13 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.
14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”
15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.
18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.
Verse 13 refers to a very dangerous mindset – that of conscious, willing sin. This is not a matter of a repeated sin that you struggle with continually, but rather of a sin you know is wrong but don’t care to fix. It begs the question, are people with this mindset really saved? We see this demonstrated in Matthew 22:5a, when after the king called his alleged followers to partake of His kingdom, “…they made light of it, and went their ways…” (KJV). Again, we see this in Matthew 7:16-23, where the true followers “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8): “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’” Furthermore, consider Mark 1:15: “and [Jesus was] saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” Remember that repentance doesn’t mean to just ask forgiveness, it means to ask forgiveness and earnestly try to stop doing it! Clearly, Jesus’s command is two-fold – we must have a heart honestly repentant in order to accept the Gospel.
Now, I wish to clarify here – I AM NOT SAYING THAT WE ARE SAVED BY WORKS. We are saved by grace alone. But, our “works” – rather, the change in our actions to match up more closely with Christ’s – are the EVIDENCE that we are truly saved. If the Holy Spirit is in you, He will change you – that’s a promise from God. Therefore, if we see no spiritual growth in our lives, we must honestly ask ourselves if we have once again embraced sin and rebellion against God, rejecting His righteous plan, and have fallen from grace. We are commanded to check ourselves in this in Philippians 2:12-13: “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
Next, in verses 14-15, we hear the much-repeated command to ‘love our neighbors as ourselves’. Because we have heard it so frequently, it is fairly easy to gloss over, so let’s dig into it a little more. Firstly, we know who our neighbors are – everyone, regardless of religion, nationality, criminal history, etc. (see Luke 10:27-37). Secondly, we know what love looks like - “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek it own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” and requires us “putting aside all malice and all deceit and envy and all slander” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, 1 Peter 1:22, 2:1). Furthermore, in 1 John 3:14-15, we see that love for other Christians (at the very least) is yet another evidence of salvation: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (Once again, I wish to clarify – loving the brethren, like any “work,” is not a requirement for salvation, but it is an evidence of it). Loving the brethren is essential because, as Jesus pointed out in Mark 3:25, “If a house [such as the body of Christ] is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” In order to be effective for God, we need to work in complete unity (see Ephesians 4:3).
I see verses 16-18 as Paul’s way of emphasizing that this love is the work of the Holy Spirit, not of our own righteousness. It is crucial to remember that when we see growth – fruit – in our lives, it is because of God – therefore, we need to be cautious not to let our pride get puffed up as a result of this “accomplishment.” The Spirit – God – and the flesh – the part of us that is who we are without Him – are at war (verse 17). The more we fight against the change God brings about, the less growth we will see, and the more pain we will suffer. Let’s each make a commitment today to allow His Spirit to work more freely within us without so much rebellious interference. Only be accepting His grace (and His change comes along with it!) can we be free from the “law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).
Today’s discussion starters:
1- Today we talked about some of the evidences of salvation. There are plenty more mentioned in the New Testament. Which ones can you think of?
2- What examples can you think of, Biblically and in your own life, of why it is important to show love for others? What examples, both in the Bible and in modern day life, can you think of for how to demonstrate this love?