Galatians 5:13-18


galatians-mclellanCommentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

A series of studies in Galatians by pastor Murray McClellan. It is our prayer that you are blessed through his labors in God’s Word.


Galatians 5:13-18

For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this:  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!

I say then:  Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.  For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh;  and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 

Paul has been proclaiming that a sinner, whether he be Jew or Gentile, can be justified before God by faith in Christ alone.  Through the redemption secured by Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross, believers have been liberated from the law and its condemnation.  Saints, in Christ we are declared righteous and are treated as such, apart from the law.  The law did play an important role in history.  It was a tutor to point to and drive enslaved sinners to Christ.  However, the people of God are no longer under its custody, for we have entered into our full inheritance as sons.  We have “been called” into a state of “liberty.”

The “brethren” have not been called by Paul, but by God Himself.  We are not just called out of the kingdom of darkness, but we are call into the kingdom of light!  This is our liberty from sin and our bondage to it, as Paul goes on to emphasize clearly.

 only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this:  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (v. 13b-14)

Our liberty is not to serve the flesh, for that was our old bondage.  People who are still bound in their sins and iniquity want the freedom to do as they please – fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.  However, this is not true freedom.  In fact, Jesus says it is bondage.   He said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.”  (John 8:34)  When Christ makes us free, we are free indeed from the law, and free from the enslavement to sin.  We are free from the tyranny of the flesh – our old man  (John 8:35-36).

Peter describes our calling in 1 Peter 2:15-16, as a calling to do good “- as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.”   Jude speaks of condemned and ungodly men who act this way; “who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (Jude 4)  To use “liberty” this way is to deny the Lord Jesus Christ who gives freedom from sin, not freedom to sin.  “For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.”  (1 Thess. 4:7)   The prodigal son learned the hard way that the freedom of sonship is not to fulfill the lusts of the flesh freely – for that just leads to slavery with the swine.   Let us who have put on Christ, make no provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts.  Even now, we remember the empty husks and fleeting pleasures of those things of which we are now ashamed.  In the New Covenant, the Spirit of God has been poured out upon us and we have had a new birth.  This is what makes this liberty work.   We who have spiritual life, desire to abide in the Vine, that we might bring forth fruits of righteousness for the glory of our King!

Exodus 21:2-6 is a great picture of a “free” slave who loves his master.   My ear is pierced by the Master that I desire to serve forever!  “But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life” (Rom. 6:22).

Freedom in Christ moves us to an even higher plane than just saying, “no” to the flesh.  It frees us to “serve one another” in love.  Truly serving other people in love is not from the “flesh” (the sinful inclination of fallen mankind).   Such love is the love of our Lord (see Phil. 2:3-11), who “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:28)   Let us follow our Lord in this.  Over and over He has given us an example that we should do as He has done.  Let us follow our Good Shepherd and walk as He has walked.

Who is it who can love like this?  Only one who is truly satisfied, no longer strives to get or to be served.  One who lacks, seeks to fill that lack and is focused upon his own needs.  This is why natural man is out for himself.  His needs can never be satisfied in this world.  He continues to strive for that ultimate satisfaction that never comes.  The world and its pleasures are fleeting.  The thirsty soul, that drinks from broken cisterns, soon thirsts again, and eventually the well ends up dry.   Only our Lord Himself truly satisfies.  He is the fountain of living waters (Jer. 2:13).   Jesus is the source of living water.  He is the bread of life that alone satisfies.

Ho!  Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy?   Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance.  Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you.  (Isa. 55:1-3a)

The Lord cries out in Ps. 81, “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.  But My people would not heed My voice, and Israel would have none of Me … I would have satisfied you”  (Ps. 81:10-16).   His sheep hear His voice, knowing that “happy are the people whose God is the Lord!” (Ps. 144:15).

When you are fully satisfied in and by our gracious God Himself through Jesus Christ, what do you need?  You are loved infinitely and eternally as a son.  You are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ.  Out of this fullness, we can truly begin to focus on the needs of others – thus serving them in love.  Saints, meditate on the precepts of our Lord.  Delight yourself in His amazing grace towards you.  He has set His love upon you and nothing can ever separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  The kisses of His mouth are sweet.  His lovingkindness is better than life!  My Beloved is mine and I am His!

It is out of such fullness that we can give, without a motive to get.  May our love abound to one another and to all.    This is our New Covenant law – love.  It is put in our hearts by the Spirit, who is molding us into the image of the Beloved Son of God.  No longer is the law of God’s people on tablets of stone.  It would have been on hearts of stone, but the Spirit took care of that, too!   He is given us a heart that is spiritually alive.   Thus, this royal law of Christ is written on hearts.   The Spirit has given us a love for God that spills out in a love for our neighbor.

Who is our neighbor?  The parable of the good Samaritan gives the answer.  Your neighbor is anyone in need whose life path has crossed your own.

 But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! (v. 15)

Verse 15 describes what wild animals do when they are hungry and not full or content – they bite at one another.   How different from the one satisfied in Christ, who is thus enabled to love – to give.

We are to seek the happiness of others with the same zeal that we seek our own.  This goes so against human nature.  That is why Paul tells us to walk by the Spirit.

 I say then:  Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.  For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh;  and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (v. 16-18)

We do not need the law covenant for our sanctification, for we have the Spirit of God, who, through the Word of truth, guides us in the Father’s will.  The Spirit is the source of all holy living.  Therefore, let us resist sin and present our members as instruments of righteousness to God.  Let us not grow weary, nor lose heart, but let us fight the good fight, for this verse promises us victory!  Let us take up the cross daily, forsaking all.  Now that is freedom from fear and our own selfish desire!   We are under the covenant where God has given us His Spirit, according to His promise.  There will be a fight, but keep walking.  Walk by ordering your life in accordance with the Spirit-given and Spirit-illumined Word.  To walk in the Spirit is to be a doer of the Word, not merely a hearer.  It is walking by faith (See Gal. 3:5 and Gal. 2:20).

The Spirit is contrary to the flesh.  Walking in the Spirit is opposite to the mode of thinking and feeling which is natural to a man.  Believers are born again and thus we are spiritual men, who desire to walk in the Spirit to glorify our Lord.  Yet, it is no easy attainment.  We must fight.

For example, when hit with unprovoked ill-treatment from a fellow man, one’s flesh can quickly respond with resentment and desires for revenge.  However, his new mode of thinking and feeling opposes this.  Remembering how God, for Christ’s sake, forgave him all his trespasses, he is made (in opposition to the lusts of his flesh) to forgive him his trespasses.  This is the Spirit lusting against the flesh.

These two ways of “walking” and thinking are opposed to one another.  One is occupied with things seen and temporary, the other with things unseen and eternal.  (2 Cor. 4:18)  The flesh seeks its own; the Spirit seeks the things of God.  One is mindful of the things of men; the other is mindful of the things of God (Matt. 16:23).  “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Rom. 13:14;  see also 1 Cor. 9:24-27).

The law does not empower you to overcome the desires of the flesh.  The Spirit – and the liberating truth of sonship – provides motivation against sin.  It is the grace that God has freed us; it is the love of God poured out in our hearts by the Spirit, whereby we cry out, “Abba, Father,” that moves us with a strong desire to please our heavenly Father.

Does my Master speak?  My pierced ear (Ex. 21:2-6) hears His voice.  I must walk in His ways.  Why?  Because I have to?  No, because I want to!  It is He who sought me when I was lost.  It is He who found me lying in my blood.  No other eye pitied me to have compassion on me.  I was thrown into the open field where I loathed the day I was born.  But the Good Shepherd did not pass me by.  He said to me, through His own blood, “Live!”  He washed me and anointed me with oil.  He covered my nakedness with His own robe.  He entered into covenant with me and I became His(Ezek. 16:1-14)!

O, you that are in Christ, prize Him!  Let us walk in the Spirit.  O, that is freedom!

~ Murray

Murray McLellan

Murray is the lead church planter and Bible teacher at Grace Fellowship Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. He and his wife Cheryl have labored in the Gospel for many years despite the many discouragements along the way. Our brother is associated with “InDepth Studies”, the Acts 29 network of church planters, and more recently the uniquely Canadian C2C church planting network. In new covenant circles Murray is a long time contributor to new covenant thought and discussion.