The Fruit of License - Part 1 (series Lessons on Galatians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

December 23, 2013

The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians
Tom Lowe

Chapter IV.B.1: The Fruit of License (5:13-21)
Galatians 5:13-21 (KJV)
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.
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 fulfill 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.

Commentary

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.

For brethren, ye have been called unto liberty.
The apostle calls them "brethren," perhaps to signal his affection for them, and to remind them of the bond they have with one another, which required mutual love, a thing he is about to urge them to express to other Christians. He declares that they were "called" not only externally, but internally, by the effectual grace of God; out of bondage to sin, Satan, and the law, unto the liberty of the Gospel and of the grace of God; that liberty with which Christ had made them free—“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1)—he said this out of love, and for their sakes.

The liberty Paul his in view is freedom from Jewish rites and ceremonies—“But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?” (Galatians 4:9). The meaning here is that Paul wished the false teachers could be removed because true Christians had been called unto liberty, and they were curtailing and destroying that liberty. They were not in subjection to the Law of Moses, or to anything else that savored of bondage. Christians were free; free from the servitude of sin, and free from subjection to expensive and burdensome rites and customs. They were to remember this as a great and established principle; and it was such a vital truth, and it was so important for it to be maintained, and forgetting it was such a great evil, that Paul says he earnestly wishes that all who would reduce them to that state of servitude were cut off from the Christian church—“As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” (Gal. 5:12).

There was a strong tendency in all converts from paganism to lapse back into their former habits. Immorality abounded, and where they had been addicted to it before their conversion, and where they were surrounded by it on every hand, they were in constant danger of falling into it again. A bare and naked declaration, therefore, that they had been called to liberty, to freedom from restraint, might have been misunderstood, and some might have supposed that they were free from all restraints.
It is necessary to guard the doctrine from abuse at all times. There has been a strong tendency, as the history of the church has shown, to abuse the doctrine of grace. The doctrine that Christians are "free;" that they have liberty from restraint, has always been perverted by Antinomians Those who believe that under the gospel dispensation of grace the moral law is of no use or obligation because faith alone is necessary to salvation., and been made the occasion of their indulging freely in sin. And the result has shown that nothing was more important than to guard the doctrine of Christian liberty, and to show exactly what Christians are freed from, and what laws are still binding on them. Paul, therefore, is taking great pains to show that the doctrines which he had maintained did not lead to shameless immorality, and did not allow the indulgence of sinful and corrupt desires.


Only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh.
The word “flesh” is suggestive. For some people it implies sexuality. For others, the word seems to indicate the seat of sin (corrupt and gross passions and affections) in human nature, in contrast to the seat of good in the spiritual aspect of our makeup. For our purposes, the latter and broader meaning applies.

I have heard it said that the most pitiful and tragic words ever spoken are “Without Christ.” Why? You may ask. It is because they have a corrupt nature and will never be admitted into

the heavenly realm; but while they are in the world they take encouragement from, and make an evil use of the best of things, such as the mercy and patience of God; and they do it under the influence and at the instigation of Satan. They use the things of God for vile purposes by perverting the Law, the Gospel, and the doctrines of the Christian faith, such as that of election and free will. They are prone to sin, and Satan is watching for an opportunity to take advantage of them; consequently, there is the need for a caution such as this; that they do not misuse their Christian liberty by indulging the flesh and the lusts of it. Followers of Christ, though free men, should not do such a thing, since indulging the flesh is to disgrace the doctrine of Christian liberty. There are many ways in which the doctrine of Christian liberty may be abused, but I will list only a few of them:
1. A person may think he is exempt from obeying civil laws. For example, I rode with a pastor who exceeded the speed limit and refused to use his seat belt. A Christian is not free to disobey man’s law any more than he is free to disobey God’s laws since that would give the enemy an occasion to criticize the character of professing Christians.

2. Likewise, a person is not free from obedience to the law of God. We are not at liberty to decide which commands we will follow and which we can ignore since this could become a stumblingblock to weak Christians.

3. Also, we are not free to abuse God’s creatures, or to use the gifts of God without expressing thankfulness, or to say hurtful things, or to listen to vile jokes, or to pass along a rumor, and so forth.

Friend, do not give the flesh an excuse (occasion) for its indulgence in sin, which it eagerly seeks for—“But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire . . .” (Rom. 7:8); do not let the flesh make Christian "liberty" its excuse for indulging in sin (see Gal. 5:16, 17; 1 Pe 2:16; 2 Pe 2:19; Jude 4).
But by love serve one another.

Love is expressed by service to others; Gospel liberty and the service of the saints are not at all inconsistent. Christians should show their love by their service: by praying with and for each other; by bearing each other's burdens; by sympathizing and interacting with each other in both nonspiritual and spiritual things; by being patient with and forgiving one another; by admonishing each other when there is an occasion for it, but doing it in a meek, tender, and brotherly way; by instructing and building up one another, principally in the holy faith; and by encouraging one another to perform all the duties of religion, both private and public.

The view expressed here is that through love we are to be in bondage to one another; that is, let love make you bondservants to one another. Serving others becomes easier, when we do it like we were serving the Lord—“With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men” (Ephesians 6:7). It was our Lord who set the pattern for service that we are to follow. Jesus told His disciples, “For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). He had just finished washing their feet, when he sat down with them and spoke of humility and service, and challenged them to follow His example. His entire earthly life was devoted to serving man, which is what led Paul to write, “But He made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7). Can you even imagine the great love that our Lord has for us, that He would leave heaven’s glory to come here as a servant, and then suffer and die for our sins? The mere thought of it overwhelms me. Jesus’ example was grandly imitated by the apostle himself—“For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might, by all means, save some” (1 Corinthians 9:19-22)—who in outward things habitually sacrificed the pride of self-reliance, self-esteem, and the pride of apparent self-sufficiency, in his devotion to the spiritual welfare of men. They were not to feel that they were so free that they might lawfully indulge the desires of the flesh, but they were to regard themselves as under the law to love one another, and thus they would fulfill the law of Christian freedom. He here preaches just what he himself practiced.

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