CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LXII)

5:5-6a You must remember, it is only through faith and the power of the Holy Spirit that we have hope of being right with God. For when we place our faith in the Anointed One, it doesn’t matter if you are Jew or Gentile; the most important thing is that your faith in God expresses itself in the form of love.

If the Galatians still didn’t understand the dual components of salvation – the Law versus Grace – he now brings in another factor that spells out that through God’s grace and faith in Jesus, the Anointed One, the power of the Holy Spirit must be considered. To put this in simple terms, God calls, Jesus chooses, and the Holy Spirit does the work of regeneration and transformation. Paul sent this same message to the Ephesians.[1]

Since the Galatians shunned their faith in the Gospel and the work of the Anointed One’s on the cross, Paul wants them to know that it is only with the help of the Spirit that faith can rise to the level of becoming the substance of things for which we hope. In this case, being justified as right before God. King David certainly knew what it meant to wait for God to prove that faith in Him is worthwhile. He emphatically states that putting one’s faith in God will never lead to disappointment.[2] Such faith will bring peace to one’s soul.[3] The pilgrims sang as they walked toward Jerusalem for the feast of Passover: “I am waiting for the Lord to help me. My soul waits for Him. I trust what He says.” [4]

Paul gave the Roman believers the same message when he told them God saved them so they might have faith in such hope. If they could see what they were waiting for, that is not hope. People don’t hope for something they already have. But everyone is hoping for something they don’t have yet, and they are waiting for it patiently.[5] Depending on the strength of our resolve or by the encouragement of others will not help us confront every force that comes against us. Only by the power of the Holy Spirit are we able to endure until the end. For that very purpose, Paul told the Thessalonians that he prayed the Lord would cause them to feel God’s love and remember the patience of the Anointed One and how He endured the cross.[6]

In the end, Paul comes full circle back to the argument of whether Law or Grace is the preferred way to be right with God and inherit His gift of salvation. He told the Philippians; I want to belong to God. In the Anointed One, I am right with Him, but my being right does not come from following the Law. It comes from believing in God through faith. God uses my faith in the Anointed One to make me right with Him.[7] Not only did being right with God prove to be a blessing here on earth, but it put Paul on the path to receiving a crown of being right, which God will bestow on him, not the Law.[8]

So, the Galatians must decide what is right: Following Moses’ way to righteousness by works, or being led to the Anointed One’s way by grace? In Paul’s mind, there was no doubt. As he told the Romans, if you follow the Law, then your circumcision has meaning. If you break the Law, then it is as if you were never circumcised at all. Even the Gentiles, if they follow the Law without being circumcised, they will be counted among real Jews. Yet, although you have the written Law and circumcision, you still break the Law. So, the Gentiles who are not circumcised in their bodies, but always obey the Law, will show how guilty you are. That means you are not a spiritual Jew if you are only a religious Jew in your physical body. Spiritual circumcision is not only on the outside body; a spiritual Jew is one who is a Jew on the inside. Their spiritual circumcision is of the heart. It is done by the Holy Spirit, not by the written Law. While you may not praise a Gentile, who is not circumcised on the outside, but by following God’s Word with the help of the Spirit, he gets praise from God.[9]

The important thing, says Paul, is not whether you are circumcised or not. What is important is that you are obeying what God says is important.[10] That allows for both Jews and Gentiles to belong to the Anointed One. It is not essential as to what country you live in, but that the Anointed One lives in you.[11] And this requires “faith.” Jesus, the Anointed One, died on your behalf to pay the ransom for your release from the curse caused by the Law.[12] Any works that you do as a result of your faith must bring praise, honor, and glory to God the Father. They must be done out of love while looking to Jesus as our example of endurance and hope.[13] Even though a person may claim to have active and robust faith, without anything done for God and the Anointed One to back it up, it shows your faith is worth nothing.[14]

“So, what’s your point?” we can hear one of the Galatians ask as they listen to Paul’s letter read. Paul is quick to answer that rhetorical question. Everything right with us and pleasing to God we received as a gift by way of the Holy Spirit, because we believe it’s everything we hoped for and the evidence of what we cannot see; in other words, by faith. Paul goes on to explain that for those in union with the Anointed One, whether one keeps the religious rituals and regulations or not, the only thing that counts is that we express our faith in what God did for us through the Anointed One with love. Love for God, love for His Word, love for His Son, love for His Spirit, love for His children, and love for His will, plan, and purpose for our lives. Paul told the Corinthian church that three major things must be visible in every true believer’s life: faith, hope, and love. And the most important of these three is love.[15]

Early church theologian Augustine gives his summation of these two verses. For him, Paul is showing us that it is the things we wait for spiritually rather than those we long for physically that are affected by our faith in the Anointed One. It is for the sake of such promises that spiritual submission is necessary because we are not looking at the things we can see but at unseen things. If we can see it, it will only last for a short time, but it’s what we can’t see that’s eternal.[16] Then Paul adds: For the Anointed One, Jesus, whether one received circumcision, or not, does not matter at all. The only problem is when we depend on circumcision to bring us salvation. That’s why Paul tells the Galatians that it’s by faith that works done through love matter. That’s because we perform works done under slavery to the Law out of fear.[17]

Living for the Lord is to obey His Gospel and purpose for our lives. This helps Him carry out His will for our lives. So, it is not unreasonable to imagine that when we cross the finish line, a bill will be placed in our hands. It will demand payment for everything given to us through grace. It will also include charges for all the work He, the Son, and the Holy Spirit did for us. But at the bottom, it will be the stamped “Paid in Full.”

Ambrosiaster shares his view that what Paul is saying here is clear; the hope of justification is in faith by the Spirit and not through the works of the Law. For it is by faith, we serve God spiritually through the devotion of our minds and the purity of our hearts. For this reason, neither uncircumcision nor circumcision is of any value, but only faith in love is what brings justification.[18]  What this Catholic layman did not add is that such devotion, purity, and trust in love must be directed toward the Anointed One, not to our works or accomplishments to please Him.

Early medieval church writer Marius Victorinus sees Paul giving the Galatians a message. That as Christians who follow the Anointed One, we have hope in spirit, in faith, and God’s justification for us being right with Him. Hope in God does not depend on good deeds. The full power of the mystery of His love and mercy allow His leniency with our sinful tendencies sins to exist. It is through His grace and mercy, and eternal life will be given to us, not based on works or merits. But this is possible only through the Holy Spirit. Yet, when one hopes for justification based on one’s good works, it is not based on the Spirit. It is hope based on the Spirit that we await, and this is what it means to follow the Gospel of the Anointed One.[19] Such a message in the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches today is much needed.

Does that mean the believer is off the hook for attending church, paying tithes, observing communion, praying, and reading God’s Word?  No!  As Jesus said to the rich man, “You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and your entire mind.  A second is equally important: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The entire Mosaic Law and all the demands of the prophets remain grounded on these two commandments.” Paul preached the Gospel of the Anointed One. Still, these Galatian believers allowed themselves to be fooled and drawn away from God’s grace, love, and mercy, to become slaves again to wasted efforts already replaced by the work of the Anointed One.

In the Latin text used by the great Chrysostom, verse six reads this way: “nam in Christo Iesu neque circumcisio aliquid valet neque præputium sed fides quae per caritatem operatur.” [“For in the Anointed One Jesus neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith working by love.”] So, he asks, “What is the meaning of ‘working through charity?’” [20] Says Chrysostom, it’s Paul’s way of giving the Galatians a hard slap on the face by showing that this error crept in because the love of the Anointed One was not firmly rooted in them. To believe is not all that is required, but also to do everything in love. It is as if Paul said: If you had loved the Anointed One as you should have, you would not have deserted Him to go back into the bondage of the Law, nor would you have abandoned Him who redeemed you, nor treated Him with disrespect who gave you freedom. Chrysostom feels that Paul is hinting at those who plotted to mislead the Galatians, implying that they would not have dared to do so if they truly loved them as fellow believers. He also wishes, by these words, to correct even these Judaizers’ course of life.[21] 

[1] Ephesians 2:18

[2] Psalm 25:2, 3

[3] Ibid. 62:5

[4] Ibid. 130:5

[5] Romans 8:24-25

[6] 2 Thessalonians 3:5

[7] Philippians 3:9

[8] 2 Timothy 4:8

[9] Romans 2:25-29; 3:29-31

[10] 1 Corinthians 7:19

[11] Colossians 3:11

[12] 2 Corinthians 5:14

[13] 1 Thessalonians 1:3

[14] James 2:14-26

[15] 1 Corinthians 13:13

[16] 2 Corinthians 4:18

[17] Augustine of Hippo: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[18] Ambrosiaster, op. cit., p. 28

[19] Marius Victorinus, op. cit.

[20] The Greek noun agapē used here in verse six is translated “love” (86x) and “charity” (28x) in the KJV who chose “love” instead of “charity” as the Latin Vulgate did.

[21] Chrysostom, On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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