Galatians 5:1-15

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

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 neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

Understanding And Applying the Text

In this chapter, Paul lays out the doctrine of Christian freedom. We define freedom as freedom from something. If we say we are free, from what are we free? As Christians, we are still subject to civil laws so we are not free from that. We are still subject to the laws of nature, so we are not free from that. What is Paul talking about? It is not a libertarian freedom where you are not under any authority. This is the type of freedom people today talk about when they talk about true freedom. Christian freedom is the freedom procured by Christ on the cross. We are free in our conscience. We are free from the wrath of a just and holy God.

Compared to every other kind of freedom this is the only one with any meaning. From this, we have the freedom from the Law, sin, death, the devil, and hell. It is impossible to exaggerate this type of freedom.

Our reasoning prefers the law to grace. In the passage, Paul again states that the law cannot make men righteous before God. But we hold the idea we need to be worth root deep within our reasoning. That is why we cling to the law. Paul refers to the law as a yoke, the type of yoke worn by oxen and beasts of burden. This is because the law is a burden. Peter, in Acts, refers to it as a burden that cannot be born.

“Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?”

Acts 15:10

Paul goes so far as to say that if we submit ourselves to the law, Christ has no value for us. If we rely on the law and our ability to keep it, the work of Christ has done nothing for us. We cannot rely on both the law and Christ. Relying on the law, as a backup plan means not relying on Christ. We must rely on Christ and Christ alone.

If we could earn forgiveness of sins through our efforts there would be no purpose in Christ’s incarnation. There would be no purpose to His suffering death, and resurrection. There would be no value in His victory over sin, death, and the devil. If we trust in our efforts then we must keep the whole law. Not only the parts we find convenient or easy. We must keep the whole law. And as Peter said, it is a yoke no one can bear.

Paul said the only thing that counts for anything is faith. But Paul is not talking about simple believism. He is referring to a sincere faith, a faith that performs good works through love. If faith lacks love it is not true faith. Thinking, “If faith alone is what justifies, there is no need then for works so, let’s not work,” betrays God’s grace. As James said,

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

James 2:14 – 17

An idle faith is not a justifying faith. Paul in a very terse manner presents the whole life of a Christian. Inwardly it consists in faith towards God, outwardly in love towards our fellow man.

The Galatians were living as God would have them live. They were living by faith, trusting in God for their salvation. They were running well. But someone started teaching them they were not “doing” it right. They had to “do” something. Paul has already proven this doctrine is not from Christ but from Satan.

It is easy to deviate from the doctrine of grace. The process goes like this: “This is much ado about nothing. It is God’s grace that saves. What harm is there if I add a little? I need to add my acceptance of the grace. That is not a work. I have a responsibility here to play a part in my salvation. It is all God’s grace except for the part I do, which is only a little bit.” If it relies even a little on me then it does not rely on God. And to this Paul says, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.”

The Apostle said that the person who taught this false teaching would suffer the penalty. He even went so far as to say he wished the false teacher would castrate himself. This seems a little harsh but it points to the seriousness of the false teaching.

Paul returned to the doctrine of Christian liberty and freedom. So that Christians may not abuse their liberty Paul reminded what Christ said. Christ told us the greatest commandments. “And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’” (Matthew 22:37:40). We all need to help our neighbor to the limit of our capacity.

The question is often asked, “What must I do?” You can do nothing. But right after Paul said they need to be living by faith. He reminded them of what was a true faith. It is a faith that works through love. He immediately turned around and talked about the false teacher leading them astray. He told the Galatians they must do something to progress in their sanctification.

This is an often confused sequence. We confuse cause and effect. True faith produces works. But works do not produce a saving faith. It is the subtle difference between asking, “What must I do?” and “What may I do?” The first question is asked from a position of bondage. The second question is asked from love.

Paul, throughout the letter, talks about faith and grace over the law. I have been in many conversations in which people feel this is nitpicking. But working at getting our doctrine correct is important. But we must not elevate doctrine over love. And we must not elevate love over doctrine. The smallest point of doctrine is of great importance. So, we must not allow even a little leaven to enter. But we may overlook the errors of life. We sin every day and not little sins, even the saints sin. We must base our faith on the Scripture not how we live or how we think things should be.

Today there is an aversion to doctrine. The cry is, “Christ unities but doctrine divides.” But doctrine is what we know about Christ. It is how we know we are saved. It is knowing. Paul pointed out he was persecuted for preaching correct doctrine. He was not persecuted for letting it slide. So we too should stand firm on the scripture regardless of the consequences. We will even suffer wrath from those inside the church. As Christ said, in Matthew 5:11-12,

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:11-12

We must not fall short of this joy. Peace is not worth the price of betraying our Lord.

Christians are to rejoice when we hear the teaching of love. Non-Christians hear liberty and immediately infer, that if they are free to do as they like. “If salvation is not a matter of doing, why should I do anything for the poor or anyone else?” They turn the liberty of the spirit into sin. They use their lives and possessions for their pleasure. If they do not help the poor, if they cheat in business, they are not free, no matter how much they think they are. They are simply slaves of the devil.

Paul exhorts us to practice good works. After we embrace the pure doctrine of faith we still need to practice good works. This is not for our salvation. Rather it is because of it.

Faith comes first. Without faith, it is impossible to know what pleases God. As the writer to the Hebrew said,

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

Hebrews 11:6

It is not easy to teach grace without work, and still require works. We must teach the doctrine of grace and good works. But we must teach them in such a manner that both doctrines stay within their God-given arenas. If we only teach works, we lose faith. If we only teach faith people will come to think that good works are superfluous.

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