Today: [Galatians 5:] The Poisonous Influence of Religious Legalism: In ch. 5 of Galatians Paul calls on the Galatians to defend their liberty in Christ. There is always going to be some influence in our lives seeking to impose some religious expectation on us. Paul warns us that adopting a performance-based approach to God nullifies the grace of God in our life.
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[Gal 5:1-13 KJV] 1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. 2 Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. 3 For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. 4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. 5 For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. 6 For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love. 7 Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? 8 This persuasion [cometh] not of him that calleth you. 9 A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be. 11 And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased. 12 I would they were even cut off which trouble you. 13 For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only [use] not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.

In dealing with manipulative teachings by Jewish believers from Jerusalem, Paul exhorts the Galatians to defend their liberty in Christ by refusing to become entangled in legalistic religious expectations. Because of widespread and popular doctrines calling upon the Galatians to submit to Moses’ law many were being circumcised. Paul declares that the practice of circumcision nullified the work of Christ in their lives and would profit them nothing. If they choose to be circumcised Paul statement is that they then are a debtor to do the whole law.

Here is what we need to understand about a performance-based approach to God. You cannot approach this kind of thinking piecemeal. If we take one statute from Moses law and impose it upon ourselves or others, we are then obligated to submit to the condemnation of every single command and thereby utterly condemn ourselves before God. If we believe that God accepts us or moves in our lives because of who we are or what we do Paul tells us we are fallen from grace. 1 Cor. 1:30-31 tells us that Christ is our righteousness, our sanctification, and our redemption. Our actions do not make us righteous. Our sanctification does not arise from our doctrine or our conduct. Our righteousness and our sanctification and redemption are expressed and encapsulated in the person of Christ. It is who He is and what He did 2000 years ago that gives us standing before God and nothing else other than the faith that connects us to that provision and activates it in our lives.

In Christ (v. 6) circumcision (performance-based religion or approach to God) nor uncircumcision (abandonment of all standards of morality) avail us anything before God. The only thing we bring to God in hopes of accessing the merits of the work of the cross is faith. Many people would say “well I have done this, but my life still suffers…” The reason for this is that it is “faith that works by love…” If faith is not producing the merits of Calvary in your situation check up on your love life. Many cry out for God to move in their life but deny others the same privilege. Mark this down in your mind that God will only move in your life to the degree you are willing for Him to make Himself known in the life of your worst enemy. The blessing that you would deny them you have estranged yourself from because faith only works by love.

Paul laments the legalistic doctrines and performance-based ecclesiology of the Galatians (v. 7) saying that they began well in running the Christian race therefore how have they become so hindered in not obeying the truth? The truth for us is a PERSON (Jesus) not a doctrine or a creed. Creeds do not save us. Doctrines do not reconcile us to God. When we overemphasize these things, they become a leavening influence that will completely contaminate our walk with God and nullify the sustaining grace of God given so freely to us at the beginning of our Christian experience. Paul’s command (v. 13) is that we have been called to liberty in Christ. Not liberty to justify the ungodly habits of life or sinful indulgence but the freedom to express the love of God toward us by serving one another and not condemning one another based on a subset of moralizing standards that none can live up to in any way.

[Gal 5:14-26 KJV]
14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, [even] in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 15 But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. 16 [This] I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. 18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are [these]; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told [you] in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. 24 And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 26 Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.

In v. 14 Paul declares that the law is fulfilled in one word that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. Righteousness before God is not appropriated by what we believe nor is our walk with God validated by spiritual experiences such as speaking in tongues or any such thing. Our walk with God and our station in Christ is authenticated in our love one for another. If we bite and devour one another (v. 15) take heed (Paul says) that we are not consumed one of another. There is an observation that Christians eat their young and slay their wounded and it is not far from the truth. Men and women of God who stand in leadership often will not show weakness nor disclose infirmity because they know their constituency. If they demonstrate anything other than absolute perfection they will be torn to shreds by the Christian community. These things ought not to be, but sadly they are a very unfortunate reality. What is to be our response? We cannot change how others think or feel, but we can choose in our hearts to be a part of the solution and not part of the problem.

In v. 16 Paul says we are to walk in the Spirit thereby we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh. Walking in the Spirit is God’s alternative to keeping the law or living according to imposed religious expectations arising from Christian culture. We are not called to adhere to peer pressure or the demands of a harsh pulpit. We are called instead to the inward yielding to the voice of God day by day that arises from His voice speaking over our shoulder in every social transaction saying “this is the way walk ye in it…” This is why we must teach our people to know and to heed the voice of God in their own life. The only way to come out from under law is not by going our own way but by yielding to the Spirit of God resonating in our own heart by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost.

What are the works of the flesh? Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness (shameless lack of restraint), idolatry, witchcraft (human manipulation in all forms), variance (argumentativeness), emulations (defensiveness), wrath, strife, sedition, heresies (opinionated to the point of division), envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings (carousing), etc. Usually, these things including witcraft are called spirits or demons, but the scriptures say they are not demons they are of human origination. You can rebuke witchcraft all you want, and the demons sit back and laugh at us because we are accusing them of what arises from the unsanctified human character as all of these things listed also arise from. All of these things listed alienate us from the righteousness, peace, and joy of the kingdom. If you do not see the merits and graces of the kingdom manifest in your life here is the laundry list you should consult to find what hinders you (if you are capable of the transparency of conscience to identify these in yourself that we so readily mark in the lives of others).

What is the fruit of the Spirit? Love, joy, peace, longsuffering (tolerance), gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. Against these, there is no law. These are the character traits and attributes of the Spirit’s working that (v. 24) crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit (Paul says in v. 25) let us also walk in the Spirit. How do we walk? We walk by progressing by steps. What are the steps? Away from the works of the flesh and embracing and implementing yieldedness to the fruits of the Spirit in our character and in every social transaction, not desirous of vainglory or drawing attention to ourselves, not provoking one another or envying one another.

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