But there was much more to the Jewish Law than the issues raised by the Judaisers (circumcision and diet). Without the restraining influence of its moral demands, surely Gentile converts would continue to live in their sinful, pagan ways? Paul’s gospel of grace was open to the criticism that it encouraged lawlessness.
So we have to be just a little bit careful when talking about our Christian freedom, and not use it as an excuse for doing absolutely anything we like! We are meant to be free from the ‘flesh’ (our natural inclination towards sin) as well as from the Law – in other words, free from sin, not free to sin. A church that becomes infected with legalism atrophies; but moral licence causes it to disintegrate (Galatians 5:15).
In fact, the Gospel has two aspects that are equally important. Jesus gives himself for us, to bear the curse for our sins (Galatians 1:4; 2:20). And then the Holy Spirit is given to us, to enable us to overcome the power of the flesh and live genuinely holy lives (Galatians 5:16,17). It is the Holy Spirit who is the agent of change in our lives. He works with us; He provides us with motivation, energy, desires and resources that do not come naturally to us; and He perseveres with us until we become like Christ. And He is so much more effective than the Law that we no longer need to concern ourselves with it (Galatians 5:18)!
This does not mean, however, that ‘rules’ have been replaced by ‘spontaneity’, because the sinful nature is difficult to shake off, and ‘what comes naturally’ may still come from our old nature, not our new one! What it means is that a Christian lifestyle is not achieved by slavishly following all the details of the Jewish Law. Actually, Christians are not lawless; we are under a new ‘law’, the law of love (John 13:34,35). And it is much more demanding than the old one!