For freedom Christ has set us free. 5:13-18


From 5:13-6:10 Paul focuses on the practicalities of the Christian life. In this, our passage for study, Paul makes the point that when we keep in step with the Spirit, living under grace rather than law, we live in love, and love fulfills the law.

The passage

v13. The gospel calls us to freedom from the subjugation and curse of the law. Yet, the freedom we possess in Christ carries the obligation of love. Paul, having reminded his readers not to subject themselves again to the law as a means of progressing their Christian life, now reminds them that the Christian life does have moral implications, but these are realized by the indwelling-compelling of the Spirit of Christ and not by law-obedience. Not only must we be free from the slavery of the law, we must also be free from the slavery of sinful-living (the "desires of the flesh").

v14. Paul goes on to make the point that the law of God is "fulfilled" (better than NIV "summed up") in love. Although we are free from the law's right to condemn sin, to hold us to our sin, we are still bound to apply its divine guidance, and this guidance is fulfilled in mutual service through love. The very substance of the law is love. Paul quotes Leviticus 19:18b to make this point. The law directs us to care for others with the same energy with which we care for ourselves. On the one hand, through our identification with Jesus, we have actually kept the law as far as God is concerned, and on the other hand, through the compelling love of the indwelling Spirit of Christ, we begin to be the loving person we are already in Christ. So, mutual love fulfills the law.

v15. The opposite of mutual service through love is a congregation acting like a pack of wild animals, "biting and devouring each other." Such behavior results when believers use the freedom they have in Christ as an opportunity for the free expression of their sinful nature.

v16. Paul now explains how the goal of freedom, namely, mutual service through love (community, fellowship, unity, oneness), is achieved. "Live by the Spirit", says Paul (RSV "walk", meaning conduct our life under the influence of the Spirit). Here we have the secret of successful Christian living. By detaching ourselves from the demands of the law and cooperating with the inward dynamic of the indwelling Spirit of Christ, we find that we are no longer driven by the dynamic of the sinful nature.

v17. Within the believer there is a continual conflict between the sinful nature (flesh), and the Spirit. The conflict is such, that the Spirit does not overrule the flesh, nor does the flesh overrule the Spirit. As a consequence, we are not forced to follow the leading of the sinful nature.

v18. Our freedom to follow the leading of the Spirit is assured because we are no longer under the curse of the law. The prime purpose of the law was to expose sin, to make sin more sinful. As a consequence, those who seek to maintain their standing before God by restraining their sin, or improve that standing by promoting holiness, and this through obedience to the law, find their sinful nature empowered and their rebellion magnified. Yet now, in Christ, the believer has found God's approval apart from the law, and therefore, the sinful nature no longer rules our lives.

Living for Christ

A question asked by all believers is, "how can I live a holy life?" How can I be the person I am already in Christ? Sanctification is a state of holiness, which, in the renewing power of the indwelling Spirit of Christ, we seek to realize in our daily life; albeit, always imperfectly. But the question is, how do we live this life?

The pietist way is the way of law-faithfulness. The pietist believes that indwelling sin is suppressed by means of an attention to God's moral law. Thus, by means of law-obedience we progress our holiness and gain God's blessings. Paul argues that this way leads only to rebellion because the law ends up provoking our sinful nature, and thus, inevitably we find ourselves outside God's grace.

The libertine way assumes that our present behavior has no bearing on the perfection we already possess in Christ. This is known as the heresy of perfectionism. We are therefore free to do as we wish. Paul argues that this leads to a life of rebellion which also places us outside God's grace.

Christ sets us free, not to again enslave ourselves to the law, nor to use our freedom to indulge the sinful flesh, but he sets us free to enjoy the gift of life - his life. At the center is the joy of restored relationships, of community bonded in love. To overcome the sinful nature and witness renewal in relationships, we must simply turn from the law to the leading of the Spirit. By this means we disempower the flesh and begin to live a life honouring to Christ.

Cooperating with the leading of the Spirit is the way we proceed in the Christian life. The character of the indwelling Spirit of Christ, his love, impels us forward, 2Cor.5:14-15. That is, we possess within a mystical inward impelling toward Christ-like behavior, an impelling which effectively counters the impelling of the sinful nature. We therefore find that we are free to choose to honour self, or to honour Christ.

We will never, in this life, live perfect lives; we will often choose the leading of the flesh over the Spirit. So, it is important that we nurture the inward impelling of Christ's love in our heart. First, we must give shape to this grace of God through the study of his Word. Second, we must empower this shape through the prayer of faith. It is by this means that we will begin to image Christ in our day-to-day life.


Discuss the following statement. "A knowledge of Christ's forgiveness of humanity in the cross is better able to promote forgiveness in the Christian life than a demand for the good work of forgiveness."

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