The book of Galatians was originally written as an effort to turn a church away from its fall into legalism. In Romans 9:30-33 Paul explains the basic error of legalism:
30What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 just as it is written,
"Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense,
And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed."
Gentiles, even religious ones, did not pursue holiness and purity as the Jews did and captured the blessings, but the Jews did not. Why? The Jews were pursuing the Law which is in itself righteous, but did not and could not impart righteousness. The Gentiles captured the righteousness that saves because they pursued it from the starting point of faith (in Christ). The Jews lost the righteousness that saves because they rejected Christ as the starting point and chose to try to capture or possess righteousness by capturing the Law instead. This involved doing and becoming right by obeying the Law perfectly.
The Gentiles were united to Christ by faith (trust and obedience expressed in repentance and baptism) and so gained the blessings of salvation earned for them by Jesus. The Jews tried to unite themselves to the Law (through perfect obedience) hoping that the qualities that the Law possessed would then be theirs.
The Judaizers wanted the Galatians to attempt to gain righteousness through union with the Law and express that in circumcision. In chapters 5 and 6 Paul makes a final plea for them to reject this system and remain firmly united to Christ by faith.
Reject Circumcision – 5:1-12
1 It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. 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.
Paul exhorts them to remain united to Christ telling them that to unite themselves to the Law through circumcision will effectively sever them from Christ. They cannot have it both ways. If you accept circumcision, you accept everything that the Law prescribes.
Christ gives the blessings of salvation freely, but those seeking these from the Law must pay the price of perfect obedience to gain them (which is impossible).
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.
Those united to Christ by faith have a true hope of righteousness and their "works" are not to obtain righteousness, but rather expressions of love motivated by faith.
Therein lies the essential difference between these two systems:
- Legalism produces good works, a moral lifestyle and a pious attitude, but the motivation is pride! God will give me righteousness because of the good that I do.
- Faith produces exactly the same results, except the motivation is gratitude for mercy received in dealing with one's sins. Faith motivates by love for God because He first loved us.
- Legalism fails because it cannot produce a loving heart, the very image of God.
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 will 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 I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves.
This is an exhortation to not abandon faith for legalism, and a reproach on those who would lead them in this direction and a reminder that this did not come from himself.
Verses 7-10: He wonders who led them astray after such a good start and voices an opinion suggesting that he believes that they will not abandon the faith. This legalism is not of Christ, and those who promote it work among them like leaven. This is obliviously a warning to be careful. He also makes a warning to the one who is advocating this view that God will judge him for this.
Verses 11-12: We see the suggestion that Paul was also preaching circumcision and the Apostle responds to this here:
- If he does, why is he still persecuted by the Judaizers?
- If he does, then what purpose is the cross? If by an act of merit we can be accepted by God, why the cross? Either Jesus earns it all or nothing.
Paul suggests that if the Judaizers really want to outdo him (which is what they were trying to do, to show their religious zeal as superior to his), he says they should go all the way and castrate themselves! Perhaps this would impress the Galatians on their zeal and sincerity.
True Walk of Freedom – 5:13-6:10
In verse 1 Paul equates union with Christ with freedom. He goes on to say that righteousness, the Holy Spirit, power and sonship all come to us based on our union with Christ as does freedom.
In the next verses he explains that Christian freedom does not mean license to be immoral. Freedom and maturity bring additional responsibility and accountability. Paul explains what freedom in Christ really means.
13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
We are united to the One who came on earth to serve, not to be served. We are free to serve others in the name of the Lord and reap the rewards of satisfaction, joy and peace that come from service. We were originally created to serve and that is our most natural and fulfilling activity. Before we served sin, self and the devil; now we are free to serve God, others and the kingdom. All service (in and out of the kingdom) done in Jesus' name is holy. Any service offered without regard to Christ will perish with this earth.
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.
Freedom means that we are able to bear the kind of spiritual fruit that will last forever because we are no longer separated from God or cursed to be destroyed along with everything else we've built or tried to preserve, whether good or bad. The key is to walk after the Spirit (obey the word) and in so doing we will bear the everlasting marks of the Holy Spirit.
The works of the Holy Spirit are evident in a person's character and cannot be denied. If you bear the works of the flesh more consistently than the fruit of the Spirit, it is obvious that you don't walk after the Spirit and will not inherit the kingdom.
We are free to follow the Spirit as Christians. Christ has given us His spirit, but we are capable of rejecting Him if we want to and whether we do or not is evident in our character, it is evident in the things we say and do.
1 Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. 2 Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. 5 For each one will bear his own load.
6 The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him. 7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. 10 So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.
In Acts chapter 2 we see that church growth was a result of the sharing of responsibilities for one another in the body as well as reaching out to others with the gospel. Paul encourages them to be generous with one another. Generosity is usually a good indication of one's grasp of God's mercy. Those who love and give little in proportion to their means usually have little insight into how much God loves them. If they did, they would give much more.
Paul encourages generosity towards the elderly and backsliders, preachers and teachers, as well as all those in need. It is not easy to give in any one of these areas, but how one does so is a good measure of one's sense of freedom in Christ. A generous spirit is a free spirit in Jesus.
Final Warnings and Salvation – 6:11-18
Warning against Circumcision Party
11 See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. 12 Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh. 14 But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
Verse 11: Paul writes this letter with his own hand (he usually dictates his letters), and the use of bold, large letters probably means that he is writing boldly for the sake of emphasis.
Verse 12-16: Here it is revealed that the Judaizers are basically cowards who want the prestige of religious leadership without the risk. To preach the cross is risky and unpopular. Legalism and circumcision are safe and place all of the burdens on the Galatians, none on the teachers (who did not even try to live by the tenets of legalism which was perfect law keeping).
Paul says that his boast is not in his converts but in what the cross has done for him (revealed his sinfulness, lostness and salvation in Jesus).
Circumcision or not does not change you, Christ changes you when you are united to Him, and God blesses all who are changed by Him. Circumcision was a sign of promise to come, Jesus was the one who was to come and in Him all the promises are fulfilled.
17 From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus.
18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren. Amen.
Paul wants no more accusations and lets the scars that he has born for Christ be a witness for his defense, and gives his final blessing.
This completes our study of the book of Galatians. I hope this has been a worthwhile experience in gaining greater insight into the gospel and God's love of people. Please check out our other Bible studies on the BibleTalk.tv website where you will find material that will help you "grow your faith; share you faith."
April - 2015