In verse 1, Paul urges the Galatians to stand fast in the liberty which is realized through Christ and not to be entangled “with the yoke of bondage.” Before being made free by Christ, both Jew and Gentile were under the law. Because Christ fulfilled the law, believers are made free of the law through Him. The Good Shepherd gave His life for the sheep such that they (all believers) have life and have it more abundantly (Jn. 10:10-11).
The Galatians and we (believers of every age) are called to testify of the freedom from the law which Christ has purchased. One who remains under the law does not testify of the liberty which Christ has purchased. In verse 4, Paul states that anyone who attempts to justify themselves by keeping the law is fallen from grace. Grace is not found in the law.
The Apostle asserted in verse 2 that the liberty that one has through Christ is not related in any way to circumcision. As New Testament believers, we recognize that we are beneficiaries of the promise made to Abraham (Genesis 12). We note that circumcision was an outward sign on the part of Abraham and his seed of God’s contract to be their God and to give them the land of Canaan forever (Gen. 17:8). The terms of that contract involved more than physical circumcision. In Genesis 17:1, God placed the requirement upon Abraham that he “walk before me, and be thou perfect.” More than six hundred years passed before God spelled out His terms of perfection in the law of Moses. The blessing which God promised to all families of the earth through Abraham (Gen. 12:3) predates the covenant of circumcision.
In verse 3, Paul flatly states that circumcision makes one a debtor to the whole law — one must be perfect. If one could walk in the perfection which Christ walked, Christ’s perfection is of no effect. The act of circumcision is no less than a pledge to keep the entire law.
It is through the Spirit (revelation by the Comforter, the Holy Spirit) [v. 5] that we eagerly receive the righteousness of Christ which is the gift of grace by faith (Eph. 2:8-9). Paul identifies that which matters with Christ as “faith which worketh by love.” Neither circumcision or uncircumcision has spiritual merit with Christ. Faith that testifies of God’s love is the spiritual response that matters. God counts believing Him as righteousness. Evidence of belief is manifested by all who testify of His love.
“Ye did run well” (v. 7) refers to the manner in which the Galatians had responded to God’s love. Something happened. God’s love did not change. Christ did not change. Truth did not change. The Galatians had changed. They had stopped testifying of His love. What caused this change? False teachers had convinced them that God’s love alone was not enough. False teachers had persuaded them to embrace legalism. Believers, Galatians included, cannot embrace both grace and the law. To do so is to declare God’s love to be both sufficient and insufficient. One who embraces righteousness by works (the law) rejects righteousness by faith.
Righteousness by works is spiritual leaven which infects the entire lump (v. 9). It destroys the testimony of His love.
Paul was born a Jew and was circumcised under the law but he did not remain under the law, He threw out the leaven. He embraced Christ and Him alone. The specific leaven that had infected the lump in the church at Galatia was the requirement of circumcision (v. 3, 4 and 11). It is apparent that some of the Judaizers argued that Paul continued to preach circumcision. Paul did have Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3). The reason, however, was not to keep the law. Timothy’s circumcision was a demonstration of love in that Paul might gain them who are under the law (I Cor. 9:20). The apostle argues that the persecution which he suffers at the hands of Judaizers is because he teaches the sufficiency of the cross alone.
In verse 13, Paul makes it clear that freedom from the law is not a license to sin. The law requires one to love his neighbor as himself. Freedom from the law allows believers to serve one another by love. Love cannot be legislated. One cannot fulfill the love requirement of the law unless one is made free from the law.
Through Christ, we can walk in the Spirit. The law is of the flesh and is contrary to the Spirit (v. 17). One cannot walk in two different directions at the same time. The flesh and the Spirit lead in opposite directions.
Judaizers were enemies of the Galatians because they would have the flesh rule over the Spirit. Christians of today face like challenges in that legalists would not have us walk in love (the way of the Spirit) but walk in duty (bondage).
Christ has made us free such that His love may be seen in us. Let us consider that which He has done and then love one another as He has loved us. We are free in Him who is the full expression of God’s love.