Why don’t we need a system of laws and rules to “babysit” us anymore, as Paul said in chapter 3?
Paul gives us an unmistakable answer in today’s reading.
If you are led by the spirit, you are not under the law. (5:18)
In fact, the word “spirit” is used seven times in this chapter, punctuating Paul’s point (though I wish Wright had not chosen to leave “spirit” and “holy spirit” uncapitalized in his translation).
A system of laws, a list of rules, or a handbook of standards and dictates is comfortable for a lot of people. Everything is stated and known. It is also a good tool to have when dealing with children. The problem, though, is that all of these exist outside of the person. Someone made some laws or rules and published those and now we are expected to adhere. The handbook is sitting over there on the table. We can choose to know, learn, and follow it or we cannot. While these systems of law do provide guidance, they don’t give power to meet those expectations. And expectations without empowerment usually lead to failure.
Now, with the coming of the Holy Spirit into the life of Christians, there is both guidance and power. And all of this exists within. Temptation is still with us, of course. It was right there with us when we operated by a system of dos and don’ts too. The difference is that, unlike any system of law, the Spirit is alive and personal. The Spirit wishes to “make us alive” (remember chapter 2) and empower us past the temptation and on to righteousness (5:5). That Spirit guides us and if we will choose to “live by that spirit” (5:16) we find that progressively, little by little, the Holy Spirit puts to death the “flesh” (5:17) and truly “makes us free so that we [can] enjoy freedom” (5:1).
Free people are able to make the choices that truly liberate their souls. It is not that the lifestyle our rules are trying to produce is bad. Not at all. The whole law really came down to one principle: love your neighbor (5:14), and that is as good a lifestyle as they come. True Christian love requires an emptying of self, putting other before oneself (5:13). It takes true freedom to choose to do that. Freedom from requirement, from having to love others. It isn’t love if it is done by obligation. But when we step out in faith, trusting that the best way to happiness is to serve others, counterintuitive as it is, and that faith shows itself through love (5:6), one more crucifying nail is driven into the self (5:24), and the Spirit is able to produce fruit in our lives (5:22-23).
We don’t need a babysitter when we have the spirit of the Father inside us.