1It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.
This verse summarizes Paul’s issues with the Galatians. In Christ, those who had believed were free. Indeed, Christ’s purpose was to set us free in the truth (John 8:31-32, Isaiah 61:1). Yet the Galatians were not standing firm in their freedom in Christ and the gospel, but they were giving into errors about living under the Law. This made those who were free live as slaves.
2Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.
3And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law.
4You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.
Paul’s point is not to condemn circumcision, but he is trying to show that relying upon a mere observance of Jewish ritual is of no benefit. Christ fulfilled the Law, so to return to keeping even one small part of it is pointless and enslaving. If a person is relying upon keeping the Law to be righteous and satisfy God, then they had better keep the entirety of the Law. That is the only way to please God. Of course, such is impossible, which is why Christ is the only means to fulfill the Law. Those who were reverting back to works-based living (doing things to earn God’s favor by fleshly means rather than living righteously because of God’s favor in Christ by grace through faith) were those who had fallen from grace. This didn’t mean that they had lost their salvation. They were children of the promise. The issue is that they were choosing to live not as heirs but as slaves. This is what perplexed Paul. When we start trying to justify ourselves before God by law, we have severed ourselves from grace in that we are living as slaves when we could enjoy the benefits of adoption as sons and daughters of Christ.
5For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness.
Those who are truly of the faith are those who through the Spirit by faith wait for the hope of righteousness. They are not trying to merit their way into heaven by law-keeping. They admit that they cannot keep the Law, but Christ kept it on their behalf. They must repent of their sin and find their righteousness in Him. Only through Christ can we bear the fruit of the Spirit. Believers have the hope that they have been declared righteous in Christ and will be made righteous through and through by Christ ultimately. Those who are under the Law don’t have hope of righteousness because their Law-keeping will be an endless failure.
6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.
The issue for true Christians is walking by faith in Christ Who enables us to love and live righteously. The Christian life is not about keeping Old Testament rituals, feasts, and ceremonies, but it is about faith, hope, and love. Circumcision is not going to save somebody, and uncircumcision is not going to condemn somebody. The issue is where we place our faith.
7You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?
8This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you.
9A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.
These believers had started out well, not walking but running in Christ. Their faith was strong and their doctrine pure. Yet, even the tiniest bit of false teaching creeping in can destroy an entire body of believers or even more. Just a little yeast can make an entire batch of bread dough rise. A little error can have very widespread destructive impacts. This is why Paul was so adamant in 1:9 that the gospel must not be changed at all. The Judaizers had changed the gospel to mean exactly the opposite of grace and faith. The believers believed their teaching and yet still professed Christ. They had been hindered, and this influence was not of Christ. Christ would not lead His own people to reject the sufficiency of His sacrifice.
10I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is.
Paul had confidence that the Galatians would come to see the truth and the lies for what they were. He knew that those who lead the sheep away have a judgment from the Lord coming.
11But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished.
Paul makes a very interesting link here between preaching the true gospel and persecution (see also 2 Timothy 3:12). The cross by definition is life to those who believe but an aroma of death for those who do not. It is an inherent stumbling block for people. Thus, the truth of the gospel is inherently offensive, for it must address our shortcomings, failures, lies, and sinful nature. Either we will be glad to be freed of it, or we will run from the truth about our true nature and even become persecutors of those who have been born again. Paul knew that if he reverted to preaching that rules were the way to salvation that he wouldn’t be a threat. The entire unsaved world invents their own rules for living. But to say that Christ is the only way is very exclusive and offensive. Perhaps the Judaizers were saying that Paul agreed with them. If Paul agreed with them, then why was he still being persecuted?
12I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves.
Again, we see in this verse Paul’s passion and devotion to a pure, unadulterated gospel message. It is for this that he was called, and for it that he would die. In life, it was for its spread and preservation that he lived. Thus, it comes as no surprise, really, that he would like to see those who were causing confusion about the gospel and true Christianity cut off. He wished that the false teachers would destroy themselves so that the truth would prevail. Paul is not saying here that he doesn’t love the sinner, though clearly he hates the sin. What he is saying is that he loves his spiritual children, and like a good shepherd, he would do anything to protect his sheep from attack. His tone is similar to Christ’s (who came to seek and save the lost) when He said in Luke 17:2, “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble.” Christ is saying that a false teacher is better off dead and going to hell than dead and going to hell having caused others to go astray. Christ is very protective about His sheep, and Paul is the same. These who are already heading to hell Paul wishes to make a quick exit, though such is obviously not in his power or right to do so. Thus, he wishes that they would remove themselves from their own storing up of wrath.
13For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
As believers we are free to be slaves of Christ. Prior to salvation, we were slaves of sin, death, the flesh, and the devil. After coming to Christ, we have the opportunity to not walk after the flesh but to walk after the Spirit, Who indwells us. Thus, it is a blatant contradiction to who we are in Christ to claim to use our freedom and being under grace to sin and indulge the flesh. Such is enslaving and not walking after the Spirit. Freedom enables us to live in victory over the flesh, not to be enslaved to do its bidding. We are to be known by our love and service for one another and the world.
14For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF."
In fact, the entire Law is fulfilled by love. The entire intent of the Law was to show man that by nature he is self-seeking and self-interested. Furthermore, he cannot change himself. When Christ changes a person from the inside out, he is no longer controlled by sin but by love. As 2 Corinthians 5:14 says, “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died.” We have died to our old self and sinful nature. We have the ability in Christ to love our neighbors not merely as ourselves but as Christ loved us which was the ultimate example of selfless love (John 13:34-35, 15:13).
15But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
Yet if believers live as the world and harm one another in their own self-seeking (see James 4:1-2), then they had better watch out that their sin doesn’t lead to their own destruction. When sin prevails, love grows cold, and death reigns.
16But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
Rather than let the flesh control us, we are to walk by the leading and empowering of the Spirit. We are to let Him control our steps, thoughts, words, and decisions. If we are filled with the Spirit and controlled by Him, we will not carry out the desire of the flesh. The flesh will always have its desires which lust can activate at any moment in time. Until we are given a new body to be with Christ, even believers can do the worst of sins. But by faith in Christ and surrendering to the work of the Spirit within us, we can carry out the desires of the Spirit and not succumb to the lusts of the flesh.
17For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.
The flesh and the Spirit are at odds with one another, and they will be until we are glorified. The flesh makes it difficult to do what it is right. Even though our hearts which are guided by love and by the Spirit may want to do what is right, the flesh stands in opposition. Satan tempts us to give into the flesh, but we must resist him and make him flee (James 4:7).
18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.
If we are under the Law, then we are doomed to failure. We are doomed to give into the flesh and to sin. But if we are led by the Spirit, meaning that we are then sons and daughters of God, we can walk by faith and live in holiness. The Spirit within us will work to change our desires and help us to discipline our wills by faith. If we walk after the flesh, there will be evil as a result. If we walk after the Spirit, there will be things pleasing to God and conducive of love, good will, and fellowship.
19Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality,
Walking after the flesh is manifested by evil deeds. Immorality refers to any illicit sexual behavior whether fornication, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, or any thing else that the flesh can conceive of that is not according to God’s design for healthy sex within marriage. It could also imply forms of idol worship. Impurity refers to lustful and loose living and could also imply wrong thinking and motives. Sensuality is throwing morality to the wind and living licentiously with an attitude of excess, shamelessness, and stubbornness.
20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions,
The word for sorcery is pharmakeia. It implies not only using the magic arts but also abusing drugs and poisons. Enmities, strife, disputes, dissensions, and factions are all very similar with the obvious emphasis being on division, arguments, conflict, and a lack of love. Jealousy is not trusting God to provide and refusing to be content with what He has provided. Outburst of anger is unbridled lashing out at self, others, or things. Angry outbursts don’t solve anything, but they can do great harm.
21envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Walking after the flesh leads to wanting what others have whether God wants us to have it or not. It leads to intoxication and late night revelry. It is these kinds of things that are the fruit and work of the flesh. Christians can do these things because they still have flesh. Paul’s point, however, is that believers have the Spirit so they, of all people, are those who have the opportunity to live in freedom from these works of evil. Those whose lives are characterized by a lack of repentance and sorrow when evil is committed are those who ought to question their salvation. Paul makes it very clear as a means of warning (similar to the book of 1 John and 2 Corinthians 13:5) that those who carry on, practice, and are busy with these evil things will not go to heaven. They are not true heirs, inheritors, and children of God. They have not been adopted into the family even if they think they have. True Christians bear fruit indicative of the Spirit at work in them. Christians can and do stumble, but there is a marked difference between true believers and merely professing believers.
22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
Evidence of walking after the Spirit is love (agape), meaning brotherly love, good will, affection, and benevolence. There is also great and enduring gladness that transcends circumstances and hardship. There is peace which is evidence of a heart sure of its hope of future righteousness and content no matter what might happen in their earthly lives. The Spirit bears forth perseverance in doing good, in faith, and in love. He produces an ability to bear with the weaknesses of others. He enables the faithful to suffer and endure hardship. Believers who are patient are also able to let God avenge wrongs and find it within their hearts to forgive. Kindness, gentleness, graciousness, and benevolence are to be characteristic of believers. Integrity is also a part of kindness. Goodness is a disposition and heart attitude of desiring and wanting truth and righteousness to prevail. It is a compassion and genuine care for others. Faithfulness is staying true to the core doctrines of the faith and living out a life honoring to Christ. Faithfulness is standing firm in belief no matter what happens.
23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Gentleness is meekness and tenderness, giving people the warmth, empathy, and sympathy that they need. It is the opposite of harshness, giving people a safe haven in one’s presence. Self-control is the mastery of the sensual passions, and it is the direct opposite of the self-indulgence of the flesh. Self-control is winning in the moment of temptation and choosing rightly. There is no law that condemns these behaviors in the Scripture. In fact, they are evidence of Christ in us Who has fulfilled the Law. It would even be difficult to find a secular law which forbids this kind of behavior. Even in the secular world these virtues are admired, though they may be exploited and draw persecution.
24Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
The true believer has already been described as not walking after the flesh. He has also been characterized by having the fruit of the Spirit, albeit imperfectly. Thirdly, we see that those who are truly Christ’s have by faith reckoned themselves dead to the lusts and lures of fleshly pleasures. Their flesh is no doubt still active and alive, but it has no means of overpowering the Spirit. The flesh lies dormant as a powerful inactive volcano only to be awakened to destructive power when we as believers give into lusts. This is why Romans 13:14 says, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” We need to understand the capacity for evil that we still have even as children of God, and we need to guard ourselves from that which could compromise our faithfulness. Those who belong to Christ have made a decision which is reapplied by faith daily and probably more often to walk after the Spirit and not give into the passions and desires of the flesh. We rather live out the passions and desire of our Lord.
25If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
26Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.
If we are indeed believers with the Spirit within us, we need to live as such, letting Him fill us, lead us, and direct us. We don’t live by the Law, but we live by a rebirth in Christ. If this is who we are, then it should be evident. Becoming arrogant and boastful, giving credit to ourselves, is a means of feeding the flesh and walking after it. We must recognize that our ability to live free from sin and without being enslaved to the flesh is a work of grace through faith. It is not of ourselves but of Christ and by Him and through Him. Boasting draws attention and glory to self and the flesh, whereas we are to be giving praise to God. Arrogance leads to comparison and competition regarding fleshly endeavors. It causes us to wrongly judge one another. Like a competitor issuing a challenge to another competitor, the flesh seeks to advance itself for its glory. We are not to be those who provoke or irritate others. We are not to be those who wish we had what others had. We are to live before God Who alone will judge us not based upon fleshly achievement or in comparison to others. He will judge us based upon ourselves alone. Those who live by the Spirit, walk in harmony and peace with others because they have nothing to prove to another, having found their worth and identity in Christ. It is only Christ Whom they are seeking to glorify. Sometimes those who are bearing spiritual fruit wish that they had somebody else’s opportunities or fruit. We are to do what we can before the Lord and rejoice with those whom the Lord is blessing for His sake (Romans 12:15). We must always remember that we cannot bear fruit on our own (John 15:5). We must let Christ use us how He desires, and the glory will all be His.