The Gospel for the Free (Gal. 5:1-15)

Galatians 5:1-15 ESV

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. 7 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion is not from him who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! 13 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. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

We have been examining the book of Galatians for several months now. Today we begin the fifth month, and the fifth chapter. Paul was very angry when he wrote Galatians. He was angry because he had planted the churches in the Galatian region by preaching the gospel of grace, and, after he left, some troublers came into those churches and started preaching a different gospel.

The troublers considered their teaching sort of a “gospel plus.” But Paul recognized that it was a “gospel minus.” They considered their teaching a way of taking Christianity to the next level, but Paul considered it a rejection of the gospel, and a return to a yoke of slavery.

Up until this point Paul has been expressing his exasperation with the Galatians for having been deceived and going along with this substitute gospel. And he has been arguing the case against the Judaizer heresy by showing that it opposes what he taught them, and it doesn’t fit with what the Bible says about salvation – Old Testament or New.

Up until this point Paul hasn’t been making many demands, but that changes here. In the space of one verse he gives two commands (a positive one and a negative one). It is as if he is saying, “alright now, it’s time for you to make your choice.” The Gospel forces us to make a choice.

But he doesn’t want to leave it at that, because he’s afraid that the Galatians would make the wrong choice. He has to convince them that if he is right, and salvation is by grace alone, then there is no other option. Choosing to go along with the Judaizers is choosing to be lost, not saved at all. There is no such thing as a legalistic Christian.

So what Paul does in this section of chapter 5 is put the two choices on the board, so to speak. He compares them so that the Galatians can actually see what they are choosing. In verse 1 he says it’s a choice between freedom and slavery. In verse 2 the choice is Christ or circumcision. In verse 4 the choice is grace or law.

In verse 7 he says it’s a choice between keeping on running and being hindered. False doctrine had created a stumbling block which prevented the Galatians from living the Christian life.

In verse 9 the choice is purity or contamination. Paul says some leaven has gotten into their lump, and it has contaminated the whole thing.

In verse 11 the choice has affected how they see the cross of Christ. If it is the only means of getting right with God, it is an honour. But if I can do something to gain merit for myself or redeem myself, the cross is an offense.

What is the means of sanctification? It is either the Holy Spirit (v.5), or the Flesh (v.13).

In verse 7 he says it’s a choice between keeping on running and being hindered. False doctrine had created a stumbling block which prevented the Galatians from living the Christian life.

In verse 9 the choice is purity or contamination. Paul says some leaven has gotten into their lump, and it has contaminated the whole thing.

In verse 11 the choice has affected how they see the cross of Christ. If it is the only means of getting right with God, it is an honour. But if I can do something to gain merit for myself or redeem myself, the cross is an offense.

What is the means of sanctification? It is either the Holy Spirit (v.5), or the Flesh (v.13).

What are the results of submitting to slavery. We can see that in what Paul said about the Galatians here.

First, slavery leads to disorder. Paul said that the troublers had unsettled the Galatians (12).

Second, slavery is defection. Paul said that the Galatians had fallen from grace (4). They had professed faith, but failed to persevere in it.

Third, slavery leads to disobedience. The Galatians were no longer obeying the truth (7). Ironically, when you choose to make obedience the basis of your “Christian” life, you can no longer obey God. The basis of the Christian life is faith.
Fourth, slavery leads to spiritual decapitation. Christ is the head of his body. Choosing slavery severs you from Christ (4).

Fifth, slavery makes Christ a disadvantage. What Christ has done for us is the only advantage a Christian has. To live by works is to make Christ’s death work against you! That’s why Paul told the Galatians that if they let themselves be circumcised, Christ would be no advantage to them (2).

Sixth, slavery is like taking your life on a spiritual detour. The Galatians were offered freedom, but then started using that freedom as an opportunity for the flesh (13).

Seventh, slavery creates enormous debt. Paul said that making that choice leads to an obligation to keep the whole law (3).

Finally, slavery leads to devouring. The Galatians had already begun biting and devouring one another (15). If you define yourself by what you do, you will compare yourself with others, and criticize and complain about them. It is not a pretty image, but it is accurate.

Now let’s look again at what Paul said in verse 1, and we will focus first on that positive command “stand firm.” Someone who is standing firm is ready for the storms of life, because she has a solid foundation under her. She does not have to rescue herself. All she has to do is put her faith in the foundation under her, and she will be alright.

So Paul is telling the Galatians, “Oh, foolish Galatians! I gave you the right foundation. Stand firm in it!”

What does standing in freedom look like? Paul had told the Corinthians “faith, hope, and love abide” (1 Corinthians 13:13). To abide is to remain, to stand firm. A person who is trusting in God and not himself for his salvation is going to manifest these three character traits.

We see that here in Galatians 5. Instead of by works the believer is to live by faith (5), he will produce works, but that will be faith working (6).
Instead of despairing because he cannot do it all himself, the believer eagerly waits for the hope of righteousness (5).

Instead of biting and devouring others, the believer serves others through love (13). Love is his means of demonstrating his faith (6). And love actually helps him do what his slave counterpart cannot do: fulfill the law (14).

LORD, we are challenged by what we have read and studied today. We confess to you that – all too often we have tried to live the Christian life on our own terms, to fulfill the law the best way we know how. We know that is wrong. Only one person could fulfill your law.

But we also know that he did. By his sinless life and sacrificial death Christ bought our freedom. We are free! We ask you today to help us to stand firm in that freedom. Help us not to get entangled in any kind of bondage. Enable us to live by faith, to wait eagerly for our hope, and to manifest our faith by serving one another through love. In Jesus’ name. Amen

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