For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers, still preachcircumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
Throughout the first four chapters of Galatians, Paul has repeatedly stated that Christians do not need to fear condemnation because of their failure to keep the law, because they are righteous in Christ. When people hear this, they are tempted to say, “If I believed that, I would be able to live any way that I want!”
It could appear, without careful inspection, that the gospel removes all incentive to live a holy life. This is why, over the centuries, churches have felt the need to tone down the radical claims of grace that the gospel makes. By doing this, they trade gospel freedom for a message which aims to get people to stop living any way that they want.
In light of these tensions, this is a critical passage. Paul wants to show us that gospel freedom from fear and condemnation leads us to obey God, not to please ourselves. Our hearts are rewired to joyfully obey God rather than our own fleshly desires because we have been set free.
Set Free For Freedom
The beginning of verse 1 is a summary of the last two chapters and could even summarize Paul’s entire letter. Paul tells us that we have a profound freedom in Christ - a literal translation from the original geek would be, “For freedom Christ freed you”. Freedom is both the means and the end of the Christian life! Everything about the Christian gospel is freedom. Jesus’ whole mission was an operation of liberation - His single past action is complete.
In the second part of verse 1, Paul warns that the freedom we have in the gospel can be lost. Our freedom is fragile and can slip from our grasp. Since this is true, we must “stand firm”. To stand firm is a military concept, mixing together the ideas of keeping alert, being strong, resisting attack and sticking together (1 Corinthians 16:13; Philippians 1:27; Philippians 4:1).
As followers of Christ, we must be continually diligent to remember, preserve, rejoice in and live in accord with our salvation. We must stand guard as not to lose our freedom from enslavement to fear.
This letter to the churches in Galatia has been clear: relying on law-keeping for right standing with God is slavery. The approach of law-reliance is seen as a yoke of slavery. Both Jesus and the early church saw the Pharisees and teachers of the law as enslaving people with this yoke (Acts 15:10-11; Matthew 11:29-30).
Notice the word “again” in verse 1. The Galatian Christians had been pagans who were under the literal slavery of idolatry - “elementary principles of the world” (Galatians 4:3). Paul makes this radical claim that pagan idolatry and biblical moralism (keeping the laws of the Bible to be right before God) are basically the same thing. The Galatians had been amoral liberals and now about to become very moral conservatives. Paul does not want them to fall into the insecurity, pride, discouragement and weariness of people who are never sure that they are righteous enough.
It’s Either All Or Nothing
The Galatians face an either or decision. WIll they make Christ their treasure, in whom they find their forgiveness and fulfillment; or will they look to law-keeping, to circumcision?
Paul is saying that if they adopt the teaching of the Judaizers and follow it, then they cannot be saved: “Christ will be of no advantage (value)” to them (verse 2). This repetition should cause us to listen! Paul wants us to remember that you can’t add to Christ without subtracting Christ. He is either all their value, or He is without value. If law-obedience becomes part of their system of salvation, it is their only system, so they are “obligated to keep the whole law” (verse 3). This is impossible to do (Galatians 3:10-11). Looking at salvation this way is to be “severed from Christ” (verse 4).
Hoping For What We Have
Instead of striving for righteousness - an effort which is doomed to failure - Paul encourages the Galatians to “wait for the hope of righteousness” (verse 5). In English hope means “not so sure” - but in Greek it means “total assurance”. This hope does not mean “hope so” but rather it means a powerful assurance and certainty of something (Hebrews 11:1).
We simply wait for this righteousness. We don’t work or strive for it. We know it is coming and is on its way. We can eagerly wait rather than anxiously waiting.
The righteousness that we wait for is more than goodness - rather it is a completely right record and right relationship with God. Paul is saying that we can live today in light of our certain, guaranteed future glorification and welcome by God into His arms as a son (Galatians 4:7). This is a great and sure future for us! Non-religious people have no idea where they will be a million years from now. Religious people without the gospel are anxious about where they will be, and cannot relax or look forward to it with eagerness. The certainty of our future with God is a fruit of the gospel and rewires our heart to be free from worrying about our future!
We Have A Certain Future That Affects Life Now!
Our Via Communities are our primary discipleship tool. This section is to help you as you discuss the sermon with others in your life. It is designed for communities to utilize but can be used to facilitate a conversation between spouses, good friends, co-workers, etc., as we live to be faithful to God’s mission in his world.
This simple acronym (BLESS, B - Bless, L - Listen, E - Eat, S - Speak, S - Sabbath) should help you to frame your life according to the great commandment “love God” (Matthew 22:37) and the expression of that commandment in loving your neighbor (John 13:34). Each time you meet, start by discussing the rhythms of your life according to B.L.E.S.S.
Intentionally bless: Christ-followers, non-believers and those different than you.
Listen to what God is saying to you, through His Word and others.
Share a meal with a Christ-follower and also a non-believer.
Talk to God through prayer and to others about Jesus through witness.
Be intentional about taking time to both rest and recreate.
The Gospel is powerful. The good news of Jesus changes us. This section is to record the ways you are noticing the good news of Jesus transforming your life. Jot notes to help you remember.
As we examined God’s Word, in what ways was His Word examining you?
Describe how Jesus is becoming more central in your life.
What does trusting in Jesus look like for you this week?