World War II provided us with some tragic illustrations of theological truth. When Nazi Germany attacked Poland the battle was essentially won within a week and was virtually over in a month. Winston Churchill described the valiant effort of the poorly armed Poles: ‘They were heavily outclassed in artillery, and had but a single armoured brigade to meet the nine German Panzers, as they were already called. Their horse cavalry, of which they had twelve brigades, charged valiantly against the swarming tanks and armoured cars, but could not harm them with their swords and lances.’ The kind of war which is waged determines the success of the weapons employed. This same principle explains the failure of the legalism of the Judaizers to subdue the sins of the pagan Gentiles. The weapon of the Law was ineffective because of the nature of the war. Galatians 5 describes a spiritual warfare.
In Galatians 5, grace is needed because of the fallen nature which is still within us, waging war against the Spirit. The Judaizers erred in that they were attempting to fight the spiritual war with the weapons of the flesh. They erroneously believed that the only way to overcome the evils of the heathen society of that day was to arm themselves with the Old Testament Law. To seek to subdue sin by means of the flesh is like trying to put out a grease fire with water—it only makes matters worse. Paul’s argument in our text is intended to show that the nature of the spiritual war which is being waged within the saint is such that the Law promotes sin, while grace alone prevents it. In verse 15 we learn that the Galatian saints were “biting and devouring” each other. In verse 26, there is a final exhortation not to “become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.” The freedom which was granted at salvation was a freedom from servitude to servanthood. The Galatian saints were made free to serve one another. The practical problem was that they were so divided by friction and strife that serving one another was greatly hindered. Paul claims that such strife was the result of walking in the flesh, rather than of walking in the Spirit. Walking in the flesh was the direct result of the Galatians’ turning to another gospel, a gospel which added law-keeping to grace. Paul seeks to solve the practical problem of disunity by exposing its roots: legalism. He further attempts to convince his readers that legalism will only promote sin, rather than prevent it, because of the war which is being waged within the soul.
What are the areas in our life together that divide us by friction and strife and stop us serving one another? In what ways are we still in servitude to legalism and the idol of control, instead of being freed to servanthood through the grace of Jesus Christ?