Galatians 5


“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

Freedom in Christ

In this chapter we find Paul concluding his argument with the Judaizers that we’re saved by grace and not by some legal performance of the law.

He talks a lot about freedom, especially being free in Christ. He tells them they need to stop allowing anyone from distorting God’s grace which will ultimately turn them away from God’s grace.

In other words, God’s grace through Jesus has set us free from the burden of trying to keep law perfectly in order to be right with God, John 8:34-36.

Just before Jesus died on the cross, He said, ‘It is finished,’ John 19:30, that’s His way of saying, ‘freedom’. Freedom from the power of death, freedom from the power of sin, freedom from being justified by law. We’re free from the bondage of sin because we’re free from the bondage of justification by perfect law-keeping and meritorious works.

Christians are set free by being created in Christ to be new creatures, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Christians are set free in order to serve, Ephesians 2:10. We don’t have to obey God but we choose to obey Him and obey Him freely.

Throughout their history, the Jews had on many occasions been in either the political or national bondage of some nation. They had gone into Assyrian bondage and Babylonian bondage. They were a possessed land by the Romans even while this letter was being written.

And when Paul says, ‘do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery’ this would have been a very sensitive issue with them. He’s asking them, ‘do you Gentile Christians want to be burdened with slavery the Jews had for many years?

Paul says don’t let these people intimidate you, don’t let them make slaves of you like they are. All they’ll do is get to you be circumcised, all they’ll do is bind you to a law keeping kind of religion.

“Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again, I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.” Galatians 5:2-3

Paul doesn’t mix his words and tells them straight, if you allow yourself to be circumcised, your committing yourself to full obedience to the law. And more importantly, Christ and the grace He offers will be worth nothing at all.

These Judaizers were wanting to take part of the Old Testament law and part of the law of Christ in order to form a legal system of justification.

Paul says we can’t have it both ways, it’s either law or grace, Romans 7:1-4. It is either grace plus law, or grace in and of itself with total dependence on God to save us as a result of our obedient response to His law, James 2:9-11.

“You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.” Galatians 5:4-6

Paul says if you want to return to perfect law-keeping, to be right with God, then you have been cut off from Christ and when a person is cut off from Christ, they are cut off from the grace of Christ.

Paul is saying that anyone who would turn the law of Christ into some kind of legalised religious system to keep right with God will be lost, not saved, Galatians 2:16.

Paul goes on and says, it’s through the Spirit, as opposed to the performance of the flesh, that we wait for our final redemption to heaven. Do you know why? Paul says that no amount of meritorious work of either deeds or law will account for one being righteous before God.

What is necessary is a faith that works through love. The work that we do is produced by faith, our labour is prompted by love, 1 Thessalonians 1:3. In other words, when we finally realise that our salvation is a free gift of grace from God, we’ll quit trying to work for our salvation and start working because of our salvation.

This spiritual growth that Paul is talking about comes from the heart, not from the outside with a bunch or rules and regulations to keep us in check.

“You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” Galatians 5:7-9

Now notice the word, ‘were’, it’s past tense, Paul says the Galatians started off the race great because they had the right goal in their sights. And Who was in their sight?

The crucified Christ was in their sight, Galatians 3:1. At this point, they took their eyes off Jesus and were heading on a dead-end road that would only lead to destruction.

You ask any athlete and they will tell you the worst thing you can do in a race is look behind you, you have to stay focused on the finish line.

Paul knew all too well what he was talking about and just before he died, he wrote to his young friend Timothy about it. Paul saw life as a race, not in the sense of finishing first but in terms of completing the race, 2 Timothy 4:6-8.

Paul says the Galatians started off great, they were running a good race, but something happened, someone has cut in on you. Again we can picture athletes running in a stadium and as they’re running someone cuts in on another runner.

Paul says the Galatians had been cut in on by someone who had pushed them out of their running lane. They were now headed in the wrong direction and would be disqualified if they continued on their present course.

But who was it, who cut in and hindered them in their race? It was those legalistic Judaizing teachers who had infiltrated the fellowship of the church. These teachers were diverting the churches toward their own beliefs. These legalisers were in the church and they were hindering the spiritual growth of the church, Acts 20:29-30.

Paul reminds them that God had called them through the Gospel. Paul wanted them to know that they were now being called into something where neither the calling nor the teaching originated from God.

The figurative use of leaven is sometimes used in the Bible to refer to the influence of good but here Paul uses it in terms of something bad, really bad.

He says that the influence of a few Judaizing teachers who were in the churches was actually influencing the members to follow their legalistic doctrine. And if their influence wasn’t stopped, it would flood the entire church of southern Galatia.

We know how leaven works, it’s slow but persistent and it’s the same with the influence of legalism among Christians, it’s slow but persistent.

These legalisers were putting on a show, look how often I pray, look at how often I fast, I know the Bible better than you do and they took pride in their religious performances.

Manmade rules and regulations don’t produce anything in us, whereas grace works on the heart in order to produce the fruit of the Spirit, Romans 7:4. And so, because Paul knew how the leaven of legalism works and causes so much damage to churches, he tells the Galatians to stop it from spreading.

This is exactly what Peter was condemned for when he was in Antioch. He was intimidated by legalistic brethren, and because of fear, he submitted to their influence, Galatians 2:11-14.

Now the Galatians may have started off well and slowly gone of course but Paul has some good news.

“I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty.” Galatians 5:10

Notice whom Paul put his confidence in, ‘the Lord’. In other words, Paul recognised the power of the word of God and because of that power found within the Word of God, he encouraged them to stick to what God’s Word says.

What Paul is doing here is what he would eventually do with the elders of the church in Ephesus, that is, commend them to the word of God that would build them up, Acts 20:32.

Paul had confidence in the church of Galatia that they would respond to the letter he was writing. He had confidence that they would reject the influence of the legalistic teachers in their midst.

You see, legalistic religion arises in the church only when other Christians don’t know their Bibles well enough to see the difference between Bible and opinion, or Bible and traditions.

Notice the warning Paul gives to those false teachers, he says, ‘they have a penalty to pay’. Anyone who leads the sheep astray and gets them to follow them, by intimidating the sheep to believe that his opinion or interpretation is the only and correct opinion or interpretation.

Those who would steal the sheep of God in that way will receive their just judgment. And what is their judgment? Their judgment will be destruction from the presence of God, 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9.

Those who cause trouble in the church with their divisive opinions and legal demands will be troubled by God in the end. That’s one reason why all preachers and teachers must be very cautious about how and what they teach, James 3:1.

“Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case, the offence of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” Galatians 5:11-12

Now, what exactly were these legalisers saying about Paul? They were saying that Paul was still preaching the need for circumcision.

And to bring this accusation to a halt, Paul simply asks them a rhetorical question, if he were preaching the doctrine of getting right with God by works, then why was he being persecuted by those who were teaching the same thing?

Paul says the offence of the cross is that we must reject the notion that we can save ourselves by the outward religious things that we do. This is exactly what these legalistic Jewish Christians were struggling with. Instead of relying on the cross for salvation, they were relying on their own religious system.

The Greek word for ‘stumbling block’ used in 1 Corinthians 1:23, is the word, ‘skandelon’, it its where we get our word ‘scandal’ from. The whole idea of a crucified God was scandalous to the Jews, and they would regularly persecute anyone who thought that salvation comes by grace and faith and not human works.

Paul says these teachers were agitators, who continually caused tension in the church. And because they were causing such disturbance in the church, Paul used a graphic words here in order to explain what should happen.

He said, ‘I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!’ In other words, he wished that there would be a slip of the circumcision knife and that they would mutilate or emasculate themselves.

According to the law, these people wouldn’t be permitted to enter the assembly of the Lord, Deuteronomy 23:1. The word, ‘emasculate’ is the word ‘apokopto’ which means to amputate, mutilate, to castrate.

In other words, they must be ‘cut off’ from the fellowship of the church, in order that their leaven stops spreading among the faithful. They must be cut off in order to restore peace and harmony among those who trust in the grace of the cross.

These are the kind of people Paul writes about to the church in Rome, Romans 16:17-18. These are the kind of people whom John writes about, 2 John 9-10. In other words, these legalistic Judaizers were going beyond what was written, 1 Corinthians 4:6.

Paul got fighting mad when people start to add or take away from the Gospel of salvation. He got fighting mad when he saw people cutting in on those faithful Christians who were running a good race. He got fighting mad because these legalists were stealing souls and leading them to destruction.

Life By The Spirit

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” Galatians 5:13-15

Paul reminds the Galatians that they have been rescued by God out of the bondage of legal justification.

They’re now free from trying to be right with God through law-keeping and meritorious deeds, which also implies that they shouldn’t allow anyone else to come along and put the shackles of law-keeping that Jesus removed from them, back on them.

Paul knew all too well, that some Christians would take advantage of their freedom from the law as an excuse to sin. He knew all too well that some Christians would sin in order to supposedly increase the grace of God in their lives, Romans 6:1. We know this was a problem for the early church, Jude 4.

As Christians, we have been set free from trying to be right with God through law-keeping, but we aren’t free from the law of Christ, 1 Corinthians 8:9 / Romans 6:1-2 / 1 Peter 2:16.

As Christians, we’re not under the Old Testament laws but we’re still under the law of Christ. We obey God and His commandments not because we have to but because we want to.

And we want to please God because of His grace, it’s His grace that motivates us to do things. It’s our love for God that motivates us to submit to His will and His ways. Paul is saying, grace doesn’t produce a license to sin.

Paul says, the very foundation upon which law stands is love, in other words, law governs our interaction with one another. Loving our neighbour motivates us to act in a lawful manner, whether it be in our relationships with one another as a church or with society as a whole.

Paul says the problem with legalism is that everyone ends up ‘biting and devouring each other.’ Instead of loving each other, the church ends up divided because everyone’s having a go at each other, James 4:1-2.

The devil will use anything he can to destroy the Christian, even if that means using Christians to cause division. No wonder Paul says, ‘watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.’ Paul knew where this legalistic mindset would end up, it would be disastrous.

“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires, what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” Galatians 5:16-18

Now how do we walk by the Spirit? If we live in a spiritual manner, then we’re living in the way the Holy Spirit wants us to live. And how do we know how He wants us to live? We have to read the Word, the Bible, Hebrews 4:12.

We wouldn’t even know that the Holy Spirit existed if He didn’t reveal Himself to us through the Word. Likewise, Christians wouldn’t have a clue about how to live godly lives if we didn’t have the Bible.

Paul says, the legalist is motivated by the flesh but the free Christian is motivated by grace and he says, the life that is directed by the Spirit is opposed to the life that has been given over to fulfil the desires of the flesh. In other words, we all have a choice to make, will we live to please God or will we live to please ourselves?

And Paul knew all too well what he meant when he talked about this choice and he understood that it takes self-discipline to please God, 1 Corinthians 9:27. In other words, it’s all too easy to live life to satisfy our own desires but it takes time and self-discipline to live our lives in a way that pleases God.

And so, Paul says, Christians aren’t only to ‘walk by the Spirit’ but must be ‘led by the Spirit’. The word ‘led’ is interesting because it carries with it the idea of being driven, Paul is saying, through God’s Word, we need to let the Holy Spirit lead us.

Paul is contrasting a life led by the Spirit and a life led by the flesh. These legalists were focusing so much on being right with God through law-keeping, that the whole emphasis ended up being on the flesh and performance. But those who seek a spiritual relationship with God will seek God’s direction through the inspired word of God.

When Paul says, ‘you are not under the law,’ the word, ‘the’ isn’t in the original Greek text, it should read ‘not under law’. What difference does that make? It helps understand that Paul isn’t just talking about the Law of Moses, but law in general, any law.

His point is that anyone who’s trying to be right with God, through any kind of legal requirement is still under bondage. But those who trust in the grace of God for their salvation and have faith in Christ and what He did at Calvary are not under bondage.

James says if a person breaks one law, they are guilty of breaking all the law, James 2:10. But in contrast, the real Christian will depend solely upon God, for their salvation. Why?

Because they know that they can’t keep the law perfectly, they know they will mess with us and fail, and they see their need for grace. In other words, perfect law-keeping demands obedience to law but grace motivates obedience to law.

We’re still under law but it’s God’s New Testament law, James calls it a law of liberty, James 1:25. Later James tells us that we will be judges by the law which gives us freedom, James 2:12. The point is your free from the Old Testament way of being right with God through law-keeping.

“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Galatians 5:19-21

Paul says these acts of the flesh are obvious, they are no longer hidden from society but encouraged in society. Society now tells us that sexual immorality is acceptable, but the Bible says otherwise, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5.

Society now tells us that impurity is acceptable, but the Bible says otherwise, Titus 1:15. Society now tells us that debauchery is acceptable, but the Bible says otherwise, Romans 13:13.

Society now tells us that idolatry is acceptable, but the Bible says otherwise, Leviticus 20:6. Society now tells us that hatred is acceptable, but the Bible says otherwise, Titus 3:3.

Society now tells us that discord is acceptable, but the Bible says otherwise, Titus 3:9-11. Society now tells us that jealousy is acceptable, but the Bible says otherwise, 1 Corinthians 3:3.

Society now tells us that fits of rage are acceptable, but the Bible says otherwise, Proverbs 29:11. Society now tells us that selfish ambition is acceptable, but the Bible says otherwise, Galatians 6:12.

Society now tells us that dissensions are acceptable, but the Bible says otherwise Proverbs 18:2. Society now tells us that that faction is acceptable, but the Bible says otherwise, Galatians 4:17.

Society now tells us that envy is acceptable, but the Bible says otherwise, Proverbs 14:30. Society now tells us that drunkenness is acceptable, but the Bible says otherwise, Proverbs 23:20-21. Society now tells us that orgies are acceptable, but the Bible says otherwise, 1 Peter 4:3.

And because Paul uses the phrase, ‘and the like’, he’s simply giving us a few examples out of many he could have given, to remind us what the sinful acts of the flesh are.

And to contrast the acts of the flesh, Paul goes on to speak about the fruit of the Spirit.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Galatians 5:22-24

Now notice that Paul speaks about the ‘fruit’ of the Spirit, not the ‘fruits’.

In other words, there is one fruit that produces nine attributes in the Christian life. And the reason we have nine attributes is because during the miraculous age in the New Testament, there were nine miraculous gifts, 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, but the nine miraculous gifts were temporary, while these nine attributes of the Spirit are permanent.

Paul is saying that those who have turned from depending on themselves for salvation, have turned to depend on the direction of God. In other words, the fruit of the Spirit is brought forth in the lives of those who seek direction from God for moral attitudes and behaviour.

Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit is the proof that we are Christians and notice the first characteristic of the Christian who is living the Christian life, it’s love. Love is the foundation upon which all the qualities of the fruit are built, Romans 5:8.

If we love our neighbour as we love ourselves, we will demonstrate in our lives these characteristics of godly behaviour. In other words, one leads to another, we begin with love and the result of love is joy, then peace with our neighbour, then forbearance.

Paul says that love, when it’s fully understood by the Christian goes on to produce joy. When Jesus showed His love for mankind by dying for us all, He was filled with joy, Hebrews 12:2. When we share God’s love with others it produces joy in our hearts.

And so, love produces joy and joy goes on to produce peace. Note that the word ‘peace’ doesn’t mean no more wars no more terrorism etc. It’s speaking about the kind of peace we have in our hearts from knowing we’re right with God, Philippians 4:4-7.

In other words, when the Christian begins to doubt their salvation, God gives us a peace in our hearts that we can’t understand. Just knowing we have that peace in our hearts will lead us to be at peace with everyone else around us, Romans 12:18.

Love produces joy and joy produces peace and peace goes on to produce patience. We need to keep reminding ourselves of how patient God is with us, for us to be patient with others, Colossians 3:12-13.

Love produces joy and joy produces peace and peace produces patience and patience goes on to produce kindness. Kindness is the inner gentle nature of the Christian that is produced as a result of dependence on the grace of God, 1 Corinthians 13:4. In other words, kindness will lead us to do good to our neighbours.

Love produces joy and joy produces peace and peace produces patience and patience produces kindness and kindness goes on to produce goodness.

Paul is going to speak about this in the next chapter, Galatians 6:10. This is the outward expression of inner kindness, it’s doing good toward others.

Love produces joy and joy produces peace and peace produces patience and patience produces kindness and kindness produces goodness and goodness goes on to produce faithfulness.

When we understand that God was faithful in saving us by His grace, this should help us to be faithful to those around us, 1 Corinthians 13:7. In other words, we’ll be more committed to our neighbour because we have developed a relationship that is based on loving one another.

Love produces joy and joy produces peace and peace produces patience and patience produces kindness and kindness produces goodness and goodness produce faithfulness and faithfulness goes on to produce gentleness. The gentle, are courteous and considerate of their neighbours and their brothers and sisters in Christ, Galatians 6:1.

Love produces joy and joy produces peace and peace produces patience and patience produces kindness and kindness produces goodness and goodness produces faithfulness and faithfulness produce gentleness and gentleness goes on to produce self-control.

Gentleness refers to our ability to control outbursts of emotion to guard the relationship of peace that we have with our neighbour, 1 Corinthians 9:25.

All these characteristics are evidence of a Spirit-filled life. But Paul says, if you want to prove you’re a Christian, then let the characteristics of the Holy Spirit be visible in your life.

He says, “against such things, there is no law”, in other words, if we live our lives displaying the fruit of the Spirit, we don’t need any law to tell us how we should behave towards anyone.

Those who belong to Christ have put to death any efforts to work themselves to heaven by perfect law-keeping and meritorious deeds. In other words, anyone who is trying to be right with God through law-keeping only doesn’t belong to Christ. Christians should be trusting in God’s grace, not trusting in how well they keep the law, Romans 8:9.

Notice that Paul reminds us that the Christian has crucified the desires and passions of the flesh. Why are we to crucify those desires and passions? Because those desires and passions actually encourage us to try and live right through our own abilities, rather than depending on God’s grace.

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” Galatians 5:25-26

The Christian life is within the realm of the Spirit’s direction through the word of God and so when we live according to the direction of God’s word, we are living in the Spirit.

Paul is calling on the Galatians to bring their lives into harmony with the direction of the Spirit.

Go To Galatians 6