Paul closes his letter by coming full circle to bring to mind the reason he wrote in the first place. He wanted to set them straight that they didn’t need to be circumcised to be accepted by God. It wasn’t necessary. They were welcomed into God’s family simply by accepting Jesus. When we belong to Jesus, that’s our ticket to eternity, not whether we have followed the letter of law concerning bodily revisions. Many of those pointing their fingers have probably not followed every single law themselves.
Paul’s own words say, “Those who are trying to force you to be circumcised want to look good to others. They don’t want to be persecuted for teaching that the cross of Christ alone can save.” What jumped out at me in that counsel was “want to look good.” How many times have we encountered fellow Christians who are more concerned about looking good to others rather than serving God with a servant’s heart? Ministry can get messy. We can’t be so focused on appearances that we miss out on the message of truth.
Our last reading closed with a couple of those great transition verses. I like 5:25 in particular, “If we are living now by the Holy Spirit, let us follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” That leads beautifully into what Paul is saying in today’s reading. Right off the bat, Paul gives us an example we’re likely to encounter being in relationship with other believers.
We used this passage in our Celebrate Recovery ministry. It was one of our key verses. It is especially true when you help another with “their” issue, how likely it can be you’ll fall prey to that same issue. That doesn’t mean we don’t help each other. That means we help others equipped by knowing we need to stay strong ourselves. After all, we should all be looking for opportunities to “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.”
This may be a passage you want to return to over and over again. It is always great counsel to remember where our power comes from. I love how Paul starts this section. “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.” He uses the powerful word “So,” which we know to be like “Therefore.” It tells us to remember everything that comes before it as if it were restated in its entirety before he gives us new counsel. What are we supposed to do now? Let the Holy Spirit guide us. That sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?
We are exchanging the reality of being chained to the law, and the expectations that come with that affliction, for the freedom of the Holy Spirit’s leading. Paul says, “But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.” Cool. The Spirit is not going to lead us down a path that will be contrary to the law anyway. Since we are sinful creatures, the tendency to sin is inside us. When we let the Holy Spirit guide us, imagine the battle going on inside us between good and evil. The Holy Spirit is definitely stronger. When we rely on our own wisdom, that’s when we make foolish decisions.
The freedom Paul talks about isn’t a commodity you can buy or earn. Freedom isn’t something you get to save for a rainy day. Rather, freedom is a gift from God that increases in value when you use it wisely and can be lost if you misuse or abuse it. This gift is ours because Jesus took on our humanity and sacrificed himself for us.
With all the talk of the law leading up to this short passage, I was surprised that Paul said this. “For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” *emphasis added. While it is true that many of the commandments are focused on acting in ways that show our love for others, he is missing the other part of this. We need to love God with our whole heart as well. When we focus on loving God and others, we are living how God intends for us to live. We are thereby following the “law” because of our best practices in the love department.
You may have noticed that you read verse 5:1 two days in a row. You’re not imagining things. This is one of Paul’s “transition” verses. In some translations, it begins “therefore. In New Living Translation (the one this post links to), it’s “so.” Same idea. What follows in this text is connected in reference to everything that Paul has said in the preceding section. In other words, “in light of what I just said, here’s how to apply it, and why it matters.
“So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.” This doesn’t give us free rein to do whatever we want, because that would put us back in chains. But it is pulling on Paul’s preceding message of what we should be doing to stay free. To stay free, we must trust in Jesus as the way to salvation.