You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love. (Galatians 5:13 NIV)
True Christians have much freedom in Christ. We are not bound by oppressive rituals like those in other religions are. There is much that we are free to do. But we must not use this “freedom” as an excuse to indulge our flesh through drunkenness, overeating, or pornography, etc. We are supposed to excel at self-control,even though there is much that we are free to do. Rather than follow strict ritualistic formulas, we need to be governed by the rule of love. We should do whatever is best for others, something that cannot be easily dictated by a long list of formulas.
As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! (Galatians 5:12 NIV)
In this verse the Apostle Paul is venting his frustration with false religious leaders who were teaching the early Christians that they need to be circumcised to be saved. Paul says here that it would be just if they accidentally, painfully emasculated themselves while attempting to be circumcised. This may sound harsh, but he has a point. This is less than these false teachers deserve: they have caused much painful suffering to those whom they have misled.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we should physically mutilate heretics, even though have spiritually mutilated their prey. No, it is not our place to punish them even though they deserve it: that is God’s job. It is our job to reach out in love and preach repentance to them, so that they will cease being heretics and become our brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to pray for grace even for heretics.
There are many Christians in are church that are too greatly bothered by the fact that nonChristians don’t like Christians. They want us to change the way we do church so that we don’t offend them. However, nonChristians will always be offended by good doctrine. If they weren’t offended by good doctrine they would become believers like us.
The Apostle Paul was always offending unbelievers with his preaching. Both unbelieving Jews and Gentiles alike persecuted him for it. There were some Christians who tried to persuade Paul to change his message, so as not to offend as many unbelievers. They told him that he should preach the gospel of “circumcision” in order to broaden his appeal to zealous Jews. Here is Paul’s response to this suggestion:
But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished.(Galatians 5:11 NIV).
Paul is stating, here, that if he were to start preaching circumcision, then there would be no reason why the unbelieving Jews would continue to persecute him, because he would be the same as them. The stumbling block of the cross would have been abolished. This means that if Paul had chosen to preach the gospel of the circumcision, that the offensive message of the cross would have been completely blotted out. This is not a good thing! It is the offensive message of the cross–the message that we are horrible sinners who cannot save ourselves–that gives us hope. It is true, even though it is unpopular. We must not compromise on the gospel message, for then we will have lost everything. It is better to face the wrath of men for preaching an unpopular message, than to face the wrath of God for preaching a palatable lie.
Sadly, there are many false teachers that infect good churches and do a lot of damage. However, it is comforting to know that God is looking out for us, and is able to lead us back to the truth when we stray from the gospel .The Apostle Paul, was confident that God would protect the church at Galatia from those who were seeking to bring it away from the Gospel. He had faith that the Galatians would listen to His rebuke and reject the false teachings of the circumcision party. He also had faith that God would judge the false teachers who had started this problem.
I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is. (Galatians 5:10 NIV)
There is no such thing as a “little” sin in a Christian’s life, nor is there such a thing as a small heresy. Heresy and sin are like viruses, just a few of which will spread throughout the whole body making the entire body sick. The Apostle Paul compares them to yeast:
A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. (Galatians 5:9)
Therefore, all real sin and heresy must be eradicated from our churches and from our lives.
Having said that, however, we must still be careful that we only seek to eradicate that which is true sin and heresy. We should not bring the force of church authority down on that which is not sin, even in the name of extra caution. If we are harsh to a brother or sister who is not sinning, then we are causing discord and cruelty in the church. So every thing that can be truly shown to be sin must be discarded, but it must be done gently, and we must lovingly tolerate anything that is not sin.
No good church remains a good church for a long time without constant effort and vigilance. It is hard work for us to keep ourselves focused on the gospel. This is because when things are going well in our churches we grow over confident and let our guard down. Then false doctrines sneak in under the guys of “improvements.” This has happened many times in Christian history. The Apostle Paul was understandably bothered to see it happen to the church in Galatia:
You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you. (Galatians 5:7-8)
This church had been running well. They had eagerly accepted the gospel, repented, and were saved from their sins by the power of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. But afterwards false teachers came into their church and seduced them. These teachers told them that trusting in Christ was not enough, that they need to be circumcised and follow the Jewish rites as well in order to be saved. Thus the members of this church slowly began to unbelieve what they had been taught by Paul; they were now being hindered from obeying the truth. These new teachings were causing them excitement and joy, but it was not a joy that came from God. This new persuasion did not come from Him who calls you.
Sadly, this happens to good churches all the time. The spirit of optimism that resulted from the forgiveness of their sins is sidetracked into false doctrines, and suddenly there are new causes of excitement in the church that do not come from God. Mature Christians need to be constantly on the look out for false doctrines in church, and should not tolerate anything that contradicts the gospel, no matter how exciting it might seem.
The Apostle Paul, in writing to the Galatians, warns them against becoming circumcised as a futile attempt to become better Christians. He explains to them that becoming circumcised will in no way enhance their relationship with God:
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love. (Galatians 5:6 NIV).
What Paul is explaining here, is that we are saved by Jesus’ work on the cross, not by our own effort. His righteousness is transferred to us through faith. God then changes us from the inside out, as our faith works through love. What Paul is saying is that Jesus did not die so that we could try to look good by performing a lot of rituals, but rather so that we could love each other truly. A true Christian loves others.
Some so-called Christians put too much emphasis on ritual, and too little emphasis on true, practical love. Yes, Christians are commanded to observe certain rites. We are commanded to be baptized and take communion, but we must be careful that we do not attach to much importance to the physical ritual itself. For example, I do not believe that we should judge other Christians according to their mode of baptism. I, personally, believe that the Bible teaches profession of faith baptism, not infant baptism, and yet this does not mean that a Baptist is necessarily a better Christian than a Lutheran. Their mode of baptism is not what marks them as true Christians, but rather, God will judge them by whether or not they love their brother.
Christians are horribly wicked people who have repented. We are people who are so filthy in our sins that we know that we cannot save ourselves. And yet, we long to be righteous, and we will be, for God makes us Righteous through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ:
through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope (Galatians 5:5 NIV).
True Christians are not happy remaining in their sins. We know we cannot earn holiness through our own efforts, for God gives it to us freely if we accept it. We reject sins, and are changed by God’s power. Through His Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope.
Some people view religion like a sports game. They try to “score points” by doing good things. Points can be scored, they think, by doing such things as going to church, giving food to the poor, or taking the eucharist. They think that if they score more points than most other people, that they will win God’s favor.
But God’s favor cannot be won by us and our feeble efforts. A True Christian does not try to win God’s favor by scoring lots of points, or keeping some set of rules. We win God’s favor by accepting God’s free gift. We must believe that JESUS scores all the points for us, we cannot save ourselves. The Bible has harsh warnings for those who try to save themselves:
You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. (Galatians 5:4 NIV)
This verse explains that you have no right to call yourself a Christian if you think that you can earn your righteousness/holiness by your own efforts. You can’t. If you are trying to be justified by following some sort of law, then you are alienated from Christ. You can never earn God’s favor through your own hard work, we are so wicked that God’s favor can only come through grace, not works. You must always depend only on God’s mercy for salvation, not on your own inherent goodness.
True Christians do good deeds, and lots of them, not to earn their salvation, but to display their gratitude to God for saving them by Grace.
There is a disturbing trend among some Christians these days to “convert” to Messianic Judaism. Messianic Jews, for those of you who do not know, are simply Jews who believe in Jesus Christ. They are practicing Jews, they keep the Jewish feasts, eat kosher food, and are circumcised etc, all the while acknowledging that Jesus of the Chriistians is the true Messiah. I do not necessarily have a problem with them. It is alright for a Christian who was born into the Jewish customs to keep practicing these customs after he becomes a Christian. The Apostle Paul himself generally kept the customs that he was raised in. However, I am opposed to the practice of Gentile Christians “converting” to Messianic Judaism, wherein they, too, begin to observe the Old Testament rites and are ceremonially circumcised. This is wrong, because it implies that they can contribute to their salvation through works, when in truth our salvation is bought completely by Christ. A Gentile who starts following the Jewish rules is not in any way a better Christian than one who does not. In fact, it is extremely dangerous, spiritually, for a Gentile to start living as a Jew:
Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3 And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law (Galatians 5:2-3 NIV).
Paul says here that Gentile Christians who receive circumcision we have no benefit from Christ. These are strong words! What Paul means, is that if we trust in religious rites to save us rather than the power of the cross, then we are headed to hell. Therefore, us Gentile Christians should never have ourselves ceremonially circumcised. Circumcision for purely medical reasons, such as is common in the USA today, is acceptable, but religious circumcision is not. If you submit to circumcision, then you must try to keep the rest of the Old Testament Law as well, which is impossible. Only arrogant people could think that they are good enough to keep the law.