Fulfilling the Law
“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (v. 14). - Galatians 5:14–15
Throughout history, believers have often not emphasized the freedom we have in Christ (Gal. 5:1). Instead, many have defined the Christian life according to a list of dos and don’ts, largely in an effort to prevent people from perverting God’s grace into a license for sin. Legalism, however, does not solve this problem, and there will likely always be people, until Jesus returns, who mistakenly think that because they are in Christ they can sin with impunity, for even the apostles had to deal with such individuals (Rom. 6:15; 2 Peter 2:19).
Only a right understanding of Christian freedom prevents licentiousness. True freedom is not the freedom to do anything and, paradoxically, real liberty only comes through slavery to God in Christ (Rom. 6:22). Those who indulge the flesh, which is the presence of sin that remains with us until death, are not free; rather, they are given over to serve the flesh, which is a cruel master.
The yoke of our Savior, on the other hand, is light (Matt. 11:28–30), and union with Him defines Christianity, not an external code. This does not mean the Law has no place in the Christian life. As Paul tells us in our passage, even though we cannot seize upon God’s commandments as a means to make ourselves right in His eyes, His statutes will still be fulfilled in the life of the believer (Gal. 5:14). This will be done not through any power the Law has as an agent that issues commands but through the work of the Spirit in our lives to produce His fruit (v. 16). If we admit our total inability to please our Creator, repent and turn to Jesus, and walk in the newness of life He brings by the power of the Holy Spirit, we will freely love God and others and will thereby live out what He has always intended for His people (Lev. 19:18). Christian freedom is the freedom to serve, and we are made holy as we imitate the self-sacrificial love of Jesus.
Living in this fallen world we are prone to forget what true love looks like, and contemplating the Law, especially that part which has been traditionally called the moral law, can help guide us in loving others. And for those who walk by the Spirit, God’s law becomes “the law of liberty” (James 1:25) in which we are excited to find all of the ways we can truly love and serve one another.
Martin Luther says the love that fulfills the Law is “to instruct him who goes astray, to comfort him that is afflicted, to raise up him that is weak, to help your neighbor by all means possible, to bear with his infirmities, to endure troubles, labors, ingratitude and contempt in the Church and in civil life, to obey the magistrate, to [show] honor to your parents, to be patient at home with…an unruly family.” Let us do these things by the Spirit’s power.
Passages for Further Study
- Isaiah 32:9–20
- Ezekiel 36:22–38
- Romans 13:8–10
- 1 John 4:7–12