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“Only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” 

Galatians 5:13

Why does Paul say that to the churches in Galatia?

The answer is not hard to find: The flesh in the church always does exactly that. It takes hold of the Word of God when it can use it as a excuse for a sinful walk. And it will reject it when it exposes evil and in no uncertain terms condemns it. “As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as servants of God.” I Peter 2:16.

Why should a statement like that be written by Peter?

Again the answer is obvious: According to our flesh we do clothe ourselves with maliciousness under the guise of Christian liberty. These are not far-fetched, hardly-to-be-expected practices in the Church. They are the motions of the flesh. They are the work of that flesh which is not yet at liberty but still under the dominion of sin.

And we ought to be careful when we then begin, according to that flesh, to quote other passages of Holy Writ to distort the truth of our Christian liberty and apply these other passages to but a part of the texts quoted above.

Indeed, Paul writes also to the church at Rome, “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law but under grace.” Romans 6:14. But let us also note the other two statements in full. The wordliberty appears in both Galatians 5:13 and in I Peter 2:16. AndRomans 6:14 says that we are not under the law. However, let us also keep before our minds the truth that in the very same connection Paul and Peter say, “But by loveserve one another,” and “but as servants of God.” Now a servant is under rules and regulations, is he not? And this same Paul writes to that same church at Rome, “Know ye not, brethren (for I speak to them that know the law), how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?” To be sure, we are not outlaws. We live in a lawless world. We live in a world in which men live (or shall we state it more correctly? exist) outside of the law. In that sense they are outlaws. But the child of God is not an outlaw. He is a law-abiding citizen of his land; and he is one who lives under the laws of the kingdom of heaven.

What? Will there be no law in the New Jerusalem? Is it even to be conceived of that there can be a kingdom without rules and regulations? Is a kingdom not exactly a realm wherein people are united by one law? And is it not true that the members of the body of Christ, His Church, are also citizens of the kingdom of heaven? What does a king do? He rules. He makes laws and precepts. And he rules his people according to these laws.

Again in Psalm 111:10 we read, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do His commandments: His praise endureth forever.” Shall we simply cast this aside because it is written in the Old Testament? No, no, look!, “His praise endureth forever.” And it is not simply the man in the Old Testament times who has a good understanding and the beginning of wisdom when he keeps God’s commandments. That is just as true in the New Testament times. Go as far as you will in the New Testament Scripture, and you may find in its very last chapter, the 14th verse these words, “Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” Or, if you prefer not to listen to the Old Testament prophets and saints in regard to this matter, listen to Him Whom these Old Testament saints and prophets represented. Christ says in Matthew 5:19, “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do them and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” So, in the kingdom of heaven there IS regard for that law; there are commandments and laws and man shall be called great or small in that kingdom in accordance with his keeping and teaching or his not keeping and teaching of the laws of that kingdom. Or listen to Him once again in Matthew 19:17, “And He said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but One, that is God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” Not under the law but under grace? Certainly, but it must be conceded that in some respects man is still under law. Again, turn to Peter’s second epistle, II Peter 3:1, 2 and read, “This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you: in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: that ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior.” There seems to be quite some agreement between the holy prophets and the apostles in their teaching about the commandments of God, does there not?

If we want to live outside of God’s law, we do not want to live in the New Jerusalem. The walls of that kingdom are His law. It is an Holy City, and its walls keep out all that which violates and hates God’s law. If heaven is nothing but a place where we escape the wages and curse of sin, and it is a place where we can do as we please, where God’s law is banished, then even Satan himself would like to be there. No ungodly man would be disinterested in it. What makes that kingdom of heaven or that kingdom of God so obnoxious to the unregenerated is not that it is a safe haven from death and everlasting punishment but exactly that it is a holy realm wherein we love God, serve Him with all we see and possess, and wherein we will serve Him, walking in the way of His commandments.

Do not forget that all the sin and grief and death in this world came exactly through the lie that we are not in any sense under the law. We were deceived once by Satan in Paradise into believing that we could get above that law, could be outlaws and then really have life, could be a law unto ourselves, decide for ourselves what is good and what is evil. Let us not go back to that lie. If we are under grace, we will not want to walk in that lie and use our Christian liberty as a cloak for trying to maintain ourselves in the lie. Grace never has that fruit in our lives. Sin does. The flesh talks that way and reacts that way to the truth of being under grace. But the man under grace rejects the lie of Satan that we can be like God and ignore His ethical will, His holy law.

And remember too, the first promise that God gave to His Church was exactly that He would in His grace cause her to walk in the way of His commandments and save her from the life of an outlaw. God taught man justification, the forgiveness of hip sins and that he was clothed with the righteousness of Christ, when He killed a lamb, shed its blood before Adam’s eyes and then clothed him and Eve with the skin thereof. But the first gospel promise was that of sanctification, of hatred of sin and love of God, of being once again able to keep that law and of complete victory over all lawlessness. Genesis 3:15, the mother promise, is a promise of enmity against all lawlessness, against the whole rebellious kingdom of Satan, and of victory to stand fully delivered from all idolatry, image worship, taking of God’s name in vain, desecration of the Sabbath, rebellion, murder, adultery, deceit, theft and covetousness. But delivered to do what? Nothing? No, a thousand times no; but to keep God’s commandments. In His fear to walk in love toward God and toward the neighbor for God’s sake. God, according to Hebrews 10:16 in fulfillment of this gospel promise writes His law in our hearts and in our minds. Surely then, we will have to say that in a certain sense we are still under that law. We are still under the obligation to keep that law.

It will not be an outward compulsion that presses down upon us as a heavy yoke that threatens to stifle the life that is in us. It will be an inner force of love to walk in all obedience before God. But we are not freed from the calling to keep that law. We are no longer under thecurse of the law. The law can no more condemn us. “There is therefore no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Romans 8:1. But read on. Paul says in verse 7, “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” So, in the Old Testament times there was also the situation that men were not under the Jaw. They were under the obligation to keep that law and were under the condemnation of the law, under the judgment of that law as those guilty of everlasting torment in hell. And yet, in a certain sense they were not under the law. They were not living under it, were not heeding it; and indeed the flesh cannot be subject to that law and place itself under it. When we sin we lift ourselves above that law and Claim to be out from underneath it.

Not so the man that is under grace.

He sings with the psalmist, “O, how love I Thy law. It is my meditation all the day.” Psalm 119:97. He has been restored to the joy of keeping God’s law that was Adam’s before he fell. Adam never complained about that law before his fall. It was no heavy yoke upon his neck. And he had no desire to be a law unto himself. He was God’s friend-servant. But then he was God’sservant. But the moment that he broke that law, the moment that he was deceived into hating that law and into striving to get from under it, he came under the condemnation of that law. That moment the law pounced down upon him and said, Cursed art thou, for thou hast not continued to do the things written therein. Now, as he is by nature, the law holds him down in guilt and condemnation. Now it presses him ever deeper into hell; and he simply cannot get from underneath the curse that this law presses down upon him. He is under the law; and that means that he is under the wrath of God as expressed in that very law: “For I the Lord Thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generations of them that hate Me.” “For the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.”

When we come under grace we are no longer under that curse and condemnation of the law, but we are still obliged to keep that law and shall never attain to a position where God’s will is made subservient to ours. Always we will be under Him and His holy law. Let us consider this further next time.

—J.A.H.