A belief that’s not reflected in life is either not understood or not truly believed, and you can’t truly believe what you don’t understand. That the faith is largely measured and known by morality and not by grace is an indication we either don’t understand or we don’t truly believe the truth of the Gospel. You can’t be transformed by the Father’s amazing grace, have that grace lavished on you, experience His perfect love that covers a multitude of sin, and be mean and judgmental in a constant defense of the truth. You can’t be freed by grace and live enslaved to the law.
This is the great struggle Paul has undertaken in the book of Galatians. The Galatians have been disturbed by outside agitators who have led them to live by the law. By application, this is about how we live in response to the Gospel. While it is not easily practiced, it is intensely practical. It’s a practical application of truth; of nothing less than the significance of the coming of the Christ.
Freed to be Free
Galatians 5:1 (NAS): 1 It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.
For Paul, the coming of Christ was not to be relegated to a theological matter. We were not to be a people who believe we are saved by grace through faith and continue with, or return to, life by the law; the law which could not save, but only enslave. As he says here, we were freed to be free. Christ set us free in order that we would live in that very freedom. How incredibly simple and yet profound. If we do not live in freedom, then Christ will have been of no benefit.
If freedom was Christ’s purpose for setting us free, then it’s only reasonable that we should stand firm in it. Living in the freedom of the Gospel is not a passive acceptance of our freedom, it’s an active resistance to the enslavement of the law. If we are standing firm, then we should be characterized by our praise to the glory of His grace, and not our zealous defense of, what is for many, a nebulous idea of truth. If we are going to be zealous for the truth, it must be the truth of the Gospel, which leads to freedom in Christ.
Galatians 5:2 (NAS): 2 Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.
The Apostle grabs the readers attention to explain the serious implications of choosing to live by the law. If you choose to live by the law in just one act, like taking circumcision, you will be choosing to forfeit all the benefits of Christ. In other words, you cannot have both. It’s either Christ or the law, and choosing just one act of the law as a way of life, is choose the whole law.
This part is very important, yet difficult to apply in our present age. If any law or commandment rises to the level of necessity for righteousness, then you are losing the benefit of Christ and, whether conscious or not, you are subjecting yourselves to the necessity of keeping the whole law and every commandment. The whole law and every commandment is a heavy, enslaving yoke that’s now your obligation to bear.
To be more direct, if heterosexuality rises to the level of necessity for righteousness, then you are forfeiting the benefit of Christ. If being pro life has risen to the level of necessity for righteousness, then the whole law and every commandment is also necessary. If conservatism, what church you attend, how you vote, rises to the level of necessity, then you have been subject again to a yoke of slavery. You are no longer standing in the freedom of Christ.
Fallen From Grace
Galatians 5:4 (NAS): 4 You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.
Because we don’t always recognized or remember how our lives expose our beliefs, Paul reaches for a memorable image to communicate the seriousness of the Galatians’ choice. Using the word for the act of circumcision, Paul suggests that if you lose your foreskin in pursuit of righteousness, you’ll lose your Savior in that pursuit. You will be severed from Christ; circumcised from the benefits of His freedom. Again this would apply to any law or command that rises to the level of necessity.
An indication of how far we are from understanding, is that we refer to a brother or sister who has publicly broken the law as has having fallen from grace. How far is that from the way Paul used the phrase? He introduced the phrase to us as one who has chosen to live by the law, not one who has broken it; though breaking it is inevitable for those who chose to live by it. A brother or sister who has sinned publicly has not fallen from grace, but has fallen into grace. Grace is for the fallen. That’s the great benefit of Christ.
The Hope of Righteousness
Galatians 5:5 (NAS): 5 For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness.
The great hope of the faith is not that we become good law abiding people. Our great hope is that we become like Him, and the Father has promised to do that in us. And that great hope, through the Spirit and by faith, we wait for. We don’t put our hands to the plow and attempt to realize that hope in our own effort or even in this life. No, we don’t wait passively, but we begin to live now like it will, by faith, realized latter, but indeed latter. That’s living by faith.
When we sin we don’t wallow, because through the Spirit we will be like Him. That we will be like Him is a matter of faith, because presently we are not, and no measure of work will fix that. So we wait; wait for the hope of righteousness. For He who promised is faithful. This is how we live. We live now like what is promised will indeed happen. If I’m going to be like Him one day, I can in faith begin now.
Faith Through Love
Galatians 5:6 (NAS): 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.
The significance of this statement can be easily missed by modern readers for whom circumcision has always meant little. We have little notion of just how upsetting Christ’s coming was for a people for whom circumcision was a sign of their relationship to God. This was an essential part of their religious life and their distinctive as the people of God, and Paul has said, in Christ, it doesn’t mean anything.
In order to feel the gravity of the statement, we would have to think not of circumcision, but of a comparative religious practice that’s central to our relationship to God and hear Paul say to us, “it doesn’t mean anything.” Who you vote for doesn’t mean anything. Your sexuality doesn’t mean anything. Your position on abortion doesn’t mean anything. Your denomination, doctrinal statement, creeds, don’t mean anything. Starting to feel it now?
Whatever is central in our relationship to God; whatever we view as distinctive as the people of God, in Christ, it has been replace by faith. Faith has become the single distinctive for the people of God. Against faith, all else means nothing.
Lastly, this faith does its work through love. Far to often, and in much grief, our faith works through truth. Faith working through truth results in the holy meanness we have experienced, as Christians callously hurl truth like stones, and with the same effect. But like all else, truth, against faith working through love, means nothing. It’s not that truth has no value. It’s value only come by faith working through love. Oh that we were characterized by faith alone, working through love. We may just find the joy the freedom of Christ brings and the rest He offers.
Until Galatians 5:14-26