The Christian’s Rule of Life – Galatians 5:23-269 min read
“Meekness, temperance – against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.” Galatians 5:23-26
The subject of the Christian’s rule of life is greatly misunderstood by many if not most believers. Some would say we are bound to the moral laws of the Old Testament, just not the civil and ceremonial laws. While there is some merit to saying that we can find absolute principles of God’s nature behind certain commandments, the law (as we will see) in its entirety is done away with as to its bearing on us. Some would say tradition is our rule of life, but this is just false piety based on false religious presuppositions. Some would say Christian Liberty is our rule of life, but often this is misunderstood to mean license rather than true liberty in the Biblical sense. Christian Liberty is our sphere of Christian living, not the rule for it. At the end of several contrasts between spiritual fruit and flesh-based lusts, Paul offers a concise summary as to our rule of life. In this we see why Paul was able to say what he did about spirituality. What basis did he have? And how does this relate to the whole theme of Galatians, that is, freedom from the Law? These are questions that are answered in the last verses of chapter 5.
Principle #1: The Law Cannot Touch It (v. 23)
Galatians is an epistle that surrounds the subject of Liberty in Christ, that is, freedom from the Law in that our standard of living is now sourced in faith and the working of the Spirit. This allows the Law to be fulfilled in us (not by us) on account of the fact that we live in fulfillment of its basic summation: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” This is really what the fruits of the Spirit accomplish, thus giving the Law no grounds to judge us in any way. Thus Paul’s point is proven that the letter of the Law and the leading of the Spirit are incompatible as rules of living. It must be one or the other: “if ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under law.” This was a very important truth for the Jewish community of the first century to grasp, for the law at one point was their tutor and schoolmaster, but only until Christ. Coming to Calvary, the Jew was forced to turn his back on the Law as his rule of life only to see new potential in having “Christ living in me” and living “by the faith of the Son of God Who loved me and gave Himself for me.” We as Gentiles (most of us) were never under the Law, though we did have the work of it written on our hearts (Romans 2:15). Because of that we were accountable to God for our lawlessness, while the Jew was accountable to God for his transgression of the Law which he was given. Yet for both Jew and Gentile in Christ, we have been made into “one new man” as Ephesians puts it, and thus we have been called out of both transgression and lawlessness to walk in the Spirit. And in that, there can be no condemnation when we truly put that into practice. This is Paul’s point when he says “against such [fruits] there is no law.” “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.” While not giving us a rule of life in itself, if we can understand this, it will allow us to grasp more fully the principles to follow.
Principle #2: The Flesh is Positionally Crucified (v. 24)
Verse 24 provides a great summary statement as to the works of the flesh. “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” Picture crucifixion for the average man. He would be marked by helplessness. He would see his ultimate end in sight. He would have been subdued once and for all. This is the picture of how we are to view the flesh. Ours is to see it as judged once and for all as we look forward to a day when, coming into the good of that truth fully, we see the old nature totally banished from our being. When will that be? The rapture, as 1 Corinthians 15 tells us. But what are we to do while living on earth? We are to live in light of a conquered old nature. We have not only “crucified the flesh,” but we have done so “with the passions and lusts.” Thus we now have the power to resist the inclinations of our old nature. We are no longer slaves to sin, for “If the Son shall make you free you shall be free indeed.”
This is vital to grasp in terms of our rule of life. It implies we put to death our members, that is, those things which serve as fuel and means to accomplish the desires of the flesh. It means we “make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof” even though that provision might seem perfectly legitimate. It means we don’t act based on what “feels” right, but rather on our knowledge of Scripture. We cannot live in the good of knowing our old nature is condemned and soon to meet its full end if we are constantly toying with its tendencies. If and since the flesh has been crucified positionally, we are called to live in that victory even now. There is no other way to live a Spiritual life other than bringing the flesh to its knees in a full frontal assault. Be ruthless with it. Be direct with it. Show no mercy.
Principle #3: The Spirit is Our Guide (v. 25)
This principle really hinges on the beginning of our verse: “If we live by the Spirit….” At conversion, the Christian immediately was born of the Spirit of God: “Except a man be born of the water and of the Spirit, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” It was also then that we became temples of God’s Spirit, being indwelt by Him: “The Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” Because of His indwelling, we are also sealed by Him: “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise.” These are three main doctrines that prove our life as believers in the Body of Christ finds a direct link to God’s Holy Spirit. They serve as indisputable support for the statement “We live by the Spirit.” (For the explanation of how this relates to the Law, read Romans 8:1-16.) It is for these reasons of living by the Spirit that we are called to walk by Him. This is our rule of life.
One could ask at this point “So are we just left to ‘sense’ what it is God leads us to do? What is the Spirit’s goal in working through us? What is the real standard?” The answer is given quite nicely by Mr. Darby: “Our rule of life is simple: that life in which Christ as a man displayed the character of God; His love, His holiness, is the rule of life to us, because we have the life which was displayed in it.” Notice that the fruits of the Spirit are all perfectly displayed in Christ. He is the Vine, and it is only reasonable that when we abide in Him we bear fruit that reflects Him. Though we are free from the Law, we are not free from standard. We are not free from absolutes. Rather we are called to the standard made possible by divine life – the standard set by the Perfect Man. “For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Only God Himself can give us the power to fulfill this. This is why we are called to walk by the Spirit. Our calling is not to a rule book, but to a divine Pattern of spiritual life – something the Law could never grant. Thus, in a way our potential is even higher than that which the Law allowed for in terms of righteous living. We have the opportunity to ingrain Scripture’s principles into our minds so that in whatever situation arises we may appropriately respond by the Spirit’s application of that principle. We have the opportunity by studying the life of Christ and his revelation in Scripture to walk the way He did. Evidently it is possible to “Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Col. 3:17).
Principle #4: Godly Christian Fellowship is Honored (v. 26)
This very practical principle serves as an evidence of Christian living according to a proper rule. We cannot be walking in the Spirit as long as we are desiring to exalt ourselves. We cannot be walking in the Spirit as long as we are provoking one another to wrath. We cannot be walking in the Spirit as long as we hold each other in contempt on account of envy. True Christian fellowship in godliness is always the sign of believers living according to a Biblical rule of life. “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.” Let this then be our litmus test as it were. Let us by divine life and power fulfill the Law’s summation: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Even Christ pleased not Himself.” We can claim to be spiritual, but until others are genuinely affected by that reality there is no substance behind the claim.
As we conclude, then, we need to realize something: the Christian profession is not simply a modification to the old way of life. Nor is it simply advanced piety. It is spiritual living – a life finding its true power in God’s Spirit. It is life that goes beyond a rule-book to apply, not only Scripture’s commands, but its principles. It is a life that cannot tolerate the concept of flesh-based desires and standards. It is a radical thing, really. The question is, are we willing to be radical for Christ’s sake?