November 27, 2013

The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians

Tom Lowe

Chapter IV.A.1: The Law Enslaves the Believer (5:1-2)

Galatians 5.1-2 (KJV)

 

1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

2 Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.


Introduction

The fifth chapter of Galatians begins the application of the doctrinal truths given to us in the first four chapters. Paul had gone to great lengths as he tried to show these Galatians the foolishness of being swayed by these false teachers, who asserted that while we are saved by grace, we are still obligated to keep the Law of God perfectly or we would lose our salvation. They were told that they must keep the ordinances, become circumcised, observe legal restrictions, keep the Sabbath days, and place themselves under the Law of commandments given to Israel. With unassailable logic Paul had asserted that the believer is saved by grace. The believer is saved by grace, and in the end will be justified by grace. The believer is free from the Law (Rom. 8.2[i]), dead to the Law (Gal. 2.19[ii]), and delivered from the Law (Rom. 7.6[iii]), for—“Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Rom. 10.4).

He concludes his argument in the doctrinal section with these verses: “Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.” (Gal. 4.30, 31).

Notice the final word of the doctrinal section of Galatians, FREE! FREE! The believer is free, set at liberty, delivered. Salvation by grace means deliverance and freedom. There is no bondage for those who are in Christ. Now as we shall see, liberty does not mean license to sin; freedom does not mean we are not accountable for our conduct. Paul makes this clear in Galatians 5.13[iv]. We are free indeed—not free to sin—but free to serve the Lord without fear and compulsion. This we have seen in Galatians 2.19ii, where we are saved to be DEAD to the Law, but ALIVE unto God. Someone asked a certain preacher of grace, “Do you mean to say that if I am saved by grace, I can do as I want to?” The servant of God replied, “Yes, if you are saved you can do as you want to, but remember, if you are saved, I mean really saved, God gave you a different ‘want to’—you WANT TO serve God.

Now notice how Chapter 5 begins, after closing Chapter 4 with the word FREE.


Commentary

1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

Paul has used two comparisons to show his readers what the law is really like: a schoolmaster or guardian (Gal. 3.24[v]; 4.2[vi]), and a bondwoman (Gal. 4.22[vii]). Now he compares it to a yoke of slavery. You will recall that Peter used this same image at the great conference in Jerusalem (Acts 15.10[viii]). The image of the yoke is not difficult to understand. It usually represents slavery, service, and control by someone else over your life; it may also represent willing service and submission to someone else. When God delivered Israel from Egyptian servitude, it was the breaking of a yoke (Lev. 26.13[ix]).The farmer uses the yoke to control and guide his oxen, because they would not willingly serve if they were free. The Jews referred to the “yoke of the law” as a good thing and the essence of true religion. But Paul argued that for those who pursued it as a way of salvation, the Law was a yoke of slavery.

When the believers in Galatia trusted Christ, they lost the yoke of servitude to sin, and put on the yoke of Christ (Matt. 11.28-30[x]).The yoke of religion is hard, and the burdens heavy; Christ’s yoke is “easy” and His burden is “light.” That word in Greek means “kind, gracious.” The yoke of Christ frees us to fulfil His will, while the yoke of the Law enslaves us. The unsaved person wears a yoke of sin (Lam. 1.14); the religious legalist wears the toke of bondage; but the Christian who depends on God’s grace wears the liberating yoke of Christ.

It is Christ who has made us free from the bondage of the Law. He freed us from the curse of the Law by dying for us on the tree (Gal. 3.13). The believer is no longer under Law, he is under grace (Rom. 6.14). This does not mean that we are outlaws and rebels. It simply means that we no longer need the external force of the Law to keep us in God’s will, because we have the internal leading of the Holy Spirit of God (Rom. 8.1-4). Christ died to set us free, not to make us slaves.  To go back into the Law is to become entangled in a maze of “do’s and don’ts” and to abandon spiritual adulthood for a “second childhood.” The word rendered here as “entangled” means “to be burdened by,” “to be oppressed by,” or “to be subject to.”

Sad to say, there are some people who feel very insecure with liberty. They would rather be under the tyranny of some leader than to freely make their own decisions. There are some believers who are frightened by the liberty they have in God’s grace; so they seek out a fellowship that is legalistic and dictatorial, where they can let others make their decisions for them. This is comparable to an adult climbing back into the crib. The way of Christian liberty is the way of fulfillment in Christ. No wonder Paul issues that ultimatum: “Do not be entangled again in the yoke of bondage. Take your stand for liberty.”

The admonition to “stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free” was sorely needed, because the temptation to go back under the Law in order to avoid persecution and the loss of friends was very great. They would be accused of being anti-nomian and lawless, and guilty of making the grace of God an occasion for license to sin. It was because he espoused the doctrine of Christian liberty that Paul faced the worse misunderstanding of all: that of antinomianism, the idea that freedom from the Law, was freedom to disregard its precepts, and therefore to sin at will. But in spite of all this Paul says, “Stand Fast!” To go back is to take again the yolk of bondage from which Christ had set them free. Even the apostles in Jerusalem admitted that the Law was a yoke which neither they nor their fathers were able to bear (Acts 15.10vii).

He is saying here that not only are we saved by faith rather than by Law, but Law is not to be the rule of life for the believer. The Law principle is not the rule for Christian living. Paul is saying that since we have been saved by grace we are to continue on in this way of living. Grace supplies the indwelling and filling of the Spirit to enable us to live on a higher plane than the Law demanded. All this is our portion when we trust Christ as Savior. It is in Christ that we receive everything—salvation and sanctification. Don’t tell me I need to seek a second blessing. When I came to Christ, I got everything I needed. Paul tells me that I have been blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus. Let’s believe Him and start trusting. Let’s stop trying some legal system or memorization of rules.

We have a liberty in Christ. He does not put us under some legal system. We do not use the Ten Commandments as a law of life. I don’t mean we are to break the Ten Commandments—I think we all understand that breaking most of them (i.e., thou shall not kill, thou shall not steal, etc.) would lead to our arrest by the authorities. Certainly Christians do not break the Commandments, but we are called to live at a higher level. That level is where there is liberty in Christ. I have a liberty in Christ, and that liberty is not a rule, but a principle. It is that I am to please Him. My conduct should please Jesus Christ—it should not focus on pleasing you or some organization, but it should only aim to please him. That is the liberty we have in the Lord Jesus Christ. “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”

There is freedom through truth—the Christian religion makes people free because Christ is truth. “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And YE SHALL KNOW THE TRUTH, AND THE TRUTH SHALL MAKE YOU FREE” (John 8.31, 32).

No word in our day needs to be singled out in our day and underscored more than the word “truth.” Take only its human dimensions. An increasing stock pile of lies, false witness, and half-truths has brought about a famine of truth in the land and throughout the world.  Mankind cannot long survive in such a famine. The axles of God’s universe turn upon truth and will not tolerate the falsehoods of men.

So Christianity is a redemptive religion because it is the religion of truth; it is the truth about God, about man, and about human relationships. It is not myth. It is not a set of abstract ideas. It is not an assembly of truths, to which may be added other truths. It is ultimate truth, living truth, from which all these bits of truth find their validity. As man comes to know truth, personalized and dramatized in Christ, he discovers himself and his freedom. And that freedom no man can take away from him. It is freedom in the Spirit that defies the circumstances of man’s existence.

As Christians we have in our possession this living truth. Our freedom is established upon this rock of truth. The life of Christ is real, more real than the Rock of Gibraltar. No amount of talk about legends can destroy that fact. The records of what He said and did are real, an account that is consistent in itself, and consistent with other records. His words and deeds are still unassailable. And what is more, He is still living. The faith of millions is anchored in that truth. It is upon such truth that Christians stake their lives. In it they find their freedom. The more Christian they are, the more free they become; the more God-centered, the less self-centered; the more spiritual, the less a slave to the things of earth, the flesh, and time.

Does it matter then that Christ is truth? Truth always matters. If God is love, then I must love my neighbor as myself; if God cares, then I must have a holy concern for my fellowman; If God is righteous, then I must live righteously; if God has a plan, then I must voluntarily be part of His plan. Christian truth means nothing—it brings no freedom—until it is truth appropriated.

Faith, truth, and freedom form a perfect chain in the Christian life. Knowledge of the divine truth comes by faith and sets men free. As man freely accepts the promises of God he is able to more faithfully follow the commands of God.


2 Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.

Paul begins his argument to stand fast in the liberty and freedom of grace in verse 2, where he declares “that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.” This is the first of three phrases that he uses to describe the losses the Christian incurs when he turns from grace to Law. The second is “a debtor to do the whole Law” (v. 3), and the third is “Christ has become of no effect unto you” (v. 4). This leads to the sad conclusion in Galatians 5.4: “Ye are fallen from grace.” It is bad enough that legalism robs the believer of his liberty, but it also robs him of his spiritual wealth in Christ. The believer living under Law becomes a bankrupt slave.

The legalistic teachers have insisted that the Gentiles, in order to be saved must become Jews and submit to the rite of circumcision. Paul vigorously opposes this mistaken notion and says, “If you submit to circumcision you become a debtor to the whole law and are under its curse and condemnation, and Christ can profit you nothing.” It is not Law AND grace, but Law OR grace. Those who look to the law for justification, miss the grace of God (v. 4).

Circumcision was the badge of the Law. A badge indicates to which organization or lodge you belong. Perhaps Christians should wear a badge because that is about the only way you can tell that some people are Christians. But Paul says that if you so much as put on the badge of the Law, which is circumcision, that Christ does not profit you anything.

Now let’s look closely at what Paul is saying. You must choose between Christ and Circumcision. He is not speaking to the Jews (Acts 21.21[xi]), but to the Gentiles, who had no background in circumcision. In their case the rite could only indicate a deliberate attempt to obtain merit by adopting a legalistic position and seeking righteousness by works. In the beginning circumcision had no such connotation, for with Abraham it was the sign and seal of the righteousness he already had by faith (Rom. 4.11[xii]). But in the course of time it had become a badge of merit. Therefore, Christ could not prophet the recipient of circumcision, who had really placed himself under the obligation to do the whole Law, with the idea that the act itself brought justification. But Paul says, if you trust Christ plus something else you are not saved. If you go so far as to be circumcised, which is only the badge of the Law, or if you go through some other experience and rest your salvation in that, “Christ shall profit you nothing.” How can He profit you anything when you are depending on something other than Him alone for your salvation? Paul makes a very strong statement when he says, “If ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.” If you trust anything other than Christ, you are not a Christian.

Law and grace were mutually exclusive ways of salvation. Reception of circumcision would prove that the Galatians did not have full confidence in Christ. They would rely more and more on their own efforts, while seeing less and less value in Him. Paul could not be satisfied with the legalist’s view that Christ would still be the great hero of faith, the masterful teacher of the Law, the good example and inspiration, the expected Messiah. Christ was either the only Savior or no Savior at all. Those who were circumcised before they heard of Christ must give up all reliance upon it.  This does not necessarily mean that the Gentile believers in Galatia had already yielded to the demands of the Judaizers, but only that some of them were strongly inclined to do so. Those who did yield to the demands of the Judaizers and were circumcised were thereby seeking righteous by works. To them Paul declared that Christ will be of no value to you at all. It is not that the apostle condemned circumcision in itself, for he had Timothy circumcised (in Galatia) so that the young man would have a wider ministry (Acts 16.1-3[xiii]). Circumcision had meaning in Israel when it was the symbol of a cleansed heart (Deut. 30.6[xiv]) and served as a reminder of God’s covenant of salvation promise (Ge. 17.9[xv]). But Paul was strongly opposed to the Judaistic theology which insisted that circumcision was necessary for salvation. Anyone who was circumcised for that reason added works to faith and demonstrated that he had not exercised saving faith in Christ.


Footnotes


[i] For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.

[ii] For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.

[iii] But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.

[iv] For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.

[v] Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

[vi] But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.

[vii] For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.

[viii] Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?

[ix] I am the LORD your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that ye should not be their bondmen; and I have broken the bands of your yoke, and made you go upright.

[x] Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

[xi] They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs.

[xii] And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.

[xiii] Then came he to Derbe and Lystra: and, behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timotheus, the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed; but his father was a Greek: Which was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium. Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek.

[xiv] The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.

[xv] Then God said to Abraham, "As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised.

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