Freedom, Love, and Faith

Galatians 5:1-15

SS Lesson for 05/22/2022

 

Devotional Scripture: Rom 13:8-10

Lesson Background and Key Verse

Background from the NIV Standard Lesson Commentary

Today’s Scripture text marks a transition in Paul’s teaching to the Galatian Christians. To this point, Paul defended the nature of his ministry (Galatians 1:9–11) and offered a new understanding on the nature of the law (3:21–22), especially for God’s children (3:26–29). Among the Galatians were individuals who required Gentile believers’ adherence to Jewish religious customs and practices. Paul called out these Judaizers for compelling “Gentiles to follow Jewish customs” (Galatians 2:14). Judaizers emphasized faithfulness to the old covenant—the Law of Moses—for salvation. They taught that Gentiles should show faithfulness to the works of the law to find salvation (1:6; see Acts 15:1–5). The most visible way such faithfulness could be shown was by the act of circumcision (see Genesis 17:7–14). What resulted among the Galatians was a tension between the works of the law and expressions of faith (Galatians 3:1–14). Prior to today’s Scripture text, Paul refers to the story of Abraham’s wives, Hagar and Sarah (Galatians 4:21–23; see Genesis 16:15; 17:16–21; 21:2). Paul retells the birth narratives of Isaac (by Sarah) and Ishmael (by Hagar). One might assume that Paul would connect the physical descendants of Isaac and Ishmael to that of Jews and non-Jews, respectively. However, Paul relates the spiritual descendants of Isaac to individuals in freedom from the old covenant, children of God’s promises (Galatians 4:28). By contrast, Paul describes the spiritual descendants of Ishmael as those in bondage to the old covenant, never to experience the inheritance of God’s children (4:30). The retelling made Paul’s point clear: through faith, not law adherence, is God’s blessing inherited.

 

Key Verse: Gal 5:14

For all the Law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

 

Commentary from the Bible Knowledge Commentary

5:1. This verse summarizes chapter 4, where the theme is bondage and freedom. It also serves to introduce chapter 5. Paul declared that Christ was the great Liberator who set believers free from bondage. The apostle then appealed to the Galatians to stand firm (cf. 1 Cor. 16:13; Phil. 1:27; 4:1; 1 Thes. 3:8; 2 Thes. 2:15) in that liberty, for having been delivered from slavery to heathenism, they were in danger of becoming entangled in slavery to the Mosaic Law.

5:2. Taking up a prime example of such entanglement, namely circumcision, Paul issued a strong warning to the Galatians who were considering submitting to that rite. If they did, and were thereby seeking righteousness by works, Paul declared that Christ will be of no value to you at all. It is not that the apostle condemned circumcision in itself, for he had Timothy circumcised (in Galatia) so that the young man would have a wider ministry (Acts 16:1-3). But Paul was strongly opposed to the Judaistic theology which insisted that circumcision was necessary for salvation. Anyone who was circumcised for that reason added works to faith and demonstrated that he had not exercised saving faith in Christ.

5:3. In addition to the fact that turning to the Law ruins grace, it also creates an entirely new obligation: a person is obligated to obey the whole Law. The Law is a unit, and if a person puts himself under any part of it for justification, he is a “debtor” (kjv) to the entire code with its requirements and its curse (cf. 3:10; James 2:10).

5:4. Turning to the Law and accepting circumcision as a meritorious work has further dire implications which the Galatians were called on to consider. Anyone seeking justification by Law has been alienated (katērgēthēte) from Christ, that is, such a person would not be living in a sphere where Christ was operative. The kjv has a helpful rendering, “Christ is become of no effect unto you.” In addition, said Paul, they would have fallen away from grace. The issue here is not the possible loss of salvation, for “grace” is referred to not as salvation itself but as a method of salvation (cf. 2:21 where “a Law” route is mentioned as an unworkable way to come to Christ). If the Galatians accepted circumcision as necessary for salvation, they would be leaving the grace system for the Mosaic Law system. The same error is repeated today when a believer leaves a church that emphasizes salvation by grace through faith and joins one which teaches that salvation depends on repentance, confession, faith, baptism, and church membership.

5:5. In contrast with legalists, true believers by faith (not works) eagerly await (apekdechometha; used seven times in the NT of the return of Christ: Rom. 8:19, 23, 25; 1 Cor. 1:7; Gal. 5:5; Phil. 3:20; Heb. 9:28) the consummation of their salvation (cf. Rom. 8:18-25). Then the righteousness for which we hope will be fully realized (cf. 1 Peter 1:3-4, 13). At the coming of Christ believers will be completely conformed to all the requirements of God’s will. The inward and forensic righteousness which began at justification will be transformed into an outward righteousness at glorification. God will then publicly acknowledge all believers’ full acceptability with Him.

5:6. For those in Christ Jesus, the true sphere of salvation, neither circumcision nor the lack of it is of any significance (cf. 3:28; 6:15). What matters is faith expressing itself through love (cf. 5:13). Though salvation is by faith apart from works, faith that is genuine does work itself out “through love” (cf. Eph. 2:10; James 2:14-18).

5:7. Employing a metaphor he was fond of, Paul described the Galatians’ Christian experience as a race (cf. 1 Cor. 9:24-26; 2 Tim. 4:7). They had begun their race well, but someone had cut in on them, causing them to break stride and stumble. Though many false teachers were disturbing the Galatians, the singular pronoun (who) indicates the leader of the Judaizers was in view here. The result was that the believers were no longer obeying the truth, but were attempting to complete the race by legalistic self-effort rather than by faith.

5:8-10. Such false teaching as the Galatians were beginning to embrace did not originate in the God who called them (cf. 1:6). He called them by and into grace. They were now being seduced by other voices into following a false gospel. And lest someone would feel that the apostle was making too much of the problem, he quoted a proverb (5:9) to the effect that false teaching, like yeast, spreads and permeates. Its converts may have been few but the believers must be on guard lest the error affect the entire church. Paul’s point may also have been that one apparently small deviation from the truth could destroy the entire system. If circumcision, for example, were made necessary for salvation, the whole grace system would fall. But Paul was optimistic about the outcome. He was confident the Galatians would share his views and that the leading false teacher, whose identity was unknown to Paul, would suffer his due judgment.

5:11. Apparently Paul was charged with still preaching circumcision. Certainly before his conversion he zealously proclaimed circumcision and the Law, and it is easy to see how the apostle’s attitude could be interpreted as being in favor of circumcision. Paul countered with a simple question: How is it that he was still being persecuted by Judaizers if he preached the same message they did? If Paul were preaching circumcision, the offense (skandalon, “stumbling block”; cf. 1 Cor. 1:23) of the Cross would have ceased to exist in his ministry. But it had not because people still found the gospel message, which proclaims man’s total inability to contribute anything to his salvation, offensive. Thus the Cross marked the end of the Law system and rendered circumcision and obedience to the Mosaic Law unnecessary.

5:12. Speaking out of deep concern for the gospel of the grace of God, Paul uttered a strong expression. He wished that the Judaizers, who were so enthusiastic about circumcision, would go the whole way and castrate themselves, as did the pagan priests of the cult of Cybele in Asia Minor. Perhaps the resulting physical impotence pictured Paul’s desire that they also be unable to produce new converts. While circumcision had once been the sign of the covenant in Israel, it now had no more religious meaning than any other ritual of cutting and marking practiced by ancient pagans.

5:13-14. In verse 1 Paul spoke of the Christian’s freedom and warned against the danger of lapsing into slavery. Here the apostle again reminded believers of their freedom in Christ and warned against its being converted into license. Specifically he charged the Galatians not to use their liberty as “a base of operation” for sin to gain a foothold. Rather than liberty being used for lust, the real goal should be love. Rather than being in bondage to the Law or to the sinful nature, the Galatians were to be in bondage to one another. (“Sinful nature” is an appropriate trans. of the Gr. sarx, used by Paul in that sense seven times in Gal. 5:13, 16-17 [thrice], 19, 24; 6:8.) Having discouraged two forms of slavery as burdensome and terrible, he commended another form that was beneficial—a slavery of mutual love. In support, Paul quoted Leviticus 19:18 and stated that the entire Law was summarized in this single command to love their neighbors. Jesus affirmed the same truth (Matt. 22:39; Luke 10:25-28). But Paul also wanted to show that Christian love is the “fulfillment” or “the carrying out” of the Law. The apostle developed this point in Romans 13:8-10.

5:15. That such love needed to be mutually expressed in the Galatian churches is made clear here. As a result of the inroads of the false teachers the church was divided and engaged in bitter strife. The followers of the legalists and those who remained steadfast were biting and devouring each other. This was far from the biblical ideal of believers dwelling together in a loving unity, and threatened the churches with destruction, that is, the loss of their individual and corporate testimonies.

 

Major Theme Analysis

(Scriptural Text from the New King James Version; cross-references from the NIV)

Maintaining Freedom (Gal 5:1-6)

 

1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.

2 Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing.

3 And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law.

4 You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.

5 For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.

6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.

 

By standing firm (1)

Standing firm and giving ourselves fully to the work of the Lord (1 Cor 15:58)

58 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Standing firm in the faith  (1 Cor 16:13)

13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.

Standing firm using the full armor of God (Eph 6:13-18)

13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

Standing firm by contending for the faith of the gospel (Phil 1:27)

27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel

Standing firm in faith because of having a great high priest in Jesus (Heb 4:14)

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.

 

By choosing grace over law (2-4)

Grace over law because God's promises come by grace (Rom 4:16)

16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring-not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.

Grace over law because grace reigns over the law (Rom 5:20-21)

20 The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Grace over law because we are under grace not the law (Rom 6:13-18)

14 For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey-whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

Grace over law because God has chosen His remnant by grace (Rom 11:5-6)

 5 So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. 6 And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.  

Grace over law because God makes grace abound in us (2 Cor 9:8)

8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

Grace over law because God's grace is sufficient in all things (2 Cor 12:9)

9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.

Grace over law because we are saved by grace (Eph 2:8-9)

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

 

By expressing faith through love (5-6)

Faith through love because without love there is nothing (1 Cor 13:1-3)

13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Faith through love because of hope (Col 1:3-5)

4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints- 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel

Faith through love because godly labor is always accomplished through love (1 Thess 1:3)

3 We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Faith through love because it is a command (1 Tim 1:5)

5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

Faith through love because God commands us to pursue this (1 Tim 6:11)

11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 

Faith through love because God knows our deeds (Rev 2:19)

19 I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.

 

Freedom is Threatened by False Teachers (Gal 5:7-12)

 

7 You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?

8 This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you.

9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump.

10 I have confidence in you, in the Lord, that you will have no other mind; but he who troubles you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is.

11 And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased.

12 I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off!

 

Through hindering believers (7-8)

Hindering through a different gospel (Gal 1:6-7)

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.

Hindrances that should be thrown off (Heb 12:1)

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

Hindrances through hypocritical teachers (Matt 23:13-15)

13 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. 15 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.

Hindrances through rebellious deceivers (Titus 1:10-11)

10 For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. 11 They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach-and that for the sake of dishonest gain.

Hindering by not acknowledging that Jesus is God in the flesh (2 John 7-11)

7 Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. 9 Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. 11 Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.

 

Through exerting great influence (9)

Influence through peer pressure (Ex 32:21-24)

21 He said to Aaron, "What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?" 22 "Do not be angry, my lord," Aaron answered. "You know how prone these people are to evil. 23 They said to me, 'Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him.' 24 So I told them, 'Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.' Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!"

Influence through false prophets that come as wolf in sheep's clothing (Matt 7:15)

15 "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

Influence to turn away from the faith (Matt 24:10-13)

10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.

Influence through introducing destructive heresies (2 Peter 2:1-2)

2:1 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them-bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute

Influence through performing signs and wonders (Matt 24:24)

24 For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.

 

Through confusing the Church (10-12)

Confusion through perverting the gospel (Gal 1:7-9)

Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!

Confusion through alienation (Gal 4:17-18)

17 Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you [from us], so that you may be zealous for them. 18 It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good,

Confusion through disputes (1 Cor 6:3-7)

4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church!   5 I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6 But instead, one brother goes to law against another-and this in front of unbelievers! 7 The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already.

Confusion through false doctrines (1 Tim 6:3-5)

3 If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4 he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5 and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

Confusion through arguments over useless issues (Titus 3:9-11)

9 But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. 10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. 11 You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

 

Demonstrating Freedom (Gal 5:13-15)

 

13 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

15 But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!

 

By serving one another (13)

Serve by bearing with the failings of others (Rom 15:1-2)

15:1 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.

Serve by sharing and protecting others (1 John 3:16-18)

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

Serve as serving God (Eph 6:7)

7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men,

Serve by using the gifts God has provided (1 Peter 4:10)

10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.

 

By fulfilling the law (14)

Fulfill by loving others (Rom 13:8)

8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.

Love is the fulfillment of the law (Rom 13:10)

 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Fulfill by being obedient to God (John 14:15)

15 "If you love me, you will obey what I command.

 

By avoiding destructive behavior (15)

Avoid all evil (1 Thess 5:22)

22 Avoid every kind of evil.

Avoid wickedness (Prov 4:14-15)

14 Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evil men. 15 Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way.

Avoid evil desires (1 Peter 1:14-16)

14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy."

Avoid godless chatter (2 Tim 2:16)

16 Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.

Avoid sexual immorality (1 Cor 6:18)

18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.

Avoid idolatry (1 Cor 10:14)

14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.

Avoid Satan (James 4:7)

7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

 

Conclusion and Other Thoughts

 

Commentary Thoughts from Bob Deffinbaugh

Christ’s Freedom (5:1)

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery (Gal. 5:1, NIV).

Perhaps the finest and most concise summary of the message of this epistle is found in verse 1 of chapter 5. This verse also serves as a transition to the third and final section of the letter. It is an apt conclusion to the argument of chapters 3 and 4, where Paul has shown the superiority of the Abrahamic Covenant to the Mosaic Law and thus of grace to law. Since the Law leads only to bondage, and grace to freedom, it is foolish to seek to return to bondage by placing oneself under the Mosaic Law. In addition, this verse leads us to the goal of the gospel—liberty. Notice that a very similar statement is found in verse 13: “You, my brothers, were called to be free” (NIV). In chapters 1 and 2, Paul has defended himself against the charges leveled against his integrity and authority as an apostle. In chapters 3 and 4, Paul has defended his gospel as that which has historical and theological priority over that of law—works. Paul explains the goal of the gospel in chapters 5 and 6 as true liberty, which includes not only liberty from the Law but also from the bondage of sin.

Because of the crucial importance of verse 1, let us focus our attention on the implications of four of its phrases which deal with the Galatian problem.

The expression “for freedom” indicates the goal of the redemptive work of Christ, or, as I have suggested by the message title, “the goal of the gospel.” Christ freed us in order that we might be free. Bondage is the opposite of freedom, and thus since the Law produces bondage, living under it is inconsistent with the gospel. “Stand firm” indicates the diligence and commitment required to maintain our freedom. We have already seen that bondage is the natural condition of men, whether Jew or Gentile (3:10-11, 22-23; 4:3, 8-9, 21-31). Unless we diligently guard our liberty, we will be drawn back into bondage. Paul’s words here help me to understand why spiritual apathy is taken so seriously in the Word of God (cf. Rev. 3:14-22).

Do not let yourselves be burdened” implies that there is personal accountability for falling back into bondage. It is neither entirely an unconscious choice, nor is such a choice the fault of another. We fall back into bondage because we allow ourselves to do so (cf. Heb. 2:1). Finally, “again” is Paul’s way of equating the evil of the Galatians’ former bondage in their pagan beliefs and practices (cf. Gal. 4:8; Eph. 2:1-3; 1 Cor. 12:2) with the bondage to which they would succumb “under the Law.” This was a shocking statement to the Jew whose attitude is revealed in Galatians 2:15: “We are Jews by nature, and not sinners from among the Gentiles.” Nevertheless, Paul teaches that to turn from grace results in bondage. Whether the brand of bondage is Jewish or Gentile is of little consequence.

Let me illustrate how bondage under the Law can be almost synonymous (indicated by the word “again”) with bondage under paganism. Suppose that a European nation was once ruled by a cruel, iron-fisted dictator, then overtaken by Hitler’s Nazi Germany, and later “liberated” by Russian Communism. By whatever name, each regime was merely another form of bondage. Thus, Paul can say that to follow the teaching of the Judaizers was to return “again” to bondage, not precisely the same bondage, but bondage nonetheless.

Circumcision’s Division (5:2-6)

2 Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3 And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. 4 You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. 5 For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.

The Judaizers had busily been at work among the Gentile Galatian churches. They preached a different gospel, claiming a superior spiritual status for all who would live under the Law. Paul’s words suggest that most (if not all) of the Galatian saints had not made a decision to follow the Judaizers when he wrote the epistle. The one issue, one act, which served as a touchstone for the Judaizers and a kind of watershed for the Galatians was circumcision. Paul focuses on this issue in verses 2-6.

Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Only at this point in the epistle does Paul directly confront the issue of circumcision, preferring to deal with the error of the Judaizers in principle. In very practical terms, Paul points out several fundamental truths concerning circumcision which would give the Galatian saints pause for thought.

(1) Circumcision was commanded (or at least commended) by the Judaizers and contemplated by the Galatian saints. From the account in Acts 15 (vv. 1, 5) and chapter 2 of this epistle, we know that circumcision was a fundamental issue for the Judaizers. The impression which we gain from the context is that some of the saints were considering circumcision, but most, at least, had not yet committed themselves. Paul is thus addressing circumcision as an imminent decision which his readers must make.

(2) Submitting to circumcision was an extremely serious error. There is a solemnity to Paul’s teaching in these verses which is indicated immediately in the words of verse 2, “Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you …” Paul indicates that submitting to circumcision is a far more serious issue than the Galatian Christians perceive it to be. His introductory words alert them to the urgency of the issue.

What Paul’s introduction implies, his subsequent words make clear. The seriousness of the error is indicated by its consequences. We thus do well to take Paul’s words at full force when he writes, “if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all” (v. 2) and again, “You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace” (v. 4).

I am personally convinced that the Scriptures teach the eternal security of the believer, and I do not believe this passage teaches otherwise. Nevertheless, out of a sincere desire to be true to the doctrine of eternal security, some downplayed the sobering impact of these words on the reader, which I believe Paul meant them to have. Paul is trying to shock his readers into a realization of the seriousness of submitting to circumcision which they were contemplating. Since the implications of circumcision are pursued in my next point, I will only mention here that circumcision was a serious error in Paul’s estimation.

(3) Seeking circumcision was as serious an error as submitting to it. It is perhaps a hair-splitting matter, but I think it worthwhile to suggest that Paul is rebuking his readers for even contemplating circumcision. Just as an adulterous thought is adultery (Matt. 5:27-28), so deliberating about circumcision is something which distressed Paul. There is a grave possibility of sinning by submitting to circumcision, but there is the present evil of contemplating it.

(4) Circumcision is a serious sin because it puts one back under the Law and thus makes righteousness a matter not of faith, but works. In verse 3 Paul reminds his readers of a fact which the Judaizers had no doubt avoided to mention: circumcision is the rite which testifies to one’s submission to the Old Testament Law. When a Gentile wished to become a Jewish proselyte, he submitted to the rite of circumcision. The Judaizers may not have clearly spelled out the implications of circumcision, but Paul did. One who is circumcised is under obligation to keep the whole Law. A correlation is that the one who is circumcised is thus seeking to establish his righteousness before God by law-keeping and no longer by faith. For this reason Paul can say they have “been severed from Christ” and “have fallen from grace” (v. 4). Circumcision signified a change in the basis of one’s righteousness.

I do not believe that Paul is teaching that the Galatian Christian who submitted to circumcision immediately lost his salvation. He is stressing the implications of circumcision. Circumcision is an acknowledgment that one is placing himself under Law, thereby turning from grace, and setting aside the work of Christ. Paul did not believe the Galatians wanted to enslave themselves under the Law, so he set forth the seriousness of the implications of circumcision.

A week or two ago I attended a luncheon, which was intended to promote a Christian short wave radio network. I think it is a wonderful idea and it was mentioned that a short wave radio was available for each person who attended the meeting. As I picked one up, the fellow who was with me pointed out that the radios were “tokens of appreciation” for all who contributed $500 or more. I quickly returned the radio. I did not understand all that was involved in accepting a radio, just as the Galatians did not comprehend all that was involved in submitting to circumcision. However, when the implications of receiving a radio were made clear, I responded differently. In like manner, Paul hoped that the Galatians would respond negatively to circumcision.

(5) Circumcision betrayed a complete reversal of crucial Christian doctrines. Verses 5 and 6 very forcefully conclude Paul’s arguments against submitting to circumcision. He points out three characteristics of Christian faith and practice which directly oppose the view of the Judaizers. These decisive differences are addressed in the remainder of this epistle, so we will only briefly discuss them in this lesson.

Faith works by means of the Spirit (v. 5). The religion of the Judaizers was not of God, and thus was not empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God works through men of faith, empowering them to live lives which are acceptable in God’s sight.

Faith hopes for ultimate and final righteousness (v. 5). The Judaizers promised complete righteousness in ones’ earthly life, beginning with circumcision and achieved with obedience to the Law. Paul spoke of righteousness coming in completeness in the age to come (cf. 1:4), rather than in the present age. Righteousness, of course, should be manifested in our lives in the present, but not sinlessness. Complete righteousness will be ours when Christ comes to take us from this evil age. The Judaizers looked for full righteousness in the present, Paul, in the future.

Faith works through love (v. 6). The Judaizers believed that righteousness was displayed in outward, physical forms. The scribes and Pharisees before them viewed righteousness also as that which is external (cf. Matt. 6:1-18). The faith of the true believer is manifested through love, a quality obviously lacking in the legalist. The characteristics by which we know God’s people are the “fruit of the Spirit,” beginning with love (cf. Gal. 5:22).

The Corruptor’s Judgment (5:7-12)

7 You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. 10 I have confidence in you in the Lord, that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is. 11 But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished. 12 Would that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves.

In verse 7 Paul’s attention turns from the arguments against circumcision to the advocates of circumcision. He begins in verse 7 by pointing out the lamentable fact that while the Galatian saints had once “run well,” they were no longer doing so. They had somehow been hindered from their obedience to the truth. Verse 8 denies that the source of their change for the worse was from God. This is important, for when Christians turn from truth to error they almost always try to give God the credit. Few fall into error initially by a decision to be disobedient. Rather, they are deceived and thus attempt to show that they have seen a new truth and that their sins are sanctioned by God. Paul gives no time for such excuses. They had turned from the truth, and God was not the author of their error. Instead, their change had come from another source.

It is important to understand that “persuasion” is probably the most effective weapon of the deceiver in turning Christians from truth to error. It would seem that Paul identified the influence of the Judaizers as the leading cause of the Galatian misconception. When the persuasive genius of the Judaizers was combined with the gullibility of the Galatians, error resulted.

In Galatians, as elsewhere, Paul contrasts his straightforwardness in proclaiming the truth of God’s Word with the persuasive techniques of the pagans and false teachers (cf. Gal. 3:1; Eph. 4:15; 5:6; Col. 2:4, 8; 1 Cor. 1:17; 2:1-5; 2 Cor. 2:17; 4:2). The “con artist” always peddles his goods to those who see his wares as a wise acquisition. Whether peddling stolen merchandise in some dark alley or peddling a false gospel, the methods are nearly identical. It is no wonder that an evil way of life is portrayed in the Book of Proverbs as a prostitute selling her wares. The Galatian saints have been persuaded, or to put it more crassly, they have been “conned.”

Verse 9 contains what may have been a well-known proverb, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” We find the same expression in 1 Corinthians 5:6, where Paul uses it to convey how letting a man’s moral sin go unchallenged was a corrupting influence on the entire church. The use of this proverb propounds the same principle: what seems to be a little thing can do a lot of damage. Paul may have two ideas in mind here. First, he may be saying that while there is perhaps only one false teacher among them, he can do a great deal of damage. Second, he may mean that what this teacher is peddling as a minor correction to Paul’s teaching is really a corruption of the gospel. In either of these two ideas, we can see that Paul emphasized what the false Judaizers (and it would seem, the Galatian saints) minimized. Paul sought to show them how much damage a seemingly little thing can do.

In verse 10 we find a strong affirmation of Paul’s confidence in the midst of these distressing circumstances. We need to understand the nature and the basis of Paul’s confidence. First, Paul is confident concerning the final decision of the Galatian Christians. He says that he is assured that they will not adopt a different view, or, we could say, a “different gospel.” Second, Paul is confident that God will deal justly with those Judaizers who had caused so much trouble in the Galatian churches.

The source of Paul’s confidence is of critical importance. Paul’s assurance rests in the Lord. Paul is confident of the ultimate decision and destiny of the Galatian saints, for it is God who has called them, and God is faithful to fulfill His purposes. Paul writes of his assurance to the Philippians: “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). Likewise, Paul can be confident that God will deal in justice with those who lead others astray: “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Rom. 12:19; cf. 2 Peter 2).

Verse 11 is somewhat puzzling in some of its particulars, but the principle seems to be clear. Apparently the Judaizers were teaching that Paul himself advocated circumcision. They might have seen, for example, the circumcision of Timothy as support for their case (cf. Acts 16:3). Paul refutes this claim by pointing out that he was still being persecuted. He was ridiculed because he did not preach circumcision. If he continued to preach circumcision, as he had done prior to his salvation, he would not be persecuted. The fact that he was still persecuted proved that he did not, as the Judaizers implied or stated, preach circumcision.

To preach circumcision was to set aside the cross and its offense to the Jew (cf. 1 Cor. 1:23; Gal. 3:1). There was nothing more repulsive to the Jew than to think of Messiah suffering on a cross. No wonder Peter rebuked our Lord for talking of such a thing (cf. Matt. 16:13-23). On an individual basis, the cross is an offense to human pride. If I must believe in the death of Messiah on a Roman cross, a death suffered in my place, then I must also admit that I deserved such a death (cp. Gal. 2:15-21). The cross is the measure of my sin and of my utter inability to be justified in God’s sight by my own deeds. To cease to preach circumcision (which was promoted by the Judaizers as a means of being righteous) was to seek to minimize the offense of the cross. This was precisely why the Judaizers so aggressively promoted circumcision (cf. Gal. 6:12).

Verse 12 is looked upon by some as a crude piece of sarcasm. This is hardly the case. Paul’s purpose is to press the error of the Judaizers to its illogical and unacceptable conclusion. The Judaizers had emphasized circumcision more than the Old Testament Law had. The mentality of the Judaizers was that the cutting off of a little flesh was commendable and pleasing in God’s sight. In short, they taught that circumcision contributed to a man’s righteousness. If this were really true, Paul queries, then why not press the matter even further? If cutting off a little flesh is good, cutting off much flesh is even better. Why not be so pious as to castrate oneself?

Now this is a bit extreme for even the Judaizer. First, the Old Testament Law forbade a castrated man from entering the assembly of the Lord (Deut. 23:1). No Jew would ever have considered going this far. In addition, well known to the Galatian saints was the pagan ritual of the priests of Cybele in which they castrated themselves. To go to this extent was to imitate the heathen. From the Old Testament Scriptures and contemporary culture, the Galatians would recognize castration as too extreme, and yet it was the logical extension of their doctrine. As this illustration graphically reveals, the horrifying thought of castration was intended to show the Galatians that the Judaizers had gone too far.

                                       (Adapted from URL:https://bible.org/seriespage/goal-gospel-galatians-51-12)

 

Concluding Thoughts from the NIV Standard Lesson Commentary

As Peter Scholtes (1938–2009) directed his South Side Chicago youth choir in the 1960s, he wanted a song that would unite the varied experiences of his church’s youth group. After a day of work, Scholtes composed “They’ll Know We Are Christians.” The song, now made popular in numerous hymnals, reflected the sentiment of Jesus’ teaching that “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). While believers might be free from the demands of the law, Paul taught the Galatians that such freedom requires active love for others. Showing this love is the litmus test for a believer’s love for God. Self-examination regarding love is prudent for followers of Jesus. Does anything prevent or distract from your expression of love to God and others? Might your own definition of freedom stand in the way of love?

 

Concluding Thoughts from the Echoes Commentary

Freedom in Christ - Paul challenged the Galatian church to continue to walk in their liberty in Christ. He called this group of believers to minister to the unbelievers with humility and compassion. God offers this freedom as a gift to His children. Unbelievers may say, "I'm free to do anything I want/' but that is not genuine freedom, only more bondage to sin. Paul encouraged the Galatian church to keep sharing their newfound faith. Do not go back to trying to follow rules and regulations. This kind of living leads to anger and frustration. And most of all, don't attempt to put this burden of keeping the Jewish law on others. The Judaizers and the legalists wanted adherence to the law in addition to believing in Christ. Paul said, "No!" He said God has generously given favor and grace, not because of human behavior. By grace we are saved through faith. Only because of what Christ did on the Cross can anyone come into the presence of God. Nothing must be added to faith. What is most important is walking in love, combined with faith.

 

Keep Walking - Paul said the Galatians were off to a good start but then turned away from the truth. Those with legalism and false doctrines came into the church and challenged those talking about freedom in Christ. The religious leaders insisted on following the old way, the old rules, and rituals. On the other hand, Paul said to get back on the road of truth and keep walking there. Paul concluded that trying to stick to Jewish rules and rituals, along with following Christ, is no little thing. The apostle wished the false teachers preaching erroneous doctrine would be cut off from the people. The confusion hindered the believers from growing and being all God intended them to be. Knowingly spreading untruths about the Gospel is a grave offense in the eyes of God—and it won't go unpunished.

 

Freedom to Love - Freedom in Christ is a call to love one another and serve one another. Loving God and loving each other sums up the law in one phrase.