6.11 Galatians -- The Temptation of Religiosity
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery (Gal 5:1).
I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace (Gal 5:3-4).
There is to be no compromise, no negotiation with the legalists. It is "Either/Or." In this case, the "or" is:
But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope....The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love (Gal 5:5-6).
It is extremely hard to win against hyper-religionists, because they make it sound like Paul is advocating sin. His opponents can point the finger at him: "What? No feast days? You eat meat? You don't honor the Sabbath? You even ban circumcision! What kind of Gospel is this? You are profaning the Messiah that you claim to worship!"
This battle is fought every generation and in every culture. Pity the poor parishioner who is seen drinking beer or wine in a restaurant, or the church member who lights up a cigarette in the church parking lot after service. Each generation eagerly seeks the "signs of election" in their brothers, and where they are absent, judgment follows swiftly: "Carnal Christian, backslider."
But for Paul, the only "sign" of salvation is "faith expressing itself through love," and how do you measure that? Paul's answer -- freedom and service:
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Gal 5:13-14).
It is so much easier to have a list of acceptable and "rejectable" behaviors. Such a list is the essence, not only of the Old Testament Law, but of legalism as a way of life. But the Gospel, as Paul lived it, was the opportunity to live in a different dimension entirely. It meant death to the old mindset, a mindset that Paul had been raised in. God is not a bean-counter, he is saying, keeping track of every word and deed, positive and negative, and weighing the balance. Instead,
live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature....But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law (Gal 5:16-18).