NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
SUMMARY OF CHAPTER FIVE
In chapter five, Paul continues the metaphor of Jewish Law as slavery. Since this was a large part of Chapter four, he feels pretty strongly about this. He’s not going to let go until he’s convinced his listeners into agreeing with him. In contrast, to the legalism and harnessing of the Law, Paul tells the Galatians that the Anointed One represents freedom.
We can divide Paul’s letter to the Galatians into three parts. Chapters 1 – 2 focus on Paul’s biography, including his qualifications to represent the Anointed One as an apostle. Chapters 3 – 4 deal mainly with doctrinal theology, explaining that justification comes by faith in the Anointed One and not by following the works of the Law. Chapters 5 – 6 focus on the practical theology of these truths. Paul does not start applying all these truths in chapters 5 – 6 until the reader knows all he taught in chapters 1 – 4. The main point is this: those who are freed by the Anointed One should live in freedom with the Anointed One.
Paul begins chapter five by stating point-blank that the Anointed One set us free so that we could be free. Freedom, though, requires resistance against a return to bondage. Those in the Anointed One must stand firm against anyone who would try to drag them into slavery under the Law (Galatians 5:1).
Paul also has in mind the issue of circumcision. A group known as the Judaizers were pressuring the Galatians to submit to physical circumcision in order to be acceptable to God. Some of the Galatians may have been willing to do this, simply to cover all possible needs: “Why not believe in Jesus and be circumcised?” they may have thought. “What harm can that do?” Paul insists, however, that faith in the Anointed One must be faith in Him alone and nothing else. In fact, he writes that to insist on following the Law cuts us off from direct contact with the Anointed One because we are asking God to judge us by our works and not by the work of the Anointed One on the cross (Galatians 5:2–11).
Paul is confident the Galatians will reject this false teaching and that the ones responsible for teaching it will be held accountable. They also must reject a rumor that he was teaching circumcision behind their backs. If that were so, why would they be persecuting him? In fact, he writes that he wishes the false teachers would go past circumcision to cutting themselves off from the Galatians (Galatians 5:12).
Paul then turns his focus to another way Christians are in danger of wasting the freedom the Anointed One won for us. There might be some who think: I’m justified, saved, filled with the Spirit in my soul, so now it doesn’t matter what I do in the flesh; it can’t change anything. So why should I not indulge in all the things that satisfy me here on earth? However, Paul wants them to know that is not the freedom we have in the Anointed One. Instead, we should use our freedom to serve God and each other (Galatians 5:13–15).
But how can we overcome our sinful tendencies and focus on serving others? We can only do so by the power of God’s Spirit, given to us when we trusted in the Anointed One for our salvation. The Spirit of God is powerful and gives believers the supernatural ability to love as the Anointed One does instead of serving self. The battle for Christians is to allow the Spirit to lead instead of shutting Him down to go our way. Our way always leads to sin and then to destruction. Paul provides a list of sinful lifestyles. Those who live in that way without ever turning back should not think that they are in the Anointed One. They will not inherit God’s kingdom, along with those who have God’s Spirit (Galatians 5:16–21).
Then Paul offers a second list. This one reveals what comes out of those who allow God’s Spirit to lead the way. It is one “fruit” – Love, with nine characteristics: joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humbleness, and self-control. The Spirit does not deposit those in our hearts for us to use at our leisure. Instead, the Spirit assists our reborn spirit to bear this fruit to God’s glory.
By definition, those who trust in the Anointed One’s death on the cross for their sin chose to crucify their sinful desires along with Him. That doesn’t mean we’ll never sin again, but it does mean that when we keep in step with God’s Spirit, we don’t need to sin. In that way, we stay free from sin’s power, as well as its penalty (Galatians 5:22–25).
The most reasonable conclusion to draw from all of this is that the Galatians had become subjected to an attempt to “convert” them into becoming “Jewish Christians” in the manner of the Jerusalem Assembly. Already in 1:6, we are warned of “another gospel.” In fact, Paul said that living by the dictates of the Law means we have fallen out of God’s grace. What, exactly, does he means by that is an open question. Actually, the Greek word that Paul used, in this case, means “favor.” Now, technically, falling out of grace, and falling out of favor can refer to identical situations. It can be taken as the loss of God’s favor in this world as far as our work, family, or standing in society is concerned. On the other hand, it can also imply that God’s protective shield against temptation and sin is removed, and we constantly find ourselves having to confess and ask forgiveness.
There is one more thing to consider. Should verse twenty-two read “spirit” or “Spirit?” I have chosen “spirit,” referring to it as the reborn spirit. It doesn’t mean the Spirit is shutout of the operation. Rather, the Spirit provides the nutrients and ability to our reborn spirit to bear this fruit. In other words, you can’t have one without the other. – Dr. Robert R Seyda