The liberty of grace
Galatians 5:1. We are told by the apostle to 'stand fast in' (highly esteem, maintain, defend) the liberty of Christ, of grace, of the gospel. Christ has freed us from:
1. Sin - not from the indwelling of it nor the temptation to it, but from the guilt of it, the dominion of it and the damning power of it.
2. The ceremonial law - from circumcision, sacrifices, feast days, sabbath days and all of its burdensome rites and ceremonies.
3. The moral law as a covenant of works - from its curse and condemnation, but not from obedience to it as held forth by our Lord Jesus.
Christ has given us a free use of the gospel ordinances, free access to the throne of grace and a freedom from fear of death and judgment. 'Don't allow anyone to entangle you again with a system of works and deeds in order to obtain God's favor. 'We are complete in Christ.’
Galatians 5:2. If a man submits to circumcision in order to gain acceptance with God, Christ profits him nothing. Christ must be received as our only and sufficient Redeemer. If we add anything (even if performed in a religious way) to the person and work of Christ to gain God's favour, whether it be circumcision, baptism, feasting, praying at certain times, or doing good for others, we are not fully trusting and resting in Christ. Therefore, he profits us ‘nothing' for we are attempting to add our righteousness to his. This is to show contempt for him.
Galatians 5:3. If we are going to seek any measure of righteousness by works and obedience to laws, we are not depending fully on Christ and are, therefore, under obligation to obey perfectly the complete law, both ceremonial and moral.
Galatians 5:4. Keep this verse in its context! Remember to whom it is spoken and for what reason. 'You, who seek to be justified before God by your own righteousness and obedience to certain laws, such as circumcision, sabbath days, washings and abstaining from certain food, have turned away from the gospel of free grace and righteousness in Christ. You have departed from salvation by grace alone and have turned to a mixture of grace and works; therefore, Christ is become of no effect to you at all!' Christ is our whole Saviour or not our Saviour at all. He will not share his glory (Romans 4:3-5; Romans 11:5-6).
Galatians 5:5. By the Holy Spirit's regeneration, revelation and help (not relying on our works, deeds, nor obedience to the law), we anticipate and wait for the fulfillment of that blessed hope of eternal glory which our right standing before God and our righteousness in Christ promise us. Our hope is in Christ, not in any deeds or works of the law.
Galatians 5:6. If we are in Christ by grace and faith, it does not profit us one thing to be circumcised or uncircumcised! To observe or not, to observe these things commanded in the Levitical law does not commend us to God. The service which God requires is a true heart of faith, which is evidenced and expressed by our love to Christ and to one another.
Galatians 5:7-8. 'You started well in the beginning. You came as helpless sinners to Christ; you found in him all you need; you were zealous for the gospel of grace. Who turned you back to the law? Who hindered you in your faith? Who turned you to another gospel? It was not God (who called you by grace) nor Christ (who fulfilled all things for you) nor the Holy Spirit (who revealed the gospel) nor an apostle of Christ (who preached the gospel to you). It was Satan and his messengers of human righteousness' (2 Corinthians 11:2-3; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
Galatians 5:9. Someone may say, 'There's no need for Paul to become so upset. We do not embrace the whole Jewish economy, only circumcision and a ceremony here and a sabbath day there.' Paul reminds them that a little leaven (error, evil, especially in regard to the work of Christ) will pervert and mislead the whole church. It must be stamped out immediately!
Galatians 5:10. The apostle has dealt roughly and plainly with them, yet he expresses confidence in them that they will see what he is teaching and deal with these false teachers. They shall hear their judgment from the church and from the Lord.
Galatians 5:11. Some of these false teachers contended that Paul taught that circumcision was necessary to salvation, since he had had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3). We know why Paul did this - to prevent the stumbling of weak Jews and to enable Timothy (a Gentile) to preach to them. It was not for his spiritual good.
1. 'If I am an advocate of circumcision and other laws, why do these men persecute and constantly oppose me?'
2. 'If I preach circumcision or any other work added to the person and work of Christ, the doctrine of the cross as an offence and as a stumbling-block would cease.' Men do not object to Christ's being a part Saviour. It is Christ the total and complete Saviour that they deny.
Galatians 5:12. Paul is speaking here of the false teachers (Galatians 1:8-9).
Walk in the Spirit - not in the flesh
Galatians 5:13. In Christ (by the Spirit of God) every believer has been called (not only externally but internally) out of bondage to sin, Satan and the law and into the liberty of Christ and the gospel. Christ has made us free from days, ceremonies, sacrifices, circumcision and external rituals. We are complete in him. Yet the doctrine of Christian liberty may be abused, if we use it as an excuse to fulfill the lusts of the flesh, if we forget the rules of moderation, or if we make our liberty a stumbling block to weak Christians. We are to be directed in all that we do by a love for Christ and a love for others, especially for those who are babes in Christ (Romans 14:13-16; 1 Corinthians 8:9-13; 1 Corinthians 10:23; 1 Corinthians 10:28-33).
Galatians 5:14. The moral laws of God are separated into two parts: my duties toward God and my duties toward men. These laws are fulfilled in this: 'love to God and love to men' (Matthew 22:37-40). When I consider what I can do, should do and am required to do in word, thought and deed toward others, it is all fulfilled in the word 'love' (Matthew 7:12). My love for the Lord will control my personal conduct and behavior, and my love for others will control my public conduct where others are concerned. As far as a man loves aright, so far he fulfills the law.
Galatians 5:15. 'If you are critical, unforgiving, unkind and filled with bitterness and division, you will destroy the unity, peace and fellowship of the church; for love is the cement that binds us together' (Colossians 3:12-14).
Galatians 5:16. 'Walk in the Spirit.'
1. In the Holy Spirit of truth; for he guides us in all truth, revealing the word he has written.
2. In the Spirit of Christ as our example (Philippians 2:5-7).
3. In the spirit of love, exercising the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). And though the lust of the flesh is ever present, we shall not give way to it, nor be overcome by it. The presence of the flesh does not mean that it must be served.
Galatians 5:17. 'The flesh' is the corruption of nature which is still in every believer. 'The spirit' is the internal principle of grace and divine life that is born in us by the Spirit of God. These are contrary, or as opposite as light and darkness. They are enemies! One seeks to hurt or destroy the other, 'so that you cannot do the things that you would,' which is understood of both evil and good! The believer would do perfectly good (this is his desire), yet he cannot because of a nature of sin which still abides. His old nature would do all evil, but it cannot because of the divine nature that is ever present! (Romans 7:15-17; Romans 7:22-23.)
Galatians 5:18. We are led by the Spirit of God to the word of God:
1. To the Lord Jesus Christ;
2. To the throne of grace;
3. To the duties of love and grace;
4. To a new life of fellowship with God.
It is not the law which is our leader and our inspiration, but the Holy Spirit. Men are not motivated to love and righteousness 'by law, but by the Holy Spirit.’
Galatians 5:19-21. 'In the flesh dwelleth no good thing.' Understand that these sinful practices are characteristic of the flesh, and though we have done these things and the potential to do them is still present in our flesh (as evidenced by Abraham, David, Lot, Peter), yet this is not our pattern of life, not the practice of the believer! Our tenor of life and the bent of our wills is holiness, righteousness and peace. Those who would still live by these principles and practices of the flesh are not redeemed and shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
Galatians 5:22-23. Notice the word is 'fruit,' not 'fruits.’ This fruit is not of nature, nor flesh, but is the result of the indwelling Spirit and that which is produced by him. We can take no glory for any good or good works that are in us, for these are all by his grace. But this fruit, in various degrees according to our spiritual growth, is in every believer.
Galatians 5:24. The people who belong to Christ (who have been redeemed by his blood and indwelt by his Spirit) have put and are putting to death these works of the flesh. They have declared war on their natural flesh and the sins of the flesh and will have Christ, not sin, to reign over them.
Galatians 5:25. If we live by the spirit of grace, if we have been made alive to God by his power and presence, let us also walk daily by his help, assistance, influence and direction. We begin in the Spirit and we are sanctified daily by the Spirit of God.
Galatians 5:26. We are not desirous of honour, esteem and applause from men, for 'we are what we are by the grace of God.’ God can take away what we have as easily as he gave it. We do not despise and provoke one another with our piety; nor do we want to appear to be wiser, richer in grace, nor more gifted than others, for we are less than the least of the saints. Nor do we envy the gifts, abilities, or grace of another. God will enlighten us, equip us and bless us as he sees fit to use us.
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Mahan, Henry. "Commentary on Galatians 5". Henry Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany