For freedom did Christ set us free: Galatians 5

For freedom did Christ set us free: stand fast therefore, and be not entangled again in a yoke of bondage.

Galatians 5:1
Galatians 5 KJV

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. 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. Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be. And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased. I would they were even cut off which trouble you. For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.

Galatians 5:1‭-‬26 KJV

Galatians 5

Paul in this summarized his teaching of the last three chapters preceding this (Galatians 5:1-5), and then distinguished between the works of the flesh and the works of the Spirit, appealing to the Galatians to live by the Spirit (Galatians 5:6-26).

For freedom did Christ set us free: stand fast therefore, and be not entangled again in a yoke of bondage. (Galatians 5:1)

The second clause here makes the identity of the freedom in the first clause easy to ascertain. “There can be no doubt that it refers to freedom from the slavery of the Law of Moses.”[1] As a summary statement, this also shows the meaning of “freedom from law” as taught in the previous chapters. That it never had any reference to Christian obligations, whether in the realm of obedience to the primary ordinances of God, or adherence to the ethical commandments of our holy faith, is absolutely certain.

Stand … therefore … Paul, by this admonished the Galatians to hold their ground, resist the Judaizers and reject the persuasions of those who would entangle them in such things as sabbath days, feast days, circumcision and all other Jewish regulations.

Behold, I Paul say unto you that, if ye receive circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing.

Behold, I Paul say unto you … Intensely personal and dramatic, this appeal was intended to affirm in the most dogmatic and positive way possible the truth which he was uttering.

Circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing … There were exceptions to this rule, for Paul himself had been circumcised; and what is meant is “that circumcision with any view to its aiding or leading to one’s justification would be a denial of Christ, a repudiation of the Christian gospel and the forsaking of Christianity.” As MacKnight said, “This general expression must be limited; because we cannot suppose that the circumcision of the Jewish believers incapacitated them from being profited by Christ.”[2]

The deduction is mandatory that the purpose of the Judaizers among the Galatians had made this their purpose, to circumcise the Galatians, no doubt representing to them that it was no great thing and did not involve them in the more onerous and expensive obligations of Judaism. Paul would expose the fraud in such a proposition in the very next verse.

Yea, I testify again to every man that receiveth circumcision, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.

So it was no small thing at all the Judaizers had in mind. They would impose the whole corpus of Jewish law-keeping on the Christian converts of Galatia; and in the process, the gospel of Christ would be totally neglected and replaced.

Ye are severed from Christ, ye that would be justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.

Howard observed that “This, in capsule form, is his contention throughout the entire argument. All the other points climax in this.”[3] Of course, this is true; and the allegation that Paul was, in these chapters, displaying a brand new conception of being saved “by faith only” is absolutely foreign to the entire Galatian letter, and the whole New Testament.

The present tense in this verse must be read as indicating that some of the Galatians had actually defected from Christianity in the manner indicated, with the result that they had “fallen from grace.” Apparently, Paul was no Calvinist.

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

Through the Spirit … The Holy Spirit is conferred upon all baptized believers, according to the promise of Acts 2:38, thus identifying those who “by faith” were waiting for the hope of righteousness.

By faith … has the meaning here of “by the Christian religion.” “Faith” as used in the popular theology of this current era, meaning the subjective experience of sinners and the sole ground of their justification, is merely the jargon of religious cultism, utterly different from the New Testament meaning of the word.

Cole’s opinion that “The gift of faith is the first gift of the Spirit”[4] cannot be correct; because only those who have already believed, repented and have been baptized into Christ are promised the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith working through love.

This means “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is relevant to Christianity.” The question of true justification does not regard such a thing in any manner whatever. Some have wondered why Paul included “uncircumcision” in this declaration; but, as many of the Galatian converts had been won from the Jewish synagogues (where Paul always went first with the gospel), it was mandatory that none of them should be concerned with the fact that they had been circumcised long ago, nor concern themselves with trying to undo it. Some indeed had, through surgery, attempted to become “uncircumcised.” Although there is no evidence that any of the Galatians had done that, it may be inferred from 1 Corinthians 7:18,19 that some at Corinth had gone that far; and as MacKnight said, “Apostate Jews fancied that by such actions they could free themselves of their obligation to keep the Law of Moses.”[5] There was also another consideration: “From Paul’s speaking so much against circumcision, some might have believed that there was something meritorious in uncircumcision.”[6] As Howard correctly summarized it, “For salvation, circumcision had no value; and for salvation, uncircumcision had no value.”[7]

But faith working through love … Contrasted with things of no value, here is the essence of justification; and sure enough, it is not “faith alone,” but “faith working through love,” thus presenting the emphatic apostolic denial of the favorite heresy of our age. To be sure, people do not like this verse, rendering it “faith inspired by love” (New English Bible margin), or otherwise avoiding the word “working” as they would strive to avoid the plague! It happens that Paul used the expression “circumcision nor uncircumcision, etc.” three different times thus:

Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision … but faith working through love (Galatians 5:6).
Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision … but a new creature (Galatians 6:15).

Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision … but the keeping of the commandments of God (1 Corinthians 7:19).

From the above comparison, it can be seen that “faith working by love” means the same thing as being baptized into Christ in order to become “a new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:17); nor is it limited to that, for it also means “keeping the commandments of God.” This threefold summary of what does avail, as contrasted with circumcision or uncircumcision which do not avail, should be pondered by all who seek to be known of the Lord and to stand with Christ “in that day.” It is a source of thanksgiving that a scholar of the stature of Huxtable also testified to the truth thus:

“Faith operative through love” must be identical with, or involve “the keeping of God’s commandments,” and “a new creature.” A close examination of the first of these three sentences will show that this is so. (Huxtable attached an extensive exegesis of the Greek text here, proving that passive renditions such as “faith wrought in us,” etc., are absolutely “inadmissible and preposterous.”)[8]
Of all the preposterous interpretations insinuated into this passage, however, none of them is as incredibly evil as that of William M. Greathouse, who wrote: “All Paul had to say about circumcision he would say equally about baptism!”[9] Nevertheless, Greathouse must be commended in this, namely, that he bluntly stated the conviction of the entire “faith only” family of interpreters, who by their writings attempt to lead the reader to that same conclusion, yet lack the courage to say what they mean as Greathouse did. See under Galatians 5:12 for comment on “in Christ.”

[5] James MacKnight, Apostolical Epistles and Commentary, Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1969), p. 108.

[6] James MacKnight (on Galatians), op. cit., p. 192.

[7] R. E. Howard, op. cit., p. 83.

[8] E. Huxtable, Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), Vol. 20, p. 242.

[9] William M. Greathouse, Beacon Bible Commentary, Romans (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1969), p. 103.

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