One of the worst sermons I ever listened to started with a glorious exposition on the grace of God from Romans 6. It ended with the application point that we must still obey the ten commandments to be a good Christian. In the final ten minutes the preacher undid all the grace he had taught before. That is the kind of silliness Paul was constantly dealing with in his letters to churches. The “foolish Galatians” (Gal 3:1) had been bewitched by false teachers coming in. They were being taught that non-Jewish Christians need to submit to the law to go on with God. In particular they were being urged to get circumcised.
Paul argues that if we begin to put ourselves under the Old Testament Law then we find that we have to keep the whole Law (verse 3). All 2,000 commands in the books of Old Testament law. In doing so we are rejecting Christ – looking to be justified by the law instead of God’s grace.
People often talk about moral failure as “falling from grace” – NO! Falling from grace is going back to the law (verse 5). When you sin, you fall in grace, not out of it!
Next Paul shows us that legalistic teaching is like yeast that spreads through the dough. I love making bread and am constantly amazed how a small amount of yeast can make flour and water double in size so quickly. Their teaching is spreading like yeast or cancer. Paul wants the circumcisers to go the whole way and emasculate themselves! That’s rough language he is using and deliberately so, because of course there is a prohibition in the Old Testament law for the emasculated to enter the Temple – the place of God’s presence (Deuteronomy 23:1). Paul is arguing that the legalists lose everything! They can’t fully obey the law they are putting people under and are therefore cursed.
You are free in Christ! Free from having to obey the law to earn God’s forgiveness and favour. Paul urges us to use our freedom well – not to sin, but to serve one another through love. That fulfills all the Old Testament law! Interestingly Paul reduces the 2,000 Old Testament laws to love your neighbour. Why that one and not Love God? Surely loving God would lead to everything else? Well we can fool ourselves we are loving God – we can enjoy a worship time and think we love God and then go home and argue with your wife. We can’t pretend loving people! That is evident very quickly! So Paul grabs that one – and then argues we can only do that walking in the the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit takes us to a far higher standard than the Old Testament law! There is almost nothing in the law about quarrelling, biting and devouring one another. The law deals little with desires. That’s why Jesus takes the sin of adultery and adds thinking about adultery, calling it “adultery of the heart”. Legalists are heavy on those “big guns” like adultery, but not so focused on sins like jealousy, gossip and so on.
Paul doesn’t take us back to the law to encourage holiness, he tells us we have the Holy Spirit! We walk by the Spirit. When we walk by the Spirit we will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Our Spirit empowered obedience is way higher than the Law anyway.
Paul connects our desires to sin to our flesh. Our fleshly desires are against the Spirit. Walking in the Spirit is opposing fleshly desires to sin. The Spirit and his leadership is thus so much more fruitful for holiness than obeying the law.
Then Paul gives a list of the kinds of things that are fleshly desires – sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.
Finally as we have learnt recently in our “Getting fruity” series – the Spirit grows fruit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
When we keep in step with the Spirit, asking him to fill us daily afresh and obeying what He says – we will fulfill the whole law by acting in a loving way to those around us (v13). The point is that sin is not loving. For example adultery is not loving. So when we walk in the Spirit and love people we are doing what the Lord wants and going way beyond the Old Testament law!