We continue today in the book of Galatians. In chapter 4, Paul continues his line of argumentation from chapter 3. He combines the ideas of Abraham’s offspring being those justified by faith alone and the idea that the law was given to reveal our sin to us, and refers to us as children – heirs – who are under the authority and tutelage of guardians and managers (4:1-2). The slave child is like the heir in this way. But the difference becomes evident when the inheritance is given (v. 7). And when was the inheritance given to the people of God? When Christ came in space and time as a Israelite (v. 4). And when He did this, even those who are not of the family of God previously were adopted as sons and heirs (v. 5). And the Spirit now testifies from within that we are those adopted children of God the Father (v. 6).
And as those who once did not know God (v. 8), but now do (v. 9), how can we choose instead to return to slavery (a metaphor for the works of the law – vv. 9-10). In verse 12 we see how Paul (a Jew) is just as the Galatians (Gentiles) are. Based on the context of what Paul just said, this means they are saved in the same way: through faith alone in Christ alone. Paul is asking them to become like him in relying on nothing more than Christ for their continuing salvation. And Paul reminds them of the relationship they had with him (vv. 12-14) when he was with them. They received his ministry of the Gospel with gladness and were a blessing to him even as he blessed them with the Gospel. Would they now consider him an enemy because of the Gospel of grace he is bringing back to their remembrance (v. 16)? It is, in fact, the Judaizers who are their enemies, motivated by pride (v. 17).
Paul then reaches back into history by using the mothers of Abraham’s children as an “allegory”* (v. 24). Beginning in verse 22, he reviews the story of Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael was born according to the flesh. This is because it was Abraham and Sarah’s will and plan that he be born to Sarah’s slave, Hagar. It is also because, according to the accepted rules of society, Ishmael was the heir as the firstborn. Isaac was born according to the promise, that is, God promised Abraham a child, and God fulfilled that promise in Isaac. So Hagar represents the Mosaic Covenant and the Law (now fulfilled) and Sarah represents the Abrahamic Covenant (which could not be annulled by the Mosaic Covenant). Which child is the true heir of God’s promise, Paul asks? So we, Christians, are like Isaac (v. 28), whereas physical Israel, by implication, are like Ishmael. And those who insist on the Law (part of the Mosaic Covenant given to physical Israel), namely the Judaizers, are through their false teaching persecuting the Galatians, who are Isaac (v. 29). Therefore, the Judaizer should be cast out from among them (v. 30). A little leaven leavens the whole lump.
Chapter 5 begins the application section of the letter. Paul has now proved his point. Christ has set us free from the slavery of the law, that is, the sin the law revealed, therefore, we cannot live as slaves (5:1). We cannot have both Law and Christ (v. 2), because you can’t have a little of both – if it’s a little law, it’s all the law (v. 3). If justification is by faith alone in Christ alone, then adding any law takes away that “alone” (v. 4). And circumcision counts only for those under the law, not in Christ( v. 6).
Though they had been doing so well in their newfound faith, the Galatians are believing lies (v. 7) that are not from Christ (v. 8). And to believe even a single lie is to not believe Christ. Why? Because, as we have seen over and over again: a little leaven leavens the whole lump (v. 9)! Paul asks the Galatians to consider the persecutions he faced at the hands of the Jews (which we will see when we get to the book of Acts). Clearly, this means that he is not preaching circumcision (v. 11). If he were, the Jews would not take offense. And if if the Judaizers believe cutting off the foreskin is good, Paul suggests they don’t stop there (v. 12).
In verse 13, Paul returns to the theme of freedom. They were called to freedom in Christ. They should not use that freedom as an opportunity to try to please God through the flesh, but to please God by serving one another (v. 13). Because if they want to follow the law, they should remember what Jesus taught us about love being the whole of the law (v. 14). And if they do not love, they will destroy each other (v. 15).
Beginning in verse 16, Paul expounds this love. It begins with relying on the power of the Spirit, not the power of the self, which leads to sin. And like Law and faith, the desires of the Spirit and our sinful desires are contrary to each other (v. 17). And if the Galatians will be led by the Spirit, they are not under the law (v. 18). This means that they will be completely under faith, and completely free. If they are free, they can love one another. Paul then enumerates what our desires produce (vv. 19-21), and what the Spirit produces in us (vv. 22-23). This means that being led by the Spirit (v. 18) means being led away from sin, and into righteousness. And we are free to do this, and so can crucify those desires within us (v 24) and love and serve each other, rather than sin against each other (v. 26).
Chapter 6 begins with practical ways to live out what Paul just spoke about. The gentleness the Spirit produce in us will mean that we will not glory in the sins of others, but seek to bring them to repentance and restoration (6:1). We should bear each other’s burdens together, because this is how the love that the Spirit produces in us (5:22) fulfills the law (v. 2 – see 5:14). But before we can bear the burden of our brother or sister, we need to look at ourselves. We need to realize that we are no better than them, or anyone else in Christ (v. 3). Christians are not to compare ourselves to each other, thinking we are better than someone less sanctified or caught in a sin. That is what the world does. That is the only place they can find their goodness. What we do is about our relationship with God. Love is the measuring stick, not other people (v. 4). So before we can bear the burdens of another, we first must bear our own by taking responsibility for ourselves (v. 5).
In verse 11, Paul confirms that these are his own words. Back in 4:13-15 Paul refers back to a physical issue he had, which affected his eyes (which is why the Galatians would have given them their own eyes if they could have). Here, Paul essentially “signs” the letter by writing a single line. He has to write large because his eye condition will not allow him to write small letters. He warns that the Judaizers, who themselves were comparing themselves to others and their ideas of goodness (which Paul just spoke against), were seeking to gratify the desires of the flesh, and that they did this because they sought to avoid the persecutions Paul himself faced for preaching a pure Gospel (v. 12). They boast in the fact that they got the Galatians to believe them and be circumcised (v. 13). But Paul boasts only in the cross of Christ – the heart of the Gospel – which has crucified him to the world (v. 14 – see 5:24). He reiterates that circumcision counts for nothing (see 5:6), but only a “new creation” (v. 15). This is the regeneration provided by Christ through His Spirit.
In verse 16, Paul reiterates what he said in chapters 3 and 4 in another way by referring to the church, who walk by the rule of love and who walk according to their new creation rather than works of the law, as the Israel of God. We are the true people of God. We always have been. Paul then asserts his authority one last time. He says “let no one cause me trouble anymore” about his doctrine. Because he suffers for Jesus, and has the scars to prove it (v. 17). Do we?
Justification is by faith alone in Christ alone. There is nothing that can be added. Any works we do are a result of that justification, never the cause. So may we, like Paul, say:
Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. – Galatians 6:14 (ESV)
*The word is a transliteration of the Greek word allegoreo (Greek ἀλληγορέω). Paul does not intend to communicate that the history given in the book of Genesis is an allegory. He is using real events as an illustration of his previous point about slaves and heirs, and the true offspring of Abraham.