Studies in Galatians
THE BLESSINGS of Paul’s evangel, which are our allotment in grace, are blessings which the God of all grace, Who does not lie, promises “before times eonian” (Titus 1:2b). Even as, if a blessing is out of works, it is no longer grace (Rom.11:6b), thus also, if the enjoyment of an allotment is out of law, it is no longer out of promise (Gal.3:18a).
Since God has graciously granted Abraham his allotment through promise (Gal.3:18b), and since, in the gracious blessings of the evangel, we, in principle, are of “Abraham’s seed,” we too, like Abraham’s seed, are enjoyers of an allotment according to promise (cf Gal.3:29). Hence, Paul further joyously declares: “you brethren, as Isaac, are children of promise” (4:28; cp Rom.9:9).
The Galatians did not realize that “the law is not of faith” (Gal.3:12a). That is, they failed to recognize that law-obedience and resultant blessing, is not of the nature merely of faith, of that in which one simply trusts in God’s promise. The law, rather, in one’s obedience to its precepts, is of the principle that the one who does them “shall be living [i.e., finding life and blessing] in them” (3:12b; cit. Lev.18:5).
Since the law is not of faith, neither does it accord with grace (cp Rom.4:16). It has no place in relation to the evangel brought by Paul, which bestows the transcendent grace of justification apart from law, on all who are believing (Acts 13:39; Rom.3:21,24).
For freedom Christ frees us! (5:1a)
In Christ Jesus, Who has become to us wisdom from God, besides righteousness and holiness and deliverance (1 Cor.1:30,31), we are complete (Col.2:10). Therefore, in Him, in the benefits afforded us through His sacrificial death, we are free from any need to be “justified in law” (cf Gal.5:4). Christ is the “consummation” of “law for righteousness” (Rom.10:4). Obeying law in order to become righteous, is something which is quite impossible for mortals (Rom.3:9,10; 8:3,7). In spirit, “law for righteousness” must ever point to Christ, in Whom alone its goal is realized (cp Rom.8:3,4). Only in Him is that which the law sought actually achieved. Through the one just award of Christ, life’s justifying comes into all mankind (Rom.5:18). Through Him alone, this entire vast company shall be constituted just (Rom.5:19).
While eventually, all–whether those in the heavens or those on the earth–will be headed up in the Christ (Eph.1:10), the Galatians were already in Christ and blessed according to the revelations of Paul’s evangel. Therefore, since the blessing of being righteous in Christ had already been bestowed upon them, they had been liberated from any need for following “law for righteousness.”
Strictly (since the dative case is used, together with the definite article), it is, “Into this freedom Christ frees us!” (5:1). This freedom, allegorically speaking, is the freedom of being “not the children of the maid, but of the free woman” (4:31), which is to say, the freedom of Isaac; the freedom of being children of promise (4:28), according to grace.
It is the freedom of, “At ‘this season’ I shall come ‘and there will be for Sarah a son’ ” as in the case of “Rebecca also [who] is having her bed of one, Isaac, our father. For, not as yet being born or putting into practice anything good or bad, that the purpose of God may be remaining as a choice, not out of acts, but of Him Who is calling, it was declared to her that ‘The greater shall be slaving for the inferior’ ” (Rom.9:9-12).
Stand firm, then, and be not again enthralled with the yoke of slavery. (5:1b)
“In the Greek, it is simply ‘TO-YOKE-OF-SLAVERY.’ That is, we must not become ‘enthralled’ (spellbound or enslaved) by any ‘yoke of slavery.’ Yet any ‘Christian teaching’ or ministry which takes the position that the believer’s righteousness or at least the benefits which this righteousness entails, are granted to him, in the last analysis, not because of what Christ has done but because of what he himself has done, is both a deception and a yoke of slavery.
“This freedom, then, of which Paul speaks, for which Christ frees us, is freedom from any need even to attempt to become righteous by works of law. We enjoy the blessings of the untraceable riches of Christ (Eph.3:8). We are not participants in the economy of the law, and are by no means subject to its curses. Christ reclaims us from the curse of the law, becoming a curse for our sakes (Gal.3:13). Consequently, since God is for us, who is against us (Rom.8:31)?
“We were conciliated to God not through our faith in God’s Son or through our faith in His death, but through the death of God’s Son (Rom.5:10). God did not, reciprocally, take us to Himself consequent to our acceptance of Christ. That would not have been a choice (cf Rom.9:11), but an obligation. Instead, He actually chose us in Christ, even ‘before the disruption of the world’ (Eph.1:4). God graciously grants faith to all His chosen ones (cp 1 Cor.1:24-29; Rom.12:3; Phil.1:29). Therefore, the believer’s faith does not constitute an entitlement to salvation, but a surety of salvation, a surety to the believer that he (or she), indeed, is one of God’s chosen ones.”
“DEBTORS TO THE LAW”
Paul’s question to the Galatians, who wanted to be under law, had been whether they had indeed “heard” the law itself, in its testimony to those who presume that they are able to keep it, and that thus, by their own obedience, gain its proffered blessing (Gal.4:21; cp Ex.19:8). If the Galatians truly wished to “hear” the law, that is, act in accordance with its testimony, then they were to “cast out this maid and her son” (4:30), which, in Paul’s allegory of the free woman and the maid, is identified as the covenant from mount Sinai with all its legal precepts (4:24,25).
Lo! I, Paul, am saying to you that if you should be circumcising, Christ will benefit you nothing. Now I am attesting again to every man who is circumcising, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Exempted from Christ were you who are being justified in law. (5:2-4a)
Note the emphasis of the apostle’s declaration here: “Lo! I Paul am saying to you . . . .” Still, the words “if you should be circumcising, Christ will benefit you nothing,” must not be wrenched from their context; much less are they to be understood categorically, for this would contradict not only the entire tenor of the epistle, but the very evangel itself. Paul speaks relatively, in relation to justification in law. The sense is, If you should be circumcising (in the interests of justification), Christ will benefit you nothing (in justification). Thus, Christ–or Circumcision: which shall it be?
Indeed, in circumcising, one is only fulfilling a single point of law, not the entirety of the law. This one point of law by no means stands in isolation, as if nothing more need be done. To the contrary, the situation is rather that “every man who is circumcising . . . is a debtor to do the whole law.” This accords with Romans 2:25: “For circumcision, indeed, is benefiting if you should be putting the law into practice, yet if you should be a transgressor of law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision”; as well as with James 2:10: “For anyone who should be keeping the whole law, yet should be tripping in one thing, has become liable for all.”
The phrase “Exempted from Christ,” like the words “if you should be circumcising” is to be understood in connection with justification. Those who saw themselves as being justified in law were, as far as their appreciation was concerned, exempted from being justified in Christ. That is simply to say that if we hold the position that we are justified in law, we are saying we are not justified in Christ. One precludes the other. Thus, in one’s own perception, one “nullifies” or “makes unproductive” (as the Greek word translated here “exempted” is elsewhere rendered) the work of Christ in justification. Hence, in nullifying the true benefits of Christ, the Galatians repudiated the grace of God (cp 2:21).
Any teaching, then, that represents justification as being granted on the basis of obedience to law, is false teaching. This includes the teaching that represents faith in Christ as a lawful requirement of salvation. The essential error consists not in the advocacy of any particular law for justification, but of any law whatsoever for justification.
You fall out of grace. (5:4b)
Indeed, this is just what one does who seeks a right standing before God by means of law, even if he should freely acknowledge the sacrificial death of Christ on behalf of his sins. In one’s own recognition, one falls out of grace, not by practicing sin, but by falling into law. In truth, however, simply because it is grace, it is impossible for one to remove himself from its blessing, even by the darkest of deeds.
“In withdrawing from a real relation to the Saviour, the Galatians ‘fall away’ from grace. The verb ‘fall out’ (ekpiptõ) is applied, in Acts 27:17, 26, 29, 32, to the course of a ship driven out from her course. The image of a drifting vessel is reinforced in verse seven, by the figure of a race. These racers made a fine start, but they have stumbled (3:3; 5:7); the vessel set out from the harbor in splendid style, but has been caught and set adrift by the ‘winds of doctrine.’
“This ‘falling out’ bears no resemblance to the ‘falling away’ doctrine. It is rather the exact opposite of ‘stand firm’ in 5:1. In terms of theology to fall away means ‘final and eternal loss.’ This theological fiction is a positive hindrance to the understanding and enjoyment of truth. True, Scripture speaks of ‘loss’; but that loss is temporary, strictly confined to the creature’s experience, and, like Israel’s loss, becomes the ‘riches’ of the world, in the good providence of God.”
“ ‘Falling from grace,’ is not, as usually supposed, a loss of the benefits of Christ’s salvation through breaking the law, but is rather a loss of a realization of those benefits through attempting to keep the law. He who falls into sin does not forfeit the grace of God. Blessed to relate, grace abounds in such a case (cf Rom.6:1). But he who seeks to establish his own salvation by works has no need of the grace of God . . . . He thus repudiates grace. He falls out of the sphere where grace operates.”
“ENTREATY FOR FAITHFUL SERVICE”
For we, in spirit, are awaiting the expectation of righteousness by faith. (5:5)
Until the day of Christ’s advent, we, in spirit, “as if present” (cp 1 Cor.5:3), are awaiting the expectation of righteousness [i.e., of justification], and we are doing so by faith. We await that expectation which relates to righteousness, that is to say, which relates to our conformation to the image of Christ together with the transfiguration of the body of our humiliation, to conform it to the body of Christ’s own glory. Even as, though we are already sons of God yet are awaiting the sonship, the deliverance of our body (Rom.8:23b), thus also, though we are already justified, we are awaiting the expectation of righteousness, that glory which God has appointed for us in coming eons and beyond. Thus, proleptically speaking (i.e., in a spirit of anticipation), we are justified; for, literally speaking, we will be justified, in that day.
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision is availing anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith, operating through love. (5:6)
Faith, operating through love, alone is that which avails. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision–nor any other human deed either of obeying or of omitting to obey law–avails anything at all, in Christ Jesus. It is in Christ Jesus alone that all aspects of salvation are achieved, “through the blood of His cross.” Law obedience, as such, with necessarily attendant curses for violation thereof, simply has no place in our salvation.
“All is allowed me,” says Paul, “but not all is expedient.” “All is allowed me, but I will not be put under its authority by anything” (1 Cor.6:12). “All is allowed me, but not all is edifying” (1 Cor.10:23). The words which immediately follow, then, “Let no one be seeking the welfare of himself, but that of another” (1 Cor.10:24), are not to be understood as a legal requirement under pains of the repeated violation of which one will “lose his salvation,” or any other blessing in Christ.
What is achieved in Christ, cannot be forfeited by man. Hence all such entreaties, such as that of 1 Corinthians 10:24, should simply be understood as that which is expedient or edifying, pleasing to God and beneficial to man. Though all such words of entreaty of our apostle have a vital place in our service (even as the counsel of all necessarily universally-applicable words of wisdom throughout all Scripture), even so, no scriptural entreaty of uprightness at all, however important, has any place whatsoever in our justification, in which we are complete in Christ.
You raced ideally! Who hinders you not to be persuaded by the truth? (5:7)
These words are reminiscent of Paul’s previous fulmination, “O foolish Galatians! Who bewitches you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was graphically crucified?” (3:1). How painful it must have been for Paul to see his own “little children” in faith (4:19), so misapprehend the evangel of their salvation, especially when they had once “raced ideally” (cf 4:13-15; Acts 18:23). As with the Corinthians, it was true of the Galatians as well in relation to Paul: “If you should be having ten thousand escorts in Christ, nevertheless not many fathers, for in Christ Jesus, through the evangel, I beget you. I am entreating you, then, become imitators of me” (1 Cor.4:15,16).
Further, Paul recognizes that his opposers have hindered the Galatians from being persuaded by the truth, and this softens the edge of his repeatedly piercing words.
This persuasion is not of Him Who is calling you. (5:8)
Even though, ultimately speaking, all is not only out of God, but through and for Him as well (Rom.11:36), relatively speaking, there is much that is “not of God.” Such is the case at hand. Faithfully speaking, this persuasion which the Galatians had mistakenly embraced was not of God; Paul’s teaching was of God; for he had received it directly through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:12).
A little leaven is leavening the whole kneading. (5:9)
The Galatians were stark proof of the truth of this saying. Under the law, leaven was a type of sin (e.g., Ex.13:5-7; Matt.16:12). Leaven, such as yeast, may only be a small entity in itself, but it soon permeates and affects the whole kneading, from which many loaves may be made. Similarly, the “leaven” of the misplaced truth of circumcision, a small thing in itself, had given rise to a wider desire among the Galatians to be under law in general. Accordingly, as Paul was informed, they were now “scrutinizing” days and months and seasons and years, all in a sedulous effort to observe the holy times of the law in their precise appointed seasons (cf Gal.4:10).
I have confidence in you in the Lord that in nothing you will be disposed otherwise. (5:10a)
Literally, Paul’s confidence here, was certainly not “in” the Galatians themselves. It was rather “into” (eis) them. That is, they were the objects of Paul’s confidence, which was “in the Lord,” Paul’s confidence that “in nothing you will be disposed otherwise.” Specifically when this would be so, Paul could not say. He simply knew that the infirm in the faith will be made to stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand (Rom.14:4). In the meantime, he could only wait, seeing whether God may be giving them repentance to come into a realization of the truth (2 Tim.2:25b).
Now he who is disturbing you shall be bearing his judgment, whosoever he may be. (5:10b)
These words remind us of those of 2 Timothy 2:14, 15: “Alexander the coppersmith displayed to me much evil: the Lord will be paying him in accord with his acts–whom you also guard against, for very much has he withstood words of ours.” Such disservice to the saints will surely call forth corresponding requital upon all such bad works when considered at the dais of Christ, and will mean the forfeiture of wages in the case of many in that day (1 Cor.3:14,15; 2 Cor.5:10).
Now I, brethren, if I am still heralding circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? (5:11a)
It is evident that Paul was faced with opposition on all sides. From certain appearances, some may have inferred the mistaken impression that the apostle, effectually at least, was “still heralding circumcision” (cf Acts 21:20-26). These or others, through jealousy and gossip, may have led still others to suppose that this was actually so. Paul’s logic, however, is unassailable: “If I am still heralding circumcision, why am I still being persecuted?” Many knew well that Paul was not heralding circumcision, and were most displeased that this was so (cf Acts 15:1,2a,5). If he had only continued to do so, all corresponding persecution would have ceased.
Consequently the snare of the cross of Christ has been nullified. (5:11b)
Conversely, however, if Paul had continued to herald circumcision, the snare of the cross of Christ would have been nullified. A “snare” (skandalon) is “a means of tripping or a cause of falling” (Keyword Concordance, p.275). The glorious truth associated with Christ’s cross becomes just this to many, by means of which they trip, and fall into opposing error. That truth is the revelation that salvation is in grace and through Christ alone. This scandalizes both human pride and fleshly ethics, by which most are enslaved.
The evangel is simply unacceptable to those who wish to boast in something of themselves–something that they have done. In most circles today, “accepting Christ” (or alternatively, obeying Him as Lord) has supplanted first- century circumcision as the fancied “requirement” for salvation. Among the exponents of such views today, just as surely as among the circumcisionists of Galatia, thus the snare of the cross
4 is nullified. By denying its truth, they remove its offense.
Would that those who are raising you to insurrection struck themselves off also! (5:12)
Out of exasperation, Paul resorts to sarcasm. In his ebullient hyperbole and irony, he wishes that those who had roused the Galatians to insurrection, might finish their work of mutilation of the flesh by striking themselves off also. Then they could no longer deceive the saints. On the principle that a little cutting is good, surely a lot of cutting is better still.
“FREEDOM AND FAITHFULNESS”
For you were called for freedom, brethren, only use not the freedom for an incentive to the flesh . . . . (5:13a)
The literal reading is, “[You were called] on freedom.” It is on a basis of freedom from needing to seek “law for righteousness” that we are called. And, into such freedom Christ frees us (5:1)! Far from denying this truth, Paul would only add, “use not [this] freedom for an incentive to the flesh.”
Left to ourselves, the “flesh,” that is, we ourselves, considered in our own foolishness and weakness, would misuse this very truth, if not through abject abandonment, at least in careless neglect or apathy. In consideration of this tendency, as a complement to the truth of the evangel itself, we need to be reminded that there are still “many foolish and harmful desires which are swamping men [believers not excepted] in extermination and destruction” (1 Tim.6:9).
Though only certain such injurious desires, in some cases, may lead to bodily extermination and destruction, many such fleshly foibles regularly lead to the quenching of the spirit even as to the diminution if not destruction of a life of faithfulness. “So that, let him who is supposing he stands beware that he should not be falling” (1 Cor.10:12).
. . . but through love be slaving for one another. For the entire law is fulfilled in one word, in this: “You shall love your associate as yourself.” (5:13b,14)
Truly, love is the greatest thing, for apart from it we are nothing. Of all the sagacities of wisdom, walking in love heads the list. “To no one owe anything, except to be loving one another, for he who is loving another has fulfilled law” (Rom.13:8); and “. . . if there is any other precept, it is summed up in this saying, in this: ‘You shall love your associate as yourself’ ” (Rom.13:9b).
It is not enough for us to be loving only those loving us. As the Lord declared, “What thanks [or ‘grace’] is it” to be doing that (Luke 6:32)? His entreaty was rather, “Be loving your enemies . . .” (Luke 6:35a), even as Paul further confirms in Romans 12:20, 21, adding, “Be not conquered by evil; but conquer evil with good.”
“Love pervades the Pauline writings. According to him, it is love that imparts to freedom, as to all else, virtue and meaning. It derives from love the element of preciousness. He says, ‘through love be slaving for one another’ . . . .
“Love transcends and glorifies all things because it is absolutely disinterested. It is the only thing in all the universe that ‘seeketh not its own.’ Everything else seeks something, because though other things may be self-sufficient [i.e., they may afford sufficiency to themselves], they are not all-sufficient [i.e., sufficient for all else as well]. Faith seeks an object to rest on; hope, an object to look to. Love alone seeks naught else but to give–to bestow itself. It is the rest of faith and the goal of hope.”
Now if you are biting and devouring one another, beware that you may not be consumed by one another. (5:15)
O the injury to the cause of Christ even as impediment to the furtherance of the evangel, that results from a failure to give heed to this warning! Indeed, being “consumed” is that unto which “biting and devouring” leads. Through anger, bitterness, envy, gossip, and faction, even as disrespect, ingratitude, pride, selfishness, and implacableness, greater evil is repeatedly done from within than the aggregate evil that accrues from without. May God give us grace to spare us from such declension, or cause us to cease and desist therefrom where we have had a part.
1. Unsearchable Riches, “For Freedom Christ Frees Us!” vol.81, pp.227,228.
2. Vladimir Gelesnoff, PAUL’S EPISTLE TO THE GALATIANS, p.121.
3. A. E. Knoch, THE CONCORDANT COMMENTARY, p.284.
4. For an extended consideration of this subject, see the article, “The Snare of the Cross,” Unsearchable Riches, vol.81, pp.269-278.
5. Vladimir Gelesnoff, PAUL’S EPISTLE TO THE GALATIANS, p.128.
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