Well my friends, we have come to the conclusion of the book of Galatians. So far, we’ve explored Paul’s reasons for writing the letter, the purpose of the Law and the purpose of the New Covenant, and how these two seemingly conflicting covenants relate to each other. Today, we’ll touch more on the purpose of the Law an take a look at what living through this New Covenant actually looks like.
Like last week, I’m going to jump back a bit to begin the discussion in Galatians. Looking at several books from the Old and New Testament, we can see what God was ultimately concerned with when He established both the Old Covenant (the Law) and the New Covenant (faith in Christ).
“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” – Leviticus 19:18
“And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” – Deuteronomy 6:5
“Jesus replied, ‘This is the most important: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.'” – Mark 12:29-31
In Mark, Jesus points back to two commandments given to the Israelites amongst a whole host of other laws. The quote from Deuteronomy had an entire chapter devoted to emphasizing it’s importance, but the Leviticus verse sneaks itself in quietly into a long list of sundry (miscellaneous) laws. Evidently, it still holds great significance, seeing as Jesus pointed it out as the second most important commandment when questioned.
I like how Jesus responds in Mark. He doesn’t say that all the laws are equally important and we must strive equally to fulfill each one. No, he chooses two that are clearly greater than the others. This speaks to God’s heart. The scribe that questioned Jesus wisely pointed out that these two commands were more important to God than any burnt offerings and sacrifices, two primary features of the Old Covenant.
Now to get to the book we’re actually studying today! All of that was to point out the fulfillment of the Law (Gal. 5:14). As we have studied in the previous chapters of Galatians, the Law is simply a guide for how to please God. Paul emphasizes this to show the place of the Law as pointing towards Christ and not a path to righteousness in its own right. At the beginning of chapter 5, Paul states that no-one can seek justification through both the Law and Christ (v. 1-6). There aren’t two paths two Heaven.
Later in chapter 5 (v.16-8, 25-26), Paul issues an important command: walk by the Spirit. All of this discussion of living through faith is impossible if we try to do it by ourselves. We’re only humans, prone to sin. It is only when we have the perfect Spirit inside of us that living through faith becomes possible. If it wasn’t for the Spirit, justification through faith would be just as impossible as justification through the Law. Next, Paul compares living in the flesh to living in the Spirit:
“19Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
25If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” – Galatians 5:19-26
Now, does this comparison between living in the flesh and in the Spirit mean that if you do anything listed in the first category you aren’t a Christian? Of course not. Christians sin like everyone else, but the difference is that we aren’t defined by our sins. We are defined by our relationship with Christ. We don’t merely exhibit the works of the flesh, but those of the Spirit also. Again, not that our works define us, but they are there. We cannot have faith without works (James 2:26).
In verse two of chapter 6, Paul tells the Galatians how they are to fulfill the law of Christ: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” That sounds remarkably similar to the command to love our neighbor as ourselves, does it not? Thus, we can see that the intent of the Law is a reflection of the purpose of the New Covenant.
Finally, in Galatians 6:15 Paul resets our focus: “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” We’re missing the point! We’re new people! We don’t need to be concerned over law vs faith but rather live as if we have been saved by Christ. When we are busy living in the Spirit the rest will come naturally. Ultimately, nothing we can do of ourselves is powerful enough to save us. Christ alone can save.