5 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again (active resistance to false ministry) to a yoke of slavery. 5:1
Christ‘s purpose is to put an end to the entire cycle of bondage caused by sin in the world: This cycle includes our congenital sep-aration from God, our bent toward willful rebellion, our lusting nature and the inability we have to control it, our continual personal sinning, and God‘s imposed laws (the primal or natural law of conscience in all men and the Law of Moses for the Jews) which have been given to restrain the pace of sin‘s terminal malignancy. Once these issues have been resolved through Christ, the cycle has been eternally broken: To return to Law is both pointless and is a denial of the efficacy of Christ‘s intervention.
(As in the movie, The Matrix, it is a deliberate choice to return to the dream.) No one can force us back into religious legalism once we have been freed. If we return, it will be a choice; a choice away from Christ and toward a “form of godliness that denies the power of God“. This is a choice that marks those who are judged unworthy of the Kingdom in the last days. (2 Timothy 3:1-7)
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 5:2–3 Cf. James 2:10
Paul is writing to a Christian church. Therefore he is saying that if a man (or woman) who is a Christian turns back into religious forms and practices as their method of approaching God they have fallen from Grace and rejected the terms of the Cross…They have lost their salvation. You cannot simultaneously be saved by Grace through faith and be seeking to be justified under the Law any more than you can simultaneously be enjoying an all-expense paid vaca-tion in the Caribbean while at the same time be working late at your desk at your job.
Some teach that once you are saved you cannot lose your salvation, but Paul does not teach this, (he uses the word “severed” below), nor do any of the New Covenant writers, nor does Jesus. “Where your treasure is there will your heart be also.” Matthew 6:21
A fall from Grace is not easy and God does not let go of us without a fight, but He will not force us to remain with Him when we don‘t want to be with Him, and if we ultimately decide to turn away from Him, there is a point beyond which He will not continue to follow down whatever road we might decide to wander, though He will always be waiting for us should we ever decide to turn around and come back. Only those who desire His presence will know His presence.
You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law 5:4
(The direction in which our will is pointed determines our destiny: With our will we seek reward for our effort, which at its best is only superficial and always flawed and self-aggrandizing and cannot please a Holy God, or with our will we surrender to God‘s judgment against our sin and His sentence against us. That sentence is and always has been a death sentence, but it has been executed once for all of us in Christ. Hebrews (chapter 6) makes it very clear that if we once understand these things and come to Christ, but then turn back from Christ and choose to substitute religious ritualistic worship for Christian liberty once again, then we have once again left Christ hanging on the cross without burial and resurrection and ascension, and our curse remains. Paul here is indicating that salva-tion can be lost.)
you have fallen away from grace. 5:4
“the Law gives neither the desire nor the power to obey it’s commandments, and on the other hand, uses the evil nature as a means by which to bring sin into the life, since the evil nature is aroused to active rebellion by the very presence of the law.” Wuest, Kenneth S.: Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament : For the English Reader. Grand Rapids : Eerdmans, 1997,
The Law does one thing, it awakens the awareness of failure; it shows us that we are wrong. And if we then choose to live super-ficially and manage to convince ourselves that our outward actions are actually fulfilling the Law, as did the Pharisees, then, if and when God finally breaks through our self-deception, and we read again the Law at its true depth, we discover that we have fallen into its deep-est condemnations; pride (hubris), that is, self-righteousness and self justification.
The Law was given only to condemn us so completely that we would have no other recourse but to cast ourselves without condition or reservation upon the mercy of a loving God.
For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 5:5
Waiting is the antithesis of striving….
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. 5:6 (the love of God to us, healing and transforming us, and through us to others)
And I might note here that the converse must also be true that where there is not love, faith will not, cannot, work. A hardened heart, an adamant will, is the one thing in all creation that can suc-cessfully oppose God. If we will not, He will not.
Paul is alluding here to the Law of Love as opposed to the Law of Works.
set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, Romans 1:1-6
Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith Romans 16:25-26
You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. (“this persuading influence is not from Him who is calling you…A little leaven is leavening the whole lump of dough”) 5:7–9
Paul here is saying that if a corrupting influence is left unchallenged in a fellowship it will eventually infect the entire fellowship. It is the responsibility of those who are mature and in leadership to identify and confront all potentially corrupting and divisive elements which might seek to gain ground in the fellowship and to deal with them according to the guidelines set forth in the scripture, first making ev-ery effort to balance and correct that which is not in harmony with the Lord‘s purposes and then, if necessary, rebuking and removing the troublemakers from the fellowship.
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. 5:10
(It almost seems as if there was just a single individual poisoning the well in this fellowship… one whispering voice spreading a doctrine of demons. But below Paul speaks of a group, so more likely there was a group with a persuasive leader.)
But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being per-secuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! 5:11–12
The words “cut off” are from apokopto (ἀποκοπτο). The word refers to bodily mutilation. Paul expresses the wish that the Judaizers would not stop with circumcision, but would go on to castration. The city of Pessinus (in Southwestern Galatia) was the home of the worship of Cybele (Cy-bel-lee) in honor of whom bodily mutilation was practiced. The priests of Cybele castrated themselves. This was a recognized form of heathen self-devotion to the goddess and would not be shunned in ordinary conversation. This explains the freedom with which Paul speaks of it to his Galatian converts. In Philippians 3:2, the apostle speaks of the Judaizers as the “concision” that is, those who mutilate themselves. Vincent expresses his conception of Paul‘s words as follows:
“These people are disturbing you by insisting on circumcision. I would that they would make thorough work of it in their own case, and instead of merely amputating the foreskin, would castrate themselves as heathen priests do. Perhaps this would be even more powerful help to salvation”
He says that this is perhaps the severest expression in Paul‘s epistles. The great danger in which Christianity was placed by the Judaizers made such a severe statement necessary. The man who could beseech his converts with the meekness and gentleness of Christ, could also deal in a most severe way when the occasion for such treatment presented itself. The whole expression shows that circumcision had become for Paul a purely physical act without religious significance, and, performed for such a purpose as that for which the Judaizers used it, it became a bodily mutilation not different in character to the mutilations of the heathen mystery cults. Thus, by glorying in the flesh, the Galatians would be returning to the bondage of their former heathenism.
For you were called to freedom, (full freedom from religious law and any salvation through works or ritual direct or implied) brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 5:13
(If you say you are a Christian and you are no longer entangled in religious forms then your life must be bearing fruit in terms of Christlikeness toward those around you and in terms of personal lifestyle, or your testimony is a sham. The indwelling Spirit of Christ is a constraining influence in the life of the Christian: There are motivations and limitations arising from our union with Christ which guide our thoughts and actions and define the boundaries of our liberty. We can overstep these boundaries by exercises of our own will, but the Mind of Christ will challenge us and the indwelling Spirit of Christ will resist and oppose us. However, if we persist in our resistance to Him, eventually He will let us go our own way and if we grieve the Holy Spirit overmuch, eventually I believe the scripture indicates that He will leave us once again alone and on our own.)
For the whole law is fulfilled in one word “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. 5:14–15
(The imagery of cannibalism was every bit as horrifying to ancient sensibilities, and especially to ancient Jewish sensibilities, as it is to us today. There were several times in their own history where can-nibalism had occurred within cities in Israel during sieges that the scriptures attribute to the judgments of God against the gross sin of His people. The idea of cannibalism triggers a moral revulsion at the deepest level of our humanity in anyone we would define as a nor-mal psychologically healthy person. It is, perhaps, the most bestial behavior that can be attributed to a human being, and is a peeling back of our veneer of civility that reveals the demons within fallen man. This is a terribly strong statement ending a terribly strong and passionate paragraph.)
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 5:16
Even after we are reborn and renewed we are still going to be in a struggle with the “old man” 24/7/365: We are to “reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to Christ“, Romans 6:11 but the gray matter of our brain has been shaped and raped by every thought and exper-ience of our lives up to the moment of our conversion, and many ghosts will linger in the crevices of its convolutions. We are no longer defenseless against their influences, and we have power to offensively drive them out as they reveal themselves to us, but we are still “in their world but not of their world” John 17 as long as we are in skin. This struggle will diminish steadily as we mature in Christ, but will never end as long as we are in this body in this world. Nevertheless, if we cultivate our spiritual life, Paul says here we “will not” fall into fleshly behaviors. (This is one of the major points that Paul argues forcefully in the first twelve chapters of the letter to the Romans, which ends with the instruction to “present ourselves as a living sacrifice to God so that our minds can be renewed.” Romans 12:1ff The brilliant light of the Son will vaporize all ghosts.)
For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 5:17
James talks about being “double-minded“. To be double-minded is to be trying to do two opposite things at the same time… to be conflicted. It‘s like trying to go up a hill and down a hill at the same time, or like trying to turn left and turn right at the same time. It doesn‘t work. At best the two choices cancel each other out and nothing gets done. At worst the wrong choice is made, and bad stuff happens.
Much of the time we end up in indecision, confused, going around in little circles or paralyzed. James says that “double-minded man is unstable in everything” James 1:8 and that his prayers don‘t get answered. How can they? How can we have substantial faith if we are not certain of what we believe or desire? Cf. Hebrews 11:6 Jesus, Himself, said that He prefers that we be either “hot or cold, but not lukewarm” (Revelation 3:16).
Paul goes on to say that the believer must live from within and from above:
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 5:18
The law is for lawbreakers…if we choose to live sinfully then the law and its consequences bear down upon us. “Those who will not be governed from within will be governed from without.” (Paraphrasing William Penn, who said, “Those people who will not be governed by God will be ruled by tyrants.”)
If we choose to walk submissively, guided by the Holy Spirit then “love God and do as you want” (Augustine of Hippo) applies to us. If we stumble, we ask forgiveness, repent, deal with the problem area, and continue on. 1 John 2:1–2
The Spirit-filled Christian may experience a sense of conviction, when his or her life is out of sync with the life of the Holy Spirit within, but no Spirit-filled Spirit-led Christian should ever labor under a weight of guilt or condemnation. Guilt and condemnation comes when the heart is being accused by the harsh voice of the Law, which has no mercy in it and which offers no way of escape from its penalty. Christ has dealt with this. It is not Christ who would use the Law to remind His children of the paths of righteousness.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality (all sexual activity outside of the boundaries of marriage), impurity (lusts of the flesh/fantasies), sensuality (shamelessness, wantonness), idolatry (holding any “thing” between the self and God), sorcery (the Greek pharmakia includes the use of drugs and poisons: here it primarily means enchantments employed in witch-craft: things to do with the occult), enmity (any form of hatred or animosity), strife (quarreling, contention, causing discord) , jealousy (personal envy and covetousness toward that which others‘ have), fits of anger (outbursts, rage, temper-tantrums), rivalries (self-seeking selfish behaviors), dissensions (that which causes factions or divisions or cliques: party spirit, more specifically emphasizing false and heretical doctrines in the church), envy (class/social jealousy/nationalism/racism), drunkenness (the word used speaks more of wild parties than of strong drink alone. The scriptures speak elsewhere of over-indulgence with alcohol/substance abuse), orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things (as a life-style) will not inherit the kingdom of God. 5:19–21
This is as straight forward a statement as can be made. Each believer needs to take it at its face value, to go off into a quiet corner some-where and honestly check themselves against Paul‘s shopping list above (and the other such lists that he provides in several other letters), and decide whether or not they are really up to the chal-lenge of being a Christian; Because God isn‘t playing games. It will probably be better to be a sincere sinner than it will be to be an insincere Christian when you stand before the Throne of your Creator and are expected to explain your life.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control 5:22–23
Again Paul speaks of our Christian attributes as fruit, that which grows naturally from a branch that is connected to (in union with) the vine and the root. Self-control has always been regarded as a noble virtue by philosophers and moral teachers in virtually all cul-tures and at all times, perhaps the primary virtue. There is at least one sense in which all the other virtues mentioned here are really specific attributes of Christian self-discipline and arise from it. Jesus taught nothing new here, though He taught with greater authority than anyone before or since. He did raise the bar to impossible heights, because He expects us to aspire to exercise these attributes perfectly. But He also provides the power and enablements we need to accomplish the standards He sets. (2 Peter 1:3-4)
against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. 5:23–26