Gal 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery.
Gal 5:2 Listen! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you at all!
Gal 5:3 And I testify again to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.
Gal 5:4 You who are trying to be declared righteous by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace!
Gal 5:5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait expectantly for the hope of righteousness.
Gal 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision carries any weight — the only thing that matters is faith working through love.
Gal 5:7 You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth?
Gal 5:8 This persuasion does not come from the one who calls you!
Gal 5:9 A little yeast makes the whole batch of dough rise!
Gal 5:10 I am confident in the Lord that you will accept no other view. But the one who is confusing you will pay the penalty, whoever he may be.
Gal 5:11 Now, 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 removed.
Gal 5:12 I wish those agitators would go so far as to castrate themselves!
Gal 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another.
Gal 5:14 For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment, namely, “You must love your neighbor as yourself.”
Leon Morris writes:
Paul devotes the last major section of the letter to the subject Christian freedom. Some of his Galatian coverts had clearly been led to see conformity to the Jewish law as a wonderful advance on what they had earlier learned about the Christian way. For them this was a great step forward in their service of God. For Paul it was sheer tragedy. It meant that the converts were abandoning what was of central importance for an understanding of Christianity and for living the Christian life. Christian freedom was not a side issue. It was at the heart of the Christian way as Paul saw it (Morris 152).
Paul makes it very clear that Christ died to give us freedom. It is an essential aspect of our salvation. What was that freedom? It was freedom from sin to be sure, but also freedom from the law. The law couldn’t lead us to peace and righteousness as it was weakened by our human nature (Romans 8:3). Because of this Christ sacrificed himself for us so that we could be free from the law yet the “righteous requirement” of the law be fulfilled. It is fulfilled by living according to the Spirit (Rom 8:5). God knew that we couldn’t follow his authority through human effort so he decided to offer us a new covenant. Instead of trying to get us to follow the rules, he decided to change our hearts and make us more like Him. This way we would be empowered to live more like Him. The rules still exist to reveal our sin to us, but the path to freedom is the Spirit and the cross. The path to freedom isn’t through obedience to a law or a human leader.
M. James Sawyer conveys a similar sentiment in this post:
Years ago, I wrote my Th.M. thesis on the book of Galatians (for those who are interested, I applied the method of Discourse Analysis to the entire books of Galatians. It is posted at: http://www.bible.org/series.php?series_id=73 ) This was a slow and painstaking analysis that took more than four hundred hours to complete. The point was to trace the argument (the case Paul was building) of Galatians. I discovered something remarkable. Everything stated in Galatians leads up to or flows from Galatians 5:1: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm then and do not be subject to the yoke of slavery.” In chapter 1 he calls down imprecations from heaven on anyone who would corrupt the simple gospel of Christ: “. . . If we (or an angel from heaven) should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be condemned to hell! As we have said before, and now I say again, “if anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let him be condemned to hell!”
Paul was here talking about the simplicity of the gospel which was being compromised by those who wanted to add the Torah (Jewish law with all its ceremonies and particularly circumcision as its sign) but the application is wider. Many teachings have arisen over the centuries that promise protection, provision, perfection and the like. They sound good at the front end, but the results are bondage.
If the righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled by living according to the Spirit why then would we create a new law based on the whims of people?
It is clear in verse 1 that Paul calls on the Galatians to resist people who would infringe upon their freedom. Leon Morris writes:
The second important thing is that that divine call was on the basis of freedom. God did not take them out of their pre-Christian bondage, of whatever sort it was, simply to entangle them in another sort of bondage. It matters a great deal to Paul that Christians are freed people. He is not saying that a certain measure of liberty was grudgingly accorded to believers. He is saying that freedom is of the essence of being Christian; it is the fundamental basis of all Christian living, a thought which often comes to the surface in the apostle’s writings. (Morris, 164)
Is the requirement to come under the authority of church leaders more like a new law or is it part of living by the Spirit? This is an important question because it forces us to ask whether covering theology is a different gospel. Jesus wouldn’t have freed us from one prison to put us in to another one (Hendrickson 193). The obligations of the mosaic law were onerous but at least they were consistent. A new law founded on the authoritative whims of church leaders has the potential to be far more of a burden and bring about the same fear, wretchedness and slavery that the law brought (Hendrickson 197).
Paul saw a huge problem in following the law and following Christ. As soon as the Galatians received circumcision Christ was of “no benefit” and they had “fallen away from grace.” Those who taught this view would “pay the penalty” (Gal 5:10). Do we risk the same if we try to follow Christ through human leaders instead of waiting expectantly for the hope of righteousness through the Spirit by faith?
Christ’s words are echoed when Paul proclaimed to the Galatians: “A little yeast makes the whole batch of dough rise!” A little bit of heresy or a little bit of false teaching will eventually infect everything.
Jesus’ burden is easy, his yoke is light
Mat 11:28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Mat 11:29 Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Mat 11:30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.”
If following Christ is heavy a burden there is probably something unnecessary added to the gospel. Christ is gentle and humble in heart, even he did not consider himself equal with God. Once our leaders stop being gentle and humble and start weighing us down with burdens that are so heavy we don’t even want to think about church or ministry, something has gone terribly wrong.
Morris, Leon. Galatians. Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove, 1996.
Hendrickson, William. The New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Galatians. Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, 1968.