Paul was concerned about the Christians in Galatia, because false doctrine had penetrated their churches. The Galatians had come out of paganism. They had forsaken heathen practices and had accepted the salvation that comes with belief in Christ. They were, in fact, converts of the Apostle Paul himself.
Sometime after Paul's departure the Judaizers arrived and told them it was not sufficient to believe in Christ alone for salvation. They were convincing the Galatians that it was necessary to obey the Mosaic law. But that was nothing short of legalism -attempting to please God through works, rather than faith. Legalism is the belief that if you perform certain religious activities, God will save and bless you on that basis rather than on the basis of faith alone. Salvation by works is precisely what Paul argued against in the epistle to the Galatians. Salvation is not a question of what you do; it's is a question of what you believe. It is a question of faith, not works.
In chapter 5, Paul tells the Galatian believers, "It was for freedom that Christ set us free." We have been delivered, set free, from the judgment of the law of God, and we no longer live under its disciplinary regulations. Freedom, as expressed in Galatians, refers to freedom from the frustrating struggle to keep the law to gain God's favor. It is the freedom of knowing you are accepted by God, because of what Christ has done for you.
Paul tells these Galatian believers, "stand fast in the freedom of Christ", which means they are to permit nothing to alter their confidence in the fact that when Christ took their place, He really took their place, and that there is nothing they can do that will alter that truth.
Paul is telling them that that freedom comes at the cost of continual vigilance. If we would be free from the yoke of slavery, we must take our position in Christ every day and stand our ground against anything and anyone who would steal our freedom from us.
Galatians 5:2 (NASB) Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.
"Circumcision," in Paul's terminology, has become a catch word for "meritorious human effort to achieve God's approval." Paul is saying that you cannot mix law and grace, and if you try, you destroy grace - therefore, Christ does not benefit you if you are not trusting in Him, but in yourself. If you believe that your human effort earns God's favor, Christ does not benefit you.
Galatians 5:4 (NASB) You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.
Paul's words have absolutely no connection to the foreign notion that those who "trust Christ" and then grievously sin have "fallen from grace." How do I know this? I know this, because there isn't anyone who hasn't "trusted Christ" and then "sinned grievously." Only the self-righteous think they have not sinned grievously.
Falling from grace means that a believer who reverts to "human effort to earns God's favor" has fallen from a present experience of grace. While our position in the grace of God is secure, our experience of His grace is not.
When we seek God's approval through our own efforts, when we think we must do something to earn God's favor, this is pride. And pride causes us to fall from grace. To seek to be justified or approved of God by our works is the height of pride. And God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. We must understand that pride stands in direct opposition to grace.
Grace is available to meet our every need, to get us through every circumstance, to empower us for every task. But we must appropriate it. We appropriate God's grace as we humbly read God's Word, pray, submit to His providential dealings in our life, and allow others to minister to us. Believers, everyone of us is to be a minister of grace. The things we say are to minister grace to the hearers (Eph. 4:29).
To live by grace is to live solely by the merit of Jesus Christ. To live by grace is to base my entire relationship with God, including my acceptance and standing with Him, on my union with Christ. To live by grace is to recognize that in myself I bring nothing of worth to my relationship with God, because even my righteous acts are like filthy rags in His sight. To live by grace means that we understand that God's love is not conditioned by our obedience or disobedience, but by the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ:
Romans 5:19 (NASB) For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.
We are declared righteous by God on the basis of Christ's perfect obedience that has been imputed to our account by faith.
Galatians 5:5 (NASB) For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness.
Notice that He speaks of a righteousness that is yet future - a "hope of righteousness." He speaks of "we" - Paul and the Galatian believers-as "waiting" for righteousness, not as possessing righteousness. What does Paul mean? Do "we" (21st century believers) have righteousness, or are we waiting for it? In Paul's day they were waiting for it, but we now have what they hoped for.
Righteousness came with the New Heaven and New Earth at the second coming of Christ. Their wait ended in A.D. 70, and every believer who has lived since that time has had Christ's righteousness. So in Paul's day, righteousness was a hope that was fulfilled when the Lord returned in the destruction of Jerusalem consummating the New Covenant.
Galatians 5:6 (NASB) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.
Faith works through love. If your faith doesn't produce love, it is a dead faith and in danger of temporal judgement. The moral dynamic of faith is love. Since faith is invisible, a persons' possession of faith is dependant upon his verbal testimony alone. But if his faith is living, it will work through love. Love is obedience to God's revealed will:
John 14:15 (NASB) "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
Love is active, it does something, and without it faith dies.
Now let's move on to these next six verses in 5:7-12:
Galatians 5:7 (NASB) You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?
The first issue that jumps out at us here is the reality that the Galatians have changed course. Paul said that they were running well. Paul acknowledges the fact that there was a time in which the Galatian believers were faithful to Christ and His teachings. Here he uses the imagery of a race. And the idea was that they were competitors, they were pursuing a goal. They had the finish line in view. But now, someone was hindering their run.
Paul uses a metaphor here that gives us some insight into the way he conceived of life as a Christian. Actually, Paul referred to living as a believer; as running a race on multiple occasions (Galatians 2:2):
Philippians 2:16 (NASB) holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may have cause to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.
The writer of Hebrews also used a race as a metaphor for the Christian's life:
Hebrews 12:1 (NASB) Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
The New Testament writers considered the discipline of running an apt figure for the basic issues of living life as a believer. This is not good news to those who are lazy and don't like to exert themselves. Preferences aside, though, what is the chief parallel between running and living? To answer, let us consider Paul's references to living as running:
Romans 9:16 (NASB) So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.
Here Paul writes of the futility of the running that ignored the reality of sovereign mercy. In this context, he was addressing the fact that people run when they have some urgent and important objective in mind. In the larger context, that urgent and important objective is being a recipient of God's mercy and compassion. So, in the larger context of Paul's writings, his understanding of life and running came together at the point of the urgent and important objective.
Then, in his letter to the Corinthians he challenged his readers to consider the essential nature of a race:
1 Corinthians 9:24 (NASB) Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.
1 Corinthians 9:26 (NASB) Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air;
Those who run a race are involved in something that has a very fundamental bottom line: it is a competition to see who can win. Here he brings in the previous issue of the urgent and important objective by referring to the prize.
So what did "running well" mean to the Galatians? To answer, the first thing we must do is look at the statement within the immediate context of Paul's thought. He has declared that Christ's actions in our behalf were designed to set us free. He has indicated that it is possible to yield that freedom so that we are enslaved once again to bondage. And he has declared pointedly that the issue of that freedom/bondage struggle rests solidly upon which approach we take to God in light of the actions of Christ. This would mean that to "run well" involves remaining solidly fixed upon the correct approach we take to God.
The wrong approach is that of "circumcision," which is used here as a metaphor for relying upon human diligence. This person approaches God with a "look how well I have obeyed You" mentality.
The right approach is to "run well," which is used as a metaphor for maintaining a fixation upon the absolutely adequate merit of Jesus Christ as the substitute performer so that the approach to God occurs with a "I am trusting solely in Jesus" mentality.
In a way, Paul said the same thing to the Philippians:
Philippians 3:3 (NASB) for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh,
The best texts have, "Worship by the Spirit of God." In other words, it's not outward ceremony, but inward faith. It is produced by the Holy Spirit. It is Spirit empowered worship. That is what is important about it. Legal worship consisted in the outward act and was restricted to certain times and places. There were special days and special places to worship. But to the true Christian, worship is spiritual. It is not isolated to acts, but embraces the whole of life.
The second thing that Paul says about a true Christian is, "They glory in Christ Jesus." This is the positive side. The Greek word used here for "glory" is kauchaomai. It means: "To boast, to glory, to pride oneself in something, to exult." It is used to define two extremes of religious attitude, which can be seen in Galatians 6. It refers either to proud self-confidence as in:
Galatians 6:13 (NASB) For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised, that they may boast in your flesh.
They wanted to boast in the number of converts they had won. Or kauchaomai is used to refer to humble submission to God's grace as revealed in the cross of Christ:
Galatians 6:14 (NASB) But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
The only thing that Paul boasted in was Christ and his work of redemption on the cross. As Christians, the only thing we should be boasting about is Christ and His work.
Therefore, "running well" involves glorying only in Christ and having no confidence in our flesh. Running well is, as Paul stated earlier in the book (Galatians 2:20), a matter of "Christ living in us" as we operate in an attitude of dependence upon His presence and willingness to express Himself through us.
That the Galatians were guilty of stepping away from this reality is at the core of Paul's statement: "...ye were running well..." Obviously they were not running so well at the time of Paul's writing. What happened to them? They were being hindered in their run. Paul asks the question, "...who hindered you?" Who were they? Paul called them "distorters of the Gospel" in 1:7. He called them "false brethren" in 2:4. He also said that they "wish to shut you out, in order that you may seek them" in 4:17, and in 6:12 he accused them of desiring to make a good show in the flesh so that, according to 6:13, they may "boast in the flesh." What does all this mean? It means that the Galatians stepped away from the truth, because there were those among them who were attempting to create a visible monument to the pride of man and were deceiving the Galatians into being a part of that monument.
The word Paul uses in our text for "hindered" is the Greek word anakalupto, which means: "to beat back, i.e. check:- hinder." It is only used twice in the New Testament, and if we look at Paul's other use of this word, it will give us insight into Paul's meaning:
2 Corinthians 3:14 (NASB) But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, [anakalupto] because it is removed in Christ.
Here it was the veiled nature of the Old Covenant that kept them from seeing Christ and it seems that the Galatian believers were having this veil pulled back over their eyes. Christ had removed the veil from their eyes, but the Judiazers were trying to pull it back over their eyes. They were being hindered from "running well" by being put back under the Old Covenant with all its unattainable demands.
Galatians 5:8 (NASB) This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you.
The word not is emphasized in the Greek. It is the strongest of the words for negation from which Paul had to choose. Paul is being emphatic.
The Galatians were not led by the Spirit into legalism. After all, it was the Spirit of God who had called them into freedom. Romans 8:30 tells us that God calls people to salvation:
Romans 8:30 (NASB) and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
So Paul says that persuasion to follow legalism did not come from God. The God who called them to salvation through His internal, effectual, saving call does not propagate that kind of message.
That God calls people to salvation is a clear teaching of Scripture:
2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 (NASB) But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. 14 And it was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In both 1:6 and here in 5:8 of Galatians, Paul describes God as the One Who calls. Men don't like this. When you say that salvation is by the sovereign call of God, men cry out that they have a free will and can accept or reject God. But this is not a biblical view:
John 6:44 (NASB) "No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.
If you study the uses of the word "draw" here, you will find that it means: "to draw by irresistible superiority." When God calls, men come. It is not that God drags those who don't want to come. It is that God makes willing by His grace.
What about free will? Some will attempt to argue that man is not a person, but an automaton, because he cannot resist the sovereign choices and will of God. But we must understand that personhood does not arise from the concept of volitional freedom. Let me try to illustrate. If a person has a consumptive terror of death so that his desire to stay alive is his most powerful desire, that person can be forced by the threat of death to do anything that lies in his power to do. That he is enslaved to the terror of death is a given, but that does not make him a non-person. Rather, it makes him a slave-person. So, if we put forth the notion that God can and does box men in so that they are driven to make the choices they make by their own loves and fears, we may have a problem with God for doing things that way, but we have not made man an automaton in the process. Thus we have to acknowledge that a bound will does not destroy personhood.
Technically, no one has a free will if, by that terminology, we mean that a person can make any possible choice that exists. Even God is declared by His own Word to be incapable of choosing evil. Thus, even God cannot make any choice that exists.
Too much has been made of the notion of free will. The will is never free from the boundaries that are defined and circumscribed by the nature of the individual who possesses that will. This is why Jesus taught that the only way to get good fruit from a tree was to make the tree good. The only way to enable the will to choose holiness is to make the heart that binds the will to itself holy. The only way to enable the will to choose wisdom is to make the heart that binds the will to itself wise. The only way to enable the will to choose love is to make the heart that binds the will to itself loving. It is the essential nature of the person who possesses the will that determines the directions of that will's choices. No one's will is free from circumscription by the values of his heart and the thinking of his mind.
If we attempt to exalt man's initiative by saying Paul was simply chosen because God had foreseen that he would respond to God's action in a positive way, we are denying that grace is a divine initiative. If God's choices are subject to man's, then man is the initiator.
Paul told the Galatians that "This persuasion did not come from God." How do we tell if a given argument has its roots in God or in someone else? This question becomes even more critical when we realize that many times those who promote certain persuasions quote from the Bible in order to validate their argument. How do we tell if a person who is using the Bible to attempt to get us to believe something is presenting God's truth or some perversion of that Truth?
Someone may say, "We can tell if a persuasion is from God if it agrees with the Bible." How much help is that? Almost none!
The problem with answering the question that way is simply that people are enormously adept at seeing their theology in the Bible and thinking that it came from the Bible. And, conversely, people are enormously inadequate to the task of drawing true meaning from the biblical text.
I think we can tell if a given argument has its roots in God or in someone else only by turning to God and acknowledging our complete dependence upon His willingness to guide our thoughts in right paths and by seeking to interpret the Bible using the laws of hermeneutics.
God is of such a nature that He will give truth to those who are willing to humble themselves and diligently seek Him for it. When our dependence is upon God, and we are willing to diligently labor to interpret the text, the words of the biblical text become clear in meaning.
Galatians 5:9 (NASB) A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.
With these words, the apostle introduces one of the most crucial reasons for intolerance. Tolerance allows the introduction of a seemingly inconsequential element of falsehood into a whole, which, Paul says, will ultimately destroy the integrity of the whole. Thus, there is a huge need for intolerance. But intolerance seems to be un-Christian in our day. Believers, we must be intolerant of doctrinal error, and to do this, we must understand truth.
Paul may be picking up on a statement the Lord made to the disciples shortly after He had miraculously fed the five thousand and the four thousand:
Matthew 16:6 (NASB) And Jesus said to them, "Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees."
The disciples didn't understand what He was referring to, thinking that the Lord was talking about physical bread. Jesus then reminded them of the miraculous feedings and chided them in verse 11, saying:
Matthew 16:11-12 (NASB) "How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees." 12 Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
God was using leaven to symbolize false doctrines. And in our text, Paul is warning the Galatians that if those who have hindered their Christian walk are allowed to keep teaching their grace-plus-works gospel, that false gospel would eventually spread throughout the congregation.
In the Jewish way of thinking, leaven almost always stood for evil influence. Verse 9 contains what may have been a well-known proverb. We find the same expression in 1 Corinthians 5:6 where Paul uses it to convey how letting a man's moral sin go unchallenged was a corrupting influence on the entire church. The use of this proverb propounds the same principle: what seems to be a little thing can do a lot of damage.
Galatians 5:10 (NASB) I have confidence in you in the Lord, that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is.
Paul seems to be settling something in his own mind. When he first heard of the Galatians' doctrinal and personal drift away from God and His grace-orientation, he was alarmed (see 1:6). Because of the seriousness of the doctrinal issues involved, he began to be confused as to the Galatians' true spiritual condition (see 4:20).
So, how was Paul to decide? He went to the Only One Who really knew! In the text before us he wrote, "I have confidence in the Lord, that you will adopt no other view..." In other words, he took his dilemma to God so that the words that he wrote would be an accurate reflection of the real truth. And his conclusion was that his original impression was the truth: these folks really had been born again by faith in the crucified Christ. That meant that their current condition was a temporary one created by the fact that they were being deceived.
Therefore, this verse stands as a witness to Paul's decision to continue to believe that the Galatians were simply immature believers who needed to grow up in the Truth.
Now notice what Paul says of those who promote salvation as a consequence of man's will rather than God's? Paul is pretty blunt: "the one who is disturbing you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is."
God is a just God and will not tolerate people trying to destroy His people, especially the young in the faith as is implied in the words of Jesus:
Matthew 18:6-7 (NASB) but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 "Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!
Now we're not too familiar with millstones, so let me tell you a little about them. A "millstone" was used for the grinding of corn or grain, every household had one. The household millstones were about 2 feet across and 6 inches thick. It took two women to use it. It probably weighed between 75 to 100 pounds. How would you like to go swimming with that around your neck? You get the point, right? Well this is even stronger than you may think. The Greek word used for "millstone" here is mulos onikos, which means: "a millstone belonging to a donkey." This was not the average household millstone, but one so large that a donkey was used to turn it. So Jesus is saying, "You'd be better off dead than to lead a Christian to sin." We need to be very careful how we treat each other. This is an important biblical truth.
Galatians 5:11 (NASB) But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished.
The troublers of Galatia, the Judaizers, had evidently spurred the rumor in Galatia that Paul himself had preached the need of circumcision for salvation. They may gotten this idea from the fact that (1) Paul himself was circumcised, (2) Paul did not preach against circumcision as a cultural identification among Jews, and (3) he had gone to the trouble of having Timothy, who was from the Galatian region, circumcised. Now they took these facts and distorted them into a Pauline promotion of circumcision for justification. Paul asks, "But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted?" In other words, if this is true, then why was Paul the object of their ridicule and persecutions? If he had been in agreement with the Judaizers on circumcision, then the whole issue of the cross would have been laid aside, as he writes: "Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished." They could have existed in harmony if Paul agreed with their Christ-plus-works salvation.
When Paul writes in Galatians of circumcision, he is not referring to the simple action of cutting the foreskin off of an eight-day-old male baby, or cutting off the foreskin of a man who has become a convert to the theology of Judaism. "Circumcision," in Paul's terminology, has become a catch word for "meritorious human effort to achieve God's approval."
"Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished" - the cross was a stumbling block to the Jews partly because they could not accept the idea of a suffering, much less crucified, Messiah. But it was even more an offense to them because it robbed them of their most distinctive outward signs of Jewishness, the Mosaic law and circumcision.
Galatians 5:12 (NASB) Would that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves.
Paul closes his polemic on false doctrine and false teachers with one of the most shocking statements that ever came from his lips. He says that he wishes those people who are teaching circumcision would castrate themselves!
The word Paul uses for "mutilate" is apokopto, it means: "to amputate or castrate." The Judaizers had emphasized circumcision more than the Old Testament Law had. The mentality of the Judaizers was that the cutting off of a little flesh was commendable and pleasing in God's sight. In short, they taught that circumcision contributed to a man's righteousness. If this were really true, Paul queries, then why not press the matter even further? If cutting off a little flesh is good, cutting off much flesh is even better. Why not be so pious as to castrate oneself?
The Old Testament Law forbade a castrated man from entering the assembly of the Lord (Deut. 23:1). No Jew would ever have considered going this far.
Bordering Galatia was the territory of Phrygia, where the goddess Cybele was worshiped. It was the practice of the priests and devout worshipers of Cybele to be castrated. All the priests of Cybele were eunuchs. So Paul says that if you're going to go the route of human achievement and get yourself circumcised, you might as well go the whole route and castrate yourselves and become a full-fledged pagan! From the Old Testament Scriptures and contemporary culture, the Galatians would recognize castration as too extreme, and yet it was the logical extension of their doctrine. As this illustration graphically reveals, the horrifying thought of castration was intended to show the Galatians that the Judaizers had gone too far.
With such a dramatic conclusion to this point, Paul has made one thing clear: legalism is no little thing. It takes away our liberty and puts us into bondage. It makes Jesus and His work of no profit to us. It puts us under obligation to the whole law. It violates the work of the Spirit of God. It makes us focus on things that are irrelevant. It keeps us from running the race Jesus set before us.
Mankind has only two choices: the religion of divine grace, or the religion of human achievement. Luke 18 illustrates them very graphically:
Luke 18:9-10 (NASB) And He also told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: 10 "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer.
The holiest people, in the thinking of many Jewish people, were the Pharisees, and the most despicable persons were tax collectors, who were the puppets of the hated Roman government.
Luke 18:11-12 (NASB) "The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, 'God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. 12 'I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.'
When we love to talk about our religious accomplishments, we border on Pharisaism. If we brag about our praying, our giving, or our ministry, we are practicing the religion of human achievement. I don't know why this Pharisee even bothered praying to God; all he wanted to do was report in about how good he had been. However, the tax collector recognized his need of divine grace and therefore received it:
Luke 18:13-14 (NASB) "But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!' 14 "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted."
The message of Galatians is very simple: Apart from the grace of God, there is no other means of salvation. No man ever comes to God on his own merit. God's arms are open; He graciously offers salvation to those who will believe in Him.
What will you say when you stand before the Lord, and He asks why He should let you into heaven? Will you reply with one of these answers? "I was raised Catholic." "I'm a fourth-generation Presbyterian." "I attended a Lutheran school." "I was baptized" "I do good deeds." "I give money to charity." "I was a deacon." "I sang in the choir." "I am a good person." You'll need to have a better answer than any of those if you want to go to heaven.
The only answer that God will accept is, "I am trusting in the sacrificial substitutionary death of the Lord Jesus Christ for my sins." Jesus must be your final answer.
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