It is vital to stand in the liberty won for us by Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. Those who are circumcised are obligated to obey the entire Law. If we are led by the Spirit, we are not under the Law. The flesh and Spirit pull in opposite directions. The works of the flesh produce nothing but sin. The Fruit of the Spirit, in contrast, produces the exact opposite of sin. Obedience to the Law cannot offer power over the sin nature. Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh.
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage (Galatians 5:1).
In this letter, Paul has defended his apostleship and the Gospel of Grace. Now he defends the liberty of believers from the onslaught of false teaching. The Judaizers claimed that the message of grace gave believers the liberty to sin, therefore they needed the Law to dissuade them. Legalists, because they have blinded themselves to what the Bible teaches, would rather have the Law than grace, for their version of obedience makes them feel justified before God. A prisoner may feel free while exercising in the yard, but he is still in jail.
“Stand fast therefore”: do not budge an inch from the freedom Christ gave. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19). This liberty can only come through Christ, and it came by way of the Cross. Liberty from what? Some would say that it is freedom from sin, and though that is true, it is only part of the reason. “Sin” according to John “is the transgression of the Law” (1 John 3:4). Behind every sin is the Law’s prohibition, and since no man can break free from the demands of the Law, he is a damned sinner throughout his life. The Law puts every transgressor on death row. “For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death” (Romans 7:5). We had no option but to continue in the vicious cycle of sinning and the Law condemning us. The only way out was for some sinless person to break the cycle of sin and condemnation, and that person was Christ. “But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:6). Grace is not the freedom to sin, for according to the Law we had no choice but to be condemned sinners, instead grace gives us the freedom not to sin. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1-4).
We see then that no one was free under the Old Covenant. Every law was written in stone. All anyone could do was to try to be obedient to the Law of Moses, but without the assurance that enough was done to ward off God’s wrath. Even those who were not under the Law of Moses would be judged according to the law God placed in every person at birth, that is, the conscience. “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another (Romans 2:14-15). Faith in Christ frees us from servile obedience to laws that require self-effort. This way of life constantly frustrates the one trying to overcome sin through religious observances. This is the pitfall the Galatians were veering towards. Then sin would dominate their lives once again because the Law would make them aware of their inability to be holy. We often say that sin should not dominate our lives, then go about trying to overcome it by personal rules, vows and affirmations. It is impossible not to sin if we place ourself under any law, be it Judaic or heathen. The only way not to sin is to be under grace rather than under the Law. “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14).
This is what we must stand firm in – the freedom Christ gave us, otherwise we will become “entangled” (ensnared held captive) by the Law. Notice that Paul uses the word “again”. They had not previously known the Law of Moses, therefore adopting the Law was like a return to paganism. Their pagan beliefs had laws, rituals, and duties. Going back to the religion of selfeffort, was the same as returning to a state outside of grace. The liberty we have in Christ is glorious and free from any form of bondage. “Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). Therefore, as stated, we have been given the power not to sin. Ours is a freedom that is not reliant upon the ability of the flesh, be it willpower or religious obligation. Instead, all we must do is follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He will give us the power to overcome temptation. Walking in the Spirit is freedom from the old master. We are released to serve God in holiness. False teachers do not understand this, and as a result cannot free us. “For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage. For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning” (2 Peter 2:18-20).
Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing (Galatians 5:2).
“Behold”, or ‘take note’. Paul speaks with the authority of an apostle, and as someone who knew, from his old life as a Pharisee, where the church was being led. He is calling the church away from Judaism. “Listen to me,” he says, “not the Judaizers.” All who follow those who preach the Law will have their minds altered so that they cannot see the truth of the Gospel. “But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart” (2 Corinthians 3:15). But when the Gospel is followed, they will see clearly. “Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away” (2 Corinthians 3:16). The veil distorts a person’s view of Christ, but once the Holy Spirit is permitted to work, which He will do if the Gospel is preached and listened to, then freedom from bondage will be experienced. “Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” and instead of having the limited knowledge of Christ, the full glory of the truth will shine, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).
“If ye be circumcised”. Circumcision is the the seal of Judaism. This is what the Judaizers wanted and were leading the Gentile Church towards. We ought to keep in mind that circumcision was more than just for religious reasons, for the Judaizers did not believe that faith and grace was enough for salvation, it stood as an ordinance that symbolised the rejection of the Gospel. The Jerusalem council had already condemned this notion, but sadly many Jewish believers still trusted in it. Many in the Jewish church did not understand grace. Some today, in trying to defend Judaic practices, suggest that there are two ways to be saved – the Jewish way and the Gentile way. As Paul has already clearly stated in Galatians and elsewhere, there is only one Gospel, only one way in which the Holy Spirit will operate, and only one means of salvation. Once the Gospel is veiled by the Law “Christ shall profit you nothing”. Trying to live for the Lord from that position is an utter waste of time, for circumcision as a means of salvation is a rejection of Christ. It is all about works rather than faith and grace. It is the power of the person’s own blood instead of Christ’s. Religion will depend upon anything but the Cross.
Those who follow the religious route will perish. Why? Because the Cross has always been denied in religion. The Galatians thought that Judaism offered another way to embrace Christ and experience a deeper spiritual life. Religion is simply a system of obligatory rituals to attain spiritual freedom, but it always leads into bondage and defeat. Circumcision is a fleshly sacrifice. Adopting Judaism is actually backsliding rather than moving into a deeper Christian life. It is a rejection of Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the Cross, which is in itself a wicked sin. “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people” (Hebrews 10:26-30).
The same Gospel truth is for both Jewish and Gentile believers. The Law cannot save either Jew or Gentile, therefore Jesus’ Blood is the only atonement for sin. All religion, no matter if it appears to be Biblical, must be laid aside to be saved and sanctified. “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God” (Colossians 2:9-19).
For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace (Galatians 5:3-4).
Resorting to religious practices only fills our days with burdensome regulations. Once the Law is taken on as a way to become perfect in the sight of God, then it must be obeyed in totality. It is not a pick-and-mix, take-it-or-leave-it way of life, instead those who place themselves under the rule of the Law are obliged to keep every single part of it. Sooner or later the topic of circumcision will come up amongst those who promote Hebrew Roots teachings. If they undergo the practice, and some have, it is only because they see that the Law demands it. If they decide that they do not need to be circumcised, then they are have broken the Law they seek to promote. They simply cannot be Gentiles in the areas that suits them. They are debtors to the Law and are obligated to obey the whole of it without question.
Such a person places himself outside of Christ, and instead of “no condemnation” (Romans 8:1), he stands thoroughly condemned before God. This is a ridiculous position to place oneself in, especially since God’s free gift of grace, righteousness and justification has been won for him through the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. Therefore the Law-keeper is outside of Christ and God’s mercy. He is no longer living by faith but by works. Following the Law puts a person beyond the blessings of grace. Paul writes that those who are under the Law are “fallen from grace”, therefore there is no point in trying to follow Christ as well. This is a very serious and weighty statement which states that the blessings of salvation have been forfeited?
What is the “effect” of Christ if not salvation and sanctification? This is a sure way to casting salvation away. Basically obedience to the Law can cancel out faith. Seeking to be “justified by the law”, something the Law cannot do, is tantamount to the rejection of salvation by grace. “And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:39) … “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). “Fallen from grace” must mean what it says. The Greek word ‘exepesate’ means ‘to drop away from, to lose, to become inefficient’. Not that grace itself becomes ineffective, but that the Law-keeper places himself beyond the reach of grace and finds himself in a fatal position before God. “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame” (Hebrews 6:46).
This holds the idea of intentionally forsaking grace for what seems to be something better. To fall from grace for the Law brings a curse, which is the exact opposite to what the Judaizer thinks he will receive by trying to obey it. “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen” (Deuteronomy 27:26). Not being under grace means that he is no longer under the Atonement of Christ. Sin alone does not make us fall from grace, for there is always forgiveness available through the atonement. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Instead falling from grace is the result of adopting the Law as the means of overcoming sin and becoming perfect. The bottom line is that such a person does not trust in Jesus as Saviour and Lord.
For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love. Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? (Galatians 5:5-7).
We must choose between grace of God and legalism of religion. The Holy Spirit will only guide those who live by grace. Though He will seek to draw people to the correct way, the deeper a Christian immerses himself into religion, the less the Holy Spirit will teach and direct. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Romans 8:14). It is always “through the Spirit” rather than through the Law, religion or ability. Victory is not possible through whatever means the flesh can conjure up.
“We … wait for the hope of righteousness by faith”. This is a prophetic statement, the only one that is included in Galatians, which speaks of the future state of perfection or completed sanctification. While we have already been sanctified through the Blood of Christ on the Cross, because we live in a fallen world and often influenced by it, the Holy Spirit continues to lead us on the path of purity towards the end result of sanctification. There are three stages of sanctification, which are briefly listed below:
Positional sanctification: at the moment we are saved we are set apart for God’s service. Being delivered from the ultimate penalty of sin, we are positionally placed in Christ and are declared sanctified. “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all … For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:10,14).
Progressive sanctification is the lifelong work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. Those who listen to Him will find that the influences of the world and the flesh will lose their power, and instead they will walk according to the purity He has called them to. “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit … For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Romans 8:5,13).
Final sanctification is the perfect state where we will be eternally free from any possibility of being influenced by the world or the flesh. This cannot be reached while we live in this world, but it will be an instantaneous reality the moment we pass into the next life. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3). “I think Paul’s reason for saying this here is that believers are not going to reach perfection in this life. And the greatest imperfection I know of today is to think you have reached perfection. Folk who think they are perfect are imperfect like the rest of us—but they don’t know it” (Thru the Bible Commentary by J. Vernon McGee).
We are waiting for the completion of the work of God, the end result of what He started in us. “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God” (Romans 8:18-19) … “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). We do not have all the rewards of righteousness yet, for until the body is redeemed at the Rapture, we wait for the final state of perfection. “And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:23).
“By faith” is the only means by which anything can be achieved in the Christian life, not works or religion. Circumcision or lack of it cannot make a person right with God. Cutting the flesh does not make anyone spiritual or produce perfection. Circumcision typifies salvation by works. Instead “faith that worketh by love”, expresses itself by love for God. Faith works because love it is lead by the Spirit of God. Religious works encourages people to be proud of what they have achieved, and they will consider themselves to be spiritually elevated above others who do not practice their form of piety. Love for God and His Word is not being proud of human ability, instead it looks to and rests upon the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross alone.
“Ye did run well” is athletic terminology. Here Paul is saying, “You started out so well, but now you are crippled”. The Law made them lose hope. They no longer had their eyes on Christ but on their own strength to perform. Christ is the “Forerunner” (Hebrews 6:20), so it is important that we are found “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Someone “hindered” them, which must refer to the Judaizers. These false teachers got them to take their eyes off the Lord, so in attempting to obey the Law, they found themselves disobeying God. In this respect the Law placed heavy burdens upon them, resulting in hampered progress and eventual collapse. Truth is only found in Christ. In not following the Gospel of the Cross (grace), they were on the pathway of error. Jesus came to remove the heavy weights that religion places upon those seeking to run the race of eternal life. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Paul’s criticism here should be compared with the encouraging words found in Hebrews 12:1-2, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us , and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be (Galatians 5:8-10).
The Holy Spirit was not teaching the Judaizers, therefore everything they taught was not of God, but was in fact heresy. If their doctrine was not authorised by God, then it was being encouraged by Satan to disrupt the church. “This persuasion” or ‘this influence’, is the temptation to follow something promising a higher spiritual life while leading them into deeper confusion and bondage. The Judaizers were salesmen who were scamming the Gentile churches and drawing those buying into the false promises away from Christ.
“A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump”. We can conclude from this that the Hebrew Roots teachers of Paul’s day introduced what we would call ‘a non-salvation’ point of doctrine. It is usually these points that divide the Bible-believing denominations today, but, as with any error, it spreads into more serious teachings which conflict with the Gospel. Whatever it was that the Judaizers initially taught that caught the Gentile’s attention, spiritual bondage was the final outcome. The “leaven” had spread and they were thoroughly corrupted. No matter how apparently insignificant the error is, it will increase over time and impact upon every other doctrine of Scripture. One bad apple spoils the barrel. A little law will ruin grace. We cannot make exceptions here, so we must be always on our guard when it comes to the purity of the Word of God. In 1870 the Revised Version of the Bible was commissioned. The revisers stated aim was “to adapt the King James’ version to the present state of the English language without changing the idiom and vocabulary,” and “to adapt it to the present standard of Biblical scholarship.” This opened the door to further dilution of the Bible until the believer is completely confused by the hundreds of translations on the market which compete against each other. This confusion increases year by year as translators seek to better the previous version. The majority of the versions are at variance with the King James Bible in over 30,000 points. No one amongst the new translation advocates can say they hold in their hands the authoritative and preserved Word of God. They will in turn say that only the original manuscripts were inspired by God. Since none of the original manuscripts, the actual documents penned by the actual authors, were ever compiled in a single volume, this is tantamount to declaring that they do not believe we have a God-given Bible today. The “leaven”, in this instance, has indeed corrupted the church, for it no longer knows if it has the pure, unadulterated and authoritative Scriptures.
“I have confidence in you through the Lord” indicates that Paul believed that they could still return to grace, but they had to change the way they thought about the Law and the doctrines of Christ. “That ye will be none otherwise minded”. This included the need to fully reject the false teachers and eradicate the false teachings. While “leaven” can be used to speak of sin, here Paul follows Jesus’ use of the word. Interestingly enough both saw it as the false teachings of Judaic religion. “Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (Matthew 16:12). True Bible-believers must never embrace any other gospel.
“He that troubleth you” can be no one else but the Judaizers. Instead of encouraging the believers to follow Christ, they were troubling them instead. The word “troubleth” means ‘to cause confusion’. This proves that nothing the Judaizers were engaged in was of God. “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints” (1 Corinthians 14:33).
Every false teacher “shall bear his judgement”, that is, receive his own curse. This has same idea as Paul’s previous statements on the subject. “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:89). The perverted gospel troubled them. “Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:7). No wonder then that the heretics had to “bear” or ‘receive’ the full measure of the “judgement” due to them. This is no less true today, for the modern day Judaizers stand just as guilty of causing trouble and confusion wherever their pernicious doctrines go. We must not fellowship with those who are under the curse of God. “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds” (2 John 1:9-11).
And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased. I would they were even cut off which trouble you. For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another (Galatians 5:11-13).
Maybe some who were defending Paul said that he still taught Judaism. This of course would have been untrue and just as confusing as what the Judaizers taught. Whoever was saying this failed to notice how ridiculous the notion was. Why was he being persecuted by the legalists if he was teaching Jewish laws and rituals? It is possible that Timothy’s circumcision was being highlighted here. Paul had tried to solve a problem with this, but it was out of expediency rather than for salvation (see Acts 16:1-3). There was no way to win with the Judaizers, it was a case of ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’.
The Judaizers simply hated Paul, so they persecuted him at will. Why? Because he had broken from Judaism and was no longer preaching circumcision. He was proclaiming salvation by faith through grace found only in the finished work of Christ on the Cross. As a result, the legalists were offended. If he was still teaching the need for circumcision and tradition, as some today suggest he was, why would the Jews be offended at him or persecute him. The “offence of the cross” would cease and he would have a trouble-free life.
“I would they were even cut off”. This is meant to be a sarcastic remark, and one which drives through the foolishness of circumcision. If circumcision brings salvation, and if circumcision makes a person more spiritual, then castration would complete the work! The words “cut off” not only refers to being removed, but means ‘to emasculate’ the flesh. Paul’s strong and graphic language here reveals how serious he was that the church was to have nothing to do with such people. Once again he shows that the Hebrew Roots professors only cause trouble and confusion.
“For, brethren, ye hath been called unto Liberty”. Paul calls them back to liberty in Christ, the only place where spiritual peace and freedom can be found. The Law brings bondage, but Christ brings liberty. This liberty (grace) is not the freedom to sin though, for it is not for “an occasion to the flesh”. The word “occasion” means ‘base of operations’, that is, it is not so that the sinful nature can be indulged. Grace is not a licence to sin. Those in the Hyper-grace doctrine are following a route which ends in spiritual disaster. So in condemning Hebrew Roots for its legalism, Paul is also speaking against antinomianism. Sadly, many who believe in ‘once saved, always saved’ teachings encourage the notion that no amount of sin can separate the believer from God. Regardless of if ‘Eternal Security’ is a valid Biblical truth, is it not a disgraceful way to conduct our lives if we continue in sin while claiming to be saved by grace?
“But by love serve one another”. This is meant as a safeguard against legalism. The Judaizers taught their followers to hate the church and its preachers. Is this not the exact problem today? The Gospel instead proclaims the love of God in Christ, which permeates through the Body of Christ. “Because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:5). This calls on us to serve each other sacrificially. It is impossible for the Law of Moses to produce better Christians, but the love of Christ does. That which we choose to follow will have an effect upon our spiritual life and our interaction with other believers. True “faith which worketh by love” will be blessed by God (Galatians 5:6).
For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another (Galatians 5:14-15).
“For all the law is fulfilled in one word”. We would be tempted to say that loving others is only part of the Law, therefore it is not as important as what are deemed to be weightier matters. We would feel condemned if we lied, stole or blasphemed, but few of us would lose much sleep over gossiping about other people. Love for God is an obvious requirements of the believer, but Paul cuts through this and directs our attention to love for our “neighbour”. The word “neighbour” is constructed from two old English words: ‘nēah’ meaning ‘nigh or near’ and ‘gebūr’ meaning ‘inhabitant or dweller’. It would be easy for us to congratulate ourselves by thinking that we are fulfilling God’s Word by loving those near and dear to us, but Jesus extends the meaning of “neighbour” to include strangers and enemies. He told the story of the Good Samaritan when someone asked, “And who is my neighbour?” (Luke 10:29). Jesus also said, “But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you” (Luke 6:27),
Notice the word “all” in the text. “All” means the summery of the Law. Therefore the Law can be summed up in one word. “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). This encapsulates the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17). The Ten Commandments are split into two sections; the first being man’s obligation to God (commands 1 to 4), and secondly, our obligations to our fellow man (commandments 5 to 10). We break the Law if we love God and hate others. 1 Corinthians 13 is a perfect commentary here. “Though shalt love try neighbour as thyself”, or in other words, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
Paul is stating to the Judaizers and their followers, who claim to be obedient to the Law, that they are hypocrites if they keep only the first part of the commandments of God. “For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Romans 13:9).
All the requirements of the Law are met in love. This is exactly what Jesus referred to in John 15:12, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you” The apostle John writes about this vital aspect of the Christian life too. “And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment” (1 John 3:22-23). There is a consistency throughout the Bible regarding love towards God and love towards man. All religious people will hate those who do not belong to their cult, sect, or group. It might not come out in the same way as it did in the Catholic Church’s Inquisitions or Islamic Jihads, instead it is likely to be backbiting and character assassination. In standing up for the truth, as did the apostle Paul, we do not have to lower our standards by engaging in the nastiness that is often seem in religious circles. “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10).
Where love is established, there is no need to religiously observe any laws. This is not to imply that there are no laws governing Christian conduct, for that is to slip into antinomianism, instead if we truly love God, we will automatically keep His commandments. Loving God is at the heart of the Law, and if our focus is centred on Him, we will naturally want to obey Him. “And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:6) … “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15) … “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love” (John 15:10). Since loving others is an integral part of the Law, we should love others, not because of religious obligation, but through an outworking of God’s love in us. “And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:5). Because “God is love”, His nature in us will manifest itself in love towards others, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). Let us remind ourselves of the difference between the God kind of love and religious love by quoting Matthew 5:43-46, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?”.
“Ye bite and devour one another”. The absence of love causes strife. Paul uses the terminology for the nature of wild animals. Hatred was brewing in the Galatian church at the instigation of the Judaizers. The remedy for this was not more religious practices but more love. “Consumed of one another” indicates that they were on the verge of destroying the church completely. They were destroying each other’s spiritual lives. They were like cannibals feasting on their family members. This may infer that, not only did they think that they were more spiritual than those who did not have the secret knowledge of Hebrew Roots, but they were trying to outdo each other also. This holier-than-thou attitude has been the cause of many dissensions throughout the ages. “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12). When a church adopts Hebrew Roots theology it is opening its doors to trouble, division and failure. As Paul stated in Galatians 4:30, these false teachers must be “cast out”.
The infighting had to stop. But how? By obeying the false teachers? No. A return to grace was needed. Adopting the Law as the motivation for Christian living always brings a curse, confusion and unrest. Following the Cross brings a blessing and rest.
This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh (Galatians 5:16).
Walking in the Spirit is the solution for all disunity in churches. The old nature always seeks to dominate regardless of what rules and regulations are put in place to kerb disagreement and dissent. Laws, no matter how well intended, are not the answer to problems in church, in fact more regulations actually make things worse, because as soon as anyone even appears to violate them, someone will take offence or ridicule the offender. It is the Holy Spirit who ought to govern, so victory over every problem is found in submitting to His leadership.
The new nature is motivated by the Holy Spirit rather than by laws, but just as a person determines to live religiously to a set of rules, it is our responsibility to walk in the Spirit. He will not walk the walk for us, instead we must be fully persuaded that He is able to “guide” us “into all truth” (John 16:13). This is how we cooperate with God if we want to see the greatest results in our lives. Walking in the Spirit refers to the way we conduct ourselves, and it is how we progress in Christ. It is not according to the willpower of our old lifestyle, for it is impossible to walk in the Spirit by observing set rules of religion.
“Ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh”. It is interesting that the word “lust” is singular and refers to the entire ungodly nature, thus speaking of temptation through the five senses. We have to admit that the body feels at home in this world. Satan uses “lust” to steer us away from God. “Lust” then is the passion of the flesh. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:15-16). The Holy Spirit wants to suppress the sin nature, while the flesh uses the senses to dull our spirit so that it will not positively respond to the Spirit of God. The flesh seeks to return or abide in the presalvation state, that is, in sinfulness. Neither the Spirit or Satan can force us to cooperate with them. Though some of our Calvinist friends may object, this is where God, in His Sovereign grace, has given each of us free will to choose between serving God or the flesh. “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15).
“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:18-24).Just as Joshua knew that victory was guaranteed in serving God, so it is with us in Christ. “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” ((Romans 7:258:2). Will we fulfil the desires of the flesh or the Spirit? The choice is ours.
For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would (Galatians 5:17).
Paul is emphasising the fact that the Spirit and the flesh cannot be reconciled. They will always be in conflict regardless of how hard we might try to unite them or attempt to get the flesh to conform to the Spirit. This essentially proves that no form of religious activity can possibly please God. Even at the height of what we think is spiritual euphoria brought about by completing some pious action, that action is simply the flesh seeking to suppress the will of the Holy Spirit. The flesh is in constant rebellion and will endeavour to prove that it can please the Lord through religion rather than obedience to the Spirit and the written Word of God. Try as we might, we will never succeed in the attempt to get the Spirit to see things from our point of view.
The Holy Spirit seeks the submission of the flesh, meaning that each person must totally give up reliance upon self-determination, ability and good works. Willpower cannot hold back the desires of the flesh. We are not referring to breaking addiction to alcohol, tobacco or some other habit that even non-Christians can overcome, instead we are concerning ourselves with the fact that the sin nature cannot be trained not to sin. Only a truly born again believer is given, by the grace of God, the power to be victorious over the flesh, sin and the devil. Satan does not want us believing this truth, and that is the reason why many Christians are still in bondage to the desires of the fallen nature. “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4) … “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4). But it is not any old belief system that frees the Christian, instead, and very specifically, it is faith in the finished work of Christ on the Cross. “Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:5). “And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin … He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:5,8).
Walking in the power Spirit holds back the will of the flesh. It must be understood that the struggle is not between our two natures as such, but between our will and God’s will. Until Jesus’ death on the Cross and the subsequent outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, no one had the power to nullify the sin nature. It is only in following Christ through the Cross and being led by the Spirit that we can overcome the flesh. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). This denial of self is not reference to the flesh’s ability to give up particular forms of habitual sin, but the realisation that we in and of ourselves are totally incapable of doing anything to better ourselves in the sight of God. If man cannot do anything to be saved, it is certain that neither can he do anything to be sanctified. The moment that we think we can do something by our own ability to merit any blessing from God, that is the point we lose sight of the Cross and what Jesus accomplished there. “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy Cross I cling” (Rock of Ages by Augustus Toplady, 1740-78).
“And these are contrary the one to the other”. The flesh demands the liberty to sin. The Spirit gives the liberty not to sin. It depends on who reigns in our lives. “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof” (Romans 6:12). The word “contrary” means ‘to be opposed to’, and ‘in conflict with and the enemy of’. These two enemies can never be united, for there is no common ground between them to form an alliance. Sin is a powerful, damnable force, and one which has delivered countless billions of souls to Hell. It is the cause of all the world’s problems. We should not ever underestimate its power. To label it an illness, addiction or some other medical term is to fail to see it for what it truly is. Christians who adopt psychological terminology to describe sin have bought into yet another aspect of Satan’s lies.
“So that you cannot do the things that ye would”. We have no power to resist the power of sin. We choose to follow either the flesh or the Spirit. It is impossible to do both at the same time. There is no way to overcome sin but by the Spirit. It is His ability not ours. If we follow the flesh, we do what Satan wants. If we follow the Spirit, we do what God wants. By following the Spirit, we will find ourselves not wanting to offend God by sin. Those who are not saved naturally sin, but those who are born again supernaturally overcome sin. “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (1 John 3:9 ).
But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:18-21).
Verse 18 is basically a summary of the previous discussion, and proclaims the need to steer clear of the Law. “But if ye be led of the Spirit”. Most versions of the Bible retain the important word “if” in the text. This small word contains a truth that should not be ignored, for the Galatian epistle proves that it is possible for a believer to be led by the Law rather than by the Spirit of God. The word speaks of the personal choice we must make. The Spirit does not lead us to follow the Law. “Ye are not under the law”. Here is the emphatic statement of freedom from the Law of Moses and any other religious laws that man has imposed upon believers. Being in the Spirit we are not under the Law, and there is absolutely no other means that can keep us free from it. It should be noted here that this verse speaks of the Spirit of God, with which most versions and commentaries agree. The Catholic Douay-Rheims makes it say that it is the human spirit that leads the Christian. A newer version titled “God’s Word Translation” reads, “If your spiritual nature is your guide”. Both of these thoroughly mislead the reader, for it is obvious that our own spirit is incapable of leading us anywhere but away from God. This is why we need to be born again and be willing to be led by the Holy Spirit. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:12).
Paul now lists the things that the Law governs. This list is not meant to be seen as a complete inventory of every sin the flesh is capable of engaging in, instead each part is the basic type of sin that gives birth to others of the same nature. We will not take the time to fully describe what each word means here.
Adultery: unlawful relationships.
Fornication: Gk. Porneia. Sexual promiscuity.
Uncleanness: homosexuality, bestiality.
Idolatry: worship of any kind of image.
Witchcraft: Gk. Pharmaceia. Satanism. Occult.
Hatred: malice, illwill, grudges.
Variance: discord, disunity, enmity.
Emulations: jealousies, selfpromotion.
Wrath: turmoil, violence, war, rage.
Strife: contention, debating vain things.
Seditions: factions, disorder.
Heresies: twisting the truth.
Envyings: murderous jealousy.
Murders: murder and character assassination.
Drunkedness: use of alcoholic drinks.
Revellings: drunken parties or celebrations. The list is not meant to be exhaustive.
All these sins “and such like”. There is no depth of sin the flesh will not sink to. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
“Of the which I tell you before”. Paul must have warned them about these things on a previous occasion. He was not afraid to call sin for what it is, but no doubt he would be considered politically incorrect today. The church has largely lost its way, and almost everything listed has become normal conduct in the world and with believers who befriend it. The warning must be sounded despite the unwillingness to listen to what the Word of God actually says about living a Christ-centred life. “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). James makes it abundantly clear that worldliness is spiritual adultery.
“Shall not inherit the Kingdom of God”. Those who practice these have no salvation. Some commentators suggest that Paul is referring to those who are not saved, but this is incorrect, if not ridiculous. Why would he list sinful acts that keep the lost out of Heaven in this letter to believers? His whole point is to show the difference between a believer being led by the Spirit rather than the flesh. The unconverted cannot enter Heaven because they have not accepted Christ as Saviour, and it is His Blood that washes away sin. Yes, it is certain that the lost commit these sins, but Paul is stating that the Christian should be free from them. There is something desperately wrong if a professed believer is still involved in a sinful lifestyle. Grace is not the liberty to sin.
If a Christian engages in anything in this list “and such like”, then the Law automatically applies and the curse cannot be avoided. Those following the Spirit have no freedom to sin. How many are truly saved in our churches in light of this? These things damn the soul even under grace. The Spirit-led lifestyle is entirely different.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts (Galatians 5:22-24).
Here the fruit of the Spirit is contrasted with the works of the flesh. Works require personal effort, but fruit is the natural product of growth. Notice that the word “fruit” is singular. This means that we should not think of this list as individual fruits, but as a single “fruit” like an orange. Each part of the list are the segments of the same “Fruit of the Spirit”, therefore we need all parts. The “fruit” describe the virtues that the Holy Spirit works into our lives as we submit ourselves to His leadership. There are nine segments in all; three are God-ward, three are man-ward, and three are self-ward. None of these are naturally part of man’s character, and neither can they be appropriated through self-help or character-building techniques. Though some may appear similar to human traits, they are in fact “the fruit of the Spirit”, so are vastly superior to any imitation.
“”Love” is sacrificial love. It is God’s nature in us, “God is love” (1 John 4:16).. The greatest of the virtues expounded upon by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.
“Joy” is the gladness only the believer can have. It is the outward manifestation of inward peace. “Joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8) … “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (John 15:11).
“Peace” is peace with God rather than with man. It is the peace of God rather than the manufactured peace of man. It is sanctifying peace and assurance. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you” (John 14:27) … “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
“Longsuffering” is steadfastness under pressure. “With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). Endurance and patience in difficulties.
“Gentleness” refers to kindness and forgiveness. This word only appears twice in the New Testament, here and in 1 Corinthians 1:1.
“Goodness” means moral worth and generosity. “And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another” (Romans 15:14) … “For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth” (Ephesians 5:9).
“Faith” is faithfulness, dependability, commitment. “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17) … “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
“Meekness” is humility, the lack of selfpromotion. “Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13) … “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering” (Colossians 3:12).
9Temperance” is selfcontrol, restraint. “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity” (2 Peter 1:5-7).
“Against such there is no law”. No Mosaic command is greater than the “Fruit of the Spirit”. The “Fruit of the Spirit” fulfils every Law. The works of the flesh cannot produce any of the virtues mentioned here. The “Fruit of the Spirit” is our victory over the flesh, or as the apostle Peter writes in 2 Peter 1:8-9, “For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins”. But they that are Christ’s, those who follow Him, do walk in the Spirit and live as “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37). These are they who have faith in His finished work, and “have crucified the flesh”, the old nature of sin, therefore natural affections and lusts (desire to do evil).
This crucifixion of the flesh-life can only be accomplished by the Spirit, though it does require our cooperating with Him. “Have crucified” is past tense, so the work of the Spirit in nullifying the power of the sin nature took place when we first believed in Christ. The “fruit” started to grow from that moment. The source of total victory is always in the Cross of Christ, that is, what He did there on our behalf. No law, whatever its origin, and no matter how well-intentioned, can never transform our lives from carnal to spiritual. The Holy Spirit will definitely work this miracle in us the moment we exercise faith in the Blood.
If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another (Galatians 5:25-26).
“If we live in the Spirit”: this constantly living inline with His guidance and leadership, but more than this, it is the life and nature of God in us. This concept may be difficult to accept if we are influenced by the world around us, but nevertheless it is a Biblical truth. “Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you” (John 14:17) … “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Whereas the majority of people, even believers, live according to the impulses of the flesh rather than by the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
To “live” and walk in the Spirit speaks of our union and cooperation with Him. Walking here refers to proceeding in a straight line, meaning that we ought to conduct ourselves in holiness and purity. Some refuse to be ruled by the Holy Spirit because they think God gives them the liberty to do as they please. Such a course of action reveals a lack of discipline, and therefore they are not true disciples of Christ. The disciplined life, one that desires to please God, is in fact the crucified life. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). This is where dependence on the Spirit comes in.
“Let us not be desirous of vain glory”: Verse 26 returns to the theme in verse 15. “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Galatians 5:15). If we are walking in the flesh rather than in the Spirit, we will seek to do things our own way, and this will include personal ambition, especially the type that wants to outdo and belittle others. The Lawkeeper and legalist thinks himself as superior to others, and such “vain glory” is an attempt to honour oneself. This self-promotion and glorying will result in contempt, hatred and bitterness. A selfish spirit like this will destroy the church from within. This was indeed taking place in the Galatian church, so Paul is seeking to remedy the situation by causing them to focus solely on Christ again.