Wednesday: Liberty Not Licentiousness

(Gal. 5:13)

Galatians 5:13 marks an important turning point in the book of Galatians. Whereas up to this point Paul has focused entirely on the theological content of his message, he now turns to the issue of Christian behavior. How should a person who is not saved by works of law live?

What potential misuse of freedom did Paul want to keep the Galatians from committing? Gal. 5:13.

Jesus keeping the devil away as a teenage boy reads the Bible.

Image © Lars Justinen from

Paul was well aware of the potential misunderstanding that accompanied his emphasis on the grace and the freedom that believers have in Christ (Rom. 3:8Rom. 6:1-2). The problem, however, was not Paul’s gospel but the human tendency for self-indulgence. The pages of history are littered with the stories of people, cities, and nations whose corruption and descent into moral chaos were directly related to their lack of self-control. Who hasn’t felt this tendency in his or her own life, as well? That’s why Paul so clearly calls followers of Jesus to avoid indulging in the flesh. In fact, he wants them to do the opposite, which is “through love serve one another” (NKJV). As anyone who serves others out of love knows, this is something that can be done only through death to self, death to the flesh. Those who indulge their own flesh are not the ones who tend to serve others. On the contrary.

Thus, our freedom in Christ is not merely a freedom from the enslavement to the world, but a call to a new type of service, the responsibility to serve others out of love. It is “the opportunity to love the neighbor without hindrance, the possibility of creating human communities based on mutual self-giving rather than the quest for power and status.” — Sam K. Williams, Galatians (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 1997), p. 145.

Because of our familiarity with Christianity and the wording of modern translations of Galatians 5:13, it is easy to overlook the startling power these words would have conveyed to the Galatians. First, the Greek language indicates that the love that motivates this type of service is not ordinary human love — that would be impossible; human love is far too conditional. Paul’s use of the article (the)before the word love in Greek indicates he is referring to “the” divine love that we receive only through the Spirit (Rom. 5:5). The real surprise lies in the fact that the word translated “serve” is the Greek word for “to be enslaved.” Our freedom is not for self-autonomy but for mutual enslavement to one another based on God’s love.

Be honest: have you ever thought you could use the freedom you have in Christ to indulge in a little bit of sin here and there? What’s so bad about that kind of thinking?


Wednesday: Liberty Not Licentiousness — 3 Comments

  1. Today's lesson is still linked to the discussion of the dangers of liberty and legalism. It clearly points out that legalism invariably leads to the sin of licentiousness. Paul reinforces the message contained in Romans 6 that asserts that we're not set free to serve the flesh but rather to serve our Lord and Master Jesus as well as each other in love. What's interesting is that once a child of God experiences this freedom, it then stimulates a desire to love, obey the law of God and gain a better understanding of the Almighty God's will. However, if one is immersed in legalism and licentiousness, then we find ourselves invariably being proud and arrogant as well as embracing self-righteousness. Moreover, it must always be remembered that the liberty Christ grants us, frees us from sin and fills us with the Holy Ghost in order to be lead a Spirit-led life.

    • Bulumko, you make an interesting point when you write that "legalism invariably leads to the sin of licentiousness." Perhaps you are correct - a focus on doing things in order to be saved separates us from the power of God that is given to us through His grace. And there is no limit to how low people will fall when they try to get to heaven on their own goodness.

      Perhaps that is why there appear to be more sexual abuse and the grossest sexual sins among adherents of super strict religionists - whether they be Adventists, other strict Protestant groups, Muslims or any others with apparently strict standards. An outward show of great piety often covers a depth of depravity.

  2. What exactly did the Apostle Paul mean with the words in Romans 6:3 where he says that those who were Baptized into Christ Jesus were "Baptized into His death?" Jesus became SIN and died for ALL SIN. But NO ONE can die for their OWN SIN nor anyone elses' sin. I realize that Baptism is symbolic of dying to THE OLD LIFE OF SIN. But the idea of BAPTISM ALSO BEING A SYMBOL OF BEING BAPTIZED INTO JESUS' DEATH TOO, that one I have trouble understanding?


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