Sunday, July 01, 2007

Galatians 5

5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified [or counted righteous] by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

Verse 1 summarizes Paul’s discussion in chapter 4. Christ set us free from slavery to the law, so do not submit to it again. We are to stand firm. Sometimes, that is hard to do, because the legalists, the Judaizers, claim the high moral ground, even though they do not really have it. When they give you a list of do’s or don’ts that must be added to faith for salvation, they sound holy. In reality, though, they deny the sufficiency of Christ’s work on the cross to accomplish our salvation, and destroy the gospel of grace.

Instead, Paul said they give you a yoke, a yoke of slavery. This is not the thing in the middle of an egg, it is the hardware that couples two animals together to pull a wagon or to plow a field. That is a picture of you trying to be righteous by works. You are weighed down by trying to keep the commandments and failing. This becomes a spiritual death for you. Instead, remember what Jesus said: "Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30) As Paul says here, Christ has set us free.

Next, Paul specifically addresses the issue of circumcision. Remember the Judaizers wanted the Gentile Christians to be circumcised, to become Jews in effect, in order to be Christians.

But, Paul issues a strong warning here. And he uses his apostolic authority. He said “I, Paul, say to you” to add gravity to his statement. He says if you put yourself under the law, you are bound to keep the whole law. If you accept circumcision, you are binding yourself to the law. If you do this, Christ is of no advantage to you.

Why is that? It is because you are turning your back on salvation by grace and embracing salvation by works. Since Christ brought salvation from grace, you will have been severed from him, fallen away from grace. Instead, you have submitted to the law and must keep the whole thing, which you cannot do.

So, it is all or nothing. You are either in or out. You cannot combine Christ and submission to the law, which is what he means by “circumcision”. Paul put this in very harsh terms so they would understand how serious this error is.

In verse 5, Paul said we wait for the hope of righteousness. What does he mean by that? He means, when Christ returns, we will receive all that we hope for now. By faith, we received the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. Through that faith, and through the Holy Spirit, we eagerly anticipate the justification of the last day. When God brings us all before his throne, we will be found to be in him and given a final verdict of justified. This is shown to us in Revelation 20:11-15.

So, circumcision, or submission to the law, will not bring you to justification. Faith will. And this faith is expressed in love. It is not just knowledge, but a belief of commitment and love to Christ. Remember he said the greatest commandment is to love the Lord. We can do that in faith.

5:7-12 Get Back On Track

7 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion is not from him who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, [2] still preach [3] circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

Now Paul will give another personal word. He said they were running well. He likes the metaphor a race. In 1 Corinthians 9:24, he said “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” In 2 Timothy 4:7, he said “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” So, ladies, you see, even in New Testament times, men used sports metaphors for life. But, Paul’s point was that life, the Christian life, has a beginning and an end and how you finish and what reward you get depend on how you run.

They had been running well, but they had hit a stumbling block called legalism. They were not obeying the truth, because someone was hindering them, leading them away from the truth. In verse 8, he said, this idea did not come from God (the one who calls you). This is a nice way of saying this teaching is from the devil.

Not only that, but false teaching can spread and corrupt the whole group. Verse 9 says a little leaven leavens the whole lump, or, a small amount of yeast will permeate the whole lump of dough. You like that in bread, but not in church. Leaven, or yeast, is a symbol of sin. It is often used this way in the Bible. One person’s sin can end up infecting an entire group. So can one person’s false teaching.

Paul condemns whomever is doing the false teaching, saying in vers 10 he will bear the penalty, and in verse 12, wishing he would emasculate himself or themselves. This is pretty strong language, and shows Paul took the matter seriously. Paul was not post modernist.

Paul also denied any preaching of circumcision on his own part. He, rather, preached the opposing doctrine, calling it “the offense of the cross”. Why is the cross offensive? Because it says man is sinful and cannot save himself. Only Christ could do it, and only by his death.

5:13-15 Don’t Go Too Far The Other Way

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

Often, men and women go to extremes and cannot keep themselves on the correct path. So, Paul warns the Galatians not to go too far the other way. He does not want them to rely on the law for salvation, but now he warns them not to use their freedom in Christ to sin. This is what the legalists always say will happen: if we allow people grace, they will use it to sin. So, we do not use our freedom to sin, or to gratify the flesh, but to love and serve one another. We are supposed to love each other, not fight and compete with each other.
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