As we said at the start of this series, Galatians can be divided into three parts:
In the first two chapters, Paul highlighted his credentials as an apostle called and appointed by God to share the one true gospel.
In chapters three and four, he gave us the theology best remembered as justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
So now we embark on chapters five and six…practical theology. How does the good news of the cross and empty tomb apply to our daily lives?
In the opening sentence of chapter five, Paul announced the theme of these final two chapters:
FOR FREEDOM CHRIST HAS SET US FREE.
However many more weeks it takes, we're going to explore how these final two chapters speak to our Christian lives. We're going to simplify what sounds complicated. And we're going to clarify what it means to live out God's will for our lives.
We are not going to overthink these final chapters. We are going to make a way clear so as not to get bogged down in distracting details. I read something the other day that captured how we sometimes overcomplicate things. Someone said:
Academics will say "put simply," and follow it with the most complicated explanation you're ever heard.
By the time we're done with these final two chapters, we're going to have great clarity on what a devoted follower of Jesus Christ looks like.
Galatians 5 begins with a clear statement of Christ's will for our lives. "For
freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit
again to a yoke of slavery."
Quite simply, this is a huge, big-picture, umbrella statement from Paul. In other words, Christ's will for you is that you enjoy your freedom over sin and death. That's the big picture. The most important thing for us to know is that no matter what we experience or go through in life, all is well because Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. Amen? That's what matters most.
Don't misunderstand. Lots of other things matter, too. Just not as important as the freedom we have in Christ.
There's nothing bad or wrong with being concerned about certain life issues. Whether to get married or not. Who to marry. Whether to go to college or not. Where to go to college. What classes to take in school. To participate in sports. To pursue the arts. Whether to have kids or not. Where to live. Where to work. The quest and questions go on and on. Those are all important things to consider. But they are neither ultimate nor impactful beyond this life.
Notice the Bible isn't specific on any of those things. But here, it speaks clearly of the need to stand firmly and confidently in our freedom from sin and death.
Make no mistake. Our resting joyfully and peacefully in our freedom in Christ is much more important to God than many of the concerns that so often occupy our minds. Here's a good rule of thumb. Are you as concerned about the command to enjoy your freedom in Christ as you are about what car to buy? Do you spend as much emotional and intellectual energy on standing fast in freedom as you do on pressing decisions related to home, job, school, or marital status? Chapter five opens quite clearly - stand fast and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Your freedom is God's will for you. Christ died for your freedom from sin. Christ rose for your freedom from death. There's nothing more important than you resting joyfully and peacefully in your freedom in Christ. Everything else is commentary.
Because they had everything they needed in Christ, Paul then pointed out what they shouldn't do. Simply put:
DON'T BRIBE GOD FOR BLESSINGS.
That's the point of verses two and three:
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.
Now, first a clarification. You've probably noticed Paul talked specifically about the rite of circumcision. On the eighth day, every Jewish male child was to be circumcised. If you paid attention in health class, you know what that is. If you're a female person, you might be wondering if this even applies to you. It most assuredly does. While only men can be circumcised, a principal of Biblical interpretation is that in passages like this, for example, circumcision acts as a placeholder for all of the law. While circumcision is specified, by its mere mention, the entirety of the law is brought into the conversation. For example, when Jesus mentioned some of the 10 Commandments, he was commenting on all of them. Even if Jesus had only talked about one commandment, all of them were assumed. Are you with me on that? So these verses on circumcision
address us all.
The point of verses two and three isn't that circumcision is wrong. The point is that any act is wrong if we are trying to bribe God for blessings. The prosperity gospel is a modern expression of this. God will enrich my life in all these earthly ways if I believe in Him and turn over financial support to his preachers. Profits for prophets!
But what did Paul say? The word translated in the ESV as "advantage" literally means "profit." The false teachers wanted to cash in on the idea of Jesus. They wanted benefits from Jesus based on what they could do, to get what they wanted. They were working for a payout.
And what did Paul say? Paul said, in verse three, that if you thought you could earn God's favor beyond what Christ had already done on the cross, then you were digging yourself into a hole. In verse three, the word translated "obligated" is better rendered as "debtor." It's like, if they fell for that, Paul was saying that their bar was already on the ground and the false teachers were going to hand them a shovel. See how low you can go. If they thought they could earn God's grace and mercy by their works, that's a hole they could never climb out of.
And here's why that was such an awful, horrible, terrible idea. What Jesus did on the cross was an asset of endless, infinite grace and mercy. Paul asked, do you really think you can match that? You dishonor who Christ is and what he did if you think that. Paul told them that the only thing they would get from thinking they could work for their salvation would be an endless pile of debt from which there could be no escape. Our investments are meaningless. It was Christ's investment at Calvary that won for us the full share of his endless profits.
Here's what that means:
Slavery is When You Choose to Deal With Jesus as a Banker Who Needs Your Investment to Produce Dividends for His Customers.
Sorry, all you financially minded people, but that's a broken and corrupt way of looking at things. Let me ask you a question - "Can we ever pay back what Christ has done for us?"
Here's something you might want to write down:
GOD DOES NOT WANT TO RELATE TO US AS DEBTORS WHO TRY TO PAY HIM BACK.
That point right there, from verse 3, has caused me to change the way I speak about generosity. I no longer talk about giving out of gratitude for what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. I know it sounds like splitting hairs, but consider this. When we think about gratitude as an expression of paying something back, we have turned it into a business transaction. "Because of what Jesus has done for me, I now need to do this for Jesus." That's where Paul chastens me. Genuine gratitude is not feeling like we have to pay something back.
Here's a better way to look at generosity. Remember, Paul once said God loves a cheerful giver. We give to the work of the church as an expression of our love for the gospel, out of which flows a desire to provide a place for worship and ministries through which we express that love to our neighbors. In light of Galatians 5, that's what makes the most sense to me.
One last point from Paul, and it's a significant one. Any attempt to get right
with God in any way except by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, renders the gospel worthless. Once they let the false teachers lead them down that false path, they were no longer free in Christ. Think of all the people in churches where a false gospel in taught. If I ever lose my mind and begin teaching anything but the one true gospel, you need to run me out on a rail, and I can assure you, my wife would join in. You need to say "Amen" to that!
Years ago, we were watching an episode of Antiques Roadshow. Someone brought an old table. Really old and historically significant table. He had done a wonderful job refinishing it. You hear the fatal error, right? Refinishing it rendered it virtually worthless.
It is the same with Jesus Christ. His finished work cannot be refinished. You foolish Galatians…it can only be destroyed. What Jesus did on the cross and through the empty tomb must be received by faith alone. If we try to add our works to his work, then his work is made worthless in our lives.
The whole point of these six verses is are we trusting in Christ, and in
SOLI DEO GLORIA…
To the Glory of God Alone!