Galatians 5:1-15

Galatians - Legalism or Licence

Galatians 5:1-15
There are certain verses in scripture that I believe I know so well that I don’t need to look them up. I thought Galatians 5:1 was one of those verses. I have sung it, quoted it in sermons and prayed it in prayer meetings. It rolls off the tongue – “It was for freedom that Christ has set us free!”  Firstly I know that is not the whole verse – it goes on to say Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. But that is not my point, my point is this – I have remembered it wrong. You see I learnt the verse, or thought I had learnt the verse, from the NIV translation. In the NIV (New International Version) it actually says – “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free”

You might not think that is significant, but I think it is. I had understood the verse as meaning that the past action of Christ on the cross has set me free in the past. Now whilst it is totally true that Paul wants us to know that it is the past activity of Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension that has broken the power of sin in my life and justified me before the Father. He also wants his readers to know that their freedom is a present reality. We are meant to live lives of freedom in the here and now of daily life. What Christ has achieved once and for all in the past (hence Paul’s use of the aorist tense) we are meant to joyfully live out our freedom looking forward not looking back.

This is one of the many reasons that Paul cannot understand the Galatians desire to be yoked once more to the burden of the law or the futility of a life lived in a vain attempt to find fulfilment in sin. If I understand the joy of freedom in the present why would I want to make do with legalism or licence? Where legalism locks me in to trying to please God through enough religious activity, a life of licence – a life of no boundaries – traps me in an endless pursuit of trying to please myself or others. Paul is clear that the legalist and anarchist are both enslaved.
A life of true freedom is found when we know the total acceptance of God. To know that we are loved because we are loved, not because we are always loveable. This is grace, total acceptance that operates on our hearts with such power that it pulls out of our character the very best person we can be. Paul’s encouragement to humbly serve those around us (Gal 5:13-14) is not so much a command as a description of the natural outworking of grace in a believers life.

If we stand firm on the grace of God and allow that grace to provoke in us a life of generosity we will discover what it means to be truly free. But Paul, does not stop there. Though the saving activity of Christ was established in the incarnation, Paul never wants his readers to forget the ongoing work of God in the present activity of the Holy Spirit. We are not just called to stand on truth and serve one another, we are also encouraged to keep in Step with the Holy Spirit. Yet again Paul reminds us that the Christian life began with the Spirit and is lived out by walking alongside the Holy Spirit.


  1. Are you more likely to fall into legalism or licence? Why do you think that is?

  2. Where might God be challenging you to live a more generous life as a response to his grace in your life?

  3. As a response to this week’s sermon and in preparation for next week take some time thinking about your experience of the Holy Spirit. Ask the question what does it mean for me to keep in step with the Holy Spirit?

  4. If you can make some time to simply wait on God this week and allow the Holy Spirit to minister to you


Father God,
Help me to live in the good of my freedom. Show me how my freedom can make me more open to the works of your Kingdom today. Fill me afresh with your Holy Spirit.
This Everyday Devotions was written by Simon Elliott, who leads our team of Elders.

Simon unpacks these themes in more detail in his sermon message this week on our website, YouTube Channel and at our Online Church Services.

This Everyday Devotions has also inspired a devotional video that you can watch on our YouTube Channel.