Galatians 5:1–15comment (0)
June 25, 2009
By Jay T. Robertso
Related Scripture: Galatians 5:1–15
Explore the Bible
Assistant Professor of Christian Studies, School of Christian Studies, University of Mobile
CLAIM YOUR FREEDOM
Understand Your Freedom (1a)
Galatians is the Magna Carta of Christian liberty, and Galatians 5:1 is one of the key verses of the Epistle. The Christian has been set free from the negative effects of the Law, so he or she should not return to it. Christian liberty is grounded on the believer’s relationship with Jesus Christ on the one hand and the covenant community (the local church) on the other. For freedom, Christ has set us free.
Accept Your Freedom (1b–6)
With the language of slavery and freedom still ringing in their ears from the analogy of Hagar and Sarah, the apostle Paul commanded the Galatian believers to stand firm and not submit again to the yoke of slavery. Christian freedom is the precious birthright of every believer. No word in the Christian vocabulary has been more misunderstood or abused than this word. By freedom, Paul did not mean political, psychological or theological freedom. He meant freedom to love and serve one another in the context of the local church.
Those who return to the Law face six consequences. The first is an invalidation of Christ’s work on the cross, for “Christ will not benefit you at all.” By submitting to circumcision, a person demonstrates he is not fully trusting in Christ. Instead he adds his works to what Christ has done, thus invalidating Christ’s sufficiency. The second consequence of returning to the Law is once a person submits to one part of the Law (circumcision), “he is obligated to keep the entire Law.”
The third consequence of returning to the Law is that it removes a person from the sphere of grace. Verse 4 was a wake-up call to those members of the Galatian churches who were being tempted to forsake the evangelical message Paul had proclaimed in favor of “another gospel” advocating legal obedience. For a person to be born again by grace, he or she cannot mingle the grace of Christ with the merit of his or her works. The gospel of grace declares God will save whoever trusts Christ’s finished work of atonement on the cross. Paul warned the Galatians they were in danger of being alienated from Christ and, thereby, falling from grace. Paul was not discussing the question of whether a genuine believer can lose his or her salvation. He was saying those people who once may have made a profession of faith but now were truly seeking to be justified by the Law must not really have a relationship with Christ. We should accept our freedom by continuing to trust Christ and His grace for our salvation.
Retain Your Freedom (7–12)
The fourth consequence of returning to the Law is that it hinders spiritual growth. Using the metaphor of a race, Paul stated that the legalists had cut in on the Galatians’ spiritual race and caused them to stumble. As a result, they were no longer obeying the truth. Turning to a yeast metaphor, Paul illustrated how quickly a little legalism can contaminate a believer and, indeed, an entire church. He, however, expressed his confidence that the Galatians would not depart from the truth. He warned that those who were confusing young Christ-followers would experience God’s judgment. A fifth consequence when one retreats to legalism is the removal of the offense of the cross. Before Paul’s conversion, he preached circumcision. Now he was still being accused of preaching circumcision. He denied this accusation by pointing to the offense or stumbling block of his gospel. He omitted circumcision and this omission was an offense to the legalists who attacked him. The sixth consequence of turning to the Law is anger. Paul was so angry he wished the legalists would go the whole way and castrate themselves, as did the pagan priests of the cult of Cybele in Asia Minor.
Live in Your Freedom (13–15)
Christians are warned not to use their freedom as a license to sin. Christ has saved us and freed us so that we can serve one another in love. Liberty is not to be used for selfishness. The true objective of our Christian freedom is love. Christian freedom is freedom to love and, therefore, freedom to serve others for the glory of God.