Sanctified by the Spirit, or Falling from Grace

Galatians 5:1-12

5:1 – Plant your feet firmly therefore within the freedom that Christ has won for us, and do not let yourselves be caught again in the shackles of slavery.
5:2-6 – Listen! I, Paul, say this to you as solemnly as I can: if you consent to be circumcised then Christ will be of no use to you at all. I will say it again: every man who consents to be circumcised is bound to obey all the rest of the Law! If you try to be justified by the Law you automatically cut yourself off from the power of Christ, you put yourself outside the range of his grace. For it is by faith that we await in his Spirit the righteousness we hope to see. In Jesus Christ there is no validity in either circumcision or uncircumcision; it is a matter of faith, faith which expresses itself in love.
5:7-10 – You were making splendid progress; who put you off the course you had set for the truth? That sort of “persuasion” does not come from the the one who is calling you. Alas, it takes only a little leaven to affect the whole lump! I feel confident in the Lord that you will not take any fatal step. But whoever it is who is worrying you will have a serious charge to answer one day.
5:11-12 – And as for me, my brothers, if I were still advocating circumcision (as some apparently allege!), why am I still suffering persecution? I suppose if only I would recommend this little rite all the hostility which the preaching of the cross provokes would disappear! I wish those who are so eager to cut your bodies would cut themselves off from you altogether! (JBP)

Justification is by faith, sanctification is by the Holy Spirit. Scripture, however, tells us that:

[Y]ou are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. (1 Cor. 1:30, NKJV)

All that means is that we are made complete in Christ. Regardless of how good we may become as individuals, we can never meet the standard God has set. We can never be completely like Christ in this life. However, the Body of Christ; the Church; has been put in Christ. Christ is the Head of body; we make up His Body and we represent Him to the world.

God sanctifies us through the Holy Spirit working in us. This process makes us more like Christ, which should be the goal of each and every believer. In these verses, we see the Spirit versus the Flesh. Some people want a do-it-yourself style of Christianity, others have realized Somebody else has to do it through them. God’s method is to do it through us.

1. A Powerful Summary, verse 1

This has been called the “key verse” of the entire letter (James Montgomery Boice). The nature and power of the true Gospel enables the believer to identify and avoid anything that resembles legalism and instead rest in Christ’s complete work for Him and live through the power of the Holy Spirit. This little verse divides up into two sections:

  • A declaration of Christ’s purpose in saving us: It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Within the context of Paul’s teaching here in Galatians, this refers to freedom from the Law, that is, freedom from legalism.
  • An admonition based upon that purpose: Stand firm, then, do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Christ had done the work in setting the Galatians free from slavery to the Law, but continuing to live in the sphere of freedom would be the job of the Galatians.

2. Faith Plus the Law, verses 2-6

Had the Galatians allowed themselves to be circumcised, as some false teachers -Judaizers- were teaching in Paul’s day, they were nullifying the complete work of Christ. In other words, because circumcision represented the Law, the very thing from which they had been freed, they were saying what Christ did was not enough; they had to do something to be saved. The substance of Paul’s words is this: a man’s faith rests on Christ entirely or not at all.

The issue really wasn’t circumcision. In fact, Pau had once had Timothy circumcised. The issue was depending on a matter of the Law for one’s standing before God. Judaizers had taught that salvation was partly Christ and partly obedience to the Law. But as Hendriksen succinctly wrote:

Christ supplemented is Christ supplanted.

In this verse, the tense of the verb “to be circumcised” is in the present-passive tense, which could be translated, “If you should let yourself be circumcised.” In other words, they had not yet let this happen, but were being tempted to do it for the wrong reason. Paul is not condemning the many Jewish Christians who were already circumcised, a teaching he expounds on in 1 Corinthians 7:17-20.

The issue is really works versus grace, or spirit versus flesh. What are we depending on as we stand before God?

In verse four, we read the powerful phrase, “fallen from grace.” What exactly is Paul saying here? Some have taken this phrase to mean that salvation can be lost. However, this is the one and only time this phrase occurs in all of Scripture, and the context has nothing to do with salvation. Preachers and teachers have given this phrase far more weight than Paul intended it to carry. J. Vernon McGee humorously pointed out:

Falling from grace is the doctrine which the Methodists believe and the Presbyterian practice.

Paul is not teaching here that if a Christian sins he falls from grace and looses his salvation. To fall from grace, as seen in this context, is simply to fall back into legalism.

Verse five is an all-important verse in Paul’s teaching. Up to this point, Paul has been addressing the Galatians, using the pronoun “you.” He has been warning them against doing certain things that could endanger their walk with Christ. Now he changes the pronoun to “we” and places it in an emphatic position: “we wait” and “we hope.” Again, Boice writes:

It is as if Paul is saying,”But, on the other hand, we Christians do not choose legalism; rather we wait in faith through the Spirit for the full realization of God’s righteousness.”

Some phrases in this verse deserve some attention.

  • “Through the Spirit” is a reminder of God’s work in us.
  • “By faith” is in stark contrast to “the flesh,” which circumcision represented.
  • “Waits eagerly” describes what the believer is doing; his attitude, really, as he trusts in the Lord for a full realization of his salvation. He does not work for it, he waits for it.
  • “The righteousness for which we hope” does not refer to Christ’s imputed righteousness,but rather, given the context of the teaching, the actual righteousness into which believers are to grow.

In the Bible, “hope” refers to something that is certain, yet not yet realized.

Finally, we get to verse six. Paul’s opponents, the false teachers, insisted that circumcision was essential to the Galatian converts because it made one an heir of Abraham, and part of the covenant. But Paul makes it clear that God does not concern Himself with such things any more. This Jewish rite had no value for bringing a man closer to Christ. Neither did uncircumcision. Indeed, the things God considers of supreme value are not material, racial, or social, but spiritual. This line of teaching was revolutionary in Paul’s day. In fact, many members of the early church struggled with, were unconvinced of and afraid of it.

But Paul taught something of eternal value: The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. No set of laws or legal system can produce the Christian life. The formula is very simple: Christian life if produced through faith working in love. Paul taught that man is justified by faith without the works of the Law. While Paul is credited with teaching that “justification is by faith alone,” that concept,”alone,” was added much later by Church theologians. Having been justified by faith, the believer is to fulfill the just requirements of the Law through love. And this is done with the help of the Holy Spirit.

3. The Danger of Wrong Thinking, verses 7-12

Paul chides the Galatians, who had started out living for the Lord so well. Paul often used sports imagery to describe the Christian life. To Paul, life was a race, demanding discipline and obedience to rules. The Galatians had begun their race well. Their faith was not merely based on a head knowledge, nor was it based on emotionalism. Indeed, this church had believed the “truth” and had been living the truth. But Paul says something had interfered with them. The Greek word is enkopto, and in this context is refers to the “illegal interference of a runner who cuts of another runner.” This is what the Judaizers had done.

In verse nine, Paul uses another familiar metaphor: yeast. On both Testaments, yeast or leaven is most always seen as evil. Here is represents the false teachings of the Judaizers. Paul says that it spreads. The false teaching of the Judaizers was legalism. Legalism is evil and it may start out very small but it spreads until it takes over a life or a church.

When a person begins view salvation as a matter of faith plus adherence to some kind of teaching, pretty soon that same person begins to view salvation as a matter of rules plus faith. Eventually, works replaces faith all together. That’s the principle of yeast. It starts out small and grows.

With the help of the Lord, though, Paul believes this church can be salvaged. But verse 11 deserves special attention. The message of the Gospel, to natural man, is unacceptable. That’s why the Judaizers found such a ready audience. And that is why so many preachers and teachers today add their own teachings to the Gospel, so as to make it acceptable. But Paul stands firm and says he does not add anything to the Gospel.

The reason for the popularity of false teachers and false teaching is the “scandal of the cross.” This is a very important concept in Pauline teaching. The Greek word is skandalon, and means “a trap,” “snare,” or “temptation.” Paul uses it in the sense of that which is so offensive to the natural mind that it produces a fierce opposition. The Cross teaches that we come to Christ just as we are, and that we are justified by God alone and that we grow in grace through the work of the Holy Spirit. Man cannot understand that. Man needs his rules, his laws. All of these things: religious feasts, circumcision, dress codes, ceremonies, legal observances, et., are part of man and are part of a system that seeks to attain standing before God through merit. To Paul, this was unconscionable.

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