Notes on Galatians 5

Galatians 5  •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Chapter 5
" Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." Paul even avails himself of his personal apostolic authority, and that towards the nations, which was strengthened by the work he had wrought among the Galatians. They had, in fact, received the gospel from his mouth, and had received it with joy. " I, Paul," he says, " I say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing." They would have put themselves upon another ground, that of human righteousness by works, not of divine righteousness through faith in Christ. They could not be justified in two ways at once. If they were circumcised, they were bound to keep the law. The thing is very simple: if a man puts himself under the law, he is bound to keep it. If righteousness and acceptance with God are through the law, it must be kept in every point. They were fallen from grace.
The Christian state is this. We do not hope for righteousness, but, through the Spirit, we hope for that which belongs to righteousness, on the principle of faith. They possessed righteousness, divine righteousness in Christ, and that on the principle of faith. But glory belonged to this righteousness, and that they did not possess: they hoped for it. Thus, by the faith through which they possessed righteousness, they by the Holy Spirit hoped for that, which belongs to the righteousness possessed by those who are in Christ. Blessed state! Righteousness is our possession, and the glory which belongs to it is our hope; the Holy Spirit the source and strength of this hope. Faith, the spring and realization of our relationship with God, is that which discerns the glory which as yet we possess not, and rests upon the righteousness which makes us know that we have a right to it. How blessed not to be seeking righteousness! it is ours; we are it in Christ; our hope is to be with Him in glory, according to this righteousness. It is by faith, since everything in Christ is by faith.
In Him, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avail anything, but faith which works by love: that is the reality of divine life, which enjoys peace with God, which rises by faith to divine glory and to heavenly things, where it finds its portion. While waiting for it, it works by love, which flows in the heart from its source, even God Himself, who gave everything, even His own Son.
We see how disturbed and troubled was the spirit of the apostle. He felt that the truth was lost, and that his beloved children had left the right path. " Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you." The Galatians might know that what they were now receiving, was not that which they had received from the beginning. They well knew that when God, by the mouth of Paul, had called them to enjoy the only true salvation of God (which had been a source of happiness to their hearts), it had not been by the law nor by circumcision, human righteousness or human works, nor by the forms through which man seeks to repair the defects of those works, so as to obtain righteousness by them.
This was not the gospel Paul had preached, when they had been brought to the knowledge of God; it was grace and a perfect salvation in Christ. The new teaching did not spring from the same source; it was not therefore of God. But a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Through the gospel souls are converted: it is the power of God which works individually in the soul: it gives life: it is contrary to the natural heart. False doctrine, human righteousness, works, forms, are not contrary to the heart of man: they are a leaven which spreads and penetrates the mass of the people and their ways.
Verse 10. Yet it is beautiful to see how the apostle, amid the grief of his heart, finds peace and confidence as to the Galatians in looking to the Lord. He had said that he stood in doubt of them, not knowing what to think. Now he says: " I have confidence in you through the Lord." How sweet is the introduction of this name, in the consciousness that He loves His own, that He thinks of them, and that we can cast all our cares upon Him, in the certainty that His heart is occupied with them. " Be careful for nothing," says Paul to the Philippians (chap. 4: 6). We see how earnestly the heart of the apostle longed for the blessing of his children, and for the maintenance of the truth: but he knew how to carry his anxiety to the Lord. He then had confidence where before he had been perplexed-confidence that the Galatians would be none otherwise minded; but he that troubled them should bear his judgment, whoever he might be.
We find here other characters and effects of faith, besides restoration of confidence with regard to God's children. Though Christ might be hidden, yet He ruled in the church of God, and all power in heaven and earth was His. He who troubled them would not escape the judgment of God, whoever he was. Paul was convinced of the faithfulness of God, he knew that Christ loved the church, and would do what was needful to protect it from the malice of the enemy. Faith rendered him confident and happy in the conflicts of his service by it, he could rest in the faithfulness of the Lord. This faith inspired confidence as to the state of the Galatians, and convinced Paul that he who deceived them should be taken away by the hand of God.
Paul then returns (v. 11) to speak of himself. If I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? For it was the Jew who everywhere raised up persecution against him. If he preached circumcision, the offense of the cross would have ceased. We see, moreover, the trouble of his spirit; this characterizes the epistle: " I would that they were even cut off that trouble you. For, brethren, ye have been called to liberty "; a principle, which in connection with what follows, is of the utmost importance. The Christian was called to liberty, the holy liberty of the new nature, but yet liberty. It is no longer a law which constrains, or rather vainly seeks to constrain a nature whose will is contrary to it, to satisfy the obligations which accompany the relationships, in which by the will of God we find ourselves-a law imposed, forbidding evil to a nature that loves evil, and commanding the love of God and of one's neighbor, to a nature whose spring is selfishness.
Had it been possible to take away Christ's moral liberty- which was not possible-it would have been by preventing Him from obeying the will of the Father. This was the food He ate (John 4). As a perfect Man, He lived by every word which came forth out of the mouth of God. He chose to die, to drink the bitter cup which the Father had given Him, rather than not obey Him, and glorify Him in drinking it. Christianity is the liberty of a new nature that loves to obey, and to do the will of God. It is true that the flesh, if not kept in subjection, can use this liberty to satisfy its own desires, just as it used the law, which had been given to convict of sin, to work out righteousness. But the true liberty of the new man-Christ our life-is the liberty of a holy will, acquired through the deliverance of the heart from the power of sin, liberty to serve others in love. All the law is fulfilled in one word" Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." The Christian can do still more, he can give himself for others; or, at the least, following the direction of the Spirit, he fulfills the law in love. But if they devoured one another in selfishness, contending about circumcision and the law, " take heed," says the apostle, " that ye be not consumed one of another."
The apostle here establishes the. principles of holiness, of the Christian walk, and brings in the Holy Ghost in place of the law. In the preceding part of the Epistle he had set forth Christian justification by faith, in contrast with works of law. He here shows that God produces holiness. Instead of exacting it, as did the law with regard to human righteousness, from the nature which loves sin, He produces it in the human heart, as wrought by the Spirit. When Christ had ascended up on high, and was set down on the right hand of God, having accomplished a perfect redemption for those who should believe on Him, He sent down the Holy Spirit to dwell in all such. They were already children of God by faith in Christ Jesus, and, because they were such, God gave them the Spirit of His Son. Born of God, cleansed by the blood of Christ, accepted in the Beloved, God seals them as His own, by the gift of the Spirit, until the day of redemption, that is, of glory. Having the new life, Christ as their life, they are bound to walk as Christ walked, and to manifest the life of Christ down here in their mortal flesh.
This life, produced in us by the operation of the Holy Ghost through the word, is led by the Spirit which is given to believers; its rule is also in the word. Its fruits are the fruits of the Spirit. The Christian walk is the manifestation of this new life, of Christ our life, in the midst of the world. If we follow this path-Christ Himself-if we walk in His steps, we shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. It is thus sin is avoided, not by taking the law to compel man to do what he does not like; the law has no power to compel the flesh to obey, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. The new life loves to obey, loves holiness, and Christ is its strength and wisdom by the Holy Ghost. The flesh is indeed there; it lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit lusts against the flesh, to prevent man from walking as he would. But if we walk in the Spirit, we are not under the law; we are not as the man in Rom. 7, where, impelled by the new nature, the will desires to do good, but, a captive to sin, he finds no way of doing what he desires; for the law gives neither strength nor life. Under law, even if life is there, there is no strength: man is the captive of sin.
But sealed by the Holy Spirit, the believer is free, he can perform the good he loves. If Christ is thus in him, the body is dead, the old man is crucified with Christ. The Spirit is life, and that Spirit, as a divine and mighty Person, works in him to bring forth good fruits. The flesh and the Spirit are in their nature opposed the one to the other; but if we are faithful in seeking grace, the power of the Spirit-Christ, by His Spirit in us-enables us to hold the flesh for dead, and to walk in the footsteps of Christ, bringing forth the fruits that suit Him.
There is not really any difficulty in distinguishing the fruits of the Spirit and the fruits of the flesh: the apostle names them, those, at least, which are characteristic of their respective actions. Of the sad fruits of the flesh, he positively declares that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God: but the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, etc.; against such there is no law; God cannot condemn the fruit of His own Spirit. Remark, that the first of these fruits are love, joy, peace. The Spirit will surely produce those practical fruits which manifest the life of Christ in the sight of men, but the inward fruits, the fruits Godward, come first, the condition of soul needful for producing the others. Many converted persons seek for the practical fruits in order to assure themselves that they are born of the Spirit and accepted of God. But peace, love, joy are the firstfruits of the presence of the Spirit; the others follow. In order to know what is in the heart of God, we need to see the fruit of His heart, the gift of Jesus.
If I believe in Him, and through Him in the love of God, sealed of God by the Spirit, I have the sense of His love: love shown in the death of Jesus is shed abroad in my heart by the Holy Spirit, which is given to those who are washed from their sins through faith in His blood. By that Spirit we have the consciousness of our position before God, and love, joy, peace are in the soul. The fruits which follow are, moreover, the proof to others that my certainty and assurance are not false, that I am not deceived. But for myself, it is what God has done which is the proof of what is in the heart of God, and through faith I set to my seal that God is true. Then, sealed by the gift of the Spirit, I rejoice in His goodness, and the fruits of the new life manifest to others that this life is there.
Moreover, " they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts." They have not got to die: Christ died for us, and He who died being our life, we hold ourselves for dead, crucified with Him, as though we ourselves had died upon the cross, since it was for us He suffered. Possessing another life, I do not own the flesh as " I," but as sin which dwelleth in me, which I hold to be crucified. The faithful Christian realizes this continually. God, declares us to be dead with Christ: He looks upon us thus (Col. 3:33For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)). Faith, accepting God's declaration with thankfulness, holds the flesh, the old man, to be dead (Rom. 6), and through the Spirit, if he is faithful, he applies the cross in a practical way to the flesh, so that it may not act (2 Cor. 4); besides this, God in His government sends that which is needful to test the Christian, and to effect this.
The apostle adds the exhortation, " 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." The law nourishes rather than destroys vain glory, for the law makes us think of self. When rightly employed, it is most useful for convincing of sin, not for producing righteousness.
Thus the operation of the law with regard to justification and holiness has been fully examined, and set in a clear light. It does not produce righteousness, it exacts it. It cannot be linked with Christ as a means of justification: " if righteousness is by the law, Christ is dead in vain." Man ought surely to have kept the commandments of God, but that is not the real question. He has not kept them, therefore, upon that ground he is lost. Christ, on the other hand, brings salvation because we are guilty.
Then, as to holiness: it is not God's way to seek to produce holiness in the flesh through the law, for the flesh is not subject to the law, neither indeed can be. God gives a new life in Christ, and the Holy Spirit, to produce fruits which are acceptable to Him, and against these fruits there is certainly no divine law. God cannot condemn the fruits of His own Spirit. It is the new creature, the new life, with its fruits by the Spirit, which are acceptable to God; it is this new creature which seeks to please Him.
Strengthened by the Spirit, and instructed by Him, according to the wisdom of God set forth in the word, let us seek to walk in the footsteps of Christ, that perfect example of the life of God in a Man, which has been given to us.