Galatians – Freedom and Love

September 20, 2008

Paul knows that the free gift of Christ is a stumbling block for those who desire a religion of self-justification. He uses excruciatingly strong language against the advocates of such legalism when he says, "I wish those who unsettle you would mutilate themselves!" (Gal 5:12b)

Paul masterfully indicts the Judaizers as law-breakers who are preoccupied with the flesh. His conception of "flesh" speaks not only to one’s sensual desires, but of anything which animates one apart from Christ, anything within a man that fights against the Spirit (cf v 17). True Christian life is a fight to the death against every desire of his flesh; any provision for the flesh is a surrender to the devil and puts one’s soul in grave peril. The Judaizers’ fleshly focus blinds them and their disciples from the freedom of the Christian life that is being "servants of one another" through love (v 13). Citing Leviticus 19, Paul affirms "For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’" (v 14). Moreover, he knows "if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law" (Gal 5:18).

Paul then lists 15 sins, attempting to compile a comprehensive list of the provisions of the flesh, "fornication, impurity, licentiousness [bawdiness], idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit [ecclesial factionalism], envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (v 20-21).

He contrasts these sins with those qualities which the Spirit gives to all disciples of Christ "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law" (v 23). Paul’s focus on the Spirit seeks to clearly contrast it with the system of the law as an end in itself. One must not forget that the righteous man will live by faith and that God has no pleasure in him who begins in the Spirit but turns to his own resources in self-justification (cf Heb 10:37-38).

The powerful statement "And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" serves as both a summary of the Christian life and a warning for Christians to ever remain in Christ (Gal 5:24). A proper focus on Christ crucified does not downplay of the Resurrection; rather, Christ crucified is the proper emblem of our discipleship.

Faith is trust in God and a response to the his grace in Spirit, and Paul asserts " If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another" (v 26-27).

In light of the promise of Christ and the understanding of the Early Church, Catholics are not bread-worshipers, but disciples of our Lord in the Eucharist. Yet, "going through the motions" of the Mass condemns one just as much as does legalism. If Christians have been made for a relationship with the living God, the Mass is the supreme moment of one’s life, the summit of worship and the source of an evident love, joy and peace. Were a Christian to not express love, joy or peace, it is a sign that he never had the life of Christ or that the tares of the word have choked him. Daily prayer and recollection are necessary for all disciples. Periodically, times of deeper prayer are required, and a period of detoxification from the world and one’s own thoughts is often a prerequisite for entering into true prayer.

Music: Franz Schubert’s Sonata in B Flat, D. 960 performed by David H. Porter. www.musopen.com

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