We might not have given it much thought, but each of us are under one form of law or another. Law is an absolute in God’s universe. For instance, no matter where we go, the law of gravity is there. Even the tiny planet Pluto is under the law of gravity, held in orbit around the sun though it is over 3.6 trillion miles away! One might think that they are free of the law of gravity because they feel weightless after bailing out of an airplane at 35,000 feet, but in short order they will find out that they did not succeed in breaking the law of gravity, it broke them. The same is true about anarchists who think they can live free of all laws and live happily ever after in their new version of utopia.
Recently a five block area in downtown Seattle was declared an “autonomous zone,” free of any legal jurisdiction or its enforcement. The mayor was all for it and told the police to abandon their precinct enclosed in that area and said all was wonderful and peaceful and it would be a “summer of love” in its confines. But right away people were stealing one another’s food. There were rapes, burglaries and a couple nights ago two people were shot. One died while they used private vehicles to transport the victims instead of allowing an ambulance to come into their lawless zone to give medical help and retrieve the victims for hospitalization. The one thing that they have proven with their little experiment in social engineering is that without Christ, there is no freedom from sin.
Spiritually speaking there are two types of law. There is the law of sin and its consequence, death. Then there is the law of the Spirit of Life IN Christ Jesus in which we live in true freedom and peace as we walk by the Spirit and not by the dictates of our fleshly desires. Where the Spirit prevails, there is freedom and peace, but where the law of sin prevails, there is captivity and warfare because our fallen nature is Satan’s fertile ground. He was a liar and a murder from the beginning and without the Holy Spirit within we are fair game to his devices. Paul wrote:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Rom 8:1-4, ESV)
The nation of Israel agreed to walk under the laws of Moses (see Exodus 24:6-7) and they were a miserable failure. As a result of their rebellion, they were no longer under the protecting hand of God and had to walk in captivity of the nations who conquered and enslaved them. They would eventually repent and be given their freedom once again only to fall right back into their old sinful ways and repeat the cycle all over again. Why did this happen? It was because their real enemy was within them, a fifth column undermining their best efforts. Without the Spirit of God dwelling within us we cannot please God, much less keep His commandments. Paul wrote,
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Gal 5:16-17, ESV)
Paul understood that the law is spiritual (See Romans 7:14) and can only be fulfilled by the life of the Spirit within us, but the people of Israel did not have the Spirit. If the whole of the Old Covenant proved anything, it proved that in the flesh of man dwells no good thing. Yes, the Spirit would come upon one of them from time to time to accomplish the will of God for the nation, but He never dwelt IN them. As the Son of God, the Spirit dwelt in Jesus Christ and He came to make the way for the Holy Spirit to dwell in whosoever would truly believe in Him. Just before Jesus went to the cross He prayed,
Neither for these alone [His disciples] do I pray [it is not for their sake only that I make this request], but also for all those who will ever come to believe in (trust in, cling to, rely on) Me through their word and teaching, That they all may be one, [just] as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be one in Us, so that the world may believe and be convinced that You have sent Me. (John 17:20-21, AMP)
With all these principles in mind, I conclude with this short excerpt from T. Austin Sparks regarding the difference between law, lawlessness and being led by the Spirit.
Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. (Galatians 5:25 NLT)
Satan is a great master of strategy, and one of his favourite lines is that of pushing things to extremes. Among the Galatian believers, he had sought to push legalism to an extreme. But now he is thwarted along that line; Paul wins the battle – there is no doubt about it. What is the enemy’s next line of attack? “Very well then,” he says, “if you won’t have the law, then don’t have any law; discard all law. You are no longer under law, you are under grace – you can do as you like! Just behave as you like; just carry on as you like; you must know no limitations, no restrictions. Any kind of restriction is law – repudiate it! Go to the other extreme – licence instead of law!” I believe that, if Paul were alive today, he would be just as vehement against this as he was against the other: for here is a work of Satan indeed. If Satan cannot bind by the law, and change the whole nature of things in that way, he will seek to dismiss all law and make us wholly lawless.
But remember, if this Letter to the Galatians is the letter of the liberty of the Spirit, it is also the letter of the government of the Spirit. We are only free when we are governed. In George Matheson’s well-known words, that we sometimes sing: “Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free.” A paradox – but how true. We are not free when we are giving way to licence, when we take liberty that far. No: this Letter, and the Letters to the Romans and to the Hebrews, are not documents of lawlessness. Even if they do set aside the whole of the Jewish system, they do not introduce a regime of lawlessness. But they do most clearly bring in the life and government of the Holy Spirit. Remember – no child of God who is governed by the Holy Spirit, who is really living a life in the Spirit, will infringe any Divine principle. Indeed, a life governed by the Holy Spirit will be the more meticulously careful about spiritual principles.