The Imperative Of Freedom: Galatians 5 -- By: Paul D. Duke

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 08:1 (Fall 1990)
Article: The Imperative Of Freedom: Galatians 5
Author: Paul D. Duke

The Imperative Of Freedom: Galatians 5

Paul D. Duke

Senior Pastor, Kirkwood Baptist Church, St. Louis

The fifth chapter of Galatians is easily broken in two. The argument comes to an angular bend at verse 13, down the center of which appears to be a perforation. Split here, the chapter may be regarded as the conjunction of two sections of Paul’s letter (the ending of theological argument and the beginning of ethical exhortation), the confrontation of two diametrical issues (legalism and libertinism), even the appeal to two distinct groups within the Galatian church. There is no question that the chapter bends at the center, that Paul’s voice makes an adjustment of tone, that more than one dimension of concern is addressed. But these realities need not imply any division of audience or theme. There is much value in not breaking the chapter at all, but in holding it whole.

Though the historical particulars of Paul’s Galatian audience elude us, we may account for the shift in his argument without resorting to two groups or even two separate concerns. We may do this, furthermore, without theorizing the existence of exotic groups in Galatia like Jewish Gnostics, whose religion was a bizarre marriage of legalism and libertinism.1 In the human psyche legalism and license refuse to be separate issues. We may bow more to one than the other, may even repudiate one in favor of the other; but they rise from the same root. They co-exist as two faces-the rigid face and the decadent face—of one profound anxiety. Paul’s letter to the Galatians is in response to the presenting issue of legalism, but his answer goes to the root of their anxiety, an anxiety that cannot be addressed without looking at its other face as well.

The unity of concern in Galatians 5 is more profound than that legalism and license are two ways of losing freedom. This community has lost its sense of security in the sufficiency of grace, is suffering from “christological amnesia.”2 Such an “unsettled” (v.12) community seeking refuge in legalism does so in reaction against—or in peril of provoking its members toward-libertinism. Paul calls them away from these anxious possibilities of “the flesh,” back to risky walking by the Spirit, living by the faith, hope and love which constitute the freedom of the community in Christ.

“Freedom” is the banner over this epistle, but not until 5:1 does Paul unfurl it. It was hinted in You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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