Galatians 5:1-15 Stand in Liberty and Love WC McCarter
Independence Day, or July 4th, is the holiday that marks our adoption of the document commonly referred to as the Declaration of Independence. That document announced our freedom from the control of Great Britain and declared our independence as a newly formed nation, the United States of America. We all have been born into that freedom, by no triumph of our own. Of course, many have had to fight to secure and defend our freedom. To them we are grateful. Now, can you imagine abandoning our freedom? Can you imagine yourself desiring dictatorship, communism, or any of the like? We would be fools to want something other than American freedom. We are willing to go to war to defend our freedom and send our children to fight. At any hint of losing even a small liberty, Americans are up in arms about it. We are right to enjoy our freedoms and passionately defend them.
What a fitting illustration it is to consider losing our American liberties, even on this Independence weekend, but especially as we continue our study in Galatians. Let me say losing our American freedoms is nothing compared to losing our freedom in Christ. We are talking about atonement for sin, a relationship with the Creator, and our eternal destiny. Thus, it is astounding that the Galatians were leaving the Gospel, they were leaving freedom in Christ in order to bear the burden of the Law. They were too easily persuaded.
READ Scripture- This is the Word of God
Stand in Liberty (1-4)
Notice the contrast in verse one between standing and entanglement. This is a wonderful picture in itself for what Christ has done for us. The word “entangled” in the NKJV also means, “to experience constraint, be subject to, be loaded down with” (BDAG). So, the Law is a burden that loads us down. It is a bondage that constrains us. What is the burden? It is the guilt of our sin. How are we constrain? The Law offers no true atonement. You can picture an animal like an ox with a yoke on its neck in order to carry a heavy load or a man with a very heavy load on his shoulders that stoops him over. One of the hardest things I have done is work as a laborer to roof a house. Putting a load of shingles on your shoulders and heading up a ladder is an exhausting and painful thing. It is hard to stand up straight for a few days. In contrast, the freedom that Christ gives us allows for the man or woman of God to stand up straight. For the Christian, there is no heavy yoke. There is no burden to stoop us over. Spiritually speaking, we can stand up straight. What is Paul’s point with this contrast? He says, Stand up straight and enjoy it; don’t go back to the exhausting and painful burden. The Christian life is not just about standing up for Jesus as the hymn says, but it is standing up because of Jesus, because of the freedom He has given us.
Beginning in verse two, we get to some specifics. The false teachers were persuading the Galatian Christians to become circumcised. Paul makes it personal by stating his name in this plea. Circumcision was only a surgical procedure for the men, but it was a mark of the covenant. The symbolism of that act had huge significance. Paul says that if the Galatians were to submit to circumcision, which is to say, if they were to submit to the Mosaic Law as a means of righteousness then: (1) Christ would profit them nothing, (2) they must keep the whole law, (3) they would be estranged from Christ, and (4) they will fall from grace. Paul says, Mark my words these will be your consequences. If you look to the law or rules or traditions of men for right standing with God, you forfeit what you have in Christ. There is no Christ plus anything. There is no faith plus something else. Salvation is by grace through faith in Christ.
Faith Working through Love (5-6)
Paul has been speaking of those who either have or were considering or will follow the false teachers back into bondage. He has said, “You. . .You. . .You.” Now, in verses five and six he turns to the true believers and uses, “We.” What is it that true believers, those of the apostolic community, do for righteousness? We do not work; we wait. We wait in faith for the full benefits of Christ’s accomplishments. We do this through the Spirit meaning that we submit to the authority and work of the Holy Spirit of God rather than the Law. We constantly submit to the preferences of the Spirit, continually trusting in Christ. In the morning, we trust. In the evening, we trust. When we are young, we trust. When we are old, we trust. On the bad days, we trust. On the good days, we trust. We live our lives by faith. We stand up straight in freedom, and we wait for all of the promises of God in Christ to be fulfilled.
Verse six gives an overarching principle: whether you have or don’t have the outward sign of circumcision, it does not matter. The only things that matters is faith working through love. Therefore, the Christian life does have fruit. There are things to do in love. Yet, those things are not what justifies us before God. Loving deeds are not what save us. We stand in love because of the freedom we have been given. We continue by faith and working love because Christ has already purchased our salvation and His righteousness has been imputed to us. Faith makes love for our brethren and neighbors possible.
Leavening the Lump (7-12)
Paul knew that the Galatians had started off well. He had proclaimed the Gospel in their towns and established the churches in the grace of God. They had been trusting in Christ. They were running the race of faith well, but someone threw a high hurdle onto the track which tripped up many of them. The truth is what believers must search for and submit to. The Galatians were convinced that what Paul proclaimed was the truth, that is, the Gospel of Christ crucified and raised again. Now they were not obeying that message, and Paul says that new opinion did not come from God.
In the midst of pulling the Galatians back into freedom with great encouragements, Paul makes some sharp jabs at the agitators. Yeast was a symbol of sin in the Jewish culture. Here, Paul uses it of the false teachers. It was and is common knowledge that only a small bit of yeast spreads through the whole lump of dough. In the same way, it only took a little persuasion away from the truth, only a hint of doubt, to ruin the whole Galatian community. Of course, Paul wants the Galatians to have the same view of the Judaizers that he has of them. He wants them to have “no other mind.” I can tell you that the person who causes unity in the church to be disrupted will certainly endure the judgment of God. The Lord does not take lightly those who disturb the church. This is a serious matter.
Verse eleven is an oddly placed verse, but a subject that Paul feels he must address, and there is no better time than now. Apparently some of the Judaizers were claiming that Paul still taught circumcision. This must have been a ploy to help persuade the Galatians to follow their teachings. Paul states emphatically that this claim is utterly false. If it were true, why was he being persecuted so violently? Paul proclaimed Christ crucified, the cross as salvation. Circumcision and the proclamation of the Judaizers takes the offense of the cross away. What is the offense of the cross? You have sinned against God Almighty and cannot save yourself from His wrath, but Christ’s sacrifice is a means of righteousness and salvation if only you will believe in Him and receive His benefits. In an outburst of passion, frustration, and defense of the Gospel, Paul says in verse twelve what may make some blush, “I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off!” The NIV is even more vivid, “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” Paul plays off of their insistence on circumcision–why not cut it all off?
Through Love Serve One Another (13-15)
In the last paragraph of our sermon text today, Paul brings it back home to the situation of the true believers, the brethren. He says, “You have been called to liberty.” Yet, this freedom is not something of which we should take advantage. Far be it from us to take for granted what Christ has done for us by continuing in sin. The word “flesh” often refers to the unredeemed, sinful nature. So many, too many Christians in America have devalued the grace of God in Christ. If you continue is sin, you take His name through the mud of this world. You should take this Christian liberty as an opportunity to serve others in love. Paul teaches exactly what the Lord Jesus taught during His ministry. If you want to fulfill the whole law, then fulfill Lev 19:18 which sums up the whole.
The opposite of love is stated in verse 15. Paul has probably heard that the Galatians were “biting and devouring” one another over this issue. The way to repair relationships and the health of the church is to reject the false teachers, continue to trust in Christ, and lovingly serve one another. When there is infighting, the health and witness of the church is in danger (Fee/Moo).
Conclusion and Christian Application
(1) Biting and devouring one another is destructive to all involved and all those associated with the situation.
(2) Paul instructs Christians to stand up straight, unencumbered, unburdened, and without constraint in liberty and love. This is our privilege. This is part of the benefits of the Christian life. We are free from the burden of sin’s guilt. We should use this freedom to serve others in love, especially one another.