Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. — Galatians 5:1
Liberty is a valuable state that is often obtained initially by hardship and bloodshed, and one that must be defended to be maintained.
“Give me liberty, or give me death!” These words are attributed to Patrick Henry when he was speaking to the Second Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775. Some of those who heard him quoted him as saying, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!”1 The men who heard him were persuaded to pass a resolution to raise a militia in the colony of Virginia. Other colonies had already begun gathering troops, and before long the Revolutionary War began. Henry’s words became the battle cry of those engaged in the efforts for American independence. Later, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “It is not now easy to say what we should have done without Patrick Henry. He was before us all in maintaining the spirit of the Revolution.”2 Henry’s words sparked the action that resulted in political liberty for the people of the United States.
Centuries before Patrick Henry’s time, the Apostle Paul wrote today’s focus verse, which is also a challenge — a spiritual challenge. The purpose of his letter to the Galatians was to help them understand that they could have spiritual liberty by faith in Jesus Christ and a dedication of their lives to Him. Some Jewish proponents of the Law were telling these believers that they must be circumcised and observe other requirements that had been established before Jesus came. Paul told them that doing so would make them slaves of the Law. He wanted them to “stand fast” and maintain their liberty in Christ.
Today, salvation from sin still brings spiritual liberty, but that freedom must be cherished and protected. Liberty is not the license to live in our own ways. Paul urged his readers to live under the guidance of the Spirit of God, which would cause them to serve one another in love. That is the key to spiritual victory. In verse 25 he said, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” The word translated walk is a military expression that means “to march.” If we march spiritually at the direction of the Holy Spirit, we will have true liberty.
Today’s text tells of the liberty in the Gospel and contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit.
Verse 1 provides a summing up of the Apostle Paul’s statements in the previous chapters — if the Galatians chose to follow the Law, making that the basis of their salvation, they would be taking on a “yoke of bondage,” and their liberty in Christ would be ended.
Paul went on to address circumcision in verses 2-12. He indicated that if the Galatian Christians accepted circumcision as an essential step for salvation, it would be necessary for them to keep the whole Law. The consequence would be to disregard what Christ died to offer. In strong language, Paul told them there were not two ways to obtain justification; to accept the Law as the method for salvation was to reject Christ.
Paul stated in verse 6 that salvation comes by “faith which worketh by love.” This would cause a person to do right because of love, rather than trying to do good because of the rules of the Law. The Galatians had been doing well in following God (verse 7) until a few people came in and hindered them with erroneous teachings. Paul believed these new Christians would heed his warning and cling to the way of faith. Those who troubled them would receive judgment.
Beginning with verse 13, Paul provided a description of liberty in Christ. Liberty is not living without restraint, for that would provide an opportunity for the enemy to try to lead a person back into sin. Occasion in verse 13 was a military term that meant “a base of operations.” The protection against the attempts of the enemy was explained to be voluntary submission to one another in love — agape love with concern for the welfare of others. The requirements of the Law are fulfilled by having God’s love exemplified in a Christian’s life.
In verses 16-18, Paul exhorted the Galatians to “walk in the Spirit,” by which he meant that they were to live and act under the control of the Holy Spirit. As a result of walking in the Spirit, they would “not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” The words lust and lusteth in this passage mean “strong desire” and do not necessarily have a moral inference, but rather refer to any human desire. However, a person who is led by the Spirit is spiritually minded and lives to please God, not the flesh.
Beginning at verse 19, the Apostle contrasted the “works of the flesh” and the “fruit of the Spirit.” The first four works of the flesh — adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness — refer to sensual practices. At the time of this writing, all these types of immorality were condoned and openly participated in by many of the nobility, academics, religious leaders, and common people.
The next two — idolatry and witchcraft — relate to religious practices. Idolatry is worshipping something other than God. In Paul’s time it was common for people to worship images as well as the gods symbolized by those images, and often the worship was accompanied by immorality. The word pharmakeia was translated as “witchcraft.” It was the practice of magic including the use of drugs and medicine to deceive and control.
The next eight works of the flesh deal with relationships between people — hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, and envyings. The word hatred could be translated “enmity” and denotes hostility. Variance means strife or contention. Emulations in this text refers to jealousy and a desire to surpass others. Seditions could be translated “divisions” or “dissensions,” and heresies refers to factions or dissenting groups. Envyings indicates ill will or bitterness that would deprive others of good things.
The last three listed are murders, drunkenness, and revellings. In this context, “revellings” refers to carousing or excessive pleasure seeking. The phrase “and such like” indicates that Paul could have listed many other works of the flesh, but these were enough to make the point that these evils would not be in the lives of those who walked in the Spirit.
In contrast, verses 22-23 give the evidence that grows in the lives of those who are controlled by the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit cannot be produced by human power. The first three — love, joy, and peace — are inner characteristics reflecting a person’s relationship with God. The next three — longsuffering, gentleness, and goodness — are qualities related to a believer’s dealings with others. The last three — faith, meekness, and temperance — are inner attitudes. “Meekness” in this text indicates controlled strength, humility, and gentleness. “Temperance” is self-control made possible by the Spirit.
There is no law against having the fruit of the Spirit, and no law can produce it in a life. It comes from living under the control of God’s Spirit.
(Hannah's Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
IV. Paul’s Gospel practiced
A. In liberty (5:1-12)
1. The improper ground of acceptance (5:1-4)
2. The proper ground of acceptance (5:5-6)
3. The problem of the Galatians (5:7-10)
4. The persecution of Paul (5:11-12)
B. In Love (5:13-15)
1. Liberty is not license (5:13)
2. Liberty results in love (5:14)
3. Legalism results in strife (5:15)
C. In the Spirit (5:16-26)
1. The command (5:16)
2. The conflict (5:17-18)
3. The contrast (5:19-23)
4. The conclusion (5:24-26)
Paul’s epistle challenges us today to be controlled by God’s Spirit. If we are, His love will flow through us to others and the fruit of the Spirit will be evident in our lives.
1 Evan Andrews, “Patrick Henry’s ‘Liberty of Death’ Speech” HISTORY, August 22, 2018, https://www.history.com/news/patrick-henrys-liberty-or-death-speech-240-years-ago