Pastor Murray McLellan

Galatians 5:1-12

 

galatians-mclellanCommentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

A series of studies in Galatians by pastor Murray McClellan.

 It is our prayer that you are blessed through his labors in God’s Word.

 

Galatians 5:1-12

Standfast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.  Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing.  And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law.  You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.  For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of the righteousness by faith.  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.  You ran well.  Who hindered you from obeying the truth?  This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you.  A little leaven leavens the whole lump.  I have confidence in you, in the Lord, that you will have no other mind; but he who troubles you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is.  And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution?  Then the offense of the cross has ceased.  I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off! 

After being adopted as a son and made a free man, why would anyone desire to go back to being like Ishmael – a slave and an outcast?   The law is not an advancement in the Christian walk.  It is a bondage.  It had its place in redemptive history – to lead needy sinners to the Christ.  Now that Christ has come, we no longer need this “tutor”.  In fact, to go back is to deny Christ, who came “to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”  That day has come!

The Galatians had been enslaved to sin and pagan rituals done out of “fear of death” to which they “were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” (Heb. 2:15)   To now put themselves under the rules and regulations of the Old Covenant, they would simply be exchanging one form of bondage for another – both of which would result in death for sinners.  In Christ, there is no striving to acquire merit before God.  Thus, believers in Christ are free from serving out of a motive to earn or get.  We serve out of a fullness of satisfaction in our great Redeemer for the glory of the One who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ.  We serve because it is our greatest desire to please the One we now love.

When I think that I, as the Galatian believers, – a wild olive branch that had no part of the covenant promises – have been grafted into the Vine and have become a partaker of the root of David, I scarce can take it in.  In Christ, I have the blessings promised by God to those who keep the covenant – for Christ, my Covenant, is perfect in His obedience.  (Compare Ex. 19:5-6 with 1 Peter 2:9-10).   I do not have to fear the law’s curse, for that, too, my substitute has taken care of.  I am accepted in the Beloved.  Brethren, we have all this in Christ. Let us standfast in this liberty.  We have it now.   To turn back to the Mosaic law would be even more foolish than if left my family and went to my in-laws to try to earn the right for their daughter’s hand in marriage.  I already have her!  I have everything that I’d be trying to gain.  I’d be moving backwards in our relationship; forsaking the one who is now at my side.  To turn from Christ is a far more serious matter and of bitter and eternal consequence.

 Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing.  And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law.  You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. (v. 2-4)

“Indeed I, Paul, say to you…”  (i.e. an apostle of Christ – not from men nor through man; the Paul through whom God had worked miracles and wonders among them; the one who loved them sacrificially).

that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing.”  You cannot have it both ways.  They are incompatible.  If you seek to obtain the favor of God through an act of the flesh, you are blaspheming against the perfect work and righteousness of Jesus Christ.  If the Galatians trusted in the shedding of their own blood in the act of circumcision rather than trusting in the precious shed blood of Jesus, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, they were indeed blind sinners who never knew Christ.   In Christ alone is a sinner redeemed and justified.  To cut off a piece of your own flesh to merit God’s favor is to cut oneself off from the blessings of Christ’s salvation.  What good is cutting off one small part of the flesh when “from the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it”?  (Isa. 1:6)  You still have a major problem in the flesh that is left!  “For I know that in me (that is in my flesh) nothing good dwells.”  (Rom. 7:18)  Indeed our problem is far more in-depth than our physical flesh – our hearts are desperately wicked and we are spiritually dead.

And I testify again”  Paul can testify to these things by experience.

“… to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law.”   If the Galatians got circumcised, they were accepting more than a ceremonial ritual, they were obligating themselves to live their whole life in obedience to the law. You can’t just stop with circumcision.  You must observe all things written in the book of the law to do them.   If obedience in this is required, then obedience to all the law is required.  This would be a heavier yoke than they ever dreamed.  This would be a yoke that only a perfect man could bear, for “the soul that sins shall die.”

You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.”   The fact “that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident.” (Gal. 3:11)  Those who attempt such a feat, show that they do not grasp the holiness of God, nor the state of sinful man, nor the Person and work of Jesus Christ.   To attempt to be justified by law is to reject the way of grace.  If man, a sinner and inexcusable law breaker, is to be saved at all, it must be by the sovereign kindness of Him whom he has offended.  It must be by the grace of God – the grace of Him of whom and through whom and to whom are all things.  Man thinks far too highly of himself and shows his ignorance of the holiness of God, if he thinks he can merit Divine favor.  This one indeed is estranged from Christ, who is the only way of salvation.

 For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of the righteousness by faith.  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love. (v. 5-6)

“We” Christians, as opposed to those who seek to be justified by law, by faith we are waiting for the righteousness that will be accomplished “through the Spirit” (not through the flesh).  We expect the hoped for “righteousness by faith” – not by working.  Our righteous standing before God is a work of the Spirit.   We “eagerly wait” as opposed to working and striving for a righteousness to which we could never attain by our own efforts.

Our salvation is not expressed in circumcision.  Rather the life of Christ is made manifest in our mortal bodies through faith which expresses itself in love.  Christ frees one to live and love sacrificially, because in Christ, we are content and satisfied.  Law is a duty done to get or avoid something.  The freedom we have in Christ, however, enables us to love others sacrificially without needing anything from them in return.  This is because we are satisfied with and in Christ.  We don’t have to use people anymore, now we can focus on others and seek their best.  Our freedom shows forth in this kind of selfless love.

 You ran well.  Who hindered you from obeying the truth?  This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you.  A little leaven leavens the whole lump. (v. 7-9)

Upon embracing the gospel, the Galatians had for a while been ordering their life fitting the gospel of Christ.  The implication is that they had stopped running well, having lost sight of the finish line.  They were being distracted by the commandments and doctrines of men – that are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.  So Paul tells them not to yield to them, not even for an hour.  For, like leaven, it will spread and take over your whole life – affecting the whole body.

 I have confidence in you, in the Lord, that you will have no other mind; but he who troubles you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is. (v. 10)

Paul’s faith works out in love and love hopes all things (1 Cor. 13:7).  Thus, he believes that, as a whole, they will respond rightly.  He has this confidence because he truly believes that the Spirit of God has worked in them and that his labor among then has not been in vain.  He is convinced based on his previous experience with them and the love with which they loved him, that this was Spirit enabled and not of the flesh.  It is like the writer to the Hebrews, who, after warning of apostasy says, “But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation.”  (Heb. 6:9)   Paul’s confidence does not rest in the character of the Galatians, but “in the Lord.”  He is confident that God did indeed begin a good work in them and that He would continue it.

Paul is also confident that for any false teacher, regardless who he is, his rank and reputation will not shield him from God’s judgment.  Judgment will fall on them, in God’s time, for it is a fearsome thing to introduce false doctrine into Christ’s beloved church.  Offenses of this kind must come, but woe to the man by whom they come!   ( See also 2 Peter 2)

 And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution?  Then the offense of the cross has ceased. (v. 11)

Perhaps the Judaizers told the Galatians that Paul had now swung over to their side (having been “corrected” by the “true pillars and apostles” of the church) and was proclaiming the need of circumcision.  Perhaps they pointed to the circumcision of Timothy as evidence (Acts 16:3).   Paul says that if that is true then why am I still being persecuted?  In 1 Cor. 7:18-19, Paul testifies to what he proclaims in all the churches – “Was anyone called while circumcised?  Let him not become uncircumcised.  Was anyone called while uncircumcised?  Let him not be circumcised.  Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters.”

It is not circumcision Paul preaches; it is Christ!  He preaches Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  He preaches the cross, though it offends, for it is the only true saving message for sinners.“God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The cross – where prideful man is shown his real state before his holy God.  His guilt and wretchedness is seen in the crucifixion of the Creator.  “Ye who think of sin but lightly, nor suppose the evil great, here may view its nature rightly; here its guilt may estimate.”   It is here at the cross that the Jew is reduced to the same level with the despised and accursed Gentile; both in need of a mighty Savior.  Oh, how they, in pride, stumbled at this stumbling stone, as do natural men today.  If you remove that stumbling block, you are taking away the whole Cornerstone and the whole building will come crushing down!   The cross does away with the Judaism of the Old Covenant – the national and natural distinctiveness – as a new nation is established before God in Christ.

The cross – where we see the love of God displayed in the willing sacrifice of Christ.  Let us glory in the grace of the cross where our Lord Jesus Christ, though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor,  that we through His poverty might become rich.  Gaze upon the Lord, you saints.  On the cross our Lord showed just how poor He would become to glorify His Father and redeem those the Father had given Him.

Think of it.  He whose ears had been filled with the pure praises of the holy angels, extolling Him as “holy, holy, holy,”  had his ears filled with the curses of His creatures, and the cries of “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!” rang through the firmament of His heaven.

Once every face was veiled before Him.  In His poverty, sinners openly spit in His face, mocking and railing against Him.  Herein is love – not that we loved God, but that He loved us.

Where before He rejoiced in the pure love of the Father and the Spirit, on the cross, not a ray of love fell upon Him, but instead a stream of full wrath.   He that once said, “I was daily His delight,” now cried, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  The Father turned His back as if to say, “Depart from Me, You cursed – I do not know You.”  Oh, He became poor indeed.

Once He gave being to innumerable stars.  He gave life to all.  He was the Prince of life.  But there on the cross, He bowed His head and yielded up His spirit and died, as if an accursed sinner – though He knew no sin.  The One who is the life, lay down in the grave among worms.

Why?  Why?

“For our sake” – for ungodly sinners like you and like me.  Dear saints, He left glory for souls as vile as we.  All the riches He left, He will raise us to.  By His cross, we are forgiven our sins, reconciled to God, and received up as sons.  The love with which God the Father loves Christ is upon us.   Does not the wealth of the whole world pale in the light of such riches?

I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off! (v. 12)

Because of their slander of his precious Savior; their trampling the Son of God and His shed blood underfoot; their despising of His grace; Paul could wish that they’d cut themselves so far that they’d be eunuchs and not be able to procreate and reproduce themselves.  He desires that they could no longer disseminate and propagate their false and accursed “gospel” and doctrine.

Do you not also desire to see Jesus exalted and glorified as He deserves?  Is He not worthy?  Let us study Him more.  Let us live out what we claim to believe and passionately declare with joy all that He has done for our souls.  Let us learn more and tell others of this glorious Savior, for few know much of Christ.   And we have infinitely more to learn!!!

~ Murray

 

Murray McLellan

Murray is the lead church planter and Bible teacher at Grace Fellowship Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. He and his wife Cheryl have labored in the Gospel for many years despite the many discouragements along the way. Our brother is associated with “InDepth Studies”, the Acts 29 network of church planters, and more recently the uniquely Canadian C2C church planting network. In new covenant circles Murray is a long time contributor to new covenant thought and discussion.

Share