Second Reading: Galatians 5:1, 13-18

Life in the Spirit

Popular Translation

1 Christ freed us to live as free people. So, stand up proudly! Don’t become a slave to sin again!

13 God called you to be free from the Law, brothers and sisters. This is not a freedom to be selfish. But, we are free to serve each other, because we love each other. 14 The entire Law can be summed up in one verse: “Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.” 15 If you use biting words against each other and chew up each other’s reputation, look out! You will be completely eat each other up.

16 So, I tell you this. Walk with God’s Spirit in your life. Don’t give in to your selfishness. 17 For selfishness hates God’s Spirit, and the Spirit hates selfishness. They are enemies. This way, you won’t do every little thing you want to. 18 Remember. If you are led by God’s Spirit, you are free from the Law.

Literal Translation

1 For the (sake of) freedom, CHRIST freed us. Stand (up), then, and do not be held in the yoke of slavery.

13 For you were called into freedom, brothers. (It is) not freedom to the opportunity for the flesh alone, but through love, you become slaves to each other. 14 For the entire Law has been fulfilled in one verse: Love your neighbor as yourself. 15 If you bite each other and eat (each other) up, look out (that) you might not be consumed by each other.

16 I tell (you), walk throughout (life) in the Spirit, and (certainly) do not fulfill the desire of the flesh. 17 For if the flesh desires (that) against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, for these oppose each other, so that you should not do whatever you might want of these (activities). 18 If you are led under the Spirit, you are not under the Law.

5:14 “one verse” is literally “one word.”

“Love your neighbor as yourself” is from Leviticus 19:18. There was considerable agreement in Judaism that this verse did encompass the spirit of the Law in the first century AD.

What does it mean to be free? A lack of enslavement or the prerogative to act? In these verses, Paul tried to answer these question in the light of grace. Grace frees us. But, what does it free us from? What are we to do with this freedom?

Paul’s opponents insisted that conversion to Judaism preceded salvation in Christ. For only Jews could be saved by a Jewish Messiah. And salvation could only be realized in a life faithful to the Law.

Paul rejected this logic. For salvation was universal. Only faith in Christ was required. This meant that God acted beyond the Law, so that people would be free from its duties. They could realize they were acceptable to God through a faith relationship in him. Simply following the rules was not enough for people to justify themselves. They needed to trust God.

Trust in God was a freeing experience. No longer was a believer weighed down by obligation. He or she could act based upon a different interest. But was that interest self-serving (i.e., desires of the flesh)? Or, was that interest that of the Spirit? The question beyond salvation was simple. Whom did the believer live for?

Paul posed these questions in the context of community. Life in the Spirit meant a life of service for others, where their interests were equal to one’s own. When self interest became primary, however, life in the Christian community suffered. Indeed, the backbiting, the gossip and the slander could devour a community, just as Paul’s cannibal analogy implied. Pure self interest and the Spirit opposed each other. For, pure self interest was the root of sin. But, life in the Spirit was self giving, just as Christ gave himself on the cross.

The Law only defines evil. It is not the source of evil. We Christians are free from the Law, but not from the influence of sin. But salvation is far more than freedom from rules and regulations. It is life in God’s Spirit. For with the Spirit, we can see and act in ways that transcend our limited human nature. We can see and act for the good of others. We are free to be for others.

How has life in the Spirit helped you to live for others?