|Christian freedom - Galatians 5:1-13|
STUDIES IN GALATIANS
Copyright© Rosemary Bardsley 2003
STUDY SIX: FIGHTING FOR FREEDOM [5:1-13A]
Having in Chapter Four used the symbols of Hagar and Sarah and their children to teach that Christian believers are free not slaves, Paul takes up this concept of freedom in Chapter Five and presents his strongest plea to the Galatians and his strongest statement about the implications of believing the false teaching.
This is summarised in verse 1:
A. A STATEMENT OF FREEDOM [5:1]
A.1 Christ set us free.
In a one-off, once-for-all, decisive and definitive action (the tense is Aorist) Christ set us free.
What does this mean?
· It means that before the action of Christ, we were not free - we were slaves, we were in bondage.
· It means that we did not, indeed, could not, set ourselves free from this slavery.
· It means that the ensuing liberty is not the result of our action.
· Because Jesus Christ did it, it has been done effectively, completely and permanently.
· It means that when we reject this freedom we are rejecting the work of Christ for us.
A.2 Christ set us free for freedom
The action of Jesus Christ did not set us free from one bondage only to dump us into another. He set us free for freedom. To view the state in which we find ourselves as Christians as one in which certain actions/performance are necessary/mandatory to continue in that state, is to completely misunderstand the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Any 'Christianity' that teaches any human action/performance as necessary/mandatory for gaining or maintaining 'salvation', has not grasped what that 'salvation' is; it has not understood what the Bible teaches about salvation in Christ, and is still viewing the Christian from a legalistic perspective.
A.3 Other Scriptures speaking of this Christian freedom
Study Task: Check out the teaching on freedom in these texts:
These references in context teach:
B. A COMMAND TO STAND FIRM IN THIS FREEDOM [5:1]
B.1 'Therefore ... '
Paul connects his command to stand firm to what he has just explained: the great contrasts between a law-based relationship with God and a faith-based relationship with God. He has presented this contrast in terms of
Because all of this is fact for those who have been embraced by Jesus Christ - because they have been rescued from the arena of law/performance/bondage and brought into the arena of faith/promise/sonship/freedom, Paul says 'therefore ... ' and he is about to point out the inappropriateness of reverting to the mentality of the former.
B.2 'Stand firm in the freedom'
In Colossians 1:13 we read: ' ... he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves'. The word translated 'brought' is methistemi from meta (a preposition indicating change) and histemi (to stand). Paul is here teaching that when God saved us through Jesus Christ he changed our standing: once we were under the 'dominion of darkness': now we are in the kingdom of Jesus.
In Galatians 5:1 Paul says 'stand firm' in this freedom. God has rescued you; God has delivered you; God has brought you out from under the dominion - the authority, the jurisdiction, the power and the bondage - of darkness; God, through Christ, has set you free and made you stand in a totally different realm with a totally different operating principle and a totally different king. Don't move. Be immoveable. Be stationary. Stay there, and keep on staying there. God stood you there: you keep on standing there. This is the meaning of the word translated 'stand firm'.
This word is used by Paul in:
The overall impact of these verses is the urgency of standing firm in the presence of false teaching and of opposition arising because of stark contrast between the false teaching and the gospel. The pressure in the presence of human opinion and persecution is to disassociate oneself from the gospel - from 'the faith' and from 'the Lord'. Identification with the true 'faith' makes one stick out like a sore toe; it differentiates one from all the 'religions' of men.
C. THE COMMAND TO STAND FIRM IN FREEDOM EXPRESSED NEGATIVELY [5:1]
C.1 ... and never again, never once more ...
The liberty we have in Christ is a permanent, once-for-all liberation from a performance-based relationship with God. Of necessity it rules out any present or future subjection to mandatory obligations, liberating the conscience for all time from the guilt and condemnation that comes from failure to keep the law. For this reason Paul says 'never again ... '
C.2 ... let yourselves be burdened by, let yourselves be ensnared, entangled or held by or in ...
The perspective of the false teaching is here represented as something which:
It actively does this. Those whom it entangles are the passive objects of its effect. If anyone embraces the false teaching this is its effect on them.
C.3 ... a yoke of slavery ...
This is what the false teaching is: a 'yoke of slavery'. This is what one is accepting when one accepts the perspective of the false teaching; to accept it is to submit to, to subject oneself to, a life of control by a hard and enslaving taskmaster. It is to be bound to the law which is constantly saying 'keep me and live'.
D. THE HORRIFIC IMPLICATIONS OF ACCEPTING THE FALSE TEACHING [5:2-4]
D.1 ' ... if you let yourselves be circumcised ... '
A significant point at issue in the Galatian heresy was the Judaistic teaching that the Gentile believers must submit to the Jewish rite of circumcision as conditional for salvation.
Study Task: Look up the following passages where Paul teaches about circumcision, and make a note of the significant points:
The question of circumcision was the focal point of the tension between Christians who had formerly been Jews and Christians who had formerly been Gentiles. There were those among the Jewish Christians who steadfastly maintained the necessity of circumcision and insisted that the Gentile Christians be circumcised.
[We must be sure not to understand here circumcision performed for medical reasons; Paul is speaking of ritual/ceremonial circumcision which, in the Jewish mind, identified one as belonging to God, and by which one was incorporated into God's people.]
Paul points out a four-fold flow-on from giving in to this demand:
D.2 ... Christ will be of no use to you at all ...
This is an extremely bold statement, similar to 2:21. Paul is saying that all that Christ did on the cross is useless - redundant, ineffective, powerless - for the person who allows him/herself to be circumcised. He is affirming that all the forgiveness, redemption, reconciliation, justification, removal of condemnation and so on that Christ gained, that the believer has in Christ, is of no use to the person who turns around and, instead of placing their confidence in the presence of God in Christ alone places it in their circumcision.
Chrysostom wrote: "He who is circumcised is circumcised as fearing the law: but he who fears the law distrusts the power of grace: and he who distrusts gains nothing from that which he distrusts."
Simply put: if a person takes on circumcision as a requirement for salvation then that person obviously has ceased to trust in Christ. He has put his confidence in his performance of the law; he will gain nothing from Christ for he is no longer trusting Christ. And, having ceased to trust Christ ...
D.3 ... he is obliged to keep the whole law ...
If a person relates to God according to his performance of law, then that person is obligated to keep the whole of the law. So if he gives circumcision saving significance, then he must also keep all the other requirements of the law, and he must keep all of them perfectly, all the time.
Study Task: Check out these references and fill in the comprehensive and total demands the law makes of those who seek acceptance by keeping it:
D.4 ... you ... have been alienated from Christ ...
Paul has rephrased the reference to circumcision to a broader statement: 'you who are trying to be justified by law'. Here he takes the issue away from the immediate question of circumcision and includes all human effort to be justified - legally acquitted - by personal legal rightness. To anyone who is trying to gain or maintain acceptance in the presence of God by their own efforts at keeping law Paul says 'you have been alienated from Christ.
This is another extremely bold statement. It pulls us all up short. It forces us to take a look at ourselves and to scrutinize and analyze our relationship with God: do we trust Christ alone for that relationship? Or are we giving some justifying significance to our own works? Are we robbing ourselves of our salvation by granting significance to our own actions?
To be alienated from Christ ... what does this mean? It means to be severed from all that he achieved for us on the cross. It means to stand in the presence of God on our own two feet with our own paltry handful of 'righteousness'. It means to stand outside of Christ.
D.5 ... you have fallen away from grace.
Another bold and terrifying statement. To be no longer in the arena of grace means to have to work to gain and maintain salvation, to have to earn, merit and deserve a place in God's family, to earn, merit and deserve forgiveness, acquittal, reconciliation, redemption, justification, sonship, and the Holy Spirit.
These are the horrific ramifications of relating to God on the basis of law, even one law. When we do this we are turning our noses up at the cross, treating the death of Christ with scorn. We are reverting to the original and foundational sin in which we seek to live independently of the action of God.
Discussion Topic # 10: Discuss ways in which Christians today are guilty of this repudiation of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Discussion Topic #11: Discuss ways in which your expectations and perceptions of 'Christian' cause you to relate to yourself and other Christians as if your/their salvation was conditional upon your/their living up to those expectations and perceptions.
E. BY FAITH ... AND IN CHRIST [5:5,6]
Here Paul briefly states a contrast between the bondage and uncertainty of the false teaching and the liberty and assurance of the true gospel. Whereas the false teaching separates people from Christ and from grace and traps them in a constant need to perform and to justify themselves by their performance, under the Gospel:
F. PAUL PRESENTS FURTHER ARGUMENTS [5:7-13]
 'you were running a good race'
Study Task: Paul uses the imagery of a race several times in his letters. Read the following texts and fill in these images:
The use of this imagery indicates that being a follower of Jesus Christ is far from easy - it involves commitment, dedication, perseverance, keeping one's eye on the goal, struggle, and strain: not the effort of having to merit one's own salvation, but the effort of continuing to believe in the face of direct opposition to faith and in the context of a whole world that does not believe and cannot possibly understand and appreciate the mindset of faith.
Paul tells these Galatians: 'you were running well' - implying that there had been a continuity of perseverance in the faith for some time. From the records in Acts we see that right from the start the Galatian churches had been born in the context of opposition to the truth and persecution - they had become believers with their eyes open to the difficulties they would face, including harsh antagonism from the Jews. Despite all of this they had been 'running a good race'.
 'Who cut in on you ... ?'
With the imagery of the race still in focus Paul likens the false teachers to someone cutting in in front of a competitor. The Galatians had been running well, but now someone has cut in, blocking, impeding, hindering their progress in the race of faith, interrupting their progress towards the goal, and tripping them up in their stride.
 'who ... kept you from obeying the truth?'
The effect of this 'cutting in' has been that the Galatians are no longer persuaded by the truth. The Greek words translated 'kept you from obeying' in the NIV literally mean 'not to be persuaded' and indicate the result/purpose of this 'cutting in'. They are no longer convinced by, they no longer believe in, they are no longer listening to, they are no longer believing, the truth.
To translate this as 'obeying' is not an inaccurate representation of the meaning: those who 'obey' the gospel stop giving significance to their own performance; in giving significance circumcision the Galatians were indeed disobeying the truth. Thus any reception of false teaching, and the associated reversion to a works-based relationship with God, is not only unbelief, it is also disobedience.
 'That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.'
Rather than holding on to their conviction (persuasion) concerning the truth of the gospel the Galatians have been persuaded by the false teachers, a persuasion, Paul says, that did not come from 'the one who calls you', that is, it does not come from Christ. In fact, it is entirely contrary to his calling.
 'a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.'
It only takes one false teacher, or one element of false teaching, to effect the whole of the truth. This indicates the completeness, inner cohesion and integrity of the truth in itself - it cannot be tampered with even a little bit without the whole of it being compromised and corrupted. One element of error will insidiously pervade the whole.
 'I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view.'
Paul is confident that the Galatians will take notice of his warnings and return to the truth, joining him in his exposure and condemnation of the false teaching.
 'The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty ... '
The one stirring you up/troubling you will bare the judgement due to him.
 'Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted ... .'
This is Paul's way of distancing himself from the false teaching, and from any accusation that he himself preached the necessity of circumcision. If he was preaching circumcision he would not be experiencing persecution at the hands of the circumcision party. If he included circumcision in his preaching the message of the cross would not be offensive to those who were intent on enforcing circumcision as necessary for justification. The offence of the cross is that is makes the law (as a means of justification) redundant by fulfilling the law.
[Perhaps the accusation that Paul preached circumcision came because he had circumcised Timothy in conformity with ceremonial law (Acts 16:3). Paul sees no contradiction in his action: he did not circumcise Timothy in order that Timothy could be justified¸ but in order not to give offence to the Jews who were living in the area, and hence minimize the possibility of reaching them with the gospel.]
 'As for those agitators ... '
Paul expresses his impatience with the false teachers ... whom he here calls 'agitators' - those who are 'turning you upside down', those who are 'causing a riot' in your hearts.
 'you, my brothers, were called to be free'
Freedom, liberty, is the result for which Christ called them. The bondage to which they are reverting has no part in this calling.
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