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.

Observation

  • Christ has set us free.
  • The Galatians were not to submit again to slavery.
  • The Galatians were under slavery.
  • The Galatians were not to accept circumcision.
  • If the Galatians accepted circumcision Christ would be of no advantage to them.
  • Anyone who accepts circumcision is obligated to keep the whole law.
  • Anyone who accepts circumcision is severed from Christ.
  • If you would be justified by the law, you have fallen away from grace.
  • We are waiting for the hope of righteousness.
  • We are waiting for the hope of righteousness through the Spirit by faith.
  • In Christ neither circumcision nor uncircumcision count for anything.
  • The only thing that counts is faith working through love.
  • The Galatians were doing well in their Christian life.
  • Someone hindered the Galatians from obeying the truth.
  • What the Galatians were now being taught was not from God.
  • It only takes a little bit of law to cause the law to flow through our lives.
  • Paul was confident that the Lord would not allow the Galatians to believe what they were now being taught.
  • Paul was confident that the one who was troubling the Galatians would be punished for what he did.
  • Paul did not know who was causing the trouble among the Galatians.
  • Paul does not preach circumcision.
  • Paul was being persecuted.
  • If the Paul was preaching circumcision the offense of the cross would be removed.
  • Paul wished those who unsettled the Galatians would castrate themselves.
  • The Galatians were called to freedom.
  • The Galatians were not to use their freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.
  • The Galatians were to use their freedom to serve each other.
  • The Galatians were to serve each other in love.
  • The whole law is fulfilled in “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
  • If the Galatians fight with each other they need to watch out because the will end up destroying each other.

Interpretation

In this chapter Paul lays out the doctrine of Christian liberty or freedom. So what is Christian freedom?

Freedom must be defined in terms of freedom from something. If we just say we are free, from what are we free? As Christians we are still subject to the civil laws so we are not fee from that. We are still subject to the laws of nature, so we are not free from that. What is Paul talking about when he says Christ has set us free? Free from what? It is not a libertarian freedom where you are not under any authority at all. This is the type 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 power of the devil, and hell. The value this type of freedom, Christian freedom, cannot be exaggerated.

Our reasoning prefers the law to grace. In the passage Paul again states that the law cannot make men righteous before God. But this is rooted deep in our reasoning. Paul refers to the law as a yoke, the type of yoke that is 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 to say that if we submit ourselves to the law, Christ will have no value for us. We will be relying on the law and our ability to keep it rather than on what Christ has done for us. We cannot rely on both the law and Christ. Relying on the law, as a “just in case”, is not relying on Christ. We must rely on Christ and Christ alone.

If you could earn the forgiveness of your sins and gain eternal life through your own efforts, for what purpose was Christ born? What was His purpose of His suffering and death, His resurrection? What value is there in His victory over sin, death, and the devil? What is the value of Christ’s death and resurrection; if you may overcome you sin by your own effort? If we are trusting in our own efforts then we are obligated to keep all of the law ourselves. Not just the part we find convenient or easy enough to keep. We must keep the whole law. And as Peter said, it is a yoke no one can bear.

Paul says 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. If we think, “If faith alone is what justifies, there is no need then for works so, let’s not work,” we betray the grace of God. As James says, “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 was now 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 really much ado about nothing. It is really God’s grace that saves, what harm is there if I add a little. I need to add my acceptance of the grace. That really is not a work. I have a responsibility here to play a part in my own salvation. It is all God’s grace except for the part I do, which is just 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 says that the person who is causing the trouble among the Galatians with this false teaching will suffer the penalty for his false teaching. He even goes so far to say he wishes the false teacher would castrate himself. This seems a little harsh but it points to the seriousness of the false teaching. It may also be an illusion to circumcision.

Paul now returns to the doctrine of Christian liberty and freedom. In order that Christians may not abuse their liberty Paul reminds the Galatians of what Christ said when asked what was the greatest command. “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 great 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 diligently help our neighbor to the limit of our capacity.

Application

The question is often asked, “What must I do?” You can do nothing. But right after Paul says they need to be living by faith and that a true faith, is a faith that works through love. He immediately turn around and talks about the false teacher leading them astray by telling 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 repeatedly talks about faith and grace over the law. I have been in many conversations which people feel this is nit picking. But working at getting our doctrine correct is important. But it is equally important not to confuse doctrine with life. The smallest point of doctrine is of great importance. Therefore, we must not allow the even a little leaven to enter. But we may overlook the errors of life. We sin every day and not just 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 points out that he is persecuted for preaching correct doctrine and not simply 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.” 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 own 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 have embraced the pure doctrine of faith, because even though we have been justified we still have the old nature that wants to prevent us from doing good. Faith must come first, because, 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 works, and still require works. Both the doctrine of grace and the doctrine of good works must be taught, yet they need to be taught 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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