Freedom to fulfil.
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. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. – Gal 5:13-15
In Galatians, Paul repeatedly emphasizes that Christians are freed from the law. He goes to the extent of saying that if you seek to be justified by the law then you are severed from Christ (Gal 5:4). He even talks of having died to the law (Gal 2:19). Yet, here he asks the Galatians to serve one another through love, because by doing that they would fulfil the law! If they were free of the law, why should they care about fulfilling the law?
In Gal 4, Paul talks about how the law was like a guardian for minor children. When you tell a very small child to tie their shoelaces, for example, you would also have to give them instructions on how to do it – make two loops, put one over the other, etc. But to an older child, you would simply say “tie your shoelaces” and expect it to be done.
Similarly, Paul says, under the old covenant, God treated us like children. When he gave the command to “love one another”, he accompanied it with detailed instructions on how to do it, which was the law. But now, he treats us like adults and simply tells us to love one another. As adults, we don’t need instructions, and so we are free of the law. But we still need to obey the command to love.
So, freedom from the law doesn’t remove the requirement to fulfil the law. Loving others is something that God expects of his people. That is why Jesus said that the hallmark of his disciples would be their love for one another. Freedom cannot be used as an excuse for selfish behaviour. The way we behave in every situation should be guided by what it means to love our neighbour in that situation.
Do we look to church attendance or holding the right doctrines or following certain practices to mark us as Christians? Or do we hold to Jesus’ standard of being recognized as his followers by the love we have for one another?