Galatians + notes

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Galatians 1

1    Paul, an apostle, appointed not by men nor through man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father who raised him from among the dead,

Nobody can be appointed to serve God by anyone other than God Himself. Often today, ‘church authorities’ or congregations appoint men into ‘the ministry’ without consulting God at all.

2    and all the brethren with me, to the assemblies of Galatia.

Importantly, the fellowships addressed are assemblies (ecclesia), specifically not ‘churches’—‘ecclesia’ means ‘the assembly of the called out ones.’

3    Grace to you, and peace, from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ,

4    who gave himself for our sins, so that he might liberate us from this present corrupt age, according to the will of our God and Father,

We are called to a sinless, victorious life before God, here on earth, not just a ticket to heaven when we die. So God gives us true liberty in Christ—freedom from sin, our flesh and the corruptions of the society we live among.

5    to whom is the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

6    I am amazed that you are so quickly forsaking Christ, who called you into his own grace, to follow a different gospel,

7    though there is no other, but some, who are determined to negate the gospel of Christ, are subverting you.

This is serious stuff. We have but one gospel to accept and live by, fully described in the pages of the Bible, and confirmed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. If we accept a garbled version from somewhere, or somebody, else (generally in “the church”) we will find we have forsaken Christ and are lost. This is why Paul is so upset.

8    But if we, or even an angel from heaven, should bring a gospel to you other than the one we proclaimed to you, may he be damned!

9    As we used to say before, and I’m now saying again, if anyone brings you a gospel contrary to what you accepted, let him be damned!

Paul is expressing his righteous anger at those who deceive the saints—and reaffirming that no variations of the gospel are valid.

10  Do I seek favour with people now, or God? Or do I seek to please people? If I have been pleasing people, I would not have been the slave of Christ.

People pleasers have to be disobedient to God because what people want to hear is contrary to what God is saying, but a slave of Christ cannot be disobedient. If we choose to please other people, we become slaves of people and lose our relationship with Christ.

11  But I can assure you, brethren, that the gospel I preached was not man’s invention

Contrary to modern claims by liberal theologians, Paul was not, in any sense, the originator of the doctrines of Christianity, nor did he ever claim to be. Here he specifically rejects the notion.

12  as I didn’t receive it from any man, nor was I taught it by men, but by revelation from Jesus Christ.

“But don’t worry—the gospel I gave you is totally fit for purpose since it was passed to you accurately and completely, uncontaminated by the thoughts of fallen man.”

13  For you will have heard about my past conduct in Judaism, how I hounded and devastated the assembly of God beyond measure,

Saul was notorious among the early believers for his relentless antagonism towards them, demonstrating the irrational fury of non-believers (which, of course, Paul was at the time) against the people of God.

14  and I excelled in Judaism beyond many of my associates among my people, being far more zealous for the customs of my fathers.

These customs were the oral traditions which the rabbis had wrapped around the written scriptures to define, elaborate, extend, legalise, and insulate the people from the truths of God. Paul’s passionate commitment took him to the top of the class.

15  But God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, delighted

Here we see how God’s calling, on each of us, starts before we were born.

16  to reveal his Son in me that I might announce him as good news to the Gentiles.

Immediately, without conferring with flesh and blood,

He also ‘delights’ to reveal His Son in us; it’s only our own lack of faith which holds Him back. Paul has, terribly early in his Christian walk, realised that all truth, all explanation, all understanding, must come through the Holy Spirit, not through any man, and specifically not his own flesh’s intellectual abilities.

17  nor even going to those in Jerusalem who were apostles before me, I went away to Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.

To go to Jerusalem would have put the other apostles on a ‘leadership’ footing which Jesus had expressly forbidden when He had told the disciples, ‘it shall not be so among you,’ referring to the Gentiles’ practice of governmental hierarchy.

So he went to Arabia, in the wilderness, to commune with the Holy Spirit and get briefed on the teaching, the doctrine, the practices, and the foundations of the faith.

18  Three years later I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him for fifteen days.

This was to reassure himself that Peter’s gospel was on a sure footing, not to find out what he could learn from Peter, nor to get Peter’s approval, as he was perfectly confident in what God had already taught him. I imagine that their discussions during that time were very animated and very blessed.

19  I met none of the other apostles apart from James, the Lord’s brother.

20  (With regard to what I’m writing, before God, I am not lying!)

He is determined to make the point that we are not to seek the truth from men, whoever they may be (including this site), but to listen to the Holy Spirit alone, confirming what we have learned by consulting the scriptures. He is also still explaining his own qualifications.

The insistence on listening to the Spirit, followed by seeking confirmation through the Word, means that the Word (the Bible) is not to be used in isolation to get direction from God, not even the letters of Paul. Without the active input of the Holy Spirit while we are reading, “the letter kills,” but “the Spirit gives life.”

21  After that I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia,

22  my face unknown to the assemblies of Christ in Judea.

23  They simply heard, “the man who once persecuted us is now spreading the good news—the faith he once devastated,”

24  and they glorified God on my account.

Once they saw that God had turned their biggest enemy into their strongest advocate, they glorified Him; for who else could have done so? Paul, in his humility, never wants us to forget that he was the foremost enemy of the gospel and that it was entirely God’s grace that turned him around.

Galatians 2

1    Then, fourteen years later I went up to Jerusalem again with Barnabas, and took Titus with me too.

Fourteen years without any teaching or training from men: Paul had learned, at the deepest level, that we don’t learn from preachers or books—not even the Bible—even though they can help, we learn all we need from the Holy Spirit, and simply confirm that we truly are hearing the Holy Spirit, and not hearing from evil spirits, by checking everything against the Bible. The Bible is truth, but it is not ‘life’ on its own, it needs to be applied to our hearts by the Spirit.

2    I went in obedience to a revelation and explained to them the gospel I preach among the Gentiles, in case somehow I should run or had run [the race] for nothing; but only to those considered to be of some eminence,

Paul wanted to recheck that the gospel which was being preached in Jerusalem had not become corrupted by the enemy’s agents. He chose those who were seen to be important, not because he accepted any positions of authority in the assembly, but because they would be clearest on the details of the teaching. If their gospel was different, all would be lost.

3    and not even Titus, who accompanied me, was forced to be circumcised, despite being a Greek.

One wonders how much inspection of willies went on in those days! The thought that they might even know he was uncircumcised is strange today, but the idea that they might actually force someone to be circumcised is appalling!

4    This was because some false brethren were brought in secretly, sneaking in to spy out the liberty we have in Christ Jesus, in order to enslave us,

These activities must have been back where Paul was serving, not in Jerusalem, and they were presumably Judean legalists who wished to discredit ‘the Way.’

5    to whom we did not give way for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel would be preserved for you.

Paul, however, alerted to their schemes by the Holy Spirit, stood up to their corrupt contributions, and thereby blocked their lies from corrupting the gospel and deceiving the disciples.

6    Yet those who seemed to be important—whatever they may have been is of no consequence to me as God recognises no man’s position—the ones who were respected added nothing to my interpretation.

Paul is glad to report that the elders in Jerusalem had no quibbles at all with even the fine detail of his version of the gospel, so they could stand in unity. Oddly this despite his written unease at their ‘importance’ and ‘position.’ They may not have had any argument with Paul’s interpretation of the gospel, but their practice was already getting corrupted, in that they were allowing positions of importance.

7    To the contrary, they saw that I had been tasked with taking the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the circumcised,

8    since he who was at work in Peter as apostle to the circumcised was also operating in me for the Gentiles.

Since it was clear that Christ, by the Holy Spirit, was working in Paul, just as He was working in Peter, they accepted him as a brother apostle: a regular disciple with an ‘apostle gifting.’ All our labours in the kingdom of God have to be initiated, directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit (done by the indwelling Jesus) or they will be works of the flesh, and burned up at the last.

9    Recognising the grace given to me, James, Cephas and John—who were regarded as pillars—extended the right hand of fellowship to me and Barnabas, and concurred that we should go to the nations while they would go to the circumcised.

Paul has clarified his commission from the Lord to the Galatian readers, but he cannot resist a slightly sarcastic dig at the ‘pillars’ of the Jerusalem assembly, knowing that all ranks are specifically excluded from the kingdom of God.

10  They just wanted us to remember the poor—exactly what I was zealous to do.

Caring for the poor, orphans and widows has always been core to those who would follow Jesus, as He taught us to. But, this does not necessarily mean giving them money, or even food, since that kind of giving, particularly in the West, can easily be toxic. Jesus served them by giving them the gospel and dying for them on the cross. We have to seek the Lord for how He would want us each to ‘remember’ them, just as we have to follow Him in everything.

11  But when Peter came to Antioch I confronted him, as he was in the wrong

Even with Peter’s revelation of truth, he could still fall into sin.

12  as, until a number of men came from James, he ate with the Gentile believers, but once they came he pulled back and separated himself from them, in fear of the Jews,

Presumably, these Jews were arguing for circumcision, which would imply that James too, was slipping. Fear of man will always lead us into sin.

13  so the other Jewish believers joined him in his hypocrisy. Even Barnabas was drawn into their error.

This was because Peter was seen as a ‘pillar’ so the others would be looking to him to model the life of a disciple; once he conceded ground to the circumcision crew, they felt they had some kind of permission to do the same. We can never base our behaviour on someone else, only on the perfect standard of Christ.

14  So when I saw that their behaviour was not straight in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If, though you are Jewish, you now live as the Gentiles do and not as the Jews, why are you forcing the Gentiles to live as Jews?

Here we see that Peter, and presumably the other Jewish believers, had discarded their traditional adherence to the Torah, and were living “as the Gentiles do,” as they were all well aware that the law was useless to them.

15  Unlike the Gentile ‘sinners,’ we Jews by birth

Here Paul differentiates, not to insult the Gentile believers, but to point out that the basis of the revelation is the law, to which the Jews alone would normally have had access, and their subsequent vain attempts to obey it fully.

16  have learned that man is not justified by performing the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, so we have put our faith in Christ Jesus, so we would be justified by the faith of Christ and not by carrying out the law, because no one will be justified by obeying the law.”

If we live by the faith of Jesus, we are justified by the faith of Jesus. If we try to live by the law we cannot be justified. Here Paul concludes his speech to Peter “before them all” and moves on to clarifying the point for the Galatian readers.

17  So if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we are found to be sinners, would that mean Christ accommodates sin? Of course not!

“We are found to be sinners” here because we are trying to obey the law, which means we must live by the flesh: law + flesh = sin. This attempt is not by faith, and therefore has nothing to do with Christ.

18  If I rebuild what I demolished, I prove myself a sinner,

19  for through the law I died to the law, so I could live to God.

This rebuilding means the entire edifice of the law which was destroyed by faith when we are born again. Once we try to obey the law, it convicts us, but we are dead to the law, so we cannot even try to obey it. Once we live by faith we can, and do, live to God.

20  I am crucified with Christ and live no more, but Christ lives in me, so now I live in my body by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me

This life is often referred to as ‘the crucified life’ which means that the old sin nature is dead in Christ (and buried in baptism) so we cannot draw from it at all. Now we draw from Christ’s life and His faith which even animates our bodies, enabling us to live the victorious, overcoming life by His transcendent life dwelling in us. In the flesh we have abilities which we cannot avoid using without falling into passivism; we also have ‘soul power’ which we are forbidden from using as it is Satan’s main resource in defying God.

21  so I don’t frustrate the grace of God. For if righteousness is through the law, then Christ died for nothing.

So the grace of God is not wasted on us. If we try to obey the law, at any level, in order to earn our salvation, like celebrating Shabbat or the festivals, or eating kosher food, we cancel out the value of Christ’s sacrifice (for us) and lose our salvation. All is from God, nothing is from us.

Paul has possibly laboured the point, but this is because he understands human nature and knows that many will be deceived into trying to obey the law—even some who are not actually Jewish or Hebrew by descent, who were never under the law even historically. He also knows prophetically that such deception is coming and that many will fall, so he wants it to be absolutely clear to every reader. If we then choose to try to earn our own righteousness apart from Christ’s perfect sacrifice then we have only ourselves to blame.

Galatians 3

1    Undiscerning Galatians! Who is bewitching you to disbelieve the truth before your eyes, when in your midst Jesus Christ was clearly shown as crucified?

The Galatians have been given the truth, confirmed by miracles and healings, yet they are being led back into the dreary failures of legalism—and they are not making a fuss! This situation is exactly what spiritual warfare is about; we are supposed to use our gift of discernment to diagnose the problem and then fight back using the power of the Holy Spirit.

2    All I want to learn from you is: did you receive the Spirit by obeying the law, or by believing what you heard?

Paul is saying, “think about it guys, how did it start? what worked and why?”

3    You are so foolish! If you start in the Spirit, how can you reach perfection in the flesh?

We cannot add a single brick by the flesh to a building that Jesus is building in the Spirit—the two processes are entirely incompatible. So when we start in the Spirit, we must continue to perfection in the Spirit; adding anything in the flesh will destroy the entire edifice.

4    You have suffered so much to no purpose; if it was to no purpose.

Now we discover that they have already suffered to gain what they have and Paul is amazed that they are prepared to waste that suffering by effectively starting again in the flesh—a process doomed to failure.

5    So then, does he who gives you the Spirit and works among you in power, do so because you obey the law, or because you believed what you heard,

If we turn to obedience to the law, we also turn to the flesh, so we reject the sacrifice of Christ and jettison our salvation. Poor choice. We don’t obey the law by the Spirit, we obey Christ, and thereby reveal the nature of God.

6    just as Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness?

Faith in God, (that He is honest, true and holy, good, gracious and eternal, etc,) is the bottom line. Faith is what God is looking for in us, initially. Abraham’s faith, to the point of actually raising the knife to sacrifice Isaac, allowed God to reciprocate according to the rules of covenant and send Jesus to die in our place.

7    Know then, that those who believe are the ones descended from Abraham

So, as we believe in Jesus, and accept His perfect sacrifice in humility, we can claim, and look to, Abraham as our spiritual ancestor.

8    as scripture foretold that God would justify the Gentiles by faith when he gave Abraham the good news that, “all nations will be blessed in you,”

God told Abraham the gospel at this time, not scripture, since the scripture which says so was not written until long after Abraham was gone. Here we see the prophetic nature of that declaration, and our (Gentile) consequent access into the kingdom of God by faith.

9    so those who believe are blessed together with Abraham who believed.

It’s all about faith: is God true, or is He a liar? If we see that He is eternally true and cannot lie, we have access into His family.

10  But whoever lives by the law is under a curse, as it is written, “everyone who doesn’t fulfill everything written in the scroll of the law is under a curse,”

The law is utterly unforgiving: even one tiny slip breaks the entire edifice, and no one (apart from Jesus Himself) has ever been able to obey it perfectly. Which obviously means that everyone is under the curse without Christ; whether they try to obey the law or not.

11  and it is clear that no one can be justified before God by the law since, “by faith the righteous will live,”

We’re not just to believe, we’re supposed to draw our very life from the Son of God by that faith so that nothing we do draws upon the flesh as its source of power in any sense. If everything we do is by faith in His provision, He will live out His transcendent, overcoming life in us and through us, and there will be “no condemnation” for any of us! We will be righteous, and we will truly live! And “everything which is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).

12  and the law is not by faith since, “the one who follows the laws will live by [perfectly fulfilling] them.”

In other words, the only way to win life by the law is to perfectly fulfil every single command and never slip up in any way, which we have seen is impossible without Christ standing in for us.

13  Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming that curse on our behalf, for it is written, “everyone who is hanged from a tree is cursed,”

Here we see that the “curse of the law” does not just apply to the Hebrews: the Gentiles, who didn’t have the law, would also be under a curse if hanged from a tree.

14  so that Abraham’s blessing would come to the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, and we could obtain the promised Spirit by faith.

Abraham becomes the father of all who, by faith, are in Christ Jesus, whether they are Hebrew or Gentile. Christ had to fulfil the Abrahamic promise and become a curse, for everyone.

15  Brethren, in ordinary life, even with human covenants no one can augment or nullify them once ratified,

A covenant (like God’s official promise to Abraham) is a sealed arrangement which cannot legally be changed by subsequent events.

16  and the promises were given to Abraham and his Seed. It doesn’t say “and to seeds,” meaning many, but “and to your Seed,” meaning just one, the Christ.

The promise is fulfilled in Abraham and in Christ. So it becomes ours once we are in Christ and inherit all that is in Him.

17  What I am saying is that the law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, cannot cancel the covenant previously confirmed by God in Christ, and thus invalidate the promise.

Paul is pointing out the impossibility of cancelling or amending the promise by looking to the law; a problem for the legalists among us and the Jews of Paul’s day. If we try to add law, in any form, to the promises of God, we don’t negate the promise in any universal sense, we simply cancel it’s effect on ourselves individually and lose our claim on Christ, and therefore our inheritance in Him.

18  For if the inheritance is by the law it is no longer by the promise; but God graciously grants it, in accordance with the promise to Abraham.

The inheritance is ours in Christ, not through obedience to the law, but because God honours the Abrahamic promise. Abraham never received the inheritance, he only ‘saw’ the fulfilment of the promise by faith, as he died long before the Seed appeared among us. Most translations wrongly imply that he received it.

19  So what is the law for? It was added to expose violations until the coming of the Seed to whom the promise was made. It was appointed through angels in the hand of a mediator,

There was plenty of sin about before the law was given, but without the law it is not counted against anyone. God, however, wanted to bring us freedom from sin so we could be in fellowship with Him, so He used the law to show the depth of our bondage to corruption, and our utter helplessness to escape, so we would turn to Him and be redeemed through the promise. The ultimate penalty of the law was death, which everyone was already headed for anyway, so, while it might sound harsh, God didn’t actually make anything worse for anyone by bringing the law; He simply set up a signpost and, in Christ, opened the door to freedom for anyone who wanted it.

The mediator in terms of the law was Moses but, being just a fallen man, he could offer no solution to the ruptured relationship between God and man.

20  and no mediator reconciles just one—but God is one.

The role of mediator in terms of the promise is filled by Jesus, so the reason for reminding us that mediators require two parties to represent, is so that Paul can make the point that Christ, the mediator, and God, one of the parties concerned, are actually one. Jesus is not separate from the Father, so He is not placating an angry God with His intervention, He is truly, and personally, expressing the exact wish of the Father.

21  So is the law at odds with the promises of God? Of course not—if the given law had been able to impart life, righteousness really would have been by the law.

The first thing to note is that righteousness absolutely requires new life. Our old (fallen) nature was utterly corrupt and irredeemable—and so it had to die. And the law, good and true though it was, through the corruption of our old sin nature, could only minister death (the letter kills), so we were doomed. To save us, God had to replace our old life with new: with His immortal life! And once we have His life, we are not simply alive from the dead, we are fine tuned for fellowship with God.

22  But Scripture held everyone captive to sin, so that the promise, gained by the faith of Jesus Christ, could be given to those who believe.

The law showed that no one, neither Jew nor Gentile, could possibly be justified by keeping the law, as all are under sin, so righteousness could be reckoned to all who believe. Also note that the fulfilment of the promise was “by the faith of Jesus Christ”—He gained it by His own faith.

23  And before the faith came we were imprisoned by the law, held captive for the faith about to be revealed.

Again we see that the primary edicts of the law applied, not simply to the Hebrews to whom they were given, but to everyone else as well, so we were all locked up by the definitions of the law, until salvation by the faith of Christ was made available to everyone.

24  So the law became our warder, conducting us to Christ, so we could be justified by faith,

Not only did the law define us all as sinners, it also prophesied the Christ and commanded all to believe in Him and obey Him. So those who had the law (the Hebrews) should have simply come to faith in Jesus and been saved.

25  and since the faith has come we are no longer under guard,

This faith is the faith we find in Jesus, made available for our salvation, not something we have to muster ourselves to be saved. Now that it is freely available, the law’s grip on us is broken—it no longer (officially) governs anyone. Jesus “nailed it to the tree,” so its power is broken.

26  for you are all children of God through the faith [which is] in Christ Jesus.

But we do have to believe to avail ourselves of this salvation.

27  All who were baptized into Christ clothed themselves with Christ:

Being baptised automatically clothes us with Christ, it is not a separate act.

28  there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, not even male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,

All worldly distinctions become meaningless once we are in Christ, even our sexual distinctives.

29  and if you belong to Christ, then you are the Seed of Abraham, and heirs in line with the promise.

Since the ‘you’s here are plural, Paul is addressing the assembly (ecclesia) of God as the “Seed (singular) of Abraham” which we are corporately because we are in Christ, the Seed. As a result, because we are His body, we inherit all that was promised to the Seed.

Most translations imply that we are ‘seeds’ of Abraham, but they only have to remember back to verse 16 to see that that is not the situation.

Galatians 4

1    What I’m saying is that, while the heir is a child he is no more influential than a slave: though he is master of the estate

The idea being that the child, though he is truly the heir, has no say in the daily running of his inheritance until he reaches maturity, not that he is treated as a slave.

2    he remains subject to guardians and governors until the time set by his father.

The guardians here are not the law, since no one could properly obey it, but the corrupt principles of the world system which Satan devised to entrap all humanity.

3    So we too, when we were children, were enslaved under the principles of the world,

Until we repent and turn to God, we are spiritually immature and slaves to all the principles of the world. So until Jesus came to redeem us, we were stuck on a one way trip to death.

4    but when the time was completed, God sent his Son, born of a woman and born under law,

The time seems to be simply when God decided it should be. Since He was the origin of the prophecies, they all pointed to the same time for the first appearance of the Christ. Those who were custodians of the prophecies were therefore responsible to watch for Him, recognise Him and accept Him on behalf of the people. This they utterly failed to do: only the magi and a couple of individuals in the temple were seriously watching.

The importance of Jesus’s qualifications is that, to fully represent us before God, He had to be a normal man, ie, born of a woman into normal human flesh; and to redeem us from the law, He had to be perfectly subject to the law, ie, ruled by it but never condemned by it. Jesus, as the true Son of God (not of Joseph), was never subject to Satan’s world system so He was perfectly qualified to redeem us.

5    to redeem those under the law so we could gain the position of sons.

Most translations refer to adoption here, implying that we are not proper sons. This is not true, so I have used alternative wording: in Christ, we receive His true sonship as our own, just as we receive all that is in Him.

6    And since you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying “Abba, Father,”

God, in His eternal grace, sends the Holy Spirit of Jesus to confirm to us that we are truly His sons, not just fostered or servants or slaves or subjects—actually sons! So when God looks at us, He sees Jesus and His perfect holiness, not as a screen but as our very essence, and so we may approach the Father.

7    so you are no longer a slave but a son; and since you’re a son, you’re also an heir of God, through Christ.

Sonship in no way removes our need to turn utterly away from sin in all its forms: our inheritance lays some very serious responsibilities on us.

8    Before, having no knowledge of God, you were enslaved to things that, by their very nature, are not gods,

Idolatry, by its nature, sets up rules for living which we have to attempt to obey using our flesh, or else wear a mask to hide our failure. Tackling our membership of the kingdom of God in this way is exactly what “the church” has always done, thus guaranteeing our failure and powerlessness. It also bars us from real membership of the kingdom of God and thus any kind of relationship with Him, and we also lose our claim to eternal life.

9    but now, knowing God, or rather being known by God, how are you turning back to those powerless and bankrupt religious principles, willing to be freshly enslaved?

Paul is amazed that, having been given the kingdom, they are quite happy to return to the slave market and be rechained. This he is determined to stop by opening their eyes to their folly.

10  You are observing special days, months, seasons and years!

These would be the Sabbaths, feasts, jubilees, etc which the Hebrews had to observe, not the pagan celebrations which “the church” later introduced, though Paul’s horror would apply even more strongly regarding them. All of these days etc, had just been fulfilled in and by Christ, so to keep them legalistically was (and is) to reject the work of Jesus.

11  I fear for you, that my efforts among you could have been futile.

He’s been working hard, both by teaching and example, to show them the sheer glory of the freedom of their standing before God in Christ, together with the simple but important obligations implied by that freedom.

12  Become as I am, because I am just the same as you. Let no one hurt me in this, brethren, I beg you,

Paul is pointing out that, since he and they are exactly the same in Christ, simply disciples, they should live as he does and stick to the truth; he pleads with them not to injure him by going their own way because he knows they don’t want to hurt him and he wants to win them back to the truth by appealing to their better nature, if he can’t get through to their wisdom.

13  since you know that from the beginning I have always preached the good news to you from the weakness of my flesh,

Here he reminds them that he never resorted to soulish methods when sharing the gospel with them, such as personal charisma, psychology or emotionalism in the power of his soul, or the worldly methods of rhetoric, sophistry, or deception. I doubt he is referring to physical illness as such—just his refusal to use the power of his soul.

14  and that testing in my flesh you neither dismissed nor rejected, but received me as a messenger of God, as Christ Jesus.

Because he always denied his flesh, in fastings, watchings and in his joyful acceptance of persecution, they consequently appreciated the integrity and reality of his witness as it came to them in all the power of the Holy Spirit, so they accepted and loved him without compromise.

15  Where, then, is the joyful gratitude you had? I declare that, if you could, you would have taken out your eyes and given them to me!

They are not only hurting themselves by falling into legalism, but they are also betraying (and thus hurting) Paul, who they used to honour, by rejecting the teaching he laboured so hard to bring them. This is not a reference to Paul having need of their eyes, as some would claim, just an expression of their commitment to him.

16  So have I become your enemy by speaking truth to you?

He reminds them that every teaching he brought was the truth, so how can they turn against him by accepting lies?

17  They zealously desire you, not for good but to separate you from us, so that you may zealously follow them,

The Judaisers are trying to undermine Paul’s teaching by pandering to the old sin natures of the Galatians, which, like ours, yearn for rules to follow. If they succumb, they may be free to promote these lies, but in doing so they will reject their own salvation.

18  though it is good to be zealous, but for good always, and not just when I’m with you.

He has no problem with zealousness, but it has to be for the genuine and approved, that which is truly good, and it has to be consistent—not subject to variation based on who is present.

19  My little ones, with whom I am again in labour until Christ is formed in you,

He addresses these disciples affectionately, even though he is worried, and describes his discomfort and efforts as labour pains, which plainly should not have to be repeated! Interesting to note that he doesn’t suggest correcting their doctrine, even though that is wrong, he is looking to see Christ formed in them—our discipleship is not about having all the right doctrine, but about God revealing Christ in us.

20  I wish I could be with you now and change my tone as I am at a loss regarding you.

He really doesn’t know what to think as they are rejecting freedom for bondage, despite having been rescued once.

21  Tell me, you who want to be under law: don’t you hear what the law says?

They are proving they don’t know what the law is for, nor how to understand it because they are needlessly and dangerously subjecting themselves to it.

22  For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the servant girl and one by the free woman.

So he uses the law itself to prove to them that they must live by faith instead.

23  The one by the maid was born of the flesh, but the one by the free woman was through the promise.

This is a vast difference: one son was the result of the flesh attempting to usurp the promise; the other was God’s real deal.

24  This is allegorical: these women are the two covenants. The one from Mount Sinai produces offspring into slavery, which is Hagar,

The children born under the first covenant are born in slavery… to the law.

25  for Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to today’s Jerusalem which is in bondage with her children.

So the (non-believing) Jews are in perpetual bondage to the law.

26  But the Jerusalem above is free, and is our mother,

27  for it is written, “rejoice, you barren woman who cannot give birth; bring forth a shout of joy, you who don’t labour; as the desolate woman will have many more children than she who has a husband.”

Sarah was the “desolate woman” who begat a child according to the promise of God. In the same way, we were utterly barren when it came to producing freedom from the law, but in Christ we “bring forth a shout of joy” without labour.

28  Now we, brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise

As believers, we inherit all that is in Jesus according to the promise of the new covenant, including eternal life.

29  but, just as then the one born by the flesh persecuted the one born by the Spirit, so it is now.

Jesus said we would be persecuted if we followed Him, and here we see that our main persecutors will be those under the law who believe they are serving God. And if we place ourselves in this camp by our legalisms, we too will find ourselves persecuting Christ.

30  And what does scripture say? Drive out the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son can never be heir with the free woman’s son.

31  So, brethren, we are not offspring of the slave woman but of the free.

Most particularly, in this context, we are free from the demands of the law, but also free from sin and self.

Galatians 5

1    Christ has freed us, so stand firm in that freedom, and never again take up slavery’s yoke.

Now that you are truly free in Christ, hold that freedom dear. This is not just good advice, it’s a command, but this is a New Testament command, not a law from Moses, and Paul backs it up with a full explanation.

2    Take note! I, Paul, tell you that if you resort to circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.

Paul uses circumcision as a token to refer to all the law: any attempt to keep the law, eg, observing Shabbat or eating kosher food would serve to make the point as well. And obviously, if observing Shabbat commits you to keep the whole law, then the first thing you’re going to have to do is get circumcised!

3    I testify again to every man who gets circumcised that he is obligated to keep all the law,

So we see that any observance brings all the law with it, and the automatic failure that goes with that,

4    and whoever tries to be justified by the law has fallen from grace, so you are cut off from Christ.

as well as the termination of our salvation since we discard it by our own free will. So it’s not just the freedom we lose; it’s everything!

5    For we, by faith through the Spirit, await in expectation of righteousness,

This expectation is a certainty to faith, far more than just hope.

6    since, in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision matters, but faith, working through love.

Again, the law has no part to play in the life of a disciple of Jesus, we must deliberately ignore (not break) all the laws as they are not our concern. Faith works through obedient love by the power of the Holy Spirit, not by the flesh following rules.

7    You were running well. Who hindered you from following the truth?

Paul is looking back to when he last saw them when he had no concerns for them, but now they have come off the rails and are returning to legalism.

8    This leading is not from he who calls you,

This corrupted teaching is from the wrong source, not from the Holy Spirit, so they absolutely must reject it—as must we.

9    “A little leaven leavens the whole lump,”

Leaven in scripture is almost always a symbol for sin, so we see that a little sin will soon contaminate everything; there is simply no compromise position on sin, and legalism, because it is an expression of lack of faith, is sin.

10  I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will support no other view; but, whoever he may be, the one who is disturbing you will face judgment.

Paul’s confidence here is built on their reasonable response to this letter.

11  But brethren, if I were still preaching circumcision, why do I continue to be persecuted? For that would remove the offense of the cross.

The reason that Paul and the other disciples and apostles are being persecuted is for “the offense of the cross,” because it nullifies the law and thereby removes the power of the priest class and the Pharisees. The Pharisees particularly existed to obey the laws as totally and accurately as they could, but they tried to do so without faith.

12  If only those interfering with you would cut themselves away!

Many translations assume that Paul would like the Judaisers to castrate themselves! This, clearly, is not what he is saying, as it does not remotely align with Paul’s grace, holiness and walk with Christ. There is still a play on words linking circumcision with cutting, but it is much more on the lines I’ve put here—the cutting off from fellowship which often appears in the Old Testament. I could have put “cut themselves off” but I felt that still could have inaccurately and inappropriately implied mutilation of their private parts.

13  For you were called to freedom, brethren, not freedom to express the flesh, but to serve one another in love.

The freedom that Christ won for us is very deep and far reaching. It includes freedom to serve, but also freedom from sin, freedom from guilt, shame and condemnation, freedom from self, freedom from worry and fear; but, obviously, not at all a general lack of discipline or freedom to sin by expressing the flesh.

14  All the law is contained in one precept: “You shall love your fellow man as yourself,”

He is not saying that we can disobey the law, as the central precept is clearly to be obeyed, he is saying that we cannot live by the flesh at all. He is not even commanding us to love one another in the flesh: we must learn to simply live in the freedom of the Spirit, allowing Him to fulfil all that expresses the character of God. When we find we are loving one another, then we will know that we are getting it right. When Jesus commanded us to “love one another,” this is how He meant us to do it, as He continues, “even as I have loved you,” in other words, in just the same way, by the Spirit.

15  and if you wound and devour one another, look out that you are not destroyed by each other.

Wounding others is a sure giveaway that we are living by the flesh, and therefore in sin, and the long term result of that is our own destruction, so we must always do what we can to maintain open fellowship with one another; forgiving, blessing and praying for each other.

16  I’m saying walk in the Spirit, and you won’t fulfil the cravings of the flesh!

So walking in the Spirit, doing as He prompts and avoiding what He forbids, will keep us from all sin.

17  For the flesh craves in the same way as the Spirit, and the Spirit as the flesh, but they are in opposition to each other, so you don’t do what you intend,

This is interesting—all the translations I have compared daren’t equate the divine strivings of the Spirit with the carnal strivings of our flesh, so they change the wording to avoid what it actually says. It simply means that both the Spirit and our flesh urgently yearn for our obedience, it’s just that their intentions are diametrically opposed to each other: the flesh is working towards our destruction while the Spirit is working to give us life—the divine life of Christ living transcendently within us.

18  but if the Spirit is leading you, you are not subject to the law.

This is how we are to live under grace. The Spirit cannot lead us into sin and, since the law is about defining sin for sinners, we are automatically excused. We choose to follow the Spirit because to choose to rebel will instantly bring us under the rule of law which will condemn us to death. We cannot follow the law and retain our salvation—the two are entirely incompatible.

19  The works of the flesh are obvious: they are adultery, immorality, impurity, filthy words and works,

20  idolatry, pagan rituals, malice, conflict, jealousy, rage, rivalry, divisiveness, sectarianism,

21  enviousness, murder, intoxication, revelling, and so on. As I told you before, so I warn you again, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

This, clearly, is not intended to be a definitive list of the sins of the flesh—such a list would run for pages—it’s just to alert the saints to the kind of behaviour which is absolutely out of the question for us. If we find ourselves doing something actually on the list, we should be deafened by the sirens going off in our conscience. However, much of this behaviour can be seen in most “churches,” for example, simply being part of a ‘denomination’ reveals divisiveness and sectarianism.

22  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith,

23  meekness and self-restraint. Against things like this there is no law.

Again, this is not a definitive list, but we get the idea. There are no Mosaic laws forbidding the kind of behaviour caused by the Spirit of God having command in our hearts. In some countries there are secular laws which forbid sharing the gospel or even being a Christian at all, but even here we still have to go where the Spirit leads and do as He directs. The consequences are His concern, not ours, as we belong to Another.

24  Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and cravings.

By coming to Christ, our flesh was crucified, so we don’t yield to its demands—nobody takes any notice of a person once they are dead. They are no longer to be feared. So we are not looking for any kind of ‘feel-good,’ spiritual or otherwise, we are seeking Christ and His will so that we can intelligently obey Him. Spiritual ‘feel-goods,’ for example a warm sensation of love, are the most common way that evil spirits deceive disciples.

25  If we have life in the Spirit, we should also conduct our lives by the Spirit,

The Spirit gives us life and can be trusted absolutely, so we owe Him the debt of total obedience, without question.

26  and not become self-important, provoking and envying each other.

Here Paul hints at some of the sins of the flesh which he hadn’t mentioned before: most particularly pride. If we are motivated by envy, or feel we are free to provoke one another, then we are self-condemned as we have already fallen (refer back to verse 15). Living by the promptings of the Holy Spirit is our best and only real guard against slipping into sin (see verse 16).

Galatians 6

1    Brethren, if ever a man is caught off guard by some sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore him in a spirit of gentle humility, and watch yourself that you are not tempted too.

We are caught off guard by sin, not by actively pursuing it, so we can be gently restored. Those who deliberately sin, on the other hand, have placed themselves on much more dangerous ground.

2    Carry each other’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ,

The obvious corollary to “love one another.” The idea is not that we are to do what our neighbour is called to, but to help him, as the Lord leads, so we will both be blessed.

3    for if anyone imagines himself significant, he’s deluding himself, as he’s not.

In other words, no one is any more important than anyone else (of particular note to people who set themselves up as clergy), so we should be looking for opportunities to serve our brethren, not expecting them to serve us.

4    Let each one ratify his own work, so he can be pleased in himself, and not take credit for the work of others,

5    for everyone must pull their weight.

We must make sure that all we do will stand up to God’s scrutiny, not hiding behind the efforts of anyone else, because we all have our own role in the kingdom of God.

6    Let the one instructed in the word share all good things with his instructor—

This refers to revelations which the student receives from the Holy Spirit, as the following verses make it clear that it is not talking about material things. The intention is that all revelation (unless one is specifically forbidden to do so) should be shared for mutual encouragement and growth—how could an instructor build on the student’s revelation, or be blessed by it, if it is not shared?

7    don’t be deceived, God is not mocked—whatever a man sows is what he will reap:

Neither student nor instructor should sow to their flesh, but this not only follows on from the previous verse, it is also a generic instruction which will always apply to all people, whether believers or not.

8    he who sows to his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but he who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit.

The flesh means “corruption” to the believer, so it cannot produce anything else; the “Spirit is life and peace” so He produces life, God’s divine life, eternal life.

9    So don’t be intimidated in doing good, for at the right time we will reap our own if we don’t quit.

The enemy will use much opposition to our lifestyle if we serve others from our position in Christ, particularly intimidation, trying to scare us into giving up. We must hang in there however, so we can reap our own eternal life. Paul is not talking about reaping a harvest in this verse but eternal life.

10  Therefore, as opportunities arise, we do good to all, particularly members of the family of faith.

These opportunities are orchestrated by God, so we can always step in by faith and serve as the need presents itself. We do have to use wisdom by the prompting of the Holy Spirit of course, as often the need which presents is not the real need, and we are told to “do good” which would preclude, for example, toxic giving, as that merely gives the appearance of doing good while actually doing harm.

11 See how serious is this letter that I’ve written to you.

Most translations go off on one about large characters, which clearly doesn’t fit here, adds nothing to the discussion, and is a complete non-sequitur. What he is doing here is bringing to their attention the weightiness of the discussion and its immediate application to the recipients (and to us).

The idea that he used his own hand to write is just silly, as nothing could be written in those days without using somebody’s hand, but since ‘hand’ also means ‘power’ or ‘agency’ he’s not even differentiating this letter from others he’s written using a scribe and not his own hand, he just means it’s a letter from him, personally.

12  Those coercing you to be circumcised are determined to impress in the flesh, but only to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ,

They want to be taken as believers by the assembly, but their motives betray them as deceived: they want to make a good show in the flesh, which is hopeless, simply because they don’t fancy being persecuted (ie, rejected by the Jews) along with the true believers for the offence of the gospel—the cross of Christ.

13  and they don’t keep the law, despite being circumcised, but they want to have you circumcised so they can boast of your flesh.

Circumcision was the sign and seal of the Old Covenant: the Law, so it never helped anyone to obey the whole thing. Even being circumcised itself was not, for most people, an act of obedience, as it was done to them when they were only eight days old. So the boasting of the flesh was just so they could say to those who challenged them, “don’t worry, we still obey the law—look, we have had them circumcised!” as if circumcision was the law. They wanted to have a foot in both camps, both the followers of the Way, and the laws of Moses, but this was impossible since the one supersedes and replaces the other. All it really showed was a lack of true faith and a consequent lack of courage.

14  May it never be that I boast, save for the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world is crucified to me, and I to the world,

Once we belong to Christ, we cannot boast or glory in ourselves or our possessions at all, all our boasting has to be about and through the cross, because of its significance, power and value. The cross of Christ cuts us off completely from the world, changing forever our relationship with the world and everyone in it.

15  for circumcision is of no value, nor uncircumcision, just the new creation.

We are neither accepted nor rejected based on our flesh; to be acceptable we simply have to be born again by faith, becoming a new creation in Jesus, which cuts us off from the world, sin and self, so we can live the holy life in Him.

16  Peace and mercy will be on all who live by this standard, and on the Israel of God;

This refers to the entire letter which challenges the Galatians’ lapse into legalism, so he’s telling them that they are foregoing their blessings by complying with the demands of the circumcision party and other legalists.

17  of the rest, no one troubles me, since I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.

“The rest” here are all those who don’t “live by this standard” and aren’t “the Israel of God,” basically, those who were trying to undermine and discredit the gospel, and deceive the brethren, and those who were persecuting the believers. The “marks of the Lord” were the multiple scars and bruises Paul had collected from those who couldn’t accept his message, the gospel of truth. In other words, “nothing they can threaten me with is going to shut me up or alter my message! It’s too valuable, and too important, and I’ve already suffered for it.”

18  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren. Amen.

If we choose to live the life Paul is describing, we will need the grace of Christ. Once we have it, we can truly live to Him.