Galatians 5:1-18: Live As Free People, Not Slaves

Live As Free People, Not Slaves; Don’t Substitute Law Keeping For Messiah; Live Freely; Live Purely; Live Lovingly; Live by the Spirit!

On July 4th, Americans celebrate our independence from the control of England. The problem is that we are still not entirely free. What I means is that not only US citizens, but all peoples, are under the control of dark, destructive forces. The good news is that the Messiah is the great freedom fighter! Like little David facing giant Goliath, Yeshua came into this world as a frail human being, and single-handedly entered the conflict against the hosts of Hell.

It is for freedom that Messiah has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Messiah came into this world, fought and suffered and bled and died to set us free. Messiah liberated us from the consequences we brought on ourselves by joining the rebellion of Satan and the fallen angels. Messiah set us free from their dark, demonic control. He liberated us from the power of sin and the sin nature. He set us free from death. He set us free from false ideologies and religious systems. Messiah set us free to be what God intended us to be – glorious creatures made in the image of God, free to respond to the Creator; sons and daughters who are free to love Him now and forever.

It is for freedom that Messiah has set us free. Our freedom is very important to Messiah. And it should be important to us. So why would the Galatians want to re-enslave themselves? Why would they allow themselves have a yoke put on them, restraining them and controlling them and preventing them from living as the free sons and daughters of God?

And what is this enslaving yoke? It’s the demand of the judaizers/legalists that they be circumcised and Torah-observant and follow all the laws of the Sinai Covenant. Paul wants them to know that Messiah came to set us free. He wants them to act on the truth and resist the demands of the judaizers/legalists. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

The Lord’s Representative warns them in very strong terms that if they don’t listen to him; if they commit themselves to “Torah-observance” they will be rejecting Messiah and Messiah’s redeeming efforts for them. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Messiah will be of no value to you at all. They are to pay attention! Not just anyone, but Paul, the Lord’s Representative, one who has encountered the risen Son of God; one who has been directed by the Living Lord Himself; the apostle to the nations, he is the one telling them something very important.

This is not a minor issue, a matter of one person’s opinion versus that of another. The demand for circumcision, which represents a commitment to fulfill the entire Sinai Covenant, means Messiah will be of no value to you at all. It means the Galatians will be nullifying Messiah and Messiah’s redemptive work for them. Messiah will not be of some value to them so that they are still OK, but the Son of God Himself, and what He has done for them, will be of no value whatsoever. They will receive no benefit of any kind from Him and His redemptive life, death, resurrection and ascension and His eternal life.

If you let yourselves be circumcised, Messiah will be of no value to you at all. Should Messianic Jews and other Jewish people be circumcised to be part of the covenant made with Abraham? Yes.

Can Gentiles be circumcised for health or aesthetic reasons? Yes. But for religious reasons, as a sign of coming under the Sinai Covenant? Absolutely not.

Paul clarifies what allowing themselves to be circumcised really means. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. The Galatians are not to think that they can get away with circumcision and picking certain laws that they like, like the dietary laws or the Jewish holidays. No. Circumcision is a sign of the commitment to observe the entire Sinai Covenant – with all of its many demanding laws. Do they really want to make that commitment to that kind of demanding life which was so different from the culture in which they were raised?

Paul adds to his warning. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Messiah. Everyone who tries to approach God in a legalistic way in order to be justified – to be in a right relationship with God – by commitment to Sinai Covenant law-keeping, will be alienated from the Messiah. To be alienated from Messiah means that you are alienated from Him and all the amazing benefits that come from the life and redemptive activity of the Son of God. Messiah will not be your living Lord. Messiah will not be your Redeemer. He will not be your Savior. He will not be the mediator between you and God the Father, which means you will be alienated from God, who is the source of life and blessing. You will be without God and without life and without blessing.

So, anyone who tries to be justified, considered to be righteous by God and be in a right relationship with God, by committing himself to Sinai Covenant law-keeping, will find out the exact opposite will take place. He will not be justified. God will not consider him righteous. He will not be in a right relationship with the Lord. His will remain in a state of alienation from the Creator.

Paul strengthens this already very dire warning even more. You who are trying to be justified by the law have fallen away from grace. Everyone who tries to approach God and live for God in a legalistic way will fall away from grace. If you try to live for God by works, by human effort, by law keeping, you nullify grace – God’s unmerited, unearned favor and blessing. But since salvation only comes by grace, if you fall away from grace you fall away from salvation and your forfeit eternal life.

Paul gives the alternative way of living for God, which is radically different from law-keeping and human effort. It is the the right way of approaching God, the only real way of living for God. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. Our faith, our loyalty to God and to the truth, is what makes us righteous now. And we are to hope for righteousness, which means we are sure that we will be completely righteous in the future, when this life is over – not because we have made a commitment to Sinai Covenant law-keeping, but because we have chosen the way of faith, not works, not law. And because we approach God through faith, not human effort or law-keeping, and because that is what makes us righteous, that frees the Spirit of God to live in us, and empower us, and live for God and be confident of living forever in a perfect relationship with the Three-In-One God.

So which approach to living for God will the Galatians choose? Works, human effort, law-keeping, or responding to God’s grace by having a faith-response to God and the Good News and continuing to live for God by faith and the empowerment of the indwelling Spirit?

The judaizers/legalists have been demanding the Gentile Christians get circumcised. The Lord’s Representative helps Messiah’s Communities in Galatia understand the limited value of circumcision. For in Messiah Yeshua neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. Circumcision does have value for a member of the Chosen People for Jewish identity and for our part in the Abrahamic Covenant – but circumcision doesn’t have any spiritual value in Messiah’s New Covenant. It doesn’t bring anyone closer to God. It doesn’t grant the spiritual blessings of salvation, or becoming the sons and daughters of God; or redemption from the Satanic slave market of sin and death; or knowing God and His will and His plan for us and for the world. A person can be circumcised and be very far from God, alienated from the Creator, dead in his trespasses and sins and headed to Hell.

What’s really important, what really counts, what really adds spiritual value to our lives – amazing spiritual blessings like righteousness, divine approval, salvation, closeness to God, the fullness of the Spirit, power for right living and eternal life – is faith expressing itself through love. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. Our faith response to God the Father, Messiah the Son and the Holy Spirit; our loyalty to the Word of God and the Good News of God is what counts. And we can tell if our faith is genuine if it expresses itself through love. Love is a test of genuine loyalty. Love for God. Love for the Word of God. Love for the people of God, especially those in Messiah’s Community, but also those outside the Community of Salvation.

So if what really adds spiritual benefit is faith expressing itself through love, and not circumcision, why choose circumcision – which is a symbol for Torah observance and full Sinai Covenant law-keeping? It only makes sense to focus on faith expressing itself in love.

Since sporting events were popular throughout the Roman world, including Galatia, Paul uses the metaphor of a race to let them know that they were no longer living the right way and were in danger of not making it to the goal. 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. They had been running a good race. They started out knowing the truth. Truth demands a proper response. Truth demands obedience, a decision to adhere to the truth. Our Faith and our life with God must be based on truth and on obedience to the truth. The Galatians did that. They had been living according to the truth, but something happened to change that. People interfered, placing an obstacle in their path and hindering them from running the race. It was like a runner illegally cut in ahead of them, impeding them from reaching the finish line. They were no longer obeying the truth.

The Galatians could be sure that those who were hindering them with legalism were not sent by God. That kind of persuasion does not come from the One who calls you. If the judaizers were not sent by God or operating by means of the Spirit of God, that means that something else, another spirit, an anti-God spirit, was at work in them.

To warn them further about the grave danger they were in, the Rabbi uses another metaphor – not from sports but from nature. A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough. Under the right conditions, all it takes is a little yeast in some dough, and it will multiply so that the entire batch becomes leavened. All it takes is a little bit of false teaching, and under the right conditions it will spread throughout an entire community and ruin it.

Paul is confident that by teaching them in various ways, and warning them, shocking them and reasoning with them, he has persuaded them and they will do what needs to be done. I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view.

So what should be done? The false teachers who are hindering them should be identified and removed from their place of influence. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty.

The judaizers/legalists were undermining Paul in various ways. One of the things they may have said is that, while Paul may not have demanded Torah-observance before, he had seen the error of his ways and now agreed with them. Paul deals with that issue here. 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. No, he has not changed his mind. He is not teaching that circumcision and Torah observance are necessary under Messiah’s New Covenant.

How can they know that he is proclaiming the same unpopular message he always did – that all that is necessary for salvation and right living is faith in Messiah and His death and resurrection? Because he is still being persecuted – persecuted by the non-Messianic Jewish Community and undermined by the judaizers/legalists. The non-Messianic Jewish community had been persecuting the Messianic Jewish remnant in Israel. They had persecuted Paul too. They were probably even more annoyed with Paul for going to the Gentiles and telling them to believe in the God of Israel, and Yeshua is the Messiah, and they didn’t need to be circumcised or live like the Jewish people. They didn’t need to convert to Judaism in the traditional way.

Can you imagine the reaction to this of the non-Messianic Jewish leaders? “How dare Gamliel’s student do that! He doesn’t have the right to bring Gentiles into Judaism without demanding they are circumcised. If anyone is going to convert the Gentiles, it will be us, and it will be done the way we approve of. Paul is a dangerous false teacher and must be opposed.”

If Paul had only compromised by requiring circumcision of the peoples of the nations and demanding they become Jews and live like the Jewish people, the persecution may have lessened or stopped altogether. But Paul couldn’t do that. He couldn’t compromise the message about the only way of salvation and right living coming through a crucified carpenter and not Torah observance – offensive as that message might be to many.

Paul was a tough man. He could say some very tough things. I like that. I’ve said some harsh things about those who are harming Messiah’s Community. Here Paul expresses his intense dislike of the legalists who were stirring up trouble among the precious Messianic Jews and Christians in Galatia. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! Those false-teaching judaizers are so fond of circumcision? They think it’s so beneficial? Let them take their own advice. Let those trouble-makers go the whole way, and not stop with the foreskin. Let them cut it all off! Very tough. And funny.

So, circumcision, which is a symbol of Torah observance, Sinai Covenant law keeping, is definitely not the way to live. What is the right way to live? Live freely. Live purely. Live lovingly. Live by the Spirit.

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. Live freely. You don’t need a long list of dos and don’ts, a list of rules and laws like the Sinai Covenant in order to live well. That kind of religion is enslaving. If you know Messiah, you know what He is like. You know what is important to Him. You know His principles. You know what pleases Him. You know what displeases Him. He is not enslaved to anyone or anything. Get close to Him and look to Him and be like Him and you will live freely.

Live purely. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh. Freedom doesn’t mean you are free to sin. It doesn’t mean you are free to indulge the sinful desires of the old nature. It means that God has liberated you from demonic control, from ignorance, from enslavement to the power of sin and the sin nature, and now you are free to live the way God intended human beings to live – according to His standards, according to the truth. Freedom means right living, holy living; God-honoring living. Live purely.

Live lovingly. Use your freedom to serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. Many human beings are unable to relate properly to others. They are insecure and want to compensate for their insecurity by dominating others. They only feel good about themselves if show they are better than others. But Messiah set us free from that need to control others, to be seen as better than others. He set us free so we can relate to others the way God designed us to relate to other human beings – with love.

God created more than one human being. Messiah’s Community of salvation is made up of many people. God designed us to live in community. Freedom doesn’t mean that you are free to be isolated from Messiah’s Community, off alone by yourself. Freedom doesn’t mean that you have no obligations to the other sons and daughters of God. You do. So, now that you are free to relate to others the way God intends, use your freedom to serve one another humbly in love. Now you are free to serve others, not yourself. You are free to be humble, not arrogant, not selfish, not self-centered. You are free to love others, not just yourself. You are free to care for others, be generous and gracious and giving to others.

And, the Torah, the Law, the Sinai Covenant, if properly understood, teaches the same thing. It emphasizes the importance of loving others. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The real way to fulfill the Torah is not by keep a long list of does and don’ts. It’s by knowing God and understanding this most important principle, you will be able to fulfill the Sinai Covenant. You will try to care about your neighbor as you care about yourself; look out for the well-being of your neighbor as you look out for the well-being of yourself; look after the interests of your neighbor as you look after your own interests. You won’t murder him, steal from him, or take his wife from him. You will treat him with kindness, grace, respect.

And, if Christians and Messianic Jews don’t humbly and lovingly serve each other, but are selfish and greedy, they will bite and devour each other, and be destroyed by each other – which, I am sad to say, happens all too frequently in too many churches and messianic synagogues.

Live freely. Live purely. Live lovingly. Easily said, but not so easily done because we are weak and all too often yield to the desires of the old nature. Yes, we have a new nature, but the old nature is still there. But we can overcome the old nature and its perverse desires if we live by the power provided by the Holy Spirit.

Live by the Spirit. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. There is a battle taking place within each one of us. The flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.

The desires of the flesh aren’t only physical. The flesh means the old nature, with all of its perverse desires – wrong physical and sexual desires, but also wrong attitudes toward others and wrong thinking about truth and God and religion.

Walk by the Spirit, which means live in a way that you get close to God and stay close to God. Live empowered by the Spirit; operate by the influence of the Spirit. If you do, you will have the ability to not gratify the desires of the old nature. The way to overcome the things that tempt us; the way to overcome our areas of weakness is not by committing ourselves to keep a long list of rules. It’s by walking by the Spirit. We walk or live by the Spirit when we get close to God and stay close to God. When we do that we have the ability to not yield to temptation.

So, how do we live by the Spirit? How do we get close to God and stay close to God? We humble ourselves. We come to the Three-In-One God on His terms. We understand that God is God and we are not. We make a commitment to Yeshua as Lord. We nurture our relationship with God by practicing the Spiritual Disciplines like prayer and filling our mind with the Word of God. We live by the Spirit by continual repentance. When we fail in our walk; when we realize that we are not close to God, not living by the Spirit; when we have sinned we admit it ASAP. We confess our sins, and we thank God for the forgiveness that is available to us because of Messiah, and we ask for God’s grace to do better the next time we face that temptation, and the God who forgives seventy times seven helps us get close to Him once again.

When we are close to God, we are thinking about Him and what He wants. Each circumstance we face is with Him right there. His Word is in our minds and His Spirit is teaching us and so we know what to do. Each decision we make is done with Him right there, and so we know what choice to make.

This is a entirely different and superior way of relating to God than following a list of does and don’ts and Sinai Covenant law-keeping, which is why Paul writes: But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Those who are living by the Spirit have a changed relationship to the Sinai Covenant. They are not under its authority like the Jewish people were before Messiah came. Instead, we have a glorious, living close New Covenant relationship with God, who is continually leading us and guiding us and empowering us.

Live as free people, not slaves; don’t substitute law keeping for Messiah; live freely; live purely; live lovingly; live by the Spirit!