Paul calls the Galatians to stand fast in their freedom in Christ, stand firm against the pressure to go back to the law via circumcision (or justification based on law). To walk in the spirit, as opposed to the keeping of the law, that they might be able to love one another, and to bear fruit of the Spirit.
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)
This freedom in Christ has nothing to do with “freedom” to sin, but it’s freedom from the reserved punishment for sin: “The soul that sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20). It’s the freedom from sin’s crippling condemnation and a guilt laden conscience. So those who are worried that free Christians may be enticed to sin just need to ask God for an assurance that the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to not let the sinning party go scot-free; because if God is not afraid of this open-ended promise, why should they be? He will not only convict us of issues, but also give us creative power to change in the direction He knows best. God is not blind and can see through the hearts of man, and He who began a good work in us will finish it gloriously.
And the yoke of slavery, in this context, has nothing to do with the sins common to man; and I’m 100% certain that this was what I heard and assumed to be true for as long as I was a Christian. But here’s the true yoke of slavery: the burden of keeping of the law to meet God’s righteous requirement. The Galatians’ circumcision was but a little speck compared to the hazy mountain of do’s and don’ts in the Gentile world.
So stand firm. Don’t let the legalists’ own fear of condemnation and doubts of God’s promise push you back to the law, because no one can by the keeping of the law achieve the righteousness of God, let alone pleasing God, and once you pick up one law, you must keep them all.
Listen! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you at all! And I testify again to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. (Galatians 5:2-3)
There Paul said it again. That seemingly innocuous circumcision to ease your guilt laden conscience actually makes things worse; instead of bringing you closer to God, it alienates you from Him; it drove Adam and Eve into hiding, and it will do it to you law keeper. Keep one law, keep all. That is the way of the world, not one for whom Christ had paid a very high cost to set free.
You who are trying to be declared righteous by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace! (Galatians 5:4)
For so long, many Christians have held a faulty understanding that if you keep falling into the same sins, making the same mistakes, God may let you go, and you will fall away from grace. Actually the opposite is true. The one who is so weak and most vulnerable is actually the one who needs Him the most, but the one to fall away is among the upright law-keeping folks, the very people who do this forbidden thing: trying to be declared righteous by the law.
For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait expectantly for the hope of righteousness. (Galatians 5:5)
We only wait, especially wait expectantly, for what that is already ours, otherwise we must work to prove our worth to earn it, while never knowing for sure if the hope can be realized. This hope that Paul writes about is the kind expressed as the “blessed assurance,” or the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This is the kind of faith that pleases God, to trust in His promise, to believe in His character that God cannot lie.
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision carries any weight—the only thing that matters is faith working through love. (Galatians 5:6)
The addition of religious rituals and ordinances do not add anything to what Christ had done. And faith can only work through love, not through the obligation to the law. Under law, any kind of law, love will be suffocated, and faith will be extinguished. This is exactly what Paul wrote in verse 3:12 that the law is not based on faith, the Vietnamese translation may even have it better: “Vả luật pháp không phải đồng một thứ với đức tin (the law is not made of the same stuff with faith).” If they’re of different kinds, they cannot mix.
And only faith can work through love, while law will clearly work through fear, the fear of punishment. If you’re obsessed with law keeping, you’re not working through love.
You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth? This persuasion does not come from the one who calls you! A little yeast makes the whole batch of dough rise! I am confident in the Lord that you will accept no other view. But the one who is confusing you will pay the penalty, whoever he may be. (Galatians 5:7-10)
God is the one who initially called them, so evidently the voice that is calling them back to the law belongs to … someone else untrustworthy.
How did Paul know what Jesus said to his disciples long ago? Or was he among the Pharisees lurking around and took in much of what he said without understanding? But now he knows, Jesus spoke about him, and now he uses it against the legalists still much at work in the body of Christ in Galatia.
A little yeast, a little law, circumcision, do not handle, do not touch, a little precept here, a little precept there, enough to cause the whole body to stumble. Sounds holy and self-sacrificial, but add nothing to what that pleases God. On the other hand, these little laws take the people’s eyes off of Jesus and onto themselves or others, and then there is infighting and the pursuit of vain glory.
Now, brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those agitators would go so far as to castrate themselves! (Galatians 5:11-12)
The first part of verse 11 is rather self explanatory, but the later part … how can it be interpreted? That if Paul was still preaching circumcision, it would have been acceptable as part of Christianity, then it is not incompatible with the cross of Christ? Perhaps this reasoning of Paul can be left alone and it won’t affect his overall message. Verse 12 is rather hilarious but perhaps Paul was saying that if they think circumcision is important toward their higher spirituality, they might as well castrate themselves.
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13)
There is always a possibility of someone taking this freedom to an extreme, but this verse rather than threatens to take away freedom, it affirms it, because if the freedom is conditional, the withdrawal of it is a threat in itself. This freedom is unconditional, so much so that some might dare to take advantage of it.
This is similar to 1 Corinthians 10:23: “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.” All things mean exactly that. A Christian now has complete diplomatic immunity in this foreign land.
With this total immunity and freedom, a Christian can love freely, and serve without obligation, but willingly become a slave to love, to serve, from a free heart.
For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment, namely, “You must love your neighbor as yourself. (NET)”, or “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (KJV) (Galatians 5:14)
According to Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, the oldest manuscript says “all the law has been fulfilled.” Of course it was Christ who fulfilled all the law; and He did it on our behalf. He loved, and He counted it as our love; He died, and we are counted as buried with Him; He perfectly carried out God’s law, and we’re all forgiven. Then I can say without shame that I have fulfilled God’s great love command, because I have put on Christ, and He did it.
When the law dominates this church, there can be nothing but troubles, because the law is not based on faith, and it actually provokes the works of the flesh. How can there be love if each would use the law to find faults with one another? That would lead to the following verse:
However, if you continually bite and devour one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another. (Galatians 5:15)
This is a typical symptom of a church operating on the basis of legality.
But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (Galatians 5:16-18)
Paul now shows them the way to stop biting each other: to live by the Spirit through their faith in Christ. Spirit vs. flesh, faith vs. law. Choose one and you will be free from the other.
Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God! (Galatians 5:19-21)
As a fleshly being, here are the inevitable aspects of your life: all of the sins above. Each of us will own a part of the list above, there is no exception. So in and of yourself, you will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
But those that live by the Spirit are promised what the law keepers try to get but can’t. Because you do not need any law to command the production of the Spirit’s fruit, on the contrary, the law actually promotes the works of the flesh.
Against such things there is no law means there is no law that commands you to produce these fruits. In other words, the fruits could only come out where there is a vacuum of the law.
Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24)
To have the flesh crucified is to have fulfilled all the requirements of the law, to be no longer under its guardianship. This is a wonderful gift to us: we’re counted as already buried with Christ, debt fully paid, declared innocent.
Practically speaking, our flesh with its passions and desires are still as alive as ever, but positionally speaking, the flesh with its passions and desires are imparted a virtual death thanks to Christ so we may be considered blameless on the day Christ comes to welcome His bride. The mistake most Christians make is their focus on the eradication of the practical flesh with its passions and desires. Let’s not forget God gave us a restart with Noah’s family and the great flood, and many thousand years until Christ comes to show us man cannot eradicate the sins of his flesh.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, being jealous of one another. (Galatians 5:25-26)
The call here is to let go of the law and take the hand of Christ in the Spirit. That’s the only way we can truly become a channel of God’s peace.