LIBERTY TO BE PRACTICED
Chapter 4 dealt with the perfect freedom introduced by God Himself through Christ, freedom given to all who have been redeemed by His precious blood, freedom from the bondage of law in all its forms. It is not, however, freedom to walk in our own ways according to our own wills (for that is really bondage), but freedom from fear of judgment, freedom from the Law as a rule of life, freedom to walk with God in the blessedness of intimate communion with His own mind and heart. Anything less than this is not freedom. Following our wills is bondage, for it is the devil's triumph and our eventual misery.
This being so, let the Galatians stand fast in the place that Christ had given them (v.1). Let them act consistently with it, make full, godly use of it, and certainly never tinge it with the vanity of their own works, the entanglement of the yoke of bondage. What a contrast in the yoke of the Lord Jesus: "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:29-30). They had originally exchanged the yoke of bondage for the Lord's yoke. What folly then to return to that which only occasioned complaint, chafing and in subjection!
This Christian liberty was denied if the Gentile Galatians became circumcised (v.2.) Evidently the judaizers were pressing this on the Galatians as a religious regulation, as had been the case with Jews under the Law. But adding such things to Christianity is subtracting from Christ. The mere form of circumcision did not do away with Christ, nor were those who had been circumcised before conversion thereby deprived of any benefit from Christ. But for the Galatians, after conversion to Christ, to be circumcised -- thus taking a place under the Law -- was a public declaration that their blessing was really coming from the Law, not from Christ. What profit is anyone receiving from Christ if he is occupied with law-keeping, which does not cultivate love and light in the soul, nor reflect the character of Christ?
These verses do not forbid circumcision as such, as might be desired by some for medical reasons, but are directed against the pride of adopting the practice of circumcision as a religious obligation, which the Jews had come to consider has some spiritual merit in it. For that reason some Jews were urging Gentile Christians to accept this.
But everyone who outwardly placed himself under the Law by being circumcised, made himself a debtor to keep the whole Law. Baptism is an outward thing that makes a person responsible to adhere to all Christian truth: circumcision makes him responsible to do the whole Law. Can he do both at once? Impossible! Law assumes a person capable of obedience to it. Christianity declares all have sinned, all disobedient, and presents an entirely new and perfect ground of blessing, the accomplished work of Christ on the cross of Calvary. If one clings altogether to Christ, how can he cling altogether to the Law? Such an attitude is double-mindedness, begetting instability in all one's ways (James 1:8).
If the Law is taken as a principle of justification, this (practically speaking) renders them "estranged from Christ" (v.4). They were not apostates who had given up the truth concerning Christ, as the case (impossible of recovery) of those described in Hebrews 6:4-6, but they had "fallen from grace." This expression does not mean that they had carelessly fallen into sinful ways after having believed, or that they had committed some dreadful sinful act, but rather that in taking the place of being justified by keeping the Law, they had fallen from the high position they had by grace. They are not reproved for wicked works, but for depending on their supposed good works to keep them saved, instead of depending entirely on the grace of God.
The proper stand of the Galatians described in verse 5 is clear evidence that the Spirit of God dwelt in them, even though they had "fallen from grace." "We through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith." Note in verses 4 and 5 seven striking words Scripture uses to speak of positive blessing. We list them below, and opposite them the contrasting negative things that can never bring blessing:
Christ ----------- Moses
Grace ------------ Law
The Spirit ------- The flesh
Waiting ---------- Striving
Hope ------------- Fear
Righteousness ---- Condemnation
Faith ------------ Works
"Hope" here is anticipation "both sure and steadfast" (Hebrews 6:19), not a doubtful issue, as today's usage infers. In verse 6 it is beautiful to see that while Paul speaks strongly against confidence in circumcision, he shows no favor to uncircumcision either. What does he mean? He is striking at the assumption that neither of these adds to Christianity. One may boast he is circumcised, another that he is uncircumcised, but both have no relationship to the question of a person's relationship to God. The prime principle of Christianity is faith, simply taking God at His Word. This brings the believer into His immediate presence. In Paul's conversion, when the light shone from heaven and the Lord Jesus spoke to him, there was no law laid down, no commandment given to change his ways. When full of his self-righteousness and his works, when he was prompted by bitter hatred toward Christians, faith found lodging in his heart. Then his love for Christians was greater than his hatred had been. Blessed result of having his eyes fixed on Christ, not on the Law!
WARNED AGAINST BAD INFLUENCE
The Galatians had run well (v.7). There had been the outflow of love, together with the exercise of faith on their part. Where were these evidences now? Who had hindered them from obeying the truth? Why were they not clinging simply and only to the truth revealed in Christ? Could they dare to say that God was persuading them to think more of the Law and less of Christ? Paul knew this declension had not taken place only because of the ignorance or self-will of the Galatians. They had been under some bad influence of those infiltrating among them, and the Galatians must be warned against such false teachers.
A little leaven very soon leavens the whole lump (v.9). Leaven (yeast) always speaks of the corrupting action of sin. Being only a little, it may hardly be noticed at first, but deceitful men know how to gradually introduce their false doctrines and soon corrupt the truth. Only a little of the doctrine of self-righteousness added to Christianity will spoil the whole, for it magnifies man and belittles Christ. But Christianity is Christ highly exalted and mankind humbled to the dust. This same quotation as to leaven occurs also in 1 Corinthians 5:6 where self-indulgence (moral corruption) is the leaven, while in Galatians self-confidence (doctrinal evil) is the leaven. In either case it is mixture hated by God.
How sweet is the contrasting touch of gentleness, proving a quietness of trust in Christ, in Paul's words of verse 10, "I have confidence in you, in the Lord, that you will have no other mind" Still, this spirit of confidence as to their bowing to the Word of God's grace, is guarded from ungodly abuse. Paul is not confident of those who have deliberately pressed these perverse doctrines of legality on the Galatians. Whatever the position, character or dignity of these trouble-makers, the guilt of this perversion of truth rests on their shoulders. Paul shows no such tolerance as advocated by liberal minded men of today.
Another question is seen in verse 11, if Paul were advocating Judaism, why were the Jews his implacable enemies? Why had he been persecuted from the very first time he came to the Galatians, and before? If Christ had been introduced merely as a sort of afterthought and addition to Judaism, instead of completely superseding it, the Jews would have welcomed this, for their own pride would be complimented by it. No true place would be given to the cross at all, no suggestion given that the cross was the judgment of all flesh, the repudiating of all that is of the creature. But the cross shows humanity in its true colors. Hence people are offended by it.
"I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off!" (v.12). Paul didn't relish the task of dealing directly and summarily with these trouble-makers, but if his ministry stirred up the Galatians to hold fast to the simple, pure principles of the grace of God and reject the pressures of the judaizers, then the frustration of their efforts would likely result in their cutting themselves off, that is, leaving the fellowship of the Galatian assemblies. Those who have a character of self-righteousness cannot long endure a single-hearted, steadfast devotion to the grace of the Lord Jesus alone. Such devotion will irritate them more than anything else. They will tolerate and continue with confusion, strife, backbiting, contempt, envy, and every kind of fleshly thing. In fact, they will feed these fleshly manifestations, but they will flee from the true manifestation of the grace of God in Christ Jesus. It is better if people decide themselves to leave rather than to require the solemn excommunication of the assembly, for then the responsibility is placed squarely on their own shoulders.
LIBERTY AND LOVE
Liberty and love go together (v.13). There is no such thing as true liberty if it does not occasion the spontaneous outflow of love. Liberty is the very sphere into which the Christian is introduced, liberty from the bondage of the Law, of self, of sin; liberty in fact to honor God. There is no place for the exercise of self-will: such is bondage rather than liberty. The Devil seeks to corrupt this truth and make liberty a license for the indulgence of the flesh, but his evil does not annul the truth. The place of liberty is the place of utter dependence upon, and subjection to God. This is the liberty of the Spirit. How dishonorable then to use such liberty as an occasion for the flesh, the old nature, to indulge itself! How despicable to take ungodly advantage of the kindness of God! The very essence of Christianity is, "through love serve one another" (v.13).
The character of the true child of God is simple. There is no great, involved scheme of practice pressed upon him, no legal forms and ceremonies as contained in the Old Testament. In fact, the Law is fulfilled in one brief sentence, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (v.14). This is the root of things, which the law searches out. Love of others absolutely cuts off selfishness, which is the unvarying motive of the legalist, for he seeks blessing for himself, not for others. So the more legal-minded one is, the more thoroughly is he ignoring the claims of the Law in which he boasts!
Such was the inconsistency of the Galatians. Their doctrine called for keeping the Law: their practice was to "bite and devour one another" (v.15), having seemingly no sense of shame concerning it. "Beware," Paul tells them, "lest you be consumed by one another." This is the inevitable result of selfish motives. By our being contentious we soon consume away all spirituality in one another. All that is really profitable is withered away.
THE SPIRIT CONTRASTED TO THE FLESH
So they (and we) are told, "Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh" (v.16). This is turning thoroughly from self-interest, self-exaltation, self-sufficiency and all that is of self, to fix the eye upon Christ, the Object with whom the Spirit of God would engage each of us. This does not involve fleshly determination, but a genuine turning from ourselves, to place all value on what God is and what God has done. The Spirit of God dwells in every believer (Romans 8:9). Therefore we are simply required to submit to His leading and power, and the flesh will have no occasion to work. It is really a most simple truth, but one of great difficulty for Christians to lay hold of because of our natural pride that delights in taking credit for well-doing, instead of giving all credit to God. Indeed, even when there is a recognition that the Spirit of God only can produce fruit for God, there is too often the conception that this is mixed with some inherent good in ourselves, The resulting conflict is seen in Romans 7:1-25 - "I" against "I", the flesh determined to put itself down, while actually this means opposition to the Holy Spirit's work.
The flesh and the Spirit are contrary one to the other: there is no point of agreement. The work of the one leaves no room for the work of the other. God will not give His glory to another, and the flesh will not abandon its dishonest selfishness. If God is to be allowed to work, the energy of the flesh must cease. In fact, it is only God's own voice that can quiet the soul so that His work might be seen and rejoiced in, but when the flesh is active, we will have no spirit of thankfulness, no recognition of God's true glory. The last clause of verse 7 shows that the flesh is too strong for us: "you do not do the things that you wish." There is no suggestion that it is impossible to do what is pleasing to God, but the activity of the flesh tends toward not doing what we want to do. It is only God, by His Holy Spirit, who can gain the victory in this battle. My struggling does not help at all, for this would be only the flesh trying to subdue the flesh. The Spirit of God within me accomplishes what I cannot do because He draws my heart to the Lord Jesus to depend totally on Him and have no confidence in the flesh.
Some believers, not understanding that all goodness and truth is in God alone, will suppose that to "walk in the Spirit" is a requirement comparable to the rules the Law. Therefore they fast, punish themselves, go through severe self-discipline, laboring to attain such an experience. But such attainment is impossible. Rather, the patience of faith and quiet rest in God's presence is asked, no labor, no pressing or forcing, for "if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law" (v.18). The Spirit of God never leads us to set up legal standards as guides: He Himself "will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13), engaging the heart and mind with Christ, a Standard far more pure, far more full than law. How sweet and joyous is this place of rest, and how perfect a foundation for a life that is devoted to a "labor of love" (1 Thessalonians 1:3), not by constraint, but willingly, rejoicing to bow the shoulder to the easy yoke of the Lord Jesus (Matthew 11:30). This is to be led by the Spirit, the character of whose work is seen in verses 22 and 23, where no great outward work is mentioned, but every quiet and beautiful virtue. For the Spirit of God always sets Christ as the One Object before our hearts.
Some of the works of the flesh are enumerated in verses 19 to 21. The flesh is not slow to manifest itself, though we might be inclined to speak with less strong and personally-applicable words that God does about these things. It is all too possible that these things find expression in the believer, though they are the characteristics of the unbeliever who has only a sinful nature. Paul strongly emphasizes "that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God" (v.21). Unbelievers practice such things: it is their life, their character. What a shame then for a believer, in the slightest degree of his conduct, to resemble one who is bound for eternal punishment! Paul is not threatening the believer with this, but showing him the wretched inconsistency of acting as does the world, when the believer's character and destiny are so far removed from the world.
The refreshing contrast is the fruit of the Spirit (v.22), the believer's proper character Mark the singular here, fruit, not fruits. It is the perfect oneness, the harmonious flowing together of God's work, sweet contrast to the discordant, jarring contradiction of the works of the flesh. Note the precious and unostentatious character of all this fruit. There is no display. Fruit for God is not seen in great public manifestations, as we might see in John 15:7-8. Ephesians 5:9 declares, "the fruit of the light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth" (JND). We read too in Hebrews 12:11 of "the peaceable fruit of righteousness." The fruit itself is the quiet, godly virtues of light and love. The energy there in such fruit is God-given and profitably directed, while the flesh, or self, is hidden from view.
"Love, joy, peace." These three characteristics are the animating power for the entire life, for they are primarily operating when the soul is shut up with God. It is our proper attitude toward Him. Blessed contrast to the hatred, misery and fear that fills the unbeliever at the very thought of the presence of God.
"Long-suffering, kindness, goodness." Here is our normal Christian attitude toward others, sweet characteristics of a life that in godliness seeks the welfare of those with whom we may come in contact. These traits are shown when we consider one another in genuine respect and simplicity. They are better meditated upon and practiced than explained.
Finally, "faithfulness, gentleness, self control." These three are personal to ourselves. Do you have faith? "Have it to yourself before God" (Romans 14:22). We must neither act on the faith of another, nor press another to act on our faith, though we may give him the Word of God to encourage him to act on his own faith. Gentleness (or meekness) is that quality that simply submits to personal humiliation, if need be, without demanding our personal "rights" as we see them. Self-control is a great inner conquest, as Proverbs 16:32 reminds us: "He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city." In contrast, "Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls" (Proverbs 25:28). "Against such there is no law." They are the spontaneous fruit of the Spirit, operating unquenched and ungrieved in our lives. Law neither produces or prohibits them.
"And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (v.24). This is the step which, by faith, we take when we trust in Christ. We may not be fully conscious of it, nor would we express ourselves at that time as Scripture does, but we do, to a greater or lesser degree, condemn self and justify God. Of course, from God's side the judgment of the flesh has already been completely accomplished at the cross of Christ, so when we receive Christ as Savior, we accept God's judgment of sin as applying to our own sinful nature. We virtually admit that the flesh is only good for crucifixion, and by taking sides with Christ we therefore crucify the flesh with its passions and desires. We don't experience a thing like this, but we accept it by faith. Because God has passed this judgment on the flesh, we take sides with Him in this judgment. This is in contrast to making excuses for the sin of the flesh, or justifying what the flesh in us has been guilty of. We must be done with the flesh as an evil thing, and count it as having been crucified at the cross of Christ. Then we can rightly say we have been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20), yet that we live, having a new life now that is the fruit of God's work, a life linked with Christ in resurrection (Ephesians 2:1-5).
Therefore "we live in the Spirit" (v.25). This is true of every child of God. Since this is so, then let our walk be consistent with it, seeking no other motivating power except that which is of God. To desire personal and worldly honor is just the reverse of this, for such motives really put God out of sight. Self is then puffed up, a most obnoxious attitude for a Christian, and productive of every evil -- rivalry, controversy, envy -- in our associations with one another. "Let us not be" (v.26) is a negative to be taken seriously.
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Galatians 5". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany