Galatians 5:1-15 Christian Freedom Brandon Goodin Elder
Paul is addressing former pagans that had become believers by faith in Jesus Christ. They were now being wooed by a false gospel. This false gospel was being preached by the Judaizers. The Judaizers were calling the Galatians to embrace the Mosaic Law to complete their justification. Naturally there is going to be a confluence of concerns that speak to their past paganism, their new and erroneous affinity for the Law, and their ongoing faith in Christ.
Freedom in Christ
Vs. 1a: To phrase this a different way “Christ has freed you to be free; So be free!”. The Galatians had been set free from the law of sin and death (Rom.8:2). They were set free from having to pay the awful price for their transgressions (Rom.8:1; Gal. 3:13-14). They were set free from the guardianship of the law and adopted as sons in Christ (Gal. 4:4-5). Their conscience was free from the guilt of their transgression and they were free to pursue righteousness with joy (Rom.8:14). Through Christ they now have full access to know God and be known (Gal. 4:9).
Vs. 1b: Paul teaches in Romans that all men have knowledge of God’s moral law (Rom.2:15-16). All men strive in some sense to prove their righteousness. They show that the requirements of God’s law is written on their heart. The Gentile Galatians had a pagan system in the past (Gal. 4:8-10) that they used as a system to merit justification before false gods. Paul calls them “not to submit again” to a system that relies on human ability, even if it is tied to their Christian heritage. To return to the law would be, in effect, no different than them returning to their pagan past. They would return to a system that would bow their backs with a destructive burden.
Circumcision: Severed from Christ
Vs. 2-3: There are two issues here. First, the Galatians saw this circumcision as a means of justification. Secondly, they are engaging in a practice that has been done away with. With Abraham, faith was counted as righteousness before circumcision occurred (Rom. 4:11). Circumcision was never the means of justification. Faith was always the means. Circumcision was the natural obedient outflow of the regenerate in the old covenant. To look to circumcision as a necessary part of the new testament believer’s inclusion into the kingdom of Christ is to disobey Christ. The ceremonial laws have found their fulfillment in Christ (Hebrews 8:13) and been done away with. To return to them is to make Christ’s work of no value. If they were going to attempt to return to a past ordinances to secure a more excellent standing with God then they would be doing the exact opposite. By taking on one requirement they would be taking on all the requirements of the law along with the blessings and curses.
Vs. 4: Anyone who looks to the law to bring about their justification or grant them standing before God is cutting themselves off from Christ. The phrase “severed from Christ” is a play on the cutting in circumcision. As they would cut the skin they would severe themselves from Christ. They remove themselves from the nourishing community of grace that God has so richly provided in the Church. This is not undermining the truth of eternal security as though the elect can lose their salvation. To embrace the law as a means of right standing before God is to leave the Church of Christ.
Faith: Waiting and Running
Vs. 5: Through the Spirit believers receive a faith that rests in Christ’s finished work and look forward with anticipation towards the hope of sanctification and glorification. Because of grace both sanctification and glorification are as free a gift as our initial justification. We do not work for it. We eagerly wait for it. Anything else “is not from Him” (Gal. 5:7; 1:6)
Vs. 6: Paul deals with circumcision from the perspective of love. In one case, he allowed Timothy to be circumcised (Acts 16:3). In another case, he refused to have Titus circumcised (Gal. 2:3). The motivating factor was “faith working through love”. It wasn’t about the circumcision or the uncircumcision. In and of itself circumcision is just a surgical procedure. Timothy took the initiative to be circumcised because he wanted to effectively minister the Gospel to the Jews without hindrance. It was not a requirement that was placed upon him for his justification. When Titus refused circumcision, it was because the Jews were making it a requirement for justification under the new covenant. The loving response to this error was to refuse to be circumcised. To “stand firm” (Gal. 5:1) so that the true gospel of grace would be made known.
Vs. 7-9: Just before this in verse 5 we heard that the Galatians are to eagerly wait. Now we hear that the Galatians were running. The Galatians were not called to an idle faith. They were to rest in the assurance of their salvation secured in Christ. They were also to run. The gospel message came and invigorated the Galatians. They showed the fruit of faith and repentance through good works (Gal. 4:15; 5:7). They renounced their pagan ways and turned to Christ. Now there is one that has come in with attractive words that risked disqualifying them from the blessing they had received in believing the Gospel. As John Stott says, “God had called them in grace (Gal. 1:6), whereas the false teachers were propagating a doctrine of merit… [T]he false teachers’ message was inconsistent with the Galatians’ call.” The Galatians were to resist this false doctrine and return to running well with the assurance of grace in Christ. If they did not resist this false gospel it would continue to spread and ruin the church in Galatia.
The Road to Repair
Vs. 10-12: Paul is confident that those who are propagating this false teaching will face God’s judgement. It also seems that they were claiming some sort of agreement with Paul. But, Paul dismisses this by pointing to the fact that he is persecuted for his stance against mixing the works of the law with the gospel of free grace. The free grace that comes to us through the cross of Christ is an offense to those who want to mingle in their own works. Paul uses some strong words wishing that the false teachers would “emasculate themselves”. Essentially Paul desires to see these false teachers cut off from the life of the Church and cast out.
Vs. 13-15: Freedom is reiterated here with a caution that moves into the section we’ll be studying next week about living by the Spirit. Paul makes it clear that the freedom that was received by the Galatians through the gospel does not lead to indulging their sinful man. This freedom does not free us to mix in our own righteousness to make our justification even better. Neither does it allow us to practice immoral behavior. It calls us to serve one another through love. Both licentious and legalistic behavior lead to contention and strife. The gospel frees us unto the practice of righteousness and proper love for one another.
A Trustworthy Summary of Christian Freedom: Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 20 Sec. 1
WCF 20.1 – The liberty which Christ has purchased for believers under the Gospel consists in their freedom from the guilt of sin, and condemning wrath of God, the curse of the moral law; and, in their being delivered from this present evil world, bondage to Satan, and dominion of sin; from the evil of afflictions, the sting of death, the victory of the grave, and everlasting damnation; as also, in their free access to God, and their yielding obedience unto Him, not out of slavish fear, but a child-like love and willing mind. All which were common also to believers under the law. But, under the New Testament, the liberty of Christians is further enlarged, in their freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law, to which the Jewish Church was subjected; and in greater boldness of access to the throne of grace, and in fuller communications of the free Spirit of God, than believers under the law did ordinarily partake of.
Worthy of reading also is the entire chapters of WCF 19 and 20 regarding the Law of God and Christian Liberty.
 Philip Graham Ryken, Galatians (P&R Publishing, 2005), 192
 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians (IVP Academic, 1984), 135
 Westminster Assembly of Divines (2010-12-28). The Westminster Confession of Faith, with Scripture proofs (Kindle Locations 685-697). . Kindle Edition.
Header Image digitally reproduced with the permission of the Papyrology Collection, University of Michigan Library.