Friday, July 31, 2009

Galatians 5:1-6

Paul turns in chapter five from his doctrinal treatise to the practice application of such doctrine. Here that appears as a discussion of freedom in Christ and living by the Spirit. He’s refuting legalism but not to the extent of becoming an antinomian. There is a balance in the Christian life, and it can only be lived by the Spirit. Let’s take a look:

1) V1-6 – 1It 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. 2Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Vincent Cheung begins his commentary on this passage by saying, “V1 is a transition statement, and can be attached to either the end of the previous passage, or the beginning of the present one. First, it summarizes a major thrust of what Paul has been demonstrating by the previous arguments: ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.’ Then, it states what we are to do because of this, anticipating what will follow: ‘Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.’ Positively, believers must stand firm in the freedom that they possess in Christ. Negatively, they must resist all attempts to place them under slavery again, and this means to resist both the practice and the promoters of circumcision.”

Paul refers in v1 to the yoke of slavery. Jews of the day understood this image well, as rabbis would choose disciples and place them under their yoke, to symbolize that they are following their rabbis teaching as oxen pulling a cart, even as slaves following their master. But Christ died for freedom, and Jesus’ yoke, as He declared, is easy, and His burden is light, unlike the yoke of slavery to the law. While you are either a slave to sin or to righteousness (Romans 6:16), Jesus set us free from sin in order that we could obey righteousness, which is true freedom. It is for this freedom (slavery to righteousness) that “Christ has set us free.” Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” Christian liberty is freedom from the law as a system of salvation, freedom from sin’s dominion, and freedom from conformity to the world’s ways, to which Paul refers through his epistles as “basic principles of this world.”

In v2, Paul’s point is that for those set free in Christ to undergo circumcision for the sake of salvation was effectively to reject Christ’s sufficiency, to attempt what they could never do (Galatians 2:21) – earn their own righteousness through obedience to the law. Even if they obeyed that part of the law rightly, both externally in their bodies and internally from their hearts, they would be guilty of breaking the law at other points, which would – and does – bring condemnation (v3). Paul is so firm on this point that he reminds them that he is saying this by using his name and by saying, “Mark my words!” and, “Again.” Calvin is very helpful here:

When [Paul] views circumcision in its own nature, he properly makes it to be a symbol of grace, because such was the appointment of God. But when he is dealing with the false apostles, who abused circumcision by making it an instrument for destroying the Gospel, he does not there consider the purpose for which it was appointed by the Lord, but attacks the corruption which has proceeded from men. A very striking example occurs in this passage. When Abraham had received a promise concerning Christ, and justification by free grace, and eternal salvation, circumcision was added, in order to confirm the promise; and thus it became, by the appointment of God, a sacrament, which was subservient to faith. Next come the false apostles, who pretend that it is a meritorious work, and recommend the observance of the law, making a profession of obedience to it to be signified by circumcision as an initiatory rite. Paul makes no reference here to the appointment of God, but attacks the unscriptural views of the false apostles.”

By no longer relying on grace, Paul says in v4, the Galatians are rejecting the sufficiency of Christ. Yet Paul is confident that God’s people have not and will not fall away permanently, as v10 reveals, and as Kim Riddlebarger exposes, saying, “These are not elect Christians but are instead baptized members of the visible covenant community (the church) but who in reality do not trust in Jesus Christ for justification and who secretly trust in their own righteousness even though they profess faith in Christ alone with their mouths. Such people are members of the visible church (the covenant community) through baptism and the external profession of faith. But they never truly exercise saving faith, do not persevere and they fall away. They are therefore, not among the elect. Professing Christians can and do fall away. Believing Christians numbered among God’s elect cannot.”

Indeed they cannot fall too far for God’s grace to reach them; but that is no license for lawless living, for lawless living may prove that they have never experienced God’s grace in the first place. Thus Paul contrasts the sure hope in righteousness by grace through faith in Christ with the vain hope in righteousness by self (flesh) through law abiding (v4-5). The Holy Spirit is our deposit with that sure hope, our seal or guarantee that God will finish what He started (Philippians 1:6). On v5, Vincent Cheung says, “Those who depend on God’s grace do not work for their righteousness, but they wait for the final revelation of righteousness that will occur on the day when God will publicly pronounce all His chosen ones ‘justified’ in His sight through faith in Christ.” As we noted earlier, John Piper says, “What is it practically that converts the love of Christ for us into our love for others? There are two answers in the book of Galatians. One answer is the Holy Spirit. The other answer is FAITH. …O let us be a people of the Word, and a people of faith, and people of love, by the power of the Spirit.” In doing this, we hope for righteousness, eagerly waiting by the Holy Spirit and through faith in Jesus Christ.

V6 reveals that Paul is not so much concerned with circumcision itself; he is concerned with the motive for it. He sees the Gentile Galatians being pressured into it by the Judaizers claiming that it’s necessary for salvation. However, Paul concludes that the one who is saved in Christ is the one who believes in Christ and demonstrates the genuineness of that faith by living a sanctified life (“faith expressing itself through love”). Kim Riddlebarger sums it up by saying, “Paul is saying simply that the faith which justifies is of such a nature that it expresses itself through love… The problem is not that the gospel leads to license, but that those who live in such fashion do not understand or believe the gospel! Paul’s doctrine is that the faith which justifies, is also a faith which works in love – not to become justified – but because one is already justified.” Vincent Cheung says, “So it is not that faith does not perform works, only that it does not perform works in order to obtain justification. The works of law that strive to obtain a righteous standing before God is bound to failure, and is opposed to the way of grace. But the works of faith proceed from a person who is already justified through faith in Christ.”

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