Bible Passage: Galatians 5:2-15
At the end of the previous passage, Paul had finished a theological argument about the freedom that we have as believers in Christ, and then had urged the Galatian Christians to let this freedom shape how they live: “For freedom Christ has set us free.” In this passage, he then develops the point in a more practical way, exploring what it means to live out the freedom that we have in Christ, initially applying it to the issue of circumcision, before then applying it much more widely under the framework of love.
Freedom From Religious Rules (2-6): The presenting issue for the Galatians is circumcision. Though is may not seem like a big deal in and of itself, the problem is with what it signifies. Circumcision was the marker of entry (for men) into the Jewish people, and this was particularly important because of the law. When somebody who had been trusting in Jesus chooses to go down this route, it is as though they are no longer trusting in God’s grace, received through faith. Instead they are looking to their obedience to the law as what makes them right with God, and in that case they would need to keep the whole law perfectly if they are to be justified.
Verses like this might seem a little bit removed from us as the temptation of circumcision is not a common one in many churches today. However, the principle translates easily to things that are common struggles today. The idea is that whenever we start to trust in our own performance to make us right with God, then we are looking to something other than grace. There are lots of different ‘religious’ things we might do, but wherever we start trusting in these things they have become a problem for us. We must realise that they count for nothing.
Freedom From False Teaching (7-12): Paul turns his attention to those who have started teaching these false ideas to the Galatian believers, and he is graphic in the language that he uses about them (see verse 12). Seeing things laid out in such strong terms emphasises how serious things are. He compares the false teaching to a little but of yeast that leavens a whole batch of dough. It might only seem like a small thing, but it changes everything. When you trying mixing a bit of legalism into the gospel, it ruins the whole thing. There is a warning here to be on our guard against all kinds of false teachers. Whenever somebody attempts to persuade us of something that is not from Christ, particularly around legalistic observance, we should be ready to reject their teaching and to call them out.
At the same time as speaking so strongly to the false teachers, Paul does distinguish the Galatian Christians from them, and he speaks more gently to the believers themselves. He is confident that they will see what he is saying, and still speaks of his brotherhood with them. There is a love and winsomeness shown here for his friends in the gospel that it is good to remember whenever we are engaging with Christian friends who have fallen into error of some kind.
Freedom to Love (13-15): In the final part of this passage, Paul explains more positively what Christian freedom looks like. It would be easy to think that if there is no law, then people will find freedom to sin, but that is not the point of freedom. It should not be used to indulge the self but rather to love and serve one another. The point of the ‘rights’ that we have in the gospel isn’t to cling to them for our own benefit but to follow the example of Christ in laying them down for the good of other people. This is in contrast to the ‘biting’ and devouring’ that was going on in Galatia, where they were in danger of consuming one another.
This section relates much more directly to life today than the verses about circumcision and is a great call to us all to use the freedom that we have in the gospel for the sake of loving those around us.
- Suggest people think about what they are putting their trust in to be right with God. Is it Christ alone, or are there religious practices that have crept in like circumcision had for the Galatians.
- Invite people to think carefully about what teachers they allow to have a voice into their life, and how closely these voices line up with the gospel.
- Call people to be radical in using their freedom to serve one another. The language of ‘through love become slaves to one another’ is strong, but that is what the word of God is calling us to do with our gospel freedom.