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The Nature of Christian Liberty
1-12. The futility of seeking justification by attempting to comply with the demands of the Mosaic Law; the inconsistency of works and faith as methods of salvation.
Paraphrase. ’(1) Since Christ has freed us from the necessity of obeying these legal demands and customs, let us consistently maintain and use our liberty. (2) To receive circumcision as necessary to salvation is to renounce allegiance to Christ, (3) since submission to this rite commits one to the observance of the whole legal system. (4) In taking such a step you would be repudiating the free grace of God; (5) for it is through the operation of the Holy Spirit, not through symbols in our flesh, and in consequence of our faith in Christ and not of works we perform, that we hope for justification before God. (6) Circumcision is wholly unimportant; the only condition of salvation is a faith which evinces its vital power in love. (7) You were making good progress in the Christian life; who has misled you into disloyalty to the gospel? (8) This teaching by which you have been led astray is not of God; (9) and though it has so far done only a little mischief, it will spread like leaven. (10) I have good hope, however, that you will now heed my exhortation; but the leader of this sedition will receive a heavy punishment. (11) As for the accusation that I myself sometimes commend circumcision, were that the case would the Jews still persecute me? If that were true I should no longer be giving them offence through my preaching of the crucified Christ as the author of salvation. (12) But enough! I wish that these men who are perverting your faith by insisting upon circumcision would mutilate themselves completely.’
1. Connected closely with preceding section.
Bondage] to legal observances. Christ hath made us free] by fulfilling the Law, and so teaching us to obey it, not in the letter but in the spirit, which we shall do best by living by faith in Him, and having the same mind in us as was also in Him cp. Matthew 5:17-48.
2. Be circumcised] RV ’Receive circumcision’ as essential to salvation. Christ.. profit.. nothing] because you thereby reject Him as sole and sufficient Saviour.
3. Circumcision is the sign of the system of which it is a part, and its practice indicates that a complete observance of all the Law’s requirements is obligatory.
4. Christ is become, etc.] RV ’Ye are severed from Christ, ye who would be justified,’ etc. By resorting to the Law for salvation, as if Christ were not sufficient, you are no longer Christ’s people. Fallen, etc.] fallen down from the higher plane of grace upon the lower plane of Law. To us now the bondage of the Law has little meaning; but if we come into bondage to sin, we fall from grace as surely as did the Galatians. Christ has given us power to keep from the love of sin and to resist its power; He has liberated us from its bondage and given us the liberty of the Spirit; and it is ours to maintain that liberty, and not to return to the works of the flesh, which bring us to slavery.
5. The true mode of salvation, viz. by the agency of the Spirit, on condition of faith alone.
6. Availeth] for salvation. Faith which worketh] an active, energetic faith: cp. James 2:14-26.
7. Run well] before the Judaisers misled you. Who did hinder] a rhetorical question.
8. Cometh] RV ’came’ This dissuasion from loyalty to Christ to which you have yielded does not emanate from God, but is contrary to His will.
9. A little leaven] It would seem that only a few of the Galatian converts were affected by the false teaching; but their influence would soon prove farreaching and pernicious: cp. 1 Corinthians 15:33; Leaven is always used in NT. as a symbol of influence. Our Lord uses it to illustrate the influence of the kingdom of God (Mark 8:15 and parallels). St. Paul uses it to describe the penetrating and poisonous power of evil influence: cp. 1 Corinthians 5:6-7, 1 Corinthians 5:8.
10. The Apostle now adopts a more hopeful tone, and turns from reproof to encouragement. None otherwise minded] than as I have taught you.
11. Then is the offence of the cross ceased] RV ’then has the stumbling-block of the cross been done away.’ The Judaisers who had ’troubled’ the Galatians had evidently brought against the Apostle the charge that he still preached circumcision himself, although he had dispensed with it in the case of the Galatians. The accusation may have been based on the fact mentioned in Acts 16:3, that on his second visit to Galatia he had circumcised Timothy at Lystra: see on Galatians 2:3. He shows that this accusation is inconsistent with the other charge of abolishing the Law, for which they constantly attacked him. If he preached circumcision, why did they persecute him?
12. Were even cut off] RV ’would even cut themselves off,’ RM ’would even mutilate themselves’; i.e. would even go beyond circumcision, like the priests of Cybele, whom the Galatians had formerly worshipped. A bitterly satirical wish. The Apostle was evidently carried away by his righteous wrath at the bitterness of the Judaisers.
13-15. Freedom from the requirements of the Law does not mean disobedience to its spirit, which is that of love to others.
Paraphrase. ’(13) Cling, then, to your freedom from legal rules and customs; but remember that freedom means not licence, but loving service. (14) For love is the essence of God’s Law, (15) whereas mutual backbiting and hatred can only end in the destruction of one another’s spiritual life.’
13. A caution against an easy and common misunderstanding of Christian freedom: cp. Romans 6:15.
14. The real moral substance of the Mosaic Law was the gospel principle of love: cp. Matthew 22:40; Romans 13:10.
15. Bite and devour] in party strife. Consumed] as respects your personal and collective Christian life.
16-26. The spiritual and the carnal life contrasted.
Paraphrase. ’(16) In the life which is fostered by the Spirit you will find your true safety against the evils of which I am warning you. (17) For between the pure aspirations of the Spirit and the sinful impulses of the flesh there is a sharp, irrepressible conflict. (18) If you live under the influence of the Spirit of God, you have no need to seek the guidance of law. (19-20) Contrast the sins which spring from the carnal impulses (21-24) with the virtues which spring from the Spirit’s guidance. The former exclude from God’s kingdom; the Christian must abjure them; but the latter are not condemned by any law. (25) If, then, we possess the Spirit in our hearts, let our outward action be under His guidance, and (26) let us avoid factious boasting and all attempts to incite others to rivalry and jealousy.’
16. The Spirit] the sanctifying Spirit of God. Shall not fulfil] because the Spirit and the flesh are contrary principles. The flesh] a general name for the sinful impulses.
17. The carnal desires are opposed to the Spirit, and the impulses from the Spirit are contrary to these desires.
18. Not under the law] Those who live under the guidance of the Spirit of God are in no need of the Law. They do what is right not because the Law commands it, or because the Law penalises wrong-doing, but because they live under the influence of Christ and have His Spirit in them; e.g. they refrain from injuring others not because the Law says ’Thou shalt not kill,’ but because they love their neighbours in the Spirit of Christ. And so, for the ideal Christian who is perfectly changed into Christ’s likeness, the Law might just as well not exist, for he has no need of it.
19-21. Works of the flesh include not merely carnal sins, such as the first three in the list, but evil passions like strife and jealousy and their social effects, such as factions and divisions.
22, 23. Against such (virtues) there is no law] hence there can be no condemnation for those who possess them. But even the Law condemns the works of the flesh.
24. Have crucified] in the act of uniting themselves to Christ by faith: cp. Galatians 2:20; Romans 6:2.
25. The inner life should rule the outer life.
26. Vainglory] indulging in rivalry and jealousy. Provoking] to strifes of opinion. Envying] cherishing grudges.
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Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Galatians 5". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany