December 7, 2013

The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians

Tom Lowe

      

Chapter IV.A.3: The Law Alienates Christ (5:4-6)

 

Galatians 5:4-6 (KJV)

 

4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.

5 For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.

6 For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.

 

Commentary


4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.

Since nobody has ever been justified by keeping the Law, “whosoever of you are justified by the law”  would be better stated, “whosoever of you SEEK to be justified by the Law.”

The word “fallen” in this verse is “ekpipto” in the Greek and the literal meaning is “to have been driven out of one’s course,” and it conveys the idea of “sailors whose ship has been driven off course.” It is the same word used in Acts 27, in the account of the shipwreck. Luke says in Acts 27:17 that the sailors feared—“ . . . lest they should FALL into the quicksands, strake sail (lowered the sails) (Acts 27:17). In verse 29 of Acts 27 we read: “Then fearing lest we should have FALLEN upon rocks, they cast four anchors out of the stern, and wished for the day” (Acts 27:29).

Hopefully, this helps us to understand the meaning of the expression, “fallen from grace.” Paul is saying, “Those of you who think you can be saved or kept by the Law—you have been driven off course and have missed the grace of God.” Paul was greatly stressed by the conduct of these Galatians. Surely, not all of the Galatians had turned from grace to Law, but they were, at least, considering it. It made him wonder if he had been mistaken when he believed they were truly converted. He says in Galatians 4:11, “I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain” (Gal. 4:11).

Was the time he spent with them wasted; was his preaching to them ineffective and useless. He says, I am starting to doubt that you were ever saved because you are following these false teachers of the law. Paul would not permit any tampering with the grace of God. Rather, therefore, than relying upon the works of the law, Paul says: “For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love” (Gal. 4:5-6).

If you have been saved by trusting Christ, and then you go down to the low level of living by the Law, you have fallen from grace. This is what “falling from grace” actually means. So, you see, falling from grace does not mean falling into some open sin or careless conduct, and by so doing forfeiting your salvation so that you have to be saved all over again. It has nothing to do with that at all. “Falling from grace” is the opposite of “once saved always saved,” although both expressions are unfortunate terminology. Paul deals with this matter of falling from grace in the remainder of this chapter. He also deals with it in his Epistle to the Romans. In Romans he begins with man being totally bankrupt—without righteousness, completely depraved, as worthless as rotten fruit. Man is a sinner before God. Then at the conclusion of Romans you see man in the service of God and being admonished to perform certain things. Not only is he admonished to do certain things, he is completely separated to God, and he must be obedient to God.

There are two mighty works of God that stand between man in his fallen condition and man in service to God. These are: salvation and justification. As we have seen, salvation is justification by faith. That is very important to see. Sanctification means that after you are saved you must come up to a new level of living. I think one of the greatest misconceptions is the belief that service is essential in the Christian life, and that you must get busy working for the Lord immediately. The early church was more concerned with its manner of life, and their lives were a witness to the world. Today the outside world is looking at the church and passing it by because we are busy, as busy as termites, but we do not have lives that will back up our witness. Rather than concentrating on trying to do good, we ought to live “good.” If we are pleasing Christ, we must be doing good. I think there is more about sanctification in the Epistles to the Romans and the Galatians than anything else.

Now how does God make a saved sinner good? Well, He gives him a new nature. Then he is supposed to keep the Law? Oh, no. Emphatically no! This doesn’t mean he is free to break the Law, but he is expected to live on a higher plane. There is no good in the old nature. Paul found that out, and he also found out from experience that there is no power in the new nature. As for salvation he said, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not” (Rom. 7:18). And he cries out as a saved man: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24). He is not afraid that he is going to lose his salvation, but he is a defeated Christian because he doesn’t have the strength to live the Christian life. But God gives His children a new principle. We will find out in this chapter that the new principle is the fruit of the Spirit.

Living the Christian life by this method is for some Christians as farfetched as living on the moon! They never expect to live there. Perhaps they have never even heard about the possibility. My friend, this is the life He wants us to live—by faith. We are saved by grace; we are to live by faith.

 

5 For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.

“The hope of righteousness” is the only prophetic reference in this epistle. That’s quite remarkable, because in all of Paul’s epistles he has something to say about the rapture of the church or about the coming of Christ to establish His kingdom. But here in Galatians, he says only this: “the hope of righteousness by faith,” and the hope of righteousness is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the only hope and He is the blessed hope; and Christ is made unto us righteousness.

The Epistle to the Galatians was very important to Martin Luther and the other reformers. This is one of the reasons, I am confident, that they spent so little time on prophesy. The subject of prophesy was not emphasized in the schools of religion until the twentieth century. In the twentieth century there was a tremendous development in prophesy. During Luther’s day the subject of prophesy was not developed. The person of Christ was the great subject during his time, just as salvation was the great subject later on. 

Therefore, the fact that Paul has only this brief reference to prophesy in his Epistle to the Galatians is understandable, since his emphasis is on the gospel and the Christian life. It is important to note the priorities in any book of the Bible and also the priorities that were in existence in any given period. Failing to do this leads to misinterpretation and misunderstanding, which often happens when quoting church fathers on the matter of prophesy. After all, the authorities on prophesy are Paul, Peter, Matthew, Mark, James, and Luke. We need to take note of what they have written on the subject. But to the Galatians, Paul simply writes, “For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.” I think the reason for him saying this here is that believers are not going to reach perfection in this life. And the greatest imperfection I know of today is to think you have reached perfection. People who think they are perfect are imperfect like the rest of us—but they don’t know it. Christians already possess the imputed righteousness of Christ, but they must wait for the completed and perfect righteousness that is yet to come at glorification (Rom. 8:18, 21[1]). At the coming of Christ, believers will be completely conformed to all the requirements of God’s will. The inward righteousness that began at justification will be transformed into an outward righteousness at glorification. At that time God will fully acknowledge all believers as being acceptable to him.

We are assured by the mighty word of Scripture that proper waiting will bring renewal: “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” (Isa. 40.31). Isaiah seems to say that those who wait upon the Lord will soar above the emergencies of life. “They shall run and not be weary,” because they will be prepared for every extraordinary requirement. “They shall walk and not faint,” because they will be able to cope with the responsibilities of everyday life. Whether one is waiting on the Lord, or waiting upon the Lord, or waiting before the Lord there is the calm assurance which comes to the believer that “all is well with my soul.”

In this verse and the next the apostle presents the life of the believer in the sphere of grace. This enables us to compare the two ways of life. When you live by grace you depend upon the power of the Holy Spirit; but under the Law you must depend on yourself and your efforts. Faith is not dead, because it produces works (see James 2:14-26). But the efforts of the flesh can never accomplish what faith can accomplish through the Spirit. Now faith works through love—love for God and love for us. Unfortunately, the flesh does not manufacture love; too often it produces selfishness and conflict (Gal. 5:15[2]). No wonder Paul pictures the life of a legalist as a fall!

When the believer walks by grace, depending on the Spirit of God, he lives in the sphere of God’s grace; and all his needs are provided. He experiences the riches of God’s grace. And he always has something to look forward to: one day Christ will return to make us like Himself—possessing perfect righteousness. The Law, however, gives no promise for perfect righteousness in the future. The Law prepared the way for the first coming of Christ (Gal. 3.23-4:7), but it cannot prepare the way for the second coming of Christ.

The legalist gets bogged down in insecurity, because he can never know when he has done enough to satisfy the standard of divine righteousness. On the other hand, those who are justified by faith, who have received the Holy Spirit as the pledge and sign of their acceptance by God, confidently await by faith their completion (the hope of righteousness) in glory (Rom. 8:10-11[3]). The Holy Spirit creates faith, hope, and love and gives patience and strength to wait for the perfect righteousness that will come at the redemption of the body, and which will be confirmed by God’s verdict of acceptance on the Day of Judgment.

So, the believer who chooses legalism robs himself of spiritual liberty and spiritual wealth. He deliberately puts himself into bondage and bankruptcy. The Jewish convert could continue to observe the Jewish ceremonies or he could assert his liberty; the Gentile could observe them or disregard them, provided he did not depend upon them. No outward ceremonies, rituals, professions, or religious acts will bring the acceptance of God, unless they are accompanied by a sincere faith in Jesus Christ. True faith is a work of grace; it works by love of God, and of our brethren. But without faith working by love, all else is worthless, and compared with it other things are of little value.

In declaring that salvation brings liberty and freedom from the Law, an objection was anticipated. The question would be raised: If salvation is all of grace without works, then is there no place for works in the Christian life at all? There certainly is, as the fruit of salvation. WORKS are not the ROOTS or basis of salvation, but they are the inevitable, indisputable FRUIT. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy that there is a prize that every Christian should be WORKING to receive—the crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:8[4]). If a person professing to be saved by grace continues to live the same sinful life, or makes grace an excuse for loose living and careless conduct, we have a right to question that person’s sincerity and genuineness. As surely as we are saved by grace, so surely must that grace be manifested by works. That thought is wonderfully expressed by Paul in the words of the next verse: “FAITH WHICH WORKETH BY LOVE.”

 

6 For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.

It would be quite possible for those who rejected the law as a way of salvation to think it was commendable in God’s sight not to be circumcised. That, says Paul, would make them just as legalistic as the Judaizers (1 Cor. 7.18-19[5]). It makes no difference whether a man is circumcised or not. He is not saved because he is circumcised, nor is he condemned because he is not. The object of Christianity is to abolish these rites and ceremonies, and to introduce a way of salvation that is equally applicable to all mankind (Galatians 3:28[6]). As for salvation, faith was the one thing needed, and nothing added, subtracted, or substituted could make a man right with God. But this was to be an active faith, a faith “activated through love.” This makes love the instrument of faith, as if it was faith that generated the love of which Paul is speaking. But in verse 22 faith, together with love, is a product of the Spirit of Christ. According to Paul, the Spirit produces faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of them is love (1 Cor. 13:13). The most wonderful thing he can say about God is that the initiative of God’s grace creates the faith by which man responds to this love. “In Christ Jesus,” that is, in union with Christ as a member of His body the church, man’s faith is activated by God’s love to invest in the lives of others and reproduce itself in them.

“But faith which worketh by love” is faith that reveals its existence by love for God, and kindness to people. It is not a mere intellectual belief, but it is that which reaches the heart, and controls the affections. It is not a dead faith, but it is that which is active, and which is seen in Christian kindness and affection. It is not mere belief of the truth, or mere orthodoxy, but it is that which produces an attachment to others. A mere intellectual assent to the truth may leave the heart cold and unaffected; mere orthodoxy, however bold and self-confident, and "sound," may not be inconsistent with arguments, and strife, and divisions. The true faith is that which is seen in benevolence, in love for God, in love to all who bear the Christian name; in a readiness to do good to all mankind. This shows that the heart is affected by the faith that is alive and active; and this is the nature and design of all genuine religion.

“Faith without works is dead,” was the conclusion which James reached (Jas. 2:26); but James was not proposing substituting works for faith. Works are the evidence of whether the faith one professes is either alive or dead. A faith that sets a man right with God, must also make him right with men. When Christ through free grace grants him eternal life, he is in debt for all the rest of his life, and he feels that he must do something about his existence—this is his works which make him right with men.




[1] “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us . . . that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” It’s true, we must suffer with Christ, if we would partake of His glory; but what is that? When such sufferings are compared with the coming glory, they sink into insignificance.

[2] “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” If you bite in sudden anger, and devour in continued hatred, take heed, because mutual anger and hate must result in mutual destruction.

[3] “But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” The body is dead because of sin. Our bodies have died physically because death came into the world through sin. But the Spirit is life. Our spirit is made alive by union with Christ, and partaking of his righteousness. Though the body be doomed to death because of sin, it shall be given life for those who have God's Spirit dwelling in them. Even our mortal bodies shall be raised, not in corruption, but in incorruption (1Co 15:42-44).

[4] “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” The crown of righteousness is the reward which God, in his kindness, has promised to them who are faithful to the grace he has bestowed upon them.”

[5] “Is any man called being circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.” The circumcised Jews were to be content that they were circumcised; the uncircumcised Gentiles were to remain so when they became Christians.

[6] There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

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