An elderly woman was nearing the end of her life. A pastor visiting the hospital stopped at her bed. He asked her, “Are you ready to meet God? What will you say when you see him?”
She looked at the pastor and held up both her hands. They were lined and worn.
“I am a widow. I have raised five children. Life was hard and I was too busy. I had no time for church or the Bible or anything religious,” she said. “I always did my best for my children. When I get to heaven, I will just hold up my hands. God will look at them and he will understand.”
What would you say to this woman? What would you tell her?
The pastor looked gently at her and said, “Dear woman, you are too late. Far too late.”
She was surprised to hear this. “What do you mean?” she asked.
“Someone else has got there before you. He is already holding up his hands in front of God. God looks only at him.”
She was even more surprised. “What do you mean?” she asked again.
“Don’t trust in your hands for admission to heaven. Put all your trust in his hands.”
This is an example of expecting to get into heaven by works. It is legalism. It is the idea that if we are good enough we will be admitted to heaven. Among those who are not Christian it is comparing themselves to a church-goer and finding that they are just as good at obeying the law. Being a Christian cannot be defined as being kind to cats and old ladies.
That is why in verse two Paul asks the Galatians a pertinent question.
“Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses?” (Galatians 3:2)
We should respect the rules of the church, but obeying these rules is not how we get to heaven. There are only four steps into the church – repent, believe, baptism, receive the Holy Spirit. All other steps, rules or regulations are steps in the church toward sanctification.
There are some people who believe that if a non-believer commits adultery it will take them straight to hell, but if a Christian commits adultery it is acceptable.
They believe in license, which means that once you are saved some kinds of sins are excused. They say that you may lose some blessing, but not your ticket to heaven.
Paul is concerned in Galatians to make to points to his readers. He is urging them to beware the equal and opposite dangers of legalism and licence. That is the main thrust of his letter.
He is writing to a church where people have become confused by conflicting messages. They are being told that the gospel is not enough. They need more. This is the same mistake that cults make. The Christian cults add something to the Bible. They have a new improved revelation. They have a person with a direct message from God.
These false preachers say the have more truth than is in the Bible. They demand the people turn to them. Paul says the good news is all you need.
Salvation is the question at the heart of this letter. Some people are telling the Galatians they need to do something to be saved. Others are saying faith alone can save them, and if they have faith they can do anything they like.
Paul has to answer both these errors.
Galatians 5:13 – “But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.”
In this one verse Paul uses the word freedom twice. In his letter he repeatedly talks about freedom. And he says it is a freedom that must be used to serve each other.
Works plus faith says a Christian has to obey six of the Ten Commandments and then have faith that God will forgive you for breaking the other four. Faith plus works says that we must start with faith and then you must keep the law.
Paul is talking about freedom from the law.
There are three men standing on a rock in the sea. They have not noticed the tide come in and are stranded. The rock is about to be covered by the sea and they will drown. Safety is just a few meters away. The first man jumps. He gets only one-third of the way and drowns. The second man jumps. He gets two-thirds of the way and drowns. The last man jumps. He jumps really far and almost makes it. He is just inches away. He falls in the rough water and drowns.
This is the curse of the law. All the way, or you die.
Getting to heaven this way is impossible for us.
Jesus sets us free from the need to jump. Jesus rescues us from the rock.
Being set free does not mean we can do whatever we want. Liberty is not doing what others tell us to do. Liberty, true freedom, is allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us.
Galatians 5:22 – “the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”
We have freedom when we have a relationship with Jesus. Anything you do that damages that relationship is sin.
A non-Christian who lives a good life doesn’t have this relationship. However far he jumps, he can never jump far enough to be safe.
Galatians 4:5 – “God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.”
We are not trying to keep the law, we are God’s very own children.
As we work on this relationship with our father, we have the Holy Spirit producing fruit in our lives.
David Pawson says that the first three flavours of fruit – love, joy and peace – bring us into harmony with God. David says there is only one fruit with different flavours.
The second three – patience, kindness and goodness – bring us into harmony with other people. The final three – faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – bring us into a good relationship with ourselves.
You may find some of these flavours in non-believers because God made us in his image, but never all of them. As we allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit, the fruit grows.
Galatians 5:16 – “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.”
Galatians 5:25 – “Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.”
True freedom is to walk in harmony with God. True liberty is to live a life that is constantly guided by the Holy Spirit. That life is a life free of sin and free of law.
Paul is calling us all to turn directly to God. He is telling us to accept God’s gift in faith and live in perpetual relationship with him.
It is a narrow path of freedom to walk between legalism and license. Walking straight on this narrow path we are free to not sin. We are free to be bold. But only as we walk in the spirit.
To walk in any other way is to walk back into sin and turn our backs on salvation.