If you believe in Jesus, you receive a new life. The New Testament contains enthusiastic descriptions of what that new life means. There are also warnings about how things can still go wrong. There are two ways in which you can miss the freedom and joy of the new life. These have to do with the relationship between the new life in Christ and the law of God.
The first way things can go wrong, is to put your hope in rules and laws. That was a great danger for the Christians in Galatia. And even now it is a danger, especially if you are a faithful church member thinking “I go to church, so I am good”. “I obey the rules I hear in church”. If you reason like that, you’re trying to earn God’s favor by following rules. And that is impossible. It is an absolute contradiction with the new life you receive by God’s grace if you believe in Jesus. That is why Paul says in Galatians 3:3 “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”
The second way to make a mistake is to say: I can do whatever I want and don’t have to stick to anything. But that too is a misunderstanding of the new life. About this mistake Paul says in Galatians 5:13: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
And in Galatians 5:16-22: “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. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God”.
So, here is a whole series of things that do not belong to a life led by the Spirit. We are warned against sexual sins; we are warned against seeking other gods or spirits; we are warned against disturbed relationships; we are warned against disobedience to God’s Word; we are warned against a dissatisfied heart; we are warned against murder; and we are warned against an excessive lifestyle. This list confronts all of us. One or more of these sins will apply to our lives. And we should take this to heart, because there is a serious warning: if you keep living like this, if this characterizes your life, you will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Then you do not belong to God.
Guided by the Holy Spirit
So, believers are not bound by the law, but are guided by the Holy Spirit. But at the same time, believers do not disobey God’s will as He makes it known in the law.
At first sight, the two wrong ways of dealing with the new life that God gives seem completely opposite. One way is: there are all sorts of rules that I have to follow. The other is: I do what I want, there are no rules at all. But in the end, they have exactly the same root. Whether you have one attitude or the other, in both cases you do not believe that there is much joy in obeying God. If you believe in Christ, you are set free. You walk with Him. That is tremendous joy! What such a life looks like is stated in the same chapter: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
All you need in order to receive that life, is faith in the Lord Jesus. Believe that He died for your sins, that He carried the curse you deserve. The moment you believe this, two things happen. Your past changes, and your future changes. What lies behind you, everything that went wrong there, will be forgiven. And your future changes because you change. God’s Spirit comes to live in you. He gives love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness and self-control in your heart.