We’ve been working through the book of Galatians this term in part to mark 500 years since the beginning of the Reformation but also because it’s really important that our church understands its truths for their own sake.
We’re coming this Sunday to Galatians 5:13-26 which will drop us right in the middle of Paul’s ethical teaching for the church in which he says the surprising sentence:
“I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
That surprising because after all he’s said about the law and our need not to submit to it as Christians he’s now says that consistent moral failure excludes individuals from entry into the eternal kingdom of God. So which is it? Law or grace?
Well taking the letter as a whole it’s clear that Paul’s point in Galatians is not that the Old Testament law is irrelevant but rather that it is totally ineffective to save or sanctify but instead points forward to Christ who is able to do both those things by grace received through faith. Since Christ has come the law’s acting out and pointing forward role is done away with and its ongoing ethical obligations can be summarised (as they always were, Leviticus 19:18) in the instruction to love one another. Simple enough! But what Paul goes on to point out is that the duty to love one another is only possible in the power of the Spirit who indwells believers and sets them free for that purpose by simultaneously engaging them in a battle with the defeated but still present desires of the flesh.
Why so complicated you say? Surely it’s because as we all know, why you do something changes everything. Moral obedience as a mask for selfish desires might “do” the same thing as a Spirit enabled act of love, but one is genuine the other fake and while in the moment I can’t tell the difference time normally tells and God always knows.