Feb 07, 2016
Galatians 5:1-9

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Galatians can be outlined as follows:

Galatians 4 leaves us with two overarching ideas Paul will build upon and begin to apply to our lives in chapter 5… In the later half Paul will build upon the idea that “my-self” (what he calls the “flesh”) and “God’s Spirit” cannot coexist in a human life and will only fight against one another - which is why it’s essential we “cast out the bondwoman and her son.”

But before he gets to this Paul will first expound on what it means to be a child of Freedom (the result of the Gospel of Grace)! Note: Paul closes Galatians 4:31 by boldly declaring, “So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free!” 

Now in Galatians 5:1 he applies his thought“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” 

In building upon the theology concerning grace Paul transitions (“therefore”) by referencing not just any type of freedom, but rather something specific… He says, “Stand fast… In the liberty by which Christ has made us free…” Note: This definite article “the liberty” implies a distinctive liberty - a particular liberty. So what liberty is Paul referring to? 

Three Clues:

Clue #1: Paul is referring to a liberty that originates not in country, a constitution, or for that matter you, but rather a liberty provided by Jesus. “The liberty by which Christ has made…” The source of freedom resides in Christ and a work He initiated that sets us free.

Clue #2: Paul is referring to a liberty that exists regardless of perspective. “Christ has made us free!” Paul describes this freedom as being sure and solid! It’s not up for debate. Every Christian has been set free through the work of Christ Jesus on Calvary.

Clue #3: By the very implication of Paul’s exhortation to “stand fast in the liberty” it’s clear that while this liberty exists for the believer there are forces seeking to snatch this liberty away. It’s why Paul says, “Do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage…”

Understand… It’s entirely possible for the free to revert again to bondage - which is why Paul invokes such a powerful image of “standing fast.” In the Greek this word “stêkô” means “to keep one’s standing.” Today we’d say, “Dig into the liberty…”

With these three clues in mind there are two things Christ has liberated us from… 

First, Jesus has freed us from the resulting bondage of moral-expectations. Whereas the law (all religious systems) bind us to a merit-based process that drives us to earn and maintain God’s favor, grace provided by Jesus sets us free from this expectation by declaring you and I to be permanently right with God apart from our involvement. 

While the law enslaves me to the pursuit of measuring up, grace removes these shackles by allowing me the opportunity to simply enjoy a relationship with God!

Secondly, Jesus has freed us from the resulting bondage of self-rule. Sadly, as Americans, it’s so easy for our political context and traditional understanding of freedom to warp our comprehension of what Paul is actually referring to when he mentions “liberty.”

For many liberty is defined as “the freedom to do what I want as long as it doesn’t harm someone else.” As Deist Thomas Jefferson famously wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Consider the fundamental flaw in this notion… Does the “liberty” to live my “life” however I want in “the pursuit of happiness” actually make me free? The truth is it doesn’t!

Please understand, no one reading this letter to the Galatians in the first-century, Roman world would have processed “liberty” as living life void of authority. There was no such thing. They rightly understood what we’ve so easily forgotten… Everyone has a master!

In America you might be free to pursue whatever makes you happy, but that in and of itself isn’t liberty! The founding father’s specifically sought limited-government not with the aim of no-government, but in the pursuit of self-governance. Instead of a king ruling over every man our founders wanted a system where each man could rule over himself.

Jefferson should have written, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, the freedom to govern oneself, and pursue what makes him happy.”

Sure, while living in America with a Constitution and Bill of Rights we’re free from a tyrannical government seeking to imposes its will on our lives (or at least at one point it did), in the end, the freedom to do whatever we want in the pursuit of whatever makes us happy doesn’t yield liberty, but instead yields servitude to these very pursuits!

What many fail to recognize is that “liberty” as Jefferson described doesn’t guarantee the “freedom” of the masses when all it accomplishes is the enthronement each man so that he can “pursue his own happiness.” Instead, the only thing “liberty” in this context actually accomplishes is the enslavement of all men to that simple pursuit.

Here’s why this is the case… Man is not conditioned to rule himself, but to be ruled! The Bible clearly states that while man was given dominion over creation, he was not given dominion over himself. God was over man and man was over creation, but notice that, while Satan’s lie in the garden was that man could be his own god, what actually happened when he ate of the fruit… According to Romans 1:25 Paul says man “exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator.”

Though it’s true you have complete control over who or what sits on the throne in your life, don’t be mistaken… You cannot sit there! And this is what makes “liberty” in our American context so misleading… Though we’ve been given the freedom to self-govern, the irony is we’ll always advocate the throne to someone or something other than ourselves.

It’s why the idea of true liberty is nothing more than a mirage. Just look around at our culture… Though it’s true we’re free to generally do what we want would you say the majority of Americans are walking in liberty or mired in some form of bondage? 

Honestly, the majority of people living the “America Dream” of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” are not free nor are they happy. In actuality they’re empty and miserable.

Which is not a surprise when you realize whatever it is you’re pursuing to provide happiness you’ll in turn enthrone and bound yourself to serve! This is why pursuing happiness in money (Materialism), fame (Egotism), sex (Hedonism), body (Selfism), charity (Altruism), and vice (Sensationalism) not only proves vain, but in the end binds you only to further and deeper pursuits. These things prove to be wicked masters.

For example… If you need to shed a few lbs. for health reasons that’s one thing, but if your motivation for loosing weight is based in deeper insecurities about the way you look (thus loosing weight is about being happy, not healthy) you will find yourself enslaved to the pursuit (gym or diet). It’s a trap, because even if you do achieve the look you want (and feel happy) you can’t stop working because you now have to maintain it.

This explains why Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 2:17, “I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind.”

With this in mind… You need to understand this morning that Christian liberty isn’t freedom from governance and servitude (which doesn’t exist because you’re made to be ruled). Christian liberty instead describes life under the enthronement of the worthy King! 

You see, the “liberty” we’ve been given by Jesus through His grace is not the freedom to do whatever we want (this only leads back into bondage), but is instead the opportunity to finally live according to the way we’ve been designed. Man back under the rule of his Creator.

In the end the fundamental similarities between religion and the notion of self-rule is that both fail to follow through on their promises and both use a lie to lead humanity into greater bondage. Not only is it impossible for you to be your own god, there is nothing you can do to earn God’s favor, but real “liberty” is only found in absolute surrender to Jesus. 

This morning please understand both approaches to life prove empty, frustrating, and in the end lead to destruction… Which is why Paul pleads that we “stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”

Galatians 5:2-3, “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.”

Before we unpack these verses it’s important we first define and discuss circumcision. According to Urban Dictionary, “Circumcision is a surgical procedure that removes a male’s foreskin.” (Not what you expected was it?) If you need a better illustrative picture… “Circumcision is a surgery that turns a man’s turtleneck into a crew cut.”

While circumcision is found in the Law of Moses (Leviticus 12:2-3, “If a woman has conceived, and borne a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of her customary impurity she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised”) it’s important to understand circumcision predated the Law.

In Genesis 17 God appeared to Abraham and said, “This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child… And My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.”

Understand (and this is what many people get wrong), circumcision was not the sign of the Mosaic Law, but was rather a physical reminder of the covenant God had made with Abraham - namely that God would provide a Savior through his lineage (Genesis 15:6, “Abraham believed and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”) 

In Romans 4:11 Paul would later write that Abraham “received the sign of circumcision (14 years after being declared righteous), a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also…”

While the Jews had come to see circumcision as an external act that brought with it God’s acceptance and entry into the lineage of Abraham (which is why they wanted Gentile Christians to become circumcised) the reality is that circumcision represented the opposite reality. As David Guzik remarked, “Circumcision is a cutting away of the flesh and an appropriate sign of the covenant for those who should put no trust in the flesh.”

Furthermore, it’s interesting to note that the procedure of circumcision was to occur on the 8th day following a child’s birth. According to Biblical numerology the number 8 represents a new beginning, order or creation, and can signify being born again. 

Circumcision did not represent the Law of Moses, but was instead an act that physically represented ones spiritual faith in the coming promise… Faith in a coming Savior as illustrated in the life of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc (men of faith before the law). Note: This explains why circumcision was instituted after Abraham’s mistake with Hagar.

And it’s with this understanding that we can begin to understand why Paul would now say to a group of uncircumcised Gentiles, “If you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing” and “every man who becomes circumcised is a debtor to keep the whole law.” 

Paul’s point is that since the Savior had already come in the person of Jesus, partaking in a physical act (“circumcision”) that represented faith in a coming Savior would now signify unbelief (a failure to recognize Jesus as your Savior) explaining why he then says, “Christ will profit you nothing” or literally “Christ will not be able to assist you.” It’s like Paul is saying, “Who cares about faith in a coming Savior when the Savior has already come.”

Continuing his logic… Paul reasons that if Jesus is rejected as the Savior (making everything He did no practical effect), all the act of circumcision accomplishes is placing that person back under the righteous demands of the law (which accentuated your need for a Savior)

Galatians 5:4, “You have become estranged from Christ (Christ has become of no effect unto you), you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.”

The flow of Paul’s argument is rather simple… Rejecting Christ as your Savior defaults your justification away from being a manifestation of grace as demonstrate in Jesus’ death and back onto your efforts and attempts to earn God’s favor using the law.

In using this phrase “you have fallen from grace” Paul is not speaking of a moral failure, but is instead describing the person who is no longer trusting in Jesus for their justification. And while I don’t want to get sidetracked into a debate concerning eternal security or “once saved always saved,” it is important to highlight a few points that demand consideration…

What Paul isn’t saying… He’s not saying a Christian could miss heaven it they fall into sin. Logically speaking, there is nothing you can do to loose your salvation any more than there was something you could do to earn it. You’re not saved by your good conduct, therefore you’re not unsaved by your immoral conduct.

What Paul is saying… He’s saying if your faith isn’t placed in Jesus as your Savior Christ’s work on the cross and His grace are of no effect for you. Meaning, you’ll stand before God and be judged according to your failed attempt at self-justification by the law.

While many of us assume that the people we once knew to be saved who have more recently walked away from the faith must have never been genuine Christians, Paul is clearly providing this specific warning to a group of Galatians he believes are Christians. 

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

What is “the hope of righteousness?” This word “hope” is better translated as “expectation.” So better posed… What is “the” (definite article) expectation of our righteousness? 

Is it heaven? No. Heaven is the result of our righteousness. 

Is it a relationship with Jesus? No. Christ is the reason for our righteousness. 

Is it justification? No. Justification is the mechanism behind our righteousness.

Understand… The expectation of our right-position before God provided through His grace and not our merit is that this standing will yield in our lives righteous-living. 

Which appears in line with everything else he’s said because Paul is clear this expectation is not something we’re to be pursing, working for, or for that matter focused upon, but is instead something the believer is to be patiently waiting to see accomplished “through the Spirit.”

Paul continues… “For in Christ Jesus neither (better translated - “and not”) circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything.” This word “avails” in the Greek is “ischyô” meaning “to be strong” or “to have power.” In regards to the manifestation of righteous-living (“the hope of righteousness”) Paul is affirming the power (the “availing”) comes “in Christ Jesus” (not in “circumcision nor uncircumcision (what I do or don’t do)) by “faith working through love.” 

This is radical for Paul is saying the power for righteous-living manifests in my life by “faith in Jesus… working through” my “love” for Jesus! (Note: Which also is a reciprocation of His love for me… 1 John 4:19, “We love Him because He first loved us.”) Love by the very fact it is a verb is never content to remain static and always determined to be active.

Once again this is what makes the “Grace, So I can do anything” approach such a distortion and warping of the true nature of the Gospel. While Grace frees me to do whatever I want, it also floods my heart with a love for God that actively wants to please Him. Because grace changes my heart and transforms my motivations it naturally changes my behaviors.

This is why James writes, “Faith without works is dead.” He’s not championing the notion that works be added to ones faith, rather he’s simply advocating a faith that works! Martin Luther, “This grace of God is a very great, strong, mighty and active thing. It does not lie asleep in the soul. Grace hears, leads, drives, draws, changes, works all in man, and lets itself be distinctly felt and experienced. It is hidden, but its works are evident.” 

This now explains what Paul says next… Galatians 5:7-9, “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.” 

“You ran well…” When Paul left these Galatians they were fine, but something had clearly stopped their progress. He asks, “Who hindered you (literally “cut into your lane” - tripped you up) from obeying the truth?” Someone had infiltrated these churches in Galatia and was teaching a “persuasion” or more specifically a “treacherous or deceptive persuasion” that ran contrary to the person and work of Jesus - “Him who calls you.”

What was the persuasion? It was the Gospel-distortions of “Grace, And” do these things, “Grace, But” don’t do these things, or “Grace, So” I can do anything. Friend, both legalism or licentiousness will rob you from the power of God’s transforming grace. These things will take a person set free to enjoy their relationship with God and re-enslave them to the resulting bondage of religion or self-rule.

But notice what it was this “persuasion” had “hindered” them from doing? Paul says, “Who hindered you from obeying the truth!” When your motivation for righteous-living becomes anything other than a reciprocating love for God your spiritual life will be stifled!

The warning within this passage and the underlying reason Paul commands you and I to “stand firm in the liberty by which Christ has made us free” is that it doesn’t take much to knock us off course… It doesn’t take much to “entangled us again with a yoke of bondage…” It doesn’t take much for you to be “hindered from obeying the truth.” 

Paul says, “A little leaven” is all that’s needed to “leaven the whole lump.” His point is that a little corruption in our thinking has the uncanny ability to corrupt everything. 

Understand… Legalism is not a little thing! It must be resisted at all costs for it will rob you of liberty by returning you again to bondage. It will make what Jesus did of no profit by placing you again under the obligation of the law. It will violate and limit the work of the Spirit in your life by removing love as the primary driver of Godliness. And how does it do this? Legalism vacates Jesus from the only proper role He wants in your life… Your Savior!


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