A Commentary by John Stott
Galatians 5:14. 3). Christian freedom is not freedom to disregard the law.
*For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’* We must notice carefully what the apostle writes. He does not say, as some of the ‘new moralists, are saying, that if we love one another we can safely *break* the law in the interests of love, but that if we love one another we shall *fulfil* the Law, because the whole law is summed up in one command, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’
What is the Christian’s relation to the law? The so-called ‘new morality’ forces the question upon us with some urgency. It is quite true that Paul says to us, if we are Christians, that we have been set free from the law, that we are no longer under the law and that we must not submit again to the ‘yoke of slavery’ which is the law (verse 1). But we must take pains to grasp what he means by these expressions. Our Christian freedom from the law which he emphasizes concerns our relationship to God. It means that our acceptance depends not on our obedience to the law’s demands, but on faith in Jesus Christ who bore the curse of the law when he died. It certainly does not mean that we are free to disregard or disobey the law.
On the contrary, although we cannot gain acceptance by keeping the law, yet once we have been accepted we shall keep the law out of love for Him who has accepted us and has given us His Spirit to enable us to keep it. In New Testament terminology, although our justification depends not on the law but on Christ crucified, yet our sanctification consists in the fulfilment of the law. Cf. Romans 8:3,4.
Moreover, if we love one another as well as God, we shall find that we do obey His law because the whole law of God – at least the second table of the law touching our duty to our neighbour – is fulfilled in this one point: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’, and murder, adultery, stealing, covetousness and false witness are all infringements of this law of love. Paul says the same thing in 6:2: ‘Bear one anther’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.’
This paragraph speaks relevantly to the contemporary situation in the world and the church, especially regarding the fashionable ‘new morality’ and the modern rejection of authority. It is concerned with the relationship between liberty, licence, law and love.
It tells us at the outset that we are ‘called to freedom’, the freedom which is peace with God, the cleansing of our guilty conscience through faith in Christ crucified, the unutterable joy of forgiveness, acceptance, access and sonship, the experience of mercy without merit.
It goes on to describe how this liberty from systems of merit expresses itself in our duty to ourselves, our neighbour and our God. It is freedom not to indulge the flesh, but to control the flesh; freedom not to exploit our neighbour, but to serve our neighbour; freedom not to disregard the law, but to fulfil the law. Everyone who has truly been set free by Jesus Christ expresses his liberty in these three ways, first in self-control, next in loving service of his neighbour, and thirdly in obedience to the law of his God.
This is the freedom with which ‘Christ has set us free’ (verse 1) and to which we ‘were called’ (verse 13). We are to stand firm in it, neither lapsing into slavery on the one hand, not falling into licence on the other.
Tomorrow: Galatians 5:16-25. The flesh and the Spirit.