The Gospel in Galatians
 by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira 

11 – Freedom in Christ

Galatians 5:1-12:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Mark my words!  I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.  Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.  You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.  For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope.  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.  The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
You were running a good race.  Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?  That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.  “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.”  I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view.  The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty.  Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted?  In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.  As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!

Paul’s whole purpose in writing to the Galatian Christians was to restore them to the freedom and peace they had in Christ.  The Judaizers, as we have seen in our previous studies, had deceived and trapped these Galatian Christians into a subtle form of legalism and thereby robbed them of the joy of salvation.

Having shown them their error from every conceivable angle, Paul now gives these Galatian Christians some practical counsel.  In Galatians 5:1-12, Paul contrasts the two methods of salvation, the gospel versus legalism, or, in other words, salvation by grace alone versus salvation by works of the law.  To Paul, the way of grace and the way of the law were mutually exclusive.  The way of law makes salvation dependent on human achievement.  The person who takes the way of grace simply casts himself and his sins upon the mercy of God.  The two ways cannot be mixed.  Clearly, in our previous study we have seen they are diametrically opposed to each other.  In the passage we are going to cover in this chapter, Paul draws the contrast twice:  first, in verses 1-6, from the standpoint of those who practice these two methods, and secondly, verses 7-12, from the standpoint of those who preach them.

With this foundation, we will read Galatians 5:1-12.  We will analyze what Paul is saying.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Mark my words!  I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.  Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.  You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.  For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope.  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.  The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
You were running a good race.  Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?  That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.  “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.”  I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view.  The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty.  Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted?  In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.  As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!

First, let’s look at verse 1 and we will see that Paul gives two commands to the Galatian Christians.  He has explained, he has convinced them from every conceivable angle, that man’s only hope is salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  These two commands are first, positive, and second, negative.  In Galatians 5:1, Paul says:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Stand firm in your freedom.  Freedom from what?  Liberty from what?  From under the law.

We read in Galatians 4:4-5 that, when the fullness of time came, Christ was sent by the Father, made of a woman, made under the law.  Why?

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.

“To redeem us from under the law that we may be adopted as sons.”

In Galatians 3:10, Paul tells us that anyone who is under the law is under curse because the law curses everyone whose performance is not perfect:

For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written:  “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”

Having expounded the wonderful gospel to the Galatians, defended it from every angle, Paul says, in Galatians 5:1b, to stand fast in the liberty which they first accepted in Jesus Christ, the freedom they had in Christ:

Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Paul pleads with them not to go back to legalism which he defines as the yoke of slavery or bondage.  This was one of the major and original controversies that took place in the early Christian church.  In Acts 15, we have a description of the first Jerusalem Council, the first church council which had to deal with this issue of legalism.  Apparently the same Judaizers were there.  They came from Judia and insisted that the Galatian Christians be circumcised.  We read what they said in Acts 15:1:

Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers:  “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.”

Then, in verse 5, they also added:

Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”

In other words, “You have to keep all the rules, all the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ described in the first five books of Moses in the Old Testament, the Penteteuch, the Torah, if you want to be saved.  It is not enough just to believe, but you have to keep the law besides believing in order to be saved.”  This was the teaching of the Judaizers.

This produced a tremendous controversy, for we read in Acts 15:2:

This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them [the Judaizers].  So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.

As a result of this, we had the first Jerusalem Council.

Peter, talking to the brethren, gives the conclusion of this council.  Acts 15:10:

Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?

Peter, addressing the Judaizers, says, “Are you taking the Gentiles into legalism which our fathers could not uphold and which we could not?  Why are you going back to this yoke of bondage?”

In verse 11:

No!  We [the apostles, the leaders of the early Christian church] believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.

There is only one way we can be saved and that is through the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  Oh, what a wonderful thing this was!  Imagine what would have happened to the Christian church if Peter and the other apostles had disagreed with Paul and Barnabas?  But the apostles were absolutely united in how mankind is saved.  That is, man is saved by grace alone by the doing and the dying of Jesus Christ.

Paul now tells the Galatians, in chapter 5, verse 1:

...Do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

The yoke of bondage is the yoke of slavery and a slave is a person who is living in constant fear because his master is very strict.  In contrast to this yoke of slavery, there is another yoke that was brought to the people, introduced by Jesus Himself.  This is found in Matthew 11:28-29.  Jesus, speaking to the Jews who were living in insecurity because of Judaism which had taught them that salvation is by the works of the law, brings them good news:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

“Come to me, all you who labor, who are weary — all you who are striving to earn salvation — and are heavy laden, burdened — who have no peace, are living under fear, under guilt, full of distress — and I will give you rest.”

Verse 29:

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me...

This is not the yoke of legalism.  This is the yoke of Christ.  To continue through verse 30:

...for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

What is this yoke of Christ?  If we study the gospel, the first four books of the New Testament, it becomes very obvious.  Jesus made it clear.  John 8:28:

So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.”

“I do nothing of Myself.  I live by the father.  The works that I do, it is not I, but the Father who dwells in Me.  He is the One who does the works.”

The yoke of Christ is living a life totally dependent on God.  In contrast, the yoke of bondage is a yoke that is depending totally on our performance.  That is the distinction between salvation by grace and salvation by the law.

Paul is telling the Galatians, “You took the yoke of Christ, which is the yoke of total God-dependence which brings peace, hope, joy, and assurance for the simple reason that God actually redeemed us in Jesus Christ.  But, you have gone back to the yoke of bondage.  Please, don’t be fools.  Hold on to your yoke of Christ which has set you free — free from guilt, free from condemnation, free from the curse of the law.”  There is a beautiful statement found in Hebrews 10:19-23, dealing with the same thing.  The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were in danger of reverting back to Judaism or to legalism.  Read what the book of Hebrews says to these Jewish Christians.  It is very much in line with what Paul tells the Galatian Christians:

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way [unlike the legalism they were raised up with] opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

In the Old Testament, there was a veil between the holy place and the most holy place because the priest who functioned daily in the holy place was himself a sinner.

The writer of Hebrews says, “Let us draw near with a true heart with a full assurance of faith having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering for He who promised is faithful.”  Paul says this to the Galatians, also, in Galatians 5:1a:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then...

Then, in Galatians 5:1b, Paul gives us the negative command:

...Do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

The yoke of slavery, as we have seen, is legalism.

Now, verse 2:

Mark my words!  I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.

What is he saying here?  Salvation by grace and salvation by law-keeping are two diametrically opposite systems of salvation.  Paul is not against circumcision.  He circumcised Timothy.  But he is against circumcision when it is used as a method of salvation.  He says, if we are circumcised in order to be saved, we have placed yourselves under the law.  And since the law, the Torah, is a unit, we are under obligation to keep every single requirement of the law in order to be saved.  That is what it means if we insist on being circumcised in order to be saved.

Verse 4:

You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ [you have turned your back to Christ]; you have fallen away from grace.

It is not enough to know the law.  It is not enough to keep part of the law.  It is not even enough to keep most of the law.  If we fail to keep the law on one point and we are depending on that law-keeping for our salvation, there is no hope for us because the law is a unit and, if we want to use the law as a method of salvation, then we are obligated to keep all the law or we have failed.

There is something else we need to keep in mind.  The moment we add law-keeping towards our salvation, we have fallen from grace.  We have turned our backs from salvation through Jesus Christ alone.  As mentioned several times in this study of Galatians, the two methods of salvation, legalism versus grace, are diametrically opposed to each other.  They cannot be mixed.  They are mutually exclusive.  To turn to the law as a means of salvation is to say good-bye to salvation by grace.  Keep in mind, Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:15, that Christ came to save sinners, we cannot keep the law as a means of salvation and say, “I want to be saved by grace,” because the moment we accept grace, we are admitting we are one hundred percent sinners:

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst.

The moment we turn to law-keeping as a means of salvation, we are denying the Biblical truth of our total depravity.  So there is no way we can mix these two systems of salvation.

In verse 5 we read:

For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope.

When we accept Christ, the Holy Spirit comes and dwells in us.  We have now become born-again Christians.  Paul says, in Romans 8:16-17, the first thing the Holy Spirit does is convince us that we are God’s children:

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

He brings with Him peace that comes from Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  But, even though we stand justified before God in Christ as believers, we still have a sinful nature.  We are still living in a sinful world.  Therefore, salvation as an ultimate reality is future.  Yes, we are saved by hope, Paul says in Romans 8, but hope is not hope if we already had it in reality.  Because we are saved by hope, we patiently wait for the ultimate salvation of righteousness by faith.  Through Jesus Christ, we have three basic elements of salvation.

  1. First, we have justification, which simply means we stand perfect, we stand complete, we stand absolutely righteous before God and His law, in Christ Jesus so that the moment we believe, the law no longer condemns us to death.  We have passed from death to life.  These are the words of Jesus in John 5:24.

    “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”

    However, that is not all the salvation God has brought us in Jesus Christ.  Our standing is perfect, but we still have a sinful nature.

  2. The second element of salvation, which is an ongoing process, daily to be experienced by the Christian, is sanctification.  Through the Spirit, as we walk in the Spirit, the flesh is conquered.  In Galatians 5:16, Paul says:

    So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

    This is sanctification.  But the progress of Christian growth, of holy living, does not change our nature.

  3. We now come to the third element, the ultimate element of salvation, which is glorification.  This will take place at the Second Coming of Christ when “this mortal puts on immortality.”  1 Corinthians 15:51-54:

    Listen, I tell you a mystery:  We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.  When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true:  “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

    Then, and then only, will we experience the total salvation that we have accepted in Jesus Christ by faith.  Paul is saying that a true Christian has peace with God through justification by faith but he is patiently waiting for the ultimate salvation which is the redemption of our bodies.

In Galatians 5:6, Paul says, in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision gets you anything:

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.  The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Salvation is entirely a free gift.  What we do, whether it is the act of circumcision or the act of baptism, doesn’t save us.  Any performance that we do in the name of Christ doesn’t save us, whether it is casting out devils, performing miracles, or anything that we do as Christians.  These make no contribution towards our salvation.  Yes, sanctification is the evidence of justification.  It is the fruits of salvation, but makes no contribution to it.  Anything we do, or God does in us, has no merit.  We are saved entirely by Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Paul is saying, “If you Galatian Christians are trying to become a Jew through the circumcision, you are deceiving yourselves.  The only true Jew in God’s eyes is a Jew who has no confidence in himself and is resting in Christ.”  There is only one way we can be saved, there is only one way the Jews and the Gentiles will be saved.  It is through Jesus Christ, His life, death, and resurrection.

The only result of genuine justification by faith, the only thing we look forward to and live for, is faith which works through love.  The moment we accept Christ and the Holy Spirit comes and dwells in us, not only does He remind us that we are a child of God, not only does He bring peace into our hearts, but He also brings into our hearts a vital ingredient called agape love.  Paul describes agape in detail in 1 Corinthians 13 and designates it as the supreme gift of the Holy Spirit to the believer.  1 Corinthians 13:4-8a:

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.

This agape love is a love that was revealed in the life of Christ.  It is a love that will love our neighbors more than ourselves.  It is a love that will reflect the character of Christ.  The only thing that the Christian must look forward to while waiting for the ultimate salvation, which is glorification, is reflecting the life of Christ.

In the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5:14a, Jesus said to the disciples:

“You are the light of the world.”

The “you” is plural in the original and the word “light” is singular because that light represents only one Person, Jesus Christ.  But as Christians who have now become indwelt by the Spirit of Christ, we have become the means by which Christ is reflected through us.  Jesus says in Matthew 5:16:

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

“Let this light, let Christ, shine out of you by your good works.”

When Jesus was on this earth, He went about doing good.

In John 13:34-35, Jesus made it clear that, if we love one another as Christ loved us, which is the fruits of salvation, all the world, all people, will realize that we are His disciples because we have this agape love one for another:

“A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

This is Christianity.

In Galatians 5:7, Paul says:

You were running a good race.  Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?

This is a very important statement, “You were running a good race.”  Salvation is a gift.  It is free but Christian living is compared to a race.  It requires much effort.  It requires walking in the Spirit by faith and this faith must endure to the end.  Jesus said in Matthew 10:17-22:

Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues.  On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.  But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.  Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.  You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

“The one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

In Hebrews 10:35-39, the writer of Hebrews tells the Jewish Christians:

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.  You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.  For, “In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.”  And, “But my righteous one will live by faith.  And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.”  But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.

“He who draws back from justification by faith will end up destroyed, but he whose faith endures unto the end will rejoice when Christ comes.”

Let us run the race.  We have entered under the umbrella of justification by faith; now let us remain there by our Christian race, our battle against unbelief.

In verse 9 of Galatians 5, he says:

“A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.”

What did Paul mean by this?  In Matthew 16:5-12, we have a very important incident in the life of Christ to help us:

When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread.  “Be careful,” Jesus said to them.  “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.”
Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread?  Do you still not understand?  Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered?  Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered?  How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread?  But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Jesus had gone across to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  The disciples had not taken any bread.  There were no shops and the disciples began to say, “We have no bread.”  And Jesus said, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”  The disciples said “He was talking about the bread that we forgot to bring.”  Jesus, realizing their thoughts, said, “No, I am not referring to bread.  Don’t you remember how I took three loaves and five fishes and fed five thousand?  Why are you of so little faith?”  Then the disciples realized that He was not talking of physical bread.  He was talking of the teaching of the Pharisees, which was legalism.  He was saying, “Legalism is contagious.”  The moment we allow a little legalism to creep into the church, into the body of Christ, eventually it will affect the whole body.  Therefore, we should fight legalism with everything we have.

Paul says in Galatians 5:10:

I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view.  The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty.

He is appealing to them.  He says, “I believe that you are not fools.  I believe that you will not be deceived by this false teaching.  I believe that you will realize your mistake and return back to Christ.”  He continues, “But he who troubled you [these Judaizers who came to Galatia, or Satan, who is behind all this] shall bear his judgment for whoever he is.”  Remember what Paul said in the introduction to this letter in Galatians 1:8-9?

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!  As we have already said, so now I say again:  If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

Finally, in Galatians 5:11-12, Paul says:

Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted?  In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.  As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate [mutilate or castrate] themselves!

Paul is very strong here because he realizes that legalism is one of the greatest enemies of the gospel.  Do not allow anyone to sidetrack you from the pure truth of the gospel.


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