Claim Your Freedom
Explore the Bible Series
June 28, 2009
Background Passage: Galatians 5:1-15
Lesson Passage: Galatians 5:1-15
Our recent study of Galatians has convinced me that Paul had one, essential concern as he wrote this book. The legalism of the Judaizers had, in Paul’s judgment, relegated Gentile believers to second-class status in the church. The debate over circumcision served as a critical example of the human tendency to seek ascendency over other people. The apostle asserted that these artificial things, like circumcision, had no bearing on one’s standing before God. If I am correct in my observation, then Galatians 3:28 may well serve as the key thematic verse of the epistle, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Insecure people often seek to build their identity by drawing circles of exclusion, circles that are antithetical to the heart of the gospel of Christ. Preachers may find this tendency for “circle-drawing” particularly tempting. In an effort to gain a following, these men may portray themselves as guardians of truth who preach a “pure gospel” that church members simply cannot find anywhere else. Often they convince themselves that they have rediscovered some great truth that sets them apart from other ministers or teachers, and parishioners must follow the rediscovered truth or risk their own souls. The “circle-drawers” may concede that others may be Christians, but they somehow hold a watered-down, truncated version of the gospel. This form of ministry, however, faces a problem. It demands that the circle remain small; that is, the siege mentality requires that only a definitive few will fit within the confines of the circle. If too many people enter the circle, the leader must find some new way to redraw his boundaries. To use another analogy, the dragon slayer, to remain relevant, must find a new dragon to slay. This tendency has cultic implications, and true ministers of the gospel must avoid this mentality.
The Judaizers were, according to my definition, “circle-drawers”. Paul had experienced some success in evangelizing the Gentiles, and his triumph threatened, in their minds, the relevance and authority of the “party of James”. They resented the apostle’s success; therefore, they attacked Paul’s gospel and character—circle drawing of the first order. They wanted to restrict the liberty of these Gentile converts by demanding circumcision, and, when the Gentiles balked at this demand, the Judaizers relegated them to second-class status, and Paul with them. The apostle refused to bow to this kind of tyranny.
The Reformation Study Bible includes a helpful summary of Christian liberty, under three headings. Redemptive freedom includes:
1. Freedom from the law as a means of salvation: God never intended for the law to serve as a means of redemption. As I see it, the law serves a diagnostic purpose. It diagnoses the sinner’s malady, but it has no power to heal. Some time ago, I had open heart surgery to repair my mitral valve. In preparation for the surgery my doctors completed certain tests; however, these procedures only defined the nature of my problem. The law is like that. It defines and diagnoses, but it is not designed to heal.
2. Freedom from the dominion of sin: The Bible indicates that sinners, in their natural state, live under the dominion and governance of sin. They are, by nature, slaves to their own passions and corruptions. The liberty of grace sets the believer free from this dominion. Sin remains, but it is not the governing principle of the regenerate heart.
3. Freedom from superstition concerning external things: The ancient world, in some religious expressions, drew a sharp distinction between material and spiritual realities. Paul insisted that all material things, properly used, were to be enjoyed by God’s people (See I Timothy 4:1-5).
Finally, Paul concluded this section of Galatians with a warning about the abuse of Christian liberty (vv. 13-15). Perhaps the Judaizers accused the apostle of moral laxity, thus misrepresenting his teaching on liberty. A proper understanding of liberty does not, according to Paul, promote loose, indecent conduct. The Epistle to the Galatians calls for balance.
Personal note: I have found very helpful Dr. Curtis Vaughan’s treatment of this paragraph. Dr, Vaughan taught several New Testament classes, at Southwestern Seminary, that I took during my student days, and I benefitted immensely from his teaching. His Study Guide Commentaries are matchless (Founder’s Ministries has republished some of these commentaries). Unfortunately, I think his work on Galatians remains out of print (my copy is in tatters). The following outline depends heavily on Vaughan’s analysis of the text.
I. Freedom from Legalism (vv. 1-12)
A. Paul’s assertion (v. 1a) “… Christ has made us free”: This expression affirms the breadth and depth of the believer’s liberty in Christ.
B. Paul’s command (v. 1b) “... stand fast therefore in the liberty…”: Paul enjoined an earnest effort to stand up for the liberty believer’s enjoy in Christ. Also, he warns them of the becoming ensnared in the entanglements of legalism.
C. Paul’s warning (vv. 2-6) “… Christ will profit you nothing…”: If the Galatians submit to the Judaizers in the matter of circumcision, they might as well place themselves under the whole law, as a means of salvation. Why, then, did Christ die for their sins? By submitting to circumcision, they separate themselves from grace and make themselves debtors to the law. Again, Paul emphasized the gospel’s insistence on faith and love, not law keeping.
D. Paul’s appeal (vv. 7-12) “…who hindered you from obeying the truth?” In this section, Paul turned his attention from the dispute over circumcision to the character of the man who taught this false doctrine. If I understand the text properly, Paul believed one man was primarily responsible for the problems, and the apostle, it appears did not know the exact identity of the man, but Paul understood the false teacher’s character.
1. They hindered the Galatians (v. 7): In the ancient world, an army, in order to impede the progress of a military assault, would destroy roadways and bridges. Paul used this imagery to reflect the hindrance of Christian progress, imposed by the Judaizers.
2. They persuaded the Galatians (vv. 8-9): This false teacher possessed a certain charisma, a charming persuasiveness that pressured the Galatians to conform to his errant ideas. They did not get these ideas from Christ. Like a little yeast in a lump of bread dough, this false teaching had grown to a dangerous level and spread to the entire loaf.
3. They troubled the Galatians (vv. 10-11): “Trouble”, in this context, denotes distress, discord, or unrest. The false doctrine had disturbed the peace of the churches in Galatia. Paul realized that the message of the cross offended people (he had often paid an awful price for his commitment to the cross), but, if salvation could come through the law, why would Paul endanger his life to preach the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
4. They unsettled the Galatians” (v. 12): This term is similar to the previous stamen about troubling the churches. In this case, Paul makes a play on words to convey his contempt for the false teaching. They called on men to submit to circumcision, but Paul wished the Judaizers would mutilate themselves rather than continue to unsettle these believers. This is a crude, persuasive way to convince the Galatians of the danger of this false teaching.
II. Freedom from License (vv. 13-15)
A. A reaffirmation of liberty (v. 13a): Christ had called these believers to genuine Christian liberty, a liberty threatened by the message of the Judaizers. This verse builds on the entire section that precedes it.
B. An urgent appeal (vv. 13b-14): Paul’s insistence on liberty did not, according to this appeal, lead to immoral conduct. The apostle does not reject the moral law as a code of holiness; rather, he opposed the misuse of the ceremonial law as a means of grace. Love should compel believers to obey God’s commands and preserve peace in the church. Obedience does not, therefore, arise from a lifeless impulse to conform to an external code of conduct; instead, it arises from an ardent love for the Lord Jesus and for his people.
C. An earnest application (v. 15): The troubles in Galatia had turned these believers into vicious animals, ready to devour one another—very different from the loving designs of the compassionate, gracious Lord Jesus. They had, to some degree, bought into the “circle drawing” of their false teachers. “Political parties” had formed, and the fault line of this dispute developed between those who submitted to circumcision and those who, by this dispute, were demoted to second-class status.