I used to love Galatians 5 because it was a list.
I love lists. Rows of things I can check off; is there anything better? I get a warm fuzzy with each accomplishment. I’m energized by crossing off completed tasks and singing to myself, “Done.” The end of Galatians 5 was music to my ears,
Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these…
Sorcery. Never practiced. Cross it off.
Drunkenness. Not a problem. Cross it off.
Enmites. Don’t know what that means. Cross it off.
Feels good doesn’t it?
Immorality. Dang it!
This was one I attacked with a fury in college. For example, while walking through the mall, as my friend and I passed the Victoria Secret store we would look down and comment on our shoes. I can still hear him in my head saying, “I’m wearing fantastic shoes today. They are blue. How do you like my blue shoes? These are the shoes of a super hero!”
Paul doesn’t just give us a “stop doing list” though; because he loves list makers like me there is a good list as well.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law…
Oh the ecstasy! What joy! What excitement! Two lists in one passage!
So much to do. So many rules to create. Lists beget lists you know. I can’t just say, “Be joyful.” How? When? Where? Rules must be created to dictate how one is to be joyful when bad things happen. Slogans must be written to remind one to be joyful so one does not forget.
And joy is just one of nine. There are eight more to go!
Last Monday night I was sitting with the Thingy and we were kicking around this passage when something new occurred to me.
The problem with lists is that they quickly drift into legalism. I am absolutely guilty of this. I love to make lists and then take them way to far so that they become oppressive rituals and rules that I struggle to follow.
Here is the really ironic thing. If we back up from the lists and read the whole passage we would see that these lists are the conclusion of a large discussion focused on rejecting legalism and living in freedom from religion defined by rituals and rules. Look at some of the things Paul says earlier:
It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.
What is the yoke of slavery? Religious rituals and rules that squish grace with their legalism.
For you were called to freedom brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is in one word, in the statement “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
That is incredibly powerful. Not only does Paul stress that we are free from rituals and rules, he goes on to quote Jesus…but did you notice how he shortened what Jesus said?
Jesus was asked by a lawyer to summarize the Law and He responded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.” Paul here took Jesus’ quote and shortened it to simply the last phrase. That move had to be intentional. Paul was saying, “Listen, focus on loving others and all else falls into place.”
This is it. The only ritual and rule Christ followers need to be focused on. Love one another.
Next Paul stated…
But I say, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh…But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.
Then come the lists. So this life of loving others is empowered and led by the Spirit; thus walking with the Spirit will keep us focused on loving others and protect us from falling into legalism.
Here is something else I noticed. Did you catch what Paul called the good list? Fruit. Paul called it the “fruit of the Spirit.” Fruit is what is produced when we focus in freedom on loving others. Love, joy, peace, patience, and so on are the product of our walking in the Spirit. They should not be rituals and rules we follow.
Isn’t it crazy how we can take a passage intended to set us free from rituals and rules and make it into legalism?
It is not that rituals and rules are bad (I’ve talked about this in other posts in detail). The problem is they quickly drift from being tools we pick up and put down to Laws that dictate our lives.
I hope this is encouraging to you today.
Be free! Go and love!