Epistle to the Galatians chapter 5

Pekka Jauhiainen
Reija Becks

Love or circumcision – Gal. 5:1–12

After long justifications, Paul admonished the Galatians to reject false teaching and even drive away the false teachers. The following passage shows that the Galatians have not taken the decisive steps demanded by the false teaching, i.e. circumcised themselves. That step appeals to them with the idea that it would add something special for their Christian life. We also have these various temptations – so, in addition to Christ, are you missing something important? Before that decisive step, Paul has this chance to strongly urge them not to get circumcised.

Paul has previously talked about how Christ came to solve the problems that people have in their relationship with God when they live in this world. In the relationship with God, this problem boils down to the idea of slavery to the law or the judgment brought by the law to humanity. Because of the law, Christ has come to set us free from slavery. The word ‘redemption’ in the text means to be freed from slavery for a certain amount of money (Gal. 4:4–5). Referring to this action, Paul repeats his thought about the freedom given to us by Christ (Gal. 5:1).

By having themselves circumcised, the Galatians would slip back into the same slavery they were in before their conversion. Only the form of slavery would change. New Christians, in particular, tend to slip into a similar state they were in before their conversion. It was the same with Israel when they had escaped slavery in Egypt. Wandering in the wilderness, they were tempted to return to Egypt, even though they had been toiling there as Pharaoh's slaves. They only remembered that there they had food to eat. Memories grow sweeter with time (Numbers 11:4–6).

Now the Galatians are attracted to the idea of having themselves circumcised, because they think they will get some special advantage out of it in their lives. False teachers have been assuring them that doing this will make their problems disappear. In the same way, even today, people are persuaded to do many things in addition to their balanced Christian life, so that things would progress better.

Paul wants to prevent this and assures them that circumcision is just one step in the wrong direction resulting in the obligation to follow the entire Mosaic law. If they take the circumcision, it is not enough. Then they have to take up the whole system with all its rules. Even the first step leads away from living under grace and away from Christ. In the words of Paul, even a little leaven leavens the whole dough. When making bread, you only need a small amount of leaven, and soon the whole dough will leaven (Gal. 5:2–4, 9).

Paul wants the Galatians to trust in Christ. He repeats the idea he wrote earlier that they have received the Holy Spirit from faith in Jesus Christ. The Galatians should trust in the results and progress they have had in their Christian life. In that life, there may come many kinds of adversities, but that does not mean that the path is wrong. Faith in Christ brings with it love, which is a vital fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:6–7). Is the work of Christ and to live with him enough for us, or are we looking for something else alongside it or even to replace Christ?

Judaism was accepted among religions in the Roman Empire. By taking circumcision, you can say that you belong to a system accepted by society. Thus, the persecution Paul faced resulted from the gospel he represented. Even today, preaching the cross can cause persecution. You are then in the same situation as Paul. Proclaiming the cross does not lead to physical persecution in all places, but Christians encounter some level of contempt everywhere.

The Holy Spirit and the human selfishness – Gal. 5:13–26

Christians are often driven to the path of false doctrine by the fact that they did not become perfect after coming to faith. This section talks about how a Christian still has a sinful nature and therefore wrong thoughts and actions. Because of this sinful nature, we need the Holy Spirit to guide our way.

At the beginning of the chapter, Paul wrote that the Galatians still have a selfish nature, for which he later uses the word ‘flesh’. This selfish nature did not leave a person after he converted to Christianity. Because of the selfish nature, even a Christian has many problems in his life, and even after receiving the new life, a Christian is divided. That is why Paul later writes about war between these two different natures. Paul already wrote about this same dichotomy in his own example (Gal. 2:19–20; 5:1, 17).

In the renewed life, love and serving others are central principles. Faith in Jesus creates love in us (Gal. 5:6). Paul wrote that Christ loved him on the cross. In this way, Christ loved this humanity and at the same time served us all. In many of Paul's letters, Christ's ministry becomes an example of how Christians should serve one another (e.g. Phil 2:1–8). There is very little teaching on this matter in Galatians. The idea can be found in the phrase: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal. 6:2).”

Paul's own example in the fourth chapter can be considered as one example of serving (Gal. 4:12–20). Even though the Galatians have embraced false teachings, Paul still wants to show them love and again teach them patiently.

Above, Paul spoke about the purpose of the law. The main role of the law is to point out wrongdoing and put a person in the prison of sin. The law does not have the ability to make someone be born again either. The Gospel has the ability to give rebirth, because through it we are united with Christ and receive the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the ability to love is born in a person, and love is the actual fulfilment of the law. The gospel gives the ability to do what the law cannot do. Living in the guidance of the Spirit is essential for living as a Christian. It leads to loving your neighbour as yourself (Gal. 5:14). Living in the guidance of the Spirit also leads to other fruits of the Spirit. When living in these fruits of the Spirit, a person will not break God's law or God's will either. This does not mean the system of the Mosaic law, which had certain types of feast days, sacrifices and social regulations related to e.g. foods. Paul spoke against this throughout in his letter. Living in the guidance of the Spirit leads to living in accordance with God's will.

Many kinds of thoughts and actions, or in Paul's words, works of the flesh, arise from the selfish nature of Christians and all people. In a kind of list, Paul mentions various consequences of the selfish nature, i.e. the flesh. However, as Christians, we do not allow our selfish nature to run wild. Even though we feel these wrong thoughts in ourselves and sometimes see actions born from wrong thoughts, we crucify them to the cross of Christ, that is, we condemn them in our lives. At the same time, we ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit so that we might live in the right way (Gal. 5:16, 24). Paul deals with these diverse works of the flesh in his various letters. Because of the flesh, there are several problems that spring up in different contexts in different churches. Not even the most advanced churches were able to avoid these problems.

Paul already wrote about the cross of Jesus Christ in his own example. In it, the law was the instrument that gave Paul the death sentence on the cross. This death sentence was due to the works of the flesh. In his own example of persecuting Christians, Paul describes it as zeal. The word ‘zeelos’, meaning zeal, ardour, or fervour of spirit, appears in Paul's own example of persecution and in the list of the fruits of the flesh (Gal. 1:13–14; 5:20). Because of this wrong behaviour, Paul

is condemned to the cross through the law. Now, as a Christian, he still condemns this wrong behaviour and everything else that can come out of his flesh. Condemning it means crucifying the lusts of the flesh. We still feel these desires, and they do exist. Because of them, we still need forgiveness. We also need forgiveness because of the works of the flesh, about which Paul writes more in the Letter to the Romans. In that letter too, desires and the works of the flesh are condemned and the Holy Spirit's guidance in life is asked for. This is what the crucifixion of our selfish nature is, in which we ask Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit to help us with our problem.

We ourselves do not have the strength to correctly judge and keep in control our selfish nature. That is why we need Christ and his cross. In the same way, we need the Holy Spirit, whom we receive from faith in the work that Christ did. It is to continuously live in this relationship. Paul wrote, “I am crucified with Christ.” At the same time, he wrote that Christ lives in him. That relationship and life is constant, and not just something that takes place when we are born again and is left behind after we have received the Holy Spirit.

In keeping his selfish nature under control, a Christian also makes progress. Progress came up very briefly in this letter of Paul. He wrote, "You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?” (Gal. 5:7). Paul writes more about progress in his other letters. In this letter, it is essential to set right the basics for the Galatians.