When Paul writes about “liberty” in Galatians 5:1, this word refers to freedom from the guilt and condemnation of sin – NOT “freedom” to do as we please without consequences. Paul is pointing Christians to the fact that being forgiven of our past sins does not give us a “license” to engage in new sins! Peter had described the Law of Moses as a “yoke of bondage” that should not be imposed on Gentile Christians (Acts 15:10), and as Paul writes to the Galatian saints, he is describing the same challenge to their faith. Verses 2-6 clearly show that someone had been trying to convince them that it was necessary for them to observe certain requirements of that old testament law (particularly the requirement of circumcision). These “Judaizers” – false teachers from Jerusalem – were trying to corrupt Gentile Christians, so that they would become nothing more than a sect of Jewish proselytes. Paul makes two crucial points to the Galatian Christians in verses 3 and 4: First, one cannot simply accept “part” of the old covenant’s requirements, while ignoring the rest of it. Just as James would later point out, in writing primarily to Jewish Christians (James 2:10), God has never allowed us to “pick and choose” which parts of His law we will observe. To accept “part” of His law makes one obligated to obey ALL of it (for the Galatians, accepting circumcision as a requirement would also obligate them to all the dietary, sacrificial, marital and worship requirements of the old covenant as well). NOTE: Paul is not suggesting here that the Ten Commandments/Law of Moses is a viable alternative to the gospel of Christ! He had already pointed out that the purpose of that law was fulfilled in Christ (ch. 3:24); therefore, it is no longer effective for salvation to ANYONE.
The second point Paul makes (vs. 4) is that any attempt to “supplement” or “multiply” our righteousness by keeping (even “just”) part of the Law of Moses cuts us off from being justied through Jesus Christ! There is no way to somehow be “extra holy” or “extra justified” in Christ by also keeping parts of the Ten Commandments.
It is important for Christians to understand this point because most of christendom clings to the idea that ALL people are still subject to the Ten Commandments, while the new testament plainly shows that we are NOT.
In continuing the “theme” of Christians’ being free from (Moses’) law, Paul shows clearly that we are not free from ALL law or restraint (vv. 16-24). By contrasting the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit, he sets up an obvious comparison between behaviors God will accept and approve, and those He will not. The fact that those who engage in fleshly lusts are barred from inheriting the kingdom of God (vs. 21) merely emphasizes this dichotomy. In comparing these two distinctly different kinds of behavior, Paul’s point that “there is no law that prohibits” the fruit of the Spirit (vs. 23) plainly implies that there IS a law that forbids all the things he describes as “lusts of the flesh.” The law he’s describing is various called “the law of Christ” (6:2); “the law of faith” (Romans 3:27); “the law of God” (Romans 7:22 & 25); “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ” (Romans 8:2); and “the law of liberty” (James 2:12). One of the fundamental errors of denominationalism asserts that God’s grace removed or cancelled all of our accountability to obey any laws or fulfill any requirements, when nothing is further from the truth. There is simply no “escape” from statements such as Matthew 7:21 (“he that doeth the will of my Father…”), Romans 6:16 (“his servants ye are to whom ye obey;”) and Galatians 3:1 and 5:7 (“who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth…”), which all describe Christians keeping the commandments of the law of Christ. It is not possible to be saved through the blood of Jesus Christ without obeying His commandments (cf. 1 John 3:23-24).