Paul has been clear in chapters 1-4 of Galatians: those teaching a gospel of tradition and law are liars about God and pretend Christians. They lead people astray: Jesus referred to these teachers as “sons of hell” and aid that the people converted under these lies were “twice the sons of hell” as the teachers. This burden, this yoke of law is unbearable, cannot be met. It is here that Paul brings us to the climax of his letter: Freedom in Christ.
Verse 1: Paul tells that Jesus died so that the believer would be set from from adherence to law and tradition. They no longer “had” to do anything; they can approach God freely, confidently, openly and unencumbered by anything. Paul now speaks directly to the Gentiles that are under pressure to accept physical circumcision.
Verses 2-6: He tells them that the moment that they give in to this practice, Christ’s death becomes ineffective. They return to the prison of law and must follow ALL of it. They return to the bondage of tradition. First it is tradition, then law, and then feasts, festivals, sacrifices- all of which are empty shadows now that Christ has come and died. He tells them that while they were not setting out to do this, the consequence of living out personal righteousness sets them against the righteousness of Christ, basically, it it faith expressed in works opposed to faith expressed in love.
Verses 7-10: Paul tells them that they were doing well until someone came along and deceived them in their pursuit of Christ’s righteousness. He begs them to not be tricked further. On the surface, it may not seem like a big deal. What’s the harm in observing tradition? Paul expresses confidence that the people will remain true now that they’ve heard the truth while warning the deceivers that they will bear God’s wrath.
Verses 11-12: Apparently, Paul is rumored to still be preaching circumcision, so he addresses it head-on. If he were, why would he face persecution? No one would be offended. These liars about God are so obsessed with circumcision, that they may as well chop the whole things off! If a little skin off the end has merit…the whole thing must really impress God!
Verses 13-15: Paul now gives warning, the path of freedom means that the believer must be aware that their freedom from law and tradition does not lead to a no-holds-barred form of religion. If this is the case, they will find themselves enslaved in a different way. The way to live in freedom is to serve one another in love, or as Paul put it earlier: faith expressed in love. That is real freedom.
Verses 16-18: Here’s the way to do it: be open, honest and motivated by the Spirit within. This cannot be done in a religion based on outer appearance. Why? Self-interest and love are not the same. Freedom in Christ is not fickle; you are either enslaved or free.
Verses 19-21: How does freedom that is taken advantage of lead to slavery? “repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community.” That sounds just like a pursuit of the American Dream!
Verses 22-23: Freedom in Christ brings a different set of fruit: “affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.” This is faith acted out in love.
Verses 23-24: Addiction to law and tradition only gets in the way. If you are focused on “getting your way” and doing whatever others tell you to do to achieve holiness without thought, these things need to be killed in your life. This is how we are crucified with Christ, this is how we put to the death our sinful nature.
Verses 25-26: Paul writes that we have freely chosen this lifestyle. We were not coerced into it. Because of that, we must move beyond an intellectual assent; we must implicate it into our daily lives. It must be worked out. It is not about a comparison to others, but a comparison with Christ. Going back to what he wrote in chapter 1, working out our faith through love means that we are unconcerned with how we appear.
- What might “faith expressed in love” look like for you?
- Are you living in freedom or wavering into slavery?