Christian Warfare: Galatians 5:1-26

Galatians 5:1 (CSB) — 1 For freedom, Christ set us free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Like prisoners of war, we were all taken captive by sin and set free by Christ through his victory on the cross.

“Freedom”: the term ἐλευθερία (eleutheria), describes “a state of being free” experienced by a person who is no longer enslaved by an oppressive force (Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words, p. 272).

What have we been freed from?

Humanity has been enslaved by the powers of this age (cf. Matt 17:18; Luke 13:16; Eph 6:12; 1 Pet 5:8) and we have been liberated from the manifold powers that oppress true humanity:

  • Sin (John 8:31–36; Rom 6:18–22; 8:2–11)
  • Satan (Matt 12:22; Luke 13:16; Eph 6:12)
  • The law (Rom 7:3–6; 8:3; Gal 2:4; 4:21–31; 5:1–13)
  • Death (Rom 6:20–23; 8:21)
  • Self (Rom 6:6; Eph 4:22; Col 3:9)

The apostle Paul specifically targets “the Law” in this pericope (See Gal. 5:1-6) as the mechanism through which sin reigns (Rom. 7:11), but his targeted intent extends beyond this to what Christ taught:

John 8:31–34 (CSB) — 31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you continue in my word, you really are my disciples. 32 You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 “We are descendants of Abraham,” they answered him, “and we have never been enslaved to anyone. How can you say, ‘You will become free’?” 34 Jesus responded, “Truly I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.

The salvation of Christ is not content to leave souls under the rule of sin, but sets them free from the oppression of sin so that they can live in righteousness:

Romans 6:12–14 (CSB) — 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its desires. 13 And do not offer any parts of it to sin as weapons for unrighteousness. But as those who are alive from the dead, offer yourselves to God, and all the parts of yourselves to God as weapons for righteousness. 14 For sin will not rule over you, because you are not under the law but under grace.

And what is the nature of our freedom?

Our true freedom does not consist of the unfettered power to direct our lives, but in our new life with God lived as it was originally intended by God for us (Rom 6:22; Gal 5:1, 13; 1 Pet 2:16); we are set free from the tyranny of sin and the powers of this age to live life in Christ and the power of righteousness. And we gain this freedom only as we deny ourselves (Matt 16:24).

Therefore, Christ set us free from the oppression of sin and death so that we could be bound to Christ and to one another (1 Cor 9:19; Gal 5:13; 1 Pet 2:16; cf. Paul’s self-designation in Rom 1:1; Phil 1:1).

Galatians 5:13–15 (CSB) — 13 For you were called to be free, brothers and sisters; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out, or you will be consumed by one another.

Paradoxically, those who are free do not belong to themselves (1 Cor 16:19; 9:19; 1 Pet 2:16) but to him who has set them free (Rom 6:18, 22; Gal 5:1).  The gift of freedom is bound to the giver: “All things are yours … and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God” (1 Cor 3:21, 23).

“Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery”: the imperative force of this statement carries forward throughout Paul’s flow of thought:

Galatians 5:16–26 (CSB) — 16 I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will certainly not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I am warning you about these things—as I warned you before—that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

The believer’s war is the fight is between their flesh and the Spirit of God that Christ has caused to dwell within us.  This battle can only be won through the promised Holy Spirit by which we have been sealed in Christ, therefore, we must walk in the Spirit of God.

Paul informs us that our enemy’s weapons are the weapons of the flesh: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar to these.

And Paul informs us that our weapons are the weapons of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Therefore, the believer wins this battle by picking up these weapons and walking in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Who struggles with hate?  Let them walk by faith in love through the Holy Spirit!

Who struggles with depression?  Let them walk by faith in joy through the Holy Spirit!

Who struggles with lust?  Let them walk by faith in self-control through the Holy Spirit!

Believers experience spiritual darkness and oppression when they begin to submit to the works of the flesh in their life.  These weapons are spiritually potent and destructive, and we are called to “resist the Devil” (Jam. 4:7) so that we do not begin to walk in these sins and experience the consequences therein.

Paul’s conclusion, then, is to walk in the Spirit together:

Galatians 5:24–26 (CSB) —24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

 

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