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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Galatians 5

Verses 1-6

The Christian Freedom

Now Paul can start with the practical part of his letter. In chapters 1-2 he dealt with a piece of history and in chapters 3-4 he elaborately dealt with the doctrines that the false teachers brought. In the last two chapters Paul talks about the practical impact of the teachings he presented in the previous chapters.

Galatians 5:1. This verse is very suitable to move from doctrine to practice. This verse is to close the doctrinal part and at the same time it is an introduction to the practical part. Add it to the end of chapter 4 and it sounds like a conclusion. The main idea is this: the Christian is free from all sorts of laws that kept him in bondage. From this point of view, the negative part is in the foreground – that which is put away.

Galatians 5:1 also can be seen as an introduction to the next section. From this point of view, the positive part is in the foreground, and that is what Christ had in mind when He set us free: that is freedom itself. He wanted to give us the same freedom which He Himself knew. That is real freedom: to be free as He is. His freedom was and is to accomplish the will of His Father. Our freedom has the same goal: the desire to do the will of the Father.

The Lord Jesus obtained this freedom for us on the cross. By doing so, he has made us free from every imaginable kind of slavery, whether it concerns the law or sin. In chapter 3:13 (Galatians 3:13) which also speaks of freedom, the emphasis is on the price He paid. Here the emphasis is on freedom. Whosoever once shared in this freedom is foolish if he allows himself to be brought again under a yoke of bondage.

The yoke of which the Savior speaks in Matthew 11 is a yoke of a totally different order (Matthew 11:29-Amos :). This yoke testifies to a voluntarily and joyfully accepted assignment. It is also a gentle yoke; it does not oppress.

Galatians 5:2. Paul exhorts the Galatians to stand firm in this freedom that Christ has acquired. For them, there was a great danger that they would give up this liberty and fall back under an oppressive yoke. To emphasize his exhortation he uses his position as an apostle when he urgently warns them what the consequence is of adhering to legalistic requirements. A look at Acts 15:1 and the following verses makes it clear what was at stake.

To require circumcision as a condition of salvation meant a degradation of the work of Christ. Circumcision in this case is not a surgical operation but represents a whole system of salvation by works. By putting yourself under the law, you put yourself into a position which does not give you any profit from Christ and His work. Being under the law, you are separated from Christ and if you are separated from Christ you are deprived of all blessings.

Galatians 5:3. Because of the gravity of the case, Paul again brings this clearly to the attention of the Galatians and of “every man”. It is a matter of general interest with a general validity, an issue which did not concern the Galatians only. It touched and still touches the foundations of Christian faith. It is all or nothing. You cannot say: I do my part by keeping the law and Christ is doing His part by doing what I cannot do. No, either Christ did everything or He has done nothing. Whoever wants to keep the law is bound to keep the law completely. Therein you cannot act selectively. Again Paul emphasizes the incompatibility of the law and grace.

Galatians 5:4. The law sets conditions. No human being is able to meet these conditions; hence he forfeits all the blessing, if he seeks to keep the law. In so doing, you fall away from grace. This falling away does not mean that you can lose your salvation. A passage like in John 10 is a guarantee that that can never happen (John 10:28-Joel :). Once you are a child of God, you are always a child of God. To fall from grace means that he who seeks to keep the law abandons grace.

Galatians 5:5. After his serious warnings about keeping the law, Paul speaks about the privileges that are connected to grace. In Galatians 5:5 we do not read about the hope for righteousness. If so, this verse would indicate that there is still an uncertainty which results from seeking righteousness out of one’s own efforts. No, we read about “the hope of righteousness”. Every believer possesses righteousness. With that righteousness hope is connected. Again, this hope is not uncertainty but the solid certainty of something that will come – something you expect. Through the Holy Spirit, Who indwells you, you're eagerly looking forward to the glory of God. Isn't that so?

Just read what Romans 5:2 says (Romans 5:2). The glory of God is the place to which the Lord Jesus ascended after His death and resurrection. The hope of righteousness is looking forward to that very moment when we shall share the glory that Christ already has right now. The Lord Jesus spoke about this to His Father in John 17: “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me” (John 17:24). We will come to this very place when the Lord Jesus comes to take us (Philippians 3:21).

Galatians 5:6. What the Christian expects is in every way contrary to what the Judaist expects. Judaists expect to be able to keep the law by carnal efforts in order to deserve righteousness. The Christian is looking forward – through the Spirit – to what has been earned for him and what will therefore undoubtedly and securely be his part. This is all related to being “in Christ Jesus”. That is the position of the Christian. And whether you are circumcised or uncircumcised, it does not have any effect on your position in Christ. Whoever is in Christ will show his faith, not by works of the law but by love. Love is the driving force behind all acts that are done in faith.

Now read Galatians 5:1-6 again.

Reflection: In your life as a Christian, is there still (or again) a yoke of slavery, or can you rather say that your faith is working through love?

Verses 7-15

Called to Be Free

Galatians 5:7. When Paul says “you were running well”, he uses the picture of a race. The Galatians made a good start to running the race. Without any reservation they had accepted the gospel. But now obstacles were put on the race course which had tripped them up. They no longer obeyed the truth of the gospel.

Galatians 5:8. They had listened to other voices and stopped listening to the voice of God Who had called them through the gospel Paul preached. In that call of God no trace could be recognized of what the Jewish false teachers wanted them to believe.

Paul doesn’t name these people. It is enough to know that what they preached did not come from God. Likewise the Lord Jesus speaks in John 10 (John 10:4-Deuteronomy :). His sheep know His voice. If a stranger comes, they will not follow him because they do not know that voice. They will flee from him. It is not necessary to examine all kinds of false teachings (unless you have a command from the Lord to do so). If you do not hear the voice of the Lord – that is, if it is contrary to the Word of God – you can reject it immediately.

Galatians 5:9. If you allow the slightest bit of wrong doctrine, as we see here, or the slightest sinful practice, as in 1 Corinthians 5, and don’t condemn it, your life and the church where you are, will finally be destroyed. Evil which is not judged works like leaven – it permeates everything.

Galatians 5:10. If Paul looks to the Galatians, he is desperate (Galatians 4:20). But if he looks up, to the Lord Jesus, he is confident that He will not abandon His own. Paul knew how to bring his concerns to the Lord. This is an important lesson for me. If I'm worried and there seems to be no way out anymore, I must be aware of the way upward to the Lord.

Paul was convinced that the Galatians in their final evaluation of these things would come to the same conclusion as he had proposed to them from the beginning. As far as those who had brought them into confusion were concerned, he commits them to the judgment of God.

Galatians 5:11. Now they had also said something about Paul, which he had to respond to. They said that Paul still preached circumcision. Of course that was a trick of the opponents to deceive the Galatians. Even today it still happens that things are put into Paul’s mouth that he never said or intended that way.

As to circumcision, it was clear that he didn’t preach that practice. Otherwise, why would the Jews chase him like that? And if Paul preached circumcision, it would mean that there would still be something left of own works – and that would be completely contrary to the preaching of the cross.

The cross shows the depravity of man right to the very roots of his existence and it demonstrates that man is an enemy of God. Therefore the cross and the complete salvation by grace are always a stumbling block for someone who wants to give a little credit to the flesh. Anyone who adds something to the gospel of Jesus Christ by giving man the possibility to do something for his salvation, will surely reap appreciation, but not with God nor with those who hold onto God's truth.

Galatians 5:12. Paul sees here how through the deception of Judaism the gospel is robbed of its power and souls are ruined. That causes his strong exclamation in Galatians 5:12. But what do we see since the days of the apostle? Legalism has got a grip on a great part of Christianity. And where do we hear now the righteous indignation that marked Paul?

The exclamation of the apostle is an allusion to circumcision! Thereby he seems to mean that he wished that the false teachers would cut themselves loose from the Galatians and the Christian churches in general. The attempts to bring God's people back into bondage of any kind of law are still going on.

Galatians 5:13-2 Chronicles :. Again Paul points to the truth that you are called to be free. That does not mean you're now free to sin. The Christian may have been freed from the law, but that does not mean that he is no longer under authority. Christian liberty does not allow sin, but rather encourages us to serve through love.

Real freedom can only be found within the limits set by God. The perfect example is seen in the Lord Jesus. If you serve one another through love, you fulfill what the law requires. Now you might think: so I do have to keep the law after all? No, Paul doesn’t return to the law. What he shows is that the law’s demands – which man could not accomplish – will be achieved in the practice of Christian freedom.

Galatians 5:15. Love endures weaknesses, does not demand, does not put on conditions and longs to serve. The law knows nothing of mercy; it is not compliant and must condemn anything that is not in accordance with the perfectly righteous requirements. Where the law, or something derived from it, becomes standard in the relationship to God and to each other, the inevitable result is the arising of conflicts.

The law requires us to love one another, but with the Galatians at that time, and in Christianity today, the opposite happens. Whoever keeps the law builds up his own righteousness and cannot have pity on others. It requires a tough attitude; otherwise the law is not law anymore.

The fighting resulting from legalism – and the fighting resulting from combating legalism as well! – leads to destruction. First there is biting, then devouring and finally consuming. It looks like John 10 where the Lord Jesus speaks about the thief coming to “steal”, then “kill” and finally “destroy” (John 10:10).

Now read Galatians 5:7-15 again.

Reflection: Do you feel free? How do you use your freedom?

Verses 16-21

The Spirit Against the Flesh

In Galatians 5:1 of this chapter, Paul contrasted freedom with slavery. In Galatians 5:13 he contrasted freedom with lawlessness. Now he shows how true freedom is experienced and manifested, namely in a life led by the Spirit.

Galatians 5:16. The section of Galatians 5:16-Ezekiel : is one entity. Therein the Spirit is mentioned no less than seven times. Galatians 5:16 is directly opposite to Galatians 5:15. The latter verse refers to biting and devouring one another. However, if you walk by the Spirit, such things will not happen.

To “walk by the Spirit” means that you perform the purposes of the Spirit and that you make your decisions in the light of His holiness. It means that your conduct seeks to glorify Christ in your life, because that’s why the Holy Spirit came to earth (John 16:14). If you walk by the Spirit, the result is that you keep the flesh as dead. Actually, it is impossible to have Christ before your eyes and sin at the same time!

Galatians 5:17. Indeed the Christian has two natures: the new life and the old life. The new life longs to be guided by the Spirit, the old life wants to meet the desires of the flesh. The Spirit and the flesh are contrary to one another as enemies. The flesh is committed to preventing you from walking by the Spirit, and the Spirit withstands the operation of the flesh to prevent it from performing its will.

So the flesh is still present in the Christian, it is not dead or exterminated. The flesh “lusts” still, but you are no longer obliged to listen to what it wants. When you were converted God could have taken away sinful flesh. Yet He has left it in us to remind us constantly of our weakness and by that consciousness to keep us continuously dependent on Christ.

Well, who wins that battle which is now going on in you and me? This is where our responsibility comes into play. Someone once compared the two natures with two dogs: a white one and a black one that are constantly fighting with each other. ‘Do you know’, he said, ‘who wins? The dog I give food to!’ You realize that the Spirit does not quite get a chance to lead your life if you, for example, watch bad movies on TV or the internet, or if you are reading dirty books or magazines, or if you live dissatisfied with your neighbors. Then you give food to the black dog.

However, if you “keep seeking the things above, where Christ is” (Colossians 3:1), if you want to know Him more by reading the Bible and good books about Christ, if you like to tell those who surround you about the joy you have in knowing the Lord Jesus, yes, then you give food to the white dog.

So actually, it is a fight you yourself don’t have to fight. It's your business to be led by the Holy Spirit. That guidance by the Holy Spirit is not an issue that would be applicable only on certain occasions, for example in the meetings of the church. No, it is a matter for everyday life. It is also not a matter for ‘well advanced’ Christians. No, it’s a matter for every Christian, because every Christian has received the Holy Spirit at the moment he believed the gospel of his salvation (1 Corinthians 15:1-Numbers :, Ephesians 1:13).

Galatians 5:18. Whoever is led by the Spirit, is lifted above self-preoccupation with the law and the flesh, and is engaged with Christ. Whoever is led by the Spirit, doesn’t have the law as the rule of life to be justified thereby.

It is remarkable to see that it looks like Paul always mixes the law and the flesh. Paul in this letter also clearly demonstrated that the law was given to a people in the flesh that thought to be able to meet God’s law. The law was given to prove that the flesh “does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able [to do so]” (Romans 8:7).

Galatians 5:19-Ecclesiastes :. The law makes clear what the works of the flesh are. It is the whole activity of man who is not led by the Spirit of God. This obviously applies to people who are not born again, but it also applies to people who are, but who, instead of being led by the Spirit are led by the flesh.

Paul lists a number of works of the flesh. This list is not complete. In Matthew 15:19 and Romans 1:29-31, just to mention a few other places, other works of the flesh are mentioned (Matthew 15:19; Romans 1:29-Obadiah :). It is quite possible that Paul mentions these sins, because these sins happened among the Galatian Christians.

Paul presents as many as fifteen works of the flesh. The first three sins are sexual sins. “Immorality” is prohibited sexual intercourse. This concerns all sexual intercourse outside marriage and before marriage and not just sexual intercourse. “Impurity” refers to dealing with sexuality in a dirty way in thoughts, words, deeds and lusts, which can also happen within marriage. “Sensuality” is shameless behavior in sexual things without restraints and without caring what others think. This can also occur within marriage.

“Idolatry” and “sorcery” belong together as sins directly committed against God by ignoring His exclusive rights. The remaining works of the flesh are sins which concern my neighbor or brother.

Whoever does such things as daily practice, therefore not doing it accidentally, has no part in Christ and is beyond God's kingdom.

Now read Galatians 5:16-21 again.

Reflection: In what ways do you experience the struggle of Galatians 5:17?

Verses 22-26

The Fruit of the Spirit

Galatians 5:22. In Galatians 5:19 we read about the “works [plural] of the flesh”. In Galatians 5:22 Paul mentions the “fruit [singular] of the Spirit”. If you think of the works of the flesh, you see those works more as a result of what a man does. As to the fruit of the Spirit, you rather think of an inner attitude. It is a fruit, not of ourselves, as is the case with the works of the flesh, but of the Spirit. You could compare it to a factory and a garden. In a factory, people are working hard to realize a certain production. In a garden grows what is sown in it, without any work of man (except probably weeding).

The fruit of the Spirit is not the same as the gifts of the Spirit. Anyone who has received the Holy Spirit has also received certain spiritual gifts. Every believer has different gifts. With the fruit of the Spirit this difference is absent. It is a fruit which has to be present in every believer.

As mentioned, the word ‘fruit’ is in the singular. It is one fruit, but it is composed of nine parts. You can think of a diamond which is one stone, but with a difference in brightness, depending on how the light shines on it. You can also think of a flower with nine petals. If you remove a petal, the flower loses its beauty. Similarly, the nine parts of the fruit of the Spirit are not available separately. The Holy Spirit wants every part of the fruit to be fully exposed in unity with the whole.

1. The first part that is mentioned is “love”. That is understandable. It is the nature of God. God is love (1 John 4:8; 1 John 4:16) and His love “has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5).
2. The second part is “joy”. This is the joy which the Holy Spirit works in us as we think of God and what He has done for us in His Son, despite the difficult circumstances in which we can sometimes be. It is the joy “in the Lord” (Philippians 3:1) and that is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).
3. “Peace”, the third characteristic of the fruit, is the inner calmness and peace which is in God. It is the peace of God which, through the Holy Spirit, is worked in us if we are led by Him. Again, this peace will be ours, regardless of the difficult circumstances in which we can sometimes be.
Of these three: love, joy and peace, the Lord Jesus speaks of in John 14 and 15: “My love”, “My joy”, “My peace” (John 14:27; John 15:10-1 Kings :). Between Him and the Spirit is a perfect agreement.
4. How important “patience” (the fourth feature) is. How your patience is tested sometimes if you are in a difficult or hopeless situation or if you have to deal with difficult people.
5. A subsequent feature (the fifth) is “kindness”. In Titus 3, this feature is used for God (Titus 3:4). It shows His friendly mind and benevolent attitude to sinners. Are His mind and attitude, seen in your life? They surely are, if you are led by the Spirit.
6. “Goodness” (the sixth characteristic) shows that you are generously and compassionately looking for what is good for others. In Ephesians 5, goodness is connected with the fruit of the light (Ephesians 5:9).
7. You show “faithfulness” (the seventh feature) if people can trust you, if you are trustworthy.
8. “Gentleness” (the eighth feature) means that you are willing to take a humble position. It is not a spineless weakness, but an attitude you consciously take and for which you need much spiritual strength.
9. The list ends with the ninth characteristic: “self-control”. The Holy Spirit leads you to a disciplined life, in which you don’t yield to the impulses of passions and desires. He gives you the ability to control yourself.

This nine-fold fruit cannot be worked out by putting yourself under the law. This fruit will only grow and prosper in all freshness if you are led by the Holy Spirit. We see this fruit in its full maturity in the Lord Jesus, with the exception of self-control because that word contains the idea of wrong impulses which have to be tamed. Of course such impulses were not present in the Lord Jesus.

Galatians 5:23. The fruit of the Spirit is beyond the reach of the law. But even if the law had had something to do with it, there is still nothing in the fruit of the Spirit that should fall under the judgment of the law. All the features or parts of the fruit of the Spirit are a delight to God, are useful for our fellow man and have a beneficial effect on our own spiritual life.

Galatians 5:24. This fruit is found in “those who belong to Christ Jesus”. They have radically given up “the flesh” and all “passions and desires” which belong to the flesh. For you this means that you must put into practice what you recognized when you were converted. Then you made yourself one with the judgment God accomplished on the cross regarding the flesh.

Paul does not say to crucify the flesh, but to keep it as crucified. So it is not a painful and slow process of mortification, but a case of accepting in faith what God says. That is in retrospect to what happened on the cross.

Galatians 5:25. At your conversion you received life by the Spirit. Now the point is also to walk by that Spirit. This refers to the present, the here and now. The thought is that a certain position (living by the Spirit) must be demonstrated in practice (walking by the Spirit).

Galatians 5:26. The law could not give life; neither does it give strength to a life in which fruit is borne for God. The last verse indicates again where keeping the law leads: to the pride of the flesh and the contempt of others.

Now read Galatians 5:22-26 again.

Reflection: Memorize the fruit of the Spirit off by heart.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Galatians 5". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/galatians-5.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniƫl', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.