book of Romans. I enjoyed thinking about your thoughts on Paul maturing between these two statements. I also wonder if maybe Paul simply perfected his delivery of this defense because he had been addressing this issue to other churches that we do not know about. I also wonder if simply in the moment in writing this letter to the Galatians Paul was filled with more zeal because of the background situations such as those who were “agitating” the church and leading them astray (Longenecker). This would make sense, as Paul would be angry with them about their immature teachings, thoughts and behaviors. Paul is quite angry when talking about these agitators in this letter to the point of where he insists that if they remain hard headed they should simply mutilate themselves (Galatians 5:12). It cold be in the Romans passage that Paul was simply addressing some concerns rather than rebuking those who were attempting to lead his sheep astray. This is why knowing the context of the epistles of Paul is so important, it shows what was going on behind the scenes, giving context as to why Paul would respond differently to the same topic in all of these letters. Each of these churches was facing different problems, struggling in different ways and at different degrees. It is also possible that people at one church were much more hard headed than those at another, which could also attest to the differences in language, vocabulary, and tone across Paul’s letters.

  7. I find it interesting that the church of Galatia was confused with what Paul was trying to communicate that if we are in Christ, we don’t have to keep the whole law. Today we see that we must have a relationship with Christ, instead of being a “slave” to the law.
    P long said in class that the one who tries to keep the law must keep the whole law. If people are circumcising themselves under old covenant law, but this has already expired and does not apply anymore. By trying to keep the law, they are trusting something else other than Jesus Christ.
    We see that Paul wanted them to have a relationship first through is what TTP says, “the only thing of importance is putting one’s faith into practice through concrete forms of leaving service (pg. 102).” what he is saying is that the relationship is what matters first. That isn’t the whole point of believing in Jesus. We don’t have to have all these dos and don’ts to follow to be saved. We are adopted and apart of his family.
    Paul used metaphors for explaining how we must do something. In this case, Paul uses slavery as a metaphor for how we were slaves to the law and were trapped.

  8. This issue of uncontrolled Gentile believers (as in not following the Jewish Law) could have been one motivation for the “certain men from James” (Gal. 2:12) to try to convince the Galatian believers to follow the Law. I could see it being very challenging for traditional Jews to just allow gentile believers to eat unclean foods, not practice the Sabbath, etc. and say that there was nothing wrong with that. However, this is exactly what Paul was teaching. But this does not mean that the pagan Gentiles could just go back to living how they were used to. After all, with great freedom comes great responsibility. Paul does not want believers indulge themselves and abuse their freedom, but rather to serve others with their freedom (Gal. 5:13). In fact, Paul uses the same word for “serve” as he does for “slave” elsewhere in the book, adding to the emphasis of our responsibility (Longenecker, p. 102). Paul looks at this issue from another angle in 1 Corinthians 6:12 and 10:23. Here, Paul makes the point that even though we are free and even though some things might not be inherently wrong, they still might not be beneficial to us or our fellow believers. We are not supposed to use for our own benefit, but as a way to serve others.

    • Burkey, i liked your comment about how great freedom comes great responsibility. just because our sins are forgiven does not mean we should abuse that power. God will still judge us before entering heaven. I think it is also good that you noted how words have different meanings back then. It is important to explore certain meaning of words from the bible to fully understand the point that is being said. If you do not explore gods words you will be misled. it is important to keep growing in your faith and digging deeper into Gods word to get the most of what God wants. Everyone’s spiritual journey grows on a different path and it is important to have brotherhood and help each other grow together.

  9. This topic and passage have always interested me! I love how Paul says how we are either a slave to sin or slave to the Spirit. The beauty in this is that where the Spirit is, there is freedom. We find ourselves pursuing righteousness and holiness rather than sinful desires and nature. Those who believe it is free access to do anything they want to do not have the full revelation of what it is like to “be a slave to the Spirit” or live in no compromise. When Jesus is Lord, nothing else in their lives should have to compete with that. As Longenecker states, “with freedom comes responsibility” (102). When someone keeps in step with the Spirit, out of that overflow the law is followed naturally. He is the one who will walk and guide you to righteousness, with continual renewing (Longenecker 103).
    You are right when you say people tend to manipulate this Scripture is by making it an excuse for sin. One example I can think of is with sexual immorality of any kind. Whether it is the impure thoughts or the actual act, they sometimes will continue in their sin due to shame, but as they keep sinning without trying to make progress, they go back to the fact that they no longer live under the law. They will live a lifestyle content with themselves because they have dimmed the voice of the Spirit and may even immediately ask for forgiveness, and then go right back to where they came from. Paul would respond to this along the lines of Galatians 5:25 stating that “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” There are also multiple principles in the Proverbs that would show the black and white of good and evil, and how they’re always turning away from evil, and pursuing good. This principle is shown throughout the Bible in multiple places.

  10. This is a tricky topic because many people see Paul’s saying “free from the Law” as a ‘get out of Hell free’ card. But you can see how hard Paul fights to contradict this view. in chapter 5 he emphasizes living by the Spirit. Like P. Long mentioned above, there are two life possibilities according to Paul, slavery to the flesh or slavery to the Spirit. Longenecker puts Paul’s point-like, “with freedom comes resposability” (102). Which makes me think of Spider-man when Uncle Ben tells Peter with great power comes great responsibility. As Christians, we have the great power of the Holy Spirit living within us. Living for the flesh would be like having a superpower but never using it. Having the ability to save people but keeping it to yourself. So, we have freedom from the Law but it is not an excuse to live a reckless life with no concern for the power within us. For Paul’s ministry, sexual immorality was a big problem subject. Christians who believed they were free to do anything they wanted and not get penalized could see going to the temple prostitutes as something they could do, something that wasn’t wrong. Paul rebukes flesh centered behavior in verses 19-21 saying people with this lifestyle will “not inherit the Kingdom of God.” This is a scary concept, especially when you find these fleshly behaviors in your own life. But with “resolute intention to walk with the Spirit” (Longenecker, 103) it becomes easier to say no to these sinful lifestyles. Paul also mentions that being a slave to the Spirit takes maturity and that can only be acquired through responsibility.

  11. The gifts that God has given to us (including the best gift of salvation through Jesus and eternal life) are irrevocable (Rom. 11:29). If Christians believe that they are above the law and are unable to lose their salvation, some have the thought that they can behave in any way they want and simply capitalize on the forgiveness aspect of the gospel. I see this most commonly with Christians who want to do something God commands against, and try to justify or rationalize it in many different ways. In addition, people (including myself) will break rules and sin because they don’t think they are important or necessary. God calls us to obey governing authority (Rom. 13:1-2) yet we determine that following the speed limit, neglecting to pay taxes on side jobs, jay-walking, etc. are all “okay” as long as we don’t get caught. I agree that this is a true example of spiritual immaturity and Paul would certainly disagree with this thought process. “With freedom comes responsibility” (Longenecker 102). We are free in terms of the law, but we are not free to do whatever we want. When giving our lives to Christ we are essentially enslaving ourselves to benefit others in the form of “slavery-in-freedom or freedom-in-slavery” (Longenecker 102). We are given freedom in Christ yet still called to obey his commands and rules that he gives us. His rules are not meant to limit us, rather he puts parameters in place because he loves and wants to protect us in the same way parents tell their children not to touch the stove, to stay out of the road, and wear a life-jacket when they are in a boat.

  12. This reminds me of when I was a little kid and heard about how God forgives all sins. I would think that it doesn’t matter what I do because I know God will forgive my sins. Just because our sins are forgiven doesn’t mean we should sin and do what we want. The people who do this take one thing in the Bible out of context and use it because it seems easier. There are plenty of times in the bible where it says to obey god though such as Deuteronomy 11:1, Joshua 5:6, Luke 11:28 and more. I think people misuse words and phrases all the time and this has happened all throughout time. Everyone grows in faith at their own pace and is at their own level spiritually with God. The correct way to fix an issue is to teach them why they are wrong and to encourage them to indulge more on research in the bible and Gods word. Christians are not to enslave themselves to law observance, but are to remain free from enslavement (pg102).

  13. Paul strongly condemns those who go back to their old ways after salvation (Gal 5:2). In the Galatian’s case, it was circumcision and the law. Christ’s sacrifice was enough for salvation. The gentiles did not have to add circumcision and keep the law to be a Christian. In Galatians 5:1 Paul writes “for freedom Christ has set us free.” However, some Christians take this literally and believe that they can do whatever they want. For example, a person might become saved but they choose to sleep in on most Sunday mornings and do not change their lifestyle to conform with Christ. This person may view those things as optional because they are free in Christ. However, Paul must have anticipated this because later in chapter 5 he claims that freedom comes with responsibility (TTP, 102). Believers are to “serve one another humbly in love” (Gal 5:13). The word for “serve” implies “slavery” (TTP, 102). This irony is echoed in Romans when Paul calls believers to not to be “slaves to sin” but “slaves to righteousness” (Romans 6:17-18). Even though Christ has set us free from sin, that does not give us the freedom to continue in sin. Instead, Christ calls us to humbly serve one another.

  14. I could see how this could be confusing to someone with it saying God has forgiven us of our sins. Some might take that and run with that and abuse what he is trying telling us there. Some Christians may think they are higher than one another because of what Galatians 5:1 says “For freedom, Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
    With this, they might think they have the freedom they can do whatever they want because we are being forgiven of our sins but that is not how it should be because that is so wrong you still have to have values in life and do what is right in this world. God made each of individually so no one is really higher than one another and we should always be doing what is right no matter who is watching or what we believe in. An example of Christian using their freedom as an excuse for sin could be believing they are better than someone because what they think is right based on what they think. I think paul wouldnt be very happy on the sort of misuse of one’s freedom in Christ is being used and how some might take advantage on what they think is right.

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  15. The dynamic of freedom from the Law and grace in Christ’s life, work, and resurrection is often a topic that is overly stressed as being complicated. Galatians 5:13-16 and Romans 6:1-14 Paul clearly states that we ought not use God’s grace as an excuse for more sinfulness, using strong verbiage of “by no means”. Bruce Longenecker and Todd Still write upon this topic in their book Thinking Through Paul: A Survey of His Life, Letters, and Theology that Jesus followers are free from the Law however this does not mean they can be lazy within their faith and live carelessly (Longenecker, Still. Pg. 102). On the topic of P. Long’s prompt at the end of his post, I see no reason not to assume that throughout the last 2,000 years, Christians have tried to use God’s unending grace as an excuse for most all sins. Though, obviously, God’s unending grace as mentioned in Titus 2:11 is helpful in evangelizing to criminals who have committed terrible crimes, it is not something believers ought to take for granted. Believers ought to live a life honoring to God, for just a James writes, without works, faith is dead. This is how Paul and James’ theology compliment each other, not contradict. Paul and James’ both call Christians to live lives in a way that honors God instead of sinning recklessly. A true Christ-following life- style does not only change your spiritual destination (heaven or hell), your inward values, morals, and standards, but it should also completely change how you live your life. Not that sinning or living righteously determine your eternal security, but rather works or sustaining from sin displays God’s work within your life. This is the point that Paul makes, we ought not to sin more to show God’s grace, but instead live righteously so that those outside the faith may see the difference Christ has made in us.

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