Practical: Exhortations Based on Liberty
Galatians 5 – 6
Galatians 5 – 6. The two main sections of ch.5 can be correlated to the two exhortations at the end of the allegory in the previous chapter. First, how to deal with the bondwoman (vv.1-12). Then, how to deal with the bondwoman’s son (vv.13-26). In ch.6 we have a series of exhortations that give us a composite picture of what liberty looks like in action (vv.1-10). This is followed by a powerful conclusion (vv.11-18) in which the motives of all are exposed, and Paul earnestly pleads with the Galatians to listen.

Liberty as a Result of Understanding Our Position (5:1-12)

Exhortation to Stand Fast in the Truth of the Christian Position (v.1)

Christ has set us free in freedom; stand fast therefore, and be not held again in a yoke of bondage. v.1 The very first exhortation is to “stand fast”. There is nothing to work for. “Christ has set us free in freedom”, and He wants us to stay free! The last thing we should do is fall into a yoke of legal bondage. Notice that it says “a yoke”… the definite article isn’t there. These Galatians were never under the Mosaic law, and this exhortation applies to any legal system. See chart on Galatians 5. It is very possible for Christians in pretended spirituality to set up human standards by which to measure themselves and others. These standards are a law, and they produce “a yoke of bondage”. Sometimes believers see weakness and worldliness coming in, and they want to stop the decline, so they set up a standard. It seems like a good idea, but it will only backfire. They will not achieve what they want to achieve by setting up a moral standard that is something other than Christ (Gal. 6:2).  

Six Reasons why We should Stand Fast (vv.2-12)

  1. Legalism nullifies the practical effect of the work of Christ (v.2)
  2. Law-keeping is all or nothing (v.3)
  3. Legalism puts distance between the soul and Christ (v.4)
  4. Faith and legality result in very different states (vv.5-6)
  5. The way evil doctrine enters and spreads (vv.7-10)
  6. Legalism appeals to the flesh because it wards off persecution (vv.11-12)

Reason #1: Legalism Nullifies the Practical Effect of the Work of Christ (v.2)

2 Behold, I, Paul, say to you, that if ye are circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. v.2 Paul isn’t saying a circumcised person cannot be saved. It is more like “if you get circumcised after this”, then the work of Christ is set aside by your actions. If you do 50%, and Christ the other 50%, the work of Christ will not help you because you will fail in your 50%! Even if Christ did 99% and you did 1%, Christ would still profit you nothing. Legalism nullifies the practical effect of the work of Christ.

Reason #2: Law-keeping is All or Nothing (v.3)

3 And I witness again to every man who is circumcised, that he is debtor to do the whole law. v.3 In God’s sight the ceremonial law is linked with the moral law. You cannot separate the rite of circumcision from the whole system even though circumcision existed prior to the ten commandments. Bringing in any small part makes you a debtor to do the whole law, and thus it brings the curse.

Reason #3: Legalism Puts Distance between the Soul and Christ (v.4)

4 Ye are deprived of all profit from the Christ as separated from him, as many as are justified by law; ye have fallen from grace. v.4 Every Christian blessing is “in Christ” (Eph. 1:3) and enjoyed by the Spirit. Legalism had distanced them from Christ, and thus taken away the enjoyment of those blessings. The expression “fallen from grace” does not mean that they had fallen into immorality, but they had added law-keeping to the work of Christ for justification, and thus let slip on the only principle by which God justifies. Christ is a complete Savior, but He is also an exclusive one.

Reason #4: Faith and Legality Result in Very Different States (vv.5-6)

5 For we, by the Spirit, on the principle of faith, await the hope of righteousness. v.5 It says “hope of righteousness” not “hope for righteousness” (NIV). We already have righteousness by faith; that is the truth of justification. But the hope of righteousness is the hope (deferred certainty) of glorification… of one day enjoying the “glory of God” (Rom. 5:2) and being perfectly suited to His presence.
v.5  – Faith is the principle to live by – counting on God alone.
  ↓   – Spirit is the power indwelling that allows us to live for God.
  ↓   – Hope is set before us to anchor our souls.
v.6  – Love is the motive for Christian service.
6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision has any force, nor uncircumcision; but faith working through love. v.6 Love is the mode by which faith works. There will not be any fruit if love is not the motive. Meanwhile, neither ceremony nor lack of ceremony has any practical effect. Here is how love works: see diagram.
 God’s love in Christ ⇒  the believer  ⇒ Love toward God
 ⇒ love toward others

Reason #5: The Way Evil Doctrine Enters and Spreads (vv.7-10)

7 Ye ran well; who has stopped you that ye should not obey the truth? 8 The persuasibleness is not of him that calls you. vv.7-8 The Galatians had been going on well before they had gotten ensnared in legalism. This question of “who” tells us that a specific person had come bringing the evil doctrine. Paul is shocked by their “persuasibleness”. It is true that the movement toward the legal system was not of God, but he is really rebuking them for allowing themselves to be persuaded away from the truth. “Him that calleth you” is God. Here is how the evil doctrine works: 
v.7   v.8   v.9
Someone (“who”) brings it we let them persuade us it spreads
9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump. v.9 Evil spreads, if left unjudged. Leaven in scripture is always a symbol of evil, and often of evil doctrine; e.g. “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (Matt. 16:6). As in physical baking, leaven is characterized by its infesting and spreading character. This is why yeast works so well to create evenly spaced bubbles in bread. The Church is warned twice that evil must be judged, or the whole will be corrupted; in 1 Cor. 5:6 it is in connection with moral evil, and in Gal. 5:9 in connection with doctrinal evil. Doctrinal evil is the more dangerous, because the natural mind tends to view it only a differences of opinion, instead of positive evil. Also, which is worse: to murder, or to teach that it is acceptable to murder? This is why Paul’s rebuke of the Galatian error is even stronger than that of the Corinthians (Gal. 3:1). Galatian error strikes at the foundation of the gospel.
10 “I” have confidence as to you in the Lord, that ye will have no other mind; and he that is troubling you shall bear the guilt of it, whosoever he may be. v.10 Paul believed that the majority would be delivered from the mire of legalism by the Lord. But there would be governmental judgement on the leader; “he that is troubling you shall bear the guilt of it, whosoever he may be”.

Reason #6: Legalism Appeals to the Flesh because it Wards Off Persecution (vv.11-12)

11 But “I”, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why am I yet persecuted? Then the scandal of the cross has been done away. v.11 The constant Jewish persecution of Paul was evidence that he did not preach circumcision. When we compromise the gospel, the “scandal of the cross” vanishes. Think of how easy it would have been for the reformers, like John Huss to recant their position. If we just bring in a little of natural religion, the world will accept our religion. But if was stand fast in grace, there will not be rest.
12 I would that they would even cut themselves off who throw you into confusion. v.12 Paul now reveals what he wishes would happen to the Judaizers. He makes a play on words. They would teaching that men must be circumcised in order to be saved, but Paul wished they would accidentally cut themselves off! The thought is that their system of teaching would mutate and turn around a mutilate them. They would somehow fall under their own teaching.

Liberty as a Result of Walking in the Spirit (5:13-26)

  • The right and wrong use of liberty, love emphasized (vv.13-15)
  • The law cannot control the flesh, but the Spirit can! (vv.16-18)
  • The law can’t produce Christ-like qualities, the Spirit can! (vv.19-23)
  • Normal Christianity with regard to the flesh and the Spirit (vv.24-25)
  • Deliverance from the primary result of legality (v.26)

The Right and Wrong Use of Liberty, Love Emphasized (vv.13-15)

13 For “ye” have been called to liberty, brethren; only do not turn liberty into an opportunity to the flesh, but by love serve one another. v.13 Just because we are not under law doesn’t mean we have liberty to act in the flesh. There is a danger for those who have been trapped in the legal system, once they leave it, to cast off all restraint; e.g. 1 Sam. 14:32. Very often Christian liberty is used as an excuse for self-will and even sin. But divine love is the true motive for Christian service.
14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself;” [Lev. 19:18] v.14 The man-ward part of the law is fulfilled by the command to love (see Matt. 22:35-40). Love is the proper use of liberty… not self-service. The Mosaic law is the lowest standard possible for God to have fellowship with man. Our standard is far higher (Gal. 6:2). We exceed the Mosaic law by loving after the pattern of Christ.
15 but if ye bite and devour one another, see that ye are not consumed one of another. v.15 The Galatians were the best test case Paul could point to for the kind of behavior that results from trying to keep the law for a holy life. How sad! They were not serving one another by love… they were tearing each other apart! In fact, they were in danger of being “consumed” in their biting and quarreling. This is a common symptom of groups of believers where legality has made inroads; constant competition and infighting.

The Law Cannot Control the Flesh, but the Spirit Can! (vv.16-18)

¶ 16 But I say, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall no way fulfil flesh’s lust. v.16 What is the means of producing Christian holiness? The law? No. The only way to enjoy deliverance from sin is to “walk in the Spirit”. To walk in the Spirit is to think, act, and talk in the sphere of the Spirit’s occupation; i.e. the interests of Christ. To walk in the Spirit is to obey every impulse of the indwelling Spirit. A good illustration has been used of an automobile. You can have the most powerful engine under the hood, but that engine is useless at the bottom of a hill if there is no gas in the tank. The engine is like the new nature… it has capacity and desire to please God. But it required the activity of the Spirit of God (the gasoline) to power it. The Christian has the Spirit of God indwelling, but there is a need to occupy ourselves with the things of the Spirit (like filling our tank), so the Spirit will have liberty to act.
17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these things are opposed one to the other, that ye should not do those things which ye desire; v.17 Why is walking in the Spirit the only way of getting deliverance from sin? Because there is a conflict between the flesh and the Spirit. The only thing that can oppose the flesh is the Spirit. The last part of v.17 is very commonly misunderstood; “that ye should not do those things which ye desire”. This is not the same as Rom. 7. This verse is saying that the Spirit is what will allow you liberty from the desires of the flesh. The “things I would” in Rom. 7 are the desires of the new nature… which he can’t perform. The “things ye would” in Gal. 5 are the flesh’s desires… which we don’t have to fulfill.
18 but if ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under law. v.18 Paul lays stress on the point that deliverance and a holy life do not come from being under the law. When someone is in bondage under law, the Spirit does not have liberty to lead them. The two are mutually exclusive.
Three soul conflicts. There are three soul conflicts spoken of in the New Testament.
# Reference  Combatants
Solution to the conflict Applies to:
(1) Rom. 7:7-25 The old nature & the new nature  Believe the Gospel and be sealed A quickened soul that is not sealed
(2) Gal. 5:16-25 The flesh & the Spirit  Give the Spirit its proper place  A Christian that is in a bad state
(3) Eph. 6:10-20 A Christian & the Devil  Put on the whole armor of God  A Christian that is in a good state

The Law Cannot Produce Christ-like Qualities, but the Spirit Can! (vv.19-23)

19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornication, uncleanness, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strifes, jealousies, angers, contentions, disputes, schools of opinion, 21a envyings, murders, drunkennesses, revels, and things like these; vv.19-21a The Works of the Flesh. The terrible and unchanging character of the flesh is now presented. These sins are called “works” as opposed to “fruit” because they are produced by the efforts of man under law (v.18). Actually, the law only inflames the flesh and will result in the outcropping of these works (see Rom. 7:8-14, the experience of a quickened soul under law). Being put under law will only encourage the flesh to rise up and break the commandment. It is like putting blood in front of a shark. Another point to remember is that the flesh is capable of the same things in believers as the sins of unbelievers; c.p. this list with the catalog in Romans.
Category Sins against…  Romans Galatians
moral our bodies  Rom. 1:24-27 Gal.5:19
spiritual God  Rom. 1:21-23 Gal. 5:20a
social fellow man  Rom. 1:28-32 Gal. 5:20b-21a
21b as to which I tell you beforehand, even as I also have said before, that they who do such things shall not inherit God’s kingdom. v.21b Those who habitually practice these things and are characterized by them will be damned. This is not talking about a brother overtaken in a fault (Gal. 6:1). See also Eph. 5:5-6. The apostle’s point is that God judges the sinner for their actual sins, not merely for rejecting the gospel. Paul brings this out to show believers the seriousness of sin, not to bring into question their Eternal Security.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is (1) love, (2) joy, (3) peace, (4) long-suffering, (5) kindness, (6) goodness, (7) fidelity, 23a (8) meekness, (9) self-control: vv.22-23a The Fruit of the Spirit. The Spirit produces both good “works” and “fruit”. But here “works” aren’t taken up so much as “fruit”. Fruit is the moral features of Christ reproduced in the life of the believer. Works (plural) flow from that character (singular). Fruit is the effortless product of the new nature given liberty through the Spirit. Just as a plant bears fruit true to its species (Matt. 7:16), the fruit of the Spirit will be Christ-like qualities.
23b against such things there is no law. v.23b The law cannot control the flesh (vv.16-18) and cannot produce the fruit of the Spirit (vv.19-21) but this verse shows is that the law is not against these Christ-like qualities. We must remember when taking up this subject that the law is not evil, and it is not our enemy. “The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Rom. 7:12). The problem is with us… our sin nature. The law in itself is not bad, but law-keeping is a bad idea.

Normal Christianity with Regard to the Flesh and the Spirit (vv.24-25)

24 But they that are of the Christ have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts. v.24 To be a Christian is to have accepted God’s judgement on the flesh (Rom. 8:3). This is a one-time thing done when we receive Christ as our Savior. When we believed the gospel we said ‘Amen’ to God’s judgment of the flesh at Calvary. There is an ongoing need for circumcision (see Col. 3:5), but that is a different thought.
Three things that the cross delivers us from:
  1. Gal. 3:13 – the cross delivers us from the law.
  2. Gal. 5:24 – the cross delivers us from the flesh.
  3. Gal. 6:14 – the cross delivers us from the world.
25 If we live by the Spirit, let us walk also by the Spirit. v.25 This is an exhortation to walk consistently. We have been sealed with the Spirit of God, and now our Christian state is, in the absolute sense, “in the spirit” (see Rom. 8:9). We must walk practically in that sphere. You might say, ‘since we are fish, let us swim in the water’. 

Deliverance from the Primary Result of Legality (v.26)

26 Let us not become vain-glorious, provoking one another, envying one another. v.26 Failure to walk in the spirit had resulted in fleshly competition. Paul has presented the solution.

Liberty in Action: Results of “Walking in the Spirit” (6:1-10)

Liberty… Restores a Fallen Brother: A Legalist Wouldn’t (v.1)

Brethren, if even a man be taken in some fault, ye who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of meekness, considering thyself lest “thou” also be tempted. v.1 Legalism occupies us with self and hardens us toward a fallen brother. Grace is disposed to restore. The onus is on those who are spiritual. “Ye which are spiritual” refers to those who are walking in the Spirit, and enjoying true liberty. It is also a rebuke to the legalists, who boasted themselves of great spirituality, but were in fact acting in the flesh. A legalist wouldn’t restore a fallen brother, because he views the one that sinned as inferior to himself; “the Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican” (Luke 18:11). Restoration ought to be done in the spirit or attitude of “meekness” (Gal. 5:23), which is not giving offense, and “lowliness” (Eph. 4:2) which is not taking offense. The only thought we should have of ourselves is, “I could have done the same thing.” To be clear, the class of wicked persons (1 Cor. 5) should not be confused with one who is “overtaken in a fault”. 

Liberty…Undertakes for Others in the Sorrows and Cares of Life (v.2)

¶ 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfil the law of the Christ. v.2 The second thing a liberated soul can do is bear the burdens of others. The word ‘burdens’ here is different than in v.5. Here it is ‘baros’, and it has the thought of a pressure which can be transferred to another or shared. A different word for “burden” is used in v.5. If we do bear one another’s burdens, we will actually fulfil a law… not the law of Moses, but “the law of Christ”. The law of Christ is the Christian’s standard, and it is far higher than the law of Moses. What did Christ do? We read, for example in Isa. 53:4 that He lived a life of total sacrifice for others. This is our standard! (Note that there is no curse attached to the law of Christ.)

Liberty…Remains Humble in Service (v.3)

3 For if any man reputes himself to be something, being nothing, he deceives himself; v.3 The third thing a liberated soul can do is maintain a humble spirit in their service. Legalism leads to pride and a sense of self-accomplishment. The law says, “love your neighbor”, but meanwhile occupies one with self. The principle of works always occupied one with self. If we keep some part of the law, we are filled with pride. If we fail in some part (always will), we are filled with self-disappointment. Grace makes nothing at all of man, because it rests all on the finished work of Christ. Therefore, the mind is free to be occupied with others, and not self. This is perhaps a rebuke at the false apostles among the Galatians who were propping themselves up to be something great, when they were really nothing. They were fooling themselves.

Liberty…Conscientiously Fulfils Individual Responsibilities (vv.4-5)

4 but let each prove his own work, and then he will have his boast in what belongs to himself alone, and not in what belongs to another. 5 For each shall bear his own burden. vv.4-5 The fourth thing a liberated soul can do it be faithful in “his own work”. We are all responsible for our own labour and its results. The Judaizers were stealing the fruit of Paul’s labors. The word for ‘burden’ in v.5 is a different Greek word than in v.2. It is the word ‘phortion’ has the thought of a special load, like freight assigned to a ship. It is not wrong to share our sorrows with others (v.2), but it is wrong to push our responsibilities off on others (v.5).

Liberty…Abounds in Generosity and Good Works (vv.6-10)

¶ 6 Let him that is taught in the word communicate to him that teaches in all good things. v.6 God’s way of supporting the ministry of his word. This is individual (collective in Phil. 4:14-16) and it is the exercise of the one giving.
¶ 7 Be not deceived: God is not mocked; for whatever a man shall sow, that also shall he reap. vv.7-8 the government of God brought in. It works both ways. It is something we are easily deceived about.
8a For he that sows to his own flesh, shall reap corruption from the flesh; v.8a This is governmental judgement. Sometimes God will mitigate the consequences if there is repentance.
8b but he that sows to the Spirit, from the Spirit shall reap eternal life: v.8b The reaping will be in the spiritual realm, not the natural realm. Some erroneously teach that we will reap materially. Eternal life here is looked at (usually in Paul’s ministry) as something the believer will have in glory – a future aspect. In John’s ministry it is looked at as a present possession.
9 but let us not lose heart in doing good; for in due time, if we do not faint, we shall reap. v.9 The reaping time (for sowing to the Spirit) isn’t now. It is easy to lose heart. We need to be reminded of the coming day of manifestation and just be occupied with grace.
10 So then, as we have occasion, let us do good towards all, and specially towards those of the household of faith. v.10 The exhortation “do good to all” is very broad. But our first responsibility is towards “the household of faith”. We are to actively look for opportunities to do good. Doing good can often nicely be coupled with presenting the gospel.
Liberty in Action:
  • Liberty… restores a fallen brother (v.1)
  • Liberty… undertakes for others in the sorrows/cares of Life (v.2)
  • Liberty… remains humble in service (v.3)
  • Liberty… faithfully executes individual responsibilities (vv.4-5)
  • Liberty… abounds in generosity and good works (vv.6-10)

Conclusion: A Summary, Motives of Both Sides Exposed (6:11-18)

¶ 11 See how long a letter [in how large letters] I have written to you with my own hand. v.11 in those days, busy people would dictate and a scribe would write. The only Epistles Paul wrote out personally were Galatians and Philemon. Otherwise he added his signature (II Thess. 3:17) to validate it. However, this letter was of such urgent importance that Paul wanted to hold the pen. Result: block letters. Some think eyesight was involved (Gal. 4:15). It shows his deep concern. Personal references are absent – perhaps because of their low state.
vv.12-13 The Judaizers’ motives are exposed: self-glorification, fellowship with the world, and a life of ease.
12 As many as desire to have a fair appearance in the flesh, these compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not be persecuted because of the cross of Christ. v.12 If you can get someone to jump through hoops then you have got them under your control. This is often the goal of those who spread legalism.
13 For neither do they that are circumcised themselves keep the law; but they wish you to be circumcised, that they may boast in your flesh. v.13 The Judaizers weren’t living holy lives either. They were trying to bring the Galatians under law to get a following, not to produce holiness.
14b But far be it from me to boast save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, v.14a The glory of the flesh compared to the shame of the cross. For the Christian, everything that the world glories in has lost its charm. The cross is the end of it.
14b through whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world. v.14b The cross delivers us from the world because it declares that the world is at open war with God. It goes both ways: (1) it takes me out of the world, and (2) takes the world out of me. Think of two countries in a state of war.
15 For in Christ Jesus neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision; but new creation. v.15 Ceremony and forms belong to the fallen old creation. The death of Christ has delivered us from the old creation, and His resurrection has brought us into the new creation. Ceremony or no ceremony have no status… all God sees in the new creation is Christ.
16 And as many [Gentiles] as shall walk by this rule, peace upon them and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. v.16 measure everything by this rule (not the law). “This rule” refers to the new creation – or Christ Himself. The Law is NOT the Christian’s rule of life… Christ is. To govern our moral behavior, ask this question: is it in support of the new creation? or the old? Paul prayed for peace and mercy upon two classes:
  • as many” – Referring to the majority, the Gentile believers among the Galatians.
  • The Israel of God” – The only part of Israel acknowledge by God – the believing Jews. In his warnings against the effect of the Judaizers, Paul remembers that there is still an election according to Grace (Romans 11:5).
¶ 17 For the rest let no one trouble me, for “I” bear in my body the brands of the Lord Jesus. v.17 Having fully defended the gospel by the power and inspiration of God, Paul has made a watertight case. “For the rest”, the only remaining option for the Judaizers to trouble Paul on his mission would be a personal attack… portraying his motives as selfish. The brands of the Lord Jesus (scars of persecution) would prove Paul’s faithfulness to the cross, and silence every month. The brands of the Lord Jesus are contrasted here with circumcision. These wounds were inflicted by Jews, mostly. The thought of brands brings to mind the brands used on a slave to mark them with the name of their owner. Paul’s scars showed that his master was the Lord Jesus.
18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren. Amen. v.18 The law brings the curse, but Paul prays for grace. Also, legality had made their spirits harsh. It can be very hard to take a stern rebuke like the book of Galatians; therefore, it was needful that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with their spirit.
Having a right spirit is very important. As the Father of spirits (Heb. 12:9), the Lord is correcting our attitude:
  1. 2 Timothy 4:22. It is easy to get a bad attitude when we look around a see failure in a day of public ruin.
  2. Galatians 6:18. It is easy to get a bad attitude when we have been carrying on in a legal way, and when we have been corrected.
  3. Philemon 25. It is easy to have a bad attitude when called on to forgive one who has offended us.

Can you provide comments, suggestions, or corrections?