by Dr. Robert R. Seyda



Early Church writer Ambrosiaster makes a valid point that points to Paul’s purpose in giving this warning. He writes: “They were called to freedom because when they were still bound in sin, they received the forgiveness of their wrongdoings and were set free by the grace of God.” [1]  As far as this scholar was concerned, he feels that Paul may have thought that these Galatians might take their freedom from the Law as the license to be lawless in their behavior.  It also may be why the false apostles advocated that they are circumcised to redirect them back under the restrictions inherent in the Law. Ambrosiaster points to the fact that Paul, therefore, warns the Galatians not to give them an opportunity by agreeing to what they say. He exhorts them, advising that they should not love each other carnally but in the Spirit and so be bound to one another.[2]

Early church Catholic theologian, Thomas Aquinas, asserts that the state of any union with God does not rest in either liberty or bondage but the status of one’s faith in Jesus the Anointed One. The Apostle Paul urges this as part of freedom itself. That’s why he tells them that the Spirit called them into liberty. It’s another way of saying the Galatians were being troubled by intruders because they were allowing themselves to led away from what is better to what is worse. What makes it such a mystery is that their calling came from God into the freedom of grace.[3] We are not the children of the slave woman [Hagar] but the freewoman [Sarah]. No one whom the Anointed One set free should ever want to be led back into bondage. But this will happen if their freedom is misused or abused. As a consequence, liberty in the Spirit becomes perverted to the slavery of human passions.[4] However, immorality was not Paul’s only concern, as we will see in the verses that follow.

Reformer Martin Luther gives his view of what Paul is talking about here. To put it simply, true believers gained liberty through Jesus the Anointed One, that is, they are not obliged to follow the ceremonial laws as far as their conscience is concerned. The Anointed One saved them to give them liberty and life. Therefore, the Law, with its penalty of death, must be enforced because one broken precept breaks the whole Law. Therefore, anyone seeking salvation under the Law is driven to despair. That goes against the constitution of any believer’s priceless liberty. Now take care that you do not use your incredible freedom for an occasion to satisfy the flesh because you feel invulnerable.

Satan likes to turn this liberty, which the Anointed One got for us, into immorality.[5] The desires of the flesh conclude that without the Law able to force us under its power, we might as well indulge ourselves. Why do good all the time; why give to charity as one’s own expense; why fear prosecution the Law possesses no authority to do so? This attitude is predominant enough already. People talk about Christian liberty and then go and cater to the desires of greed, pleasure, pride, envy, and other vices. Nobody wants to fulfill their duties. Nobody wants to help out a brother or sister in distress.[6] One of the biggest mistakes some Christians make is blaming their lack of participation in reaching out to the lost and lonely is that they were too busy in their ministry for the Lord.

Luther then goes on to note that by adding love, the Apostle embarrasses the false apostles very much. It’s as if he were saying to the Galatians: “I’ve described to you what spiritual life is. Now I’m going to teach you what good works mean. I am doing this for you to understand that the silly ceremonies the false apostles say are necessary are far inferior to the works of Christian love.” Such is the hallmark of all false teachers that they not only pervert the pure doctrine but also fail in doing good. Their foundation on which they build their tradition is faulty by using wood, hay, and sawdust to create. Oddly enough, the false apostles who were such earnest champions of good works never required charitable work like that done in Christian love and by putting it into practice with counsel, a helping hand, and a loving heart. Their only requirement was observing circumcision, special days, months, and years. That’s all the good works they could imagine.[7]

In my teaching on the definition of love, I pointed out that love has two strong impulses: One, to hold on to its object of affection with all its might to prove loyal and faithful. Second, be willing to let go when it’s in the best interest of its intended object to show unselfishness and lack of greed.  In the same light, Paul states that freedom in which a sanctified conscience operates also allows for two genuine expressions: One, the license to refrain by saying, “No, thank you!” And two, the permit to participate by saying, “Yes, I will!” both of which should be respected by all involved.

Chrysostom shares that although Paul continues to refer to the Law as a yoke of bondage, we must remember that Jesus also offered us a yoke. The great preacher puts it this way: “For the bonds of the Law are broken, and I say this not that our standard may be lowered, but that it may be exalted.” [8] In other words, since we are not chained to sin, we are free to choose. Some, unfortunately, want to go back while others decide to go forward. As Chrysostom put it, both of these types of believers’ cross over the boundary line of the Law, but not in the same direction. A demoted person finds that things get worse. Promoted individuals find that the situation becomes better. The first one transgressed the Law, and the second transcends it.[9] What we see here, Paul will share later when he talks about the works of the flesh and the fruit of the spirit.

We must decide whether the Greek noun pneuma should read the fruit of the “spirit” or the fruit of the “Spirit.” First, we see that previously Paul listed many of the works of the flesh. These are inherent sinful tendencies in the mind and heart that lead to the breaking of God’s standard of holiness, thereby producing sin. So, to counterbalance this, Paul now turns from the flesh of the believer to the spirit of the believer. It would not make sense to compare an internal fighter with an external opponent. This does not cancel the notion that we are also talking about the Spirit of God as well as the spirit of humankind. A person without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is prone to be involved in the works of the flesh. But by having the Holy Spirit dwelling within gives rise to a person’s spirit to produce fruit. If we look at it this way: let the Spirit represents a tree, and the spirit signifies the branches, together they produce fruit which by themselves would not be possible.

One of Chrysostom’s contemporaries, Marius Victorinus, gives his understanding of what Paul is saying here. In his mind, the Gospel of the Anointed One, which is spiritual, does grant us the freedom to leave this world one day and return to the Father. However, since we are still in the world (that is, in the flesh), we ought not to exercise this liberty which we received in such a way that we live according to dictates of bodily desires, and that we look for occasions to act out our physical cravings. Even though the Apostle Paul confirms that we are free people through our faith in the Anointed One, we are not open to sin willingly.[10] Chrysostom goes on to say that we must never misunderstand that while we can appreciate the freedom granted us, nevertheless, we ought to use it to serve each other through the love of the Spirit, not of the flesh.

A co-reformist of Luther’s, John Calvin, also sees the constraints on the liberty a believer receives through the Anointed One. He points out that the method explained here by Paul of restraining our freedom given to us by Jesus the Anointed One from breaking out into open and immoral abuse. It is to be regulated by divine love. Let us always remember, says Calvin, that the present question is not, in what manner we are free before God, but in what way do we use our liberty in our interaction with our fellowman. A good conscience submits to no forced obedience.

Nevertheless, to do nothing in response to a plea for help, we are abstaining from the use of our liberty. In other words, if “by love, we serve one another,” we will always keep in mind that it is to help us grow in our faith and God’s Word. That way, we will not become uncensored and indiscriminate in our behavior. Everything to be done by us is by God’s grace and for His honor, praise, and glory, and the salvation of our neighbors.[11]

Catholic scholar Cornelius à Lapide (1567-1637) responds to what he’s heard about the preaching of Luther and Calvin on what Paul says here in verse thirteen concerning being called into the liberty of God’s Grace. For him, it is evident, therefore, how grossly the Protestants pervert the Apostle’s words when they argue from this that Christians are free from all positive law, and owe no obedience to prelates, to magistrates, or parents. This goes against the laws of nature and the Ten Commandments, he says. It makes them revolutionist against all civil government, of all church government, and not obligated to all human society. There has never been a nation, however ferocious, without its magistrates and laws, nor without them could the peace be kept, nor any country continue imposing law and order. With the state of bureaucracy in the hierocracy of the Catholic Church even in his day, we can see why Lapide felt the way he did.

For once a person is persuaded that the civil or the ecclesiastical law does affect their conscience, but only as its sanctions constrain our fears, they will violate the law without any scruple, whenever they think it safe to do so. Accordingly, the Anointed One, Paul, and the Apostles in general frequently order Christians to obey Cæsar and other unbelieving magistrates, not only for wrath’s sake but also for conscience’ sake.[12] Needless to say, this misrepresentation of what the Reformers were teaching and preaching was part of the contention between the Roman Catholic and Protestant scholars during those days. The main point of contention was that the Catholic Church promoted the Pope as the successor to Peter and, therefore, over all Churches. That put the Protestants on the outside, refusing to come in and submit themselves to the power of Rome and the Vatical. So, we must ask ourselves if anything has changed over the centuries?

[1] Ambrosiaster: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 29

[2] Ibid.

[3] Romans 8:15

[4] Thomas Aquinas: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[5] Jude 4

[6] Luther, Martin: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Chrysostom: Homilies on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Victorinus, Marius: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[11] Calvin, John: Commentary on the Epistle of Paul to the Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[12] Lapide, Cornelius à: 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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