In the first verse of chapter 5 we have the main point of the
epistle compressed into a few words. Christ has set us free in a
wonderful liberty, and in that we are to stand fast, refusing to be
again entangled in bondage.
Let us refresh our memories as to the extent and character of the liberty into which we have been brought.
In the first place we have been set free from the law as the ground
of our justification before God. This was previously stated in Gal. 2:
16. We are "justified by the faith of Christ."
Further, we have been set free from the law as the basis of our
relationship with God. The "adoption of sons" is ours as having been
redeemed from under the law. This is stated in Gal. 4: 5.
Consequently, in the third place, we are set free from the law as
the rule or standard of our life. This came out in the whole passage,
Gal. 3: 23 to Gal. 4: 7. For as long as God's children were in the
place of servants, the rule of life for them was the law. Now, as
full-grown sons in the house of their father, possessing the Spirit of
God's Son, we have a higher rule or standard than the law of Moses-even
the "law of Christ," of which Gal. 6: 2 speaks.
The liberty into which we are brought, then, is the complete
emancipation which has reached us as being made the sons of God. It is
the freedom of which the Lord Jesus spoke when He said, "If the Son
therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed" (John 8: 36).
We are no longer like servants of the household, who rightly have their
conduct regulated by the rules suitable to the servants' hall; and to
put ourselves in our thoughts and behaviour back into that position is
to sadly entangle ourselves. It is indeed to fall from grace, as verse
4 has it.
The words "fallen from grace" are often taken to mean that such have
fallen out of the gracious hand of God-that such are no longer saved.
The phrase however, refers to what was produced in their consciousness,
not to what is true as before God. The verse begins, "Christ is become
of no effect unto you." Is Christ of no effect REALLY?-that is, IN THE
SIGHT OF GOD? Far be the thought-an impossible supposition! But to
them- in their experience and consciousness? Yes. If they considered
themselves as justified on the principle of law, Christ was most
evidently disallowed in their minds, and they had descended from the
divine and lofty principle of grace to the far lower level of law. And
the descent between the two is so pronounced and precipitous that it
can only be described as a fall!
To fall from grace is not a difficult thing. How many a professed
believer there is today that is guilty of it! Are we all clear on the
point? Do we stand in the liberty of grace in all our dealings with
In verses 2 and 3 Paul again alludes to the matter of circumcision
as this was being used as a test question. It was the spearhead of the
adversaries' attack on their liberty. It doubtless appeared to many to
be a small and unimportant point, but it was quite sufficient to
establish the principle. The law is one whole. If taken up in one
detail it must be maintained in all details. This is quite in keeping
with what James writes-"whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet
offend in one point, he is guilty of all." (Jas 2: 10). This enforces
the fact that if the law be broken in one detail, it is broken
altogether. Both statements correspond and show us that the law cannot
be taken up piecemeal. It is one whole and must be considered as such.
If but a very small stone be thrown through a large pane of glass it is
a broken pane, as really as if it were shivered to atoms by a large
chunk of rock. Or, to change the figure, the law is like a chain of
many links. It is as really a broken chain if one link be fractured as
if a dozen were snapped. Conversely, let a boat be connected with but
one link of a chain and that boat is attached to all, and may be
controlled by the hand that pulls any link in the chain. And this is
the particular point that Paul is enforcing here.
Now note the contrast between the "ye" of verse 4 and the "we" of
verse 5. "Ye"-such among the Galatians as were abandoning in their
thoughts the place in which grace had set them. "We"-the mass of
believers, standing in the grace of the gospel. It is the Christian
"we"- if we may so speak; and verse 5 describes what the proper
position of the believer is: not now his position of privilege before
God as a son, but his position of liberty as left in the world, which
is in sharp contrast with all that the Jew had ever known.
Our position is one of expectancy. We wait, but not for
righteousness as was the case with the Jew, who under the law was
always "going about to establish his own righteousness," and yet never
arriving at it. We have righteousness as an established fact in the
Gospel, and are only waiting for the hope that is connected with it.
The hope of righteousness is glory, as Romans 5: 2 makes manifest. Now
we are waiting for glory-by the Spirit given to us; and on the
principle of faith-not the principle of the works of the law.
Is not this a position of wonderful liberty? The more we have
experienced the drudgery and despair of seeking righteousness by
diligent efforts at law keeping, the more we shall appreciate it; and
see that faith working by love is the only thing that counts in Christ
Once the Galatians had been like earnest runners in the race, now
they were hindered and no longer obeying the truth. Take note that "the
truth" is not something merely to be discussed and analysed and
understood, but to be obeyed. Are we sons of God? Then as sons we are
to behave ourselves. Are we no longer under the schoolmaster? Then we
no longer order our lives on a legal basis. Are we crucified with
Christ? Then we do not aim at living unto ourselves but that Christ may
live in us. Every bit of truth that we learn is to have a practical
expression in us. We are to obey it.
The Galatians however were turning aside not only from obedience to
the truth, but from the truth itself. They had been persuaded to
embrace these new ideas, which did not come from the God who had called
them; and further, they had to remember that ideas and doctrines can
work like leaven. They might be flattering themselves that they had
only embraced a few minor items of Judaism, yet thereby they might
become wholly Judaized.
The saying which we have here in verse 9 is also found in 1
Corinthians 5: 6. It states the essential nature of leaven. In
Corinthians it is applied to a matter of conduct and morals. Here it is
applied to a matter of doctrine; for it was virtually "the leaven of
the Pharisees" which was threatening the Galatians, just as that
threatening the Corinthians was in its nature near to the leaven of the
Sadducees and the Herodians. Still when the Apostle thought of the Lord
and His gracious working in souls, he felt confident that his letter of
remonstrance and correction would have its effect on the Galatians, and
that the workers of mischief, who had troubled them and perverted their
thoughts, would eventually come under God's dealings in judgment.
In verses 11 to 15, Paul reinforces his appeal by one or two further
considerations. He was no preacher of circumcision. Had he been he
would have escaped persecution. The "offence" or "scandal" of the cross
consists in the fact that it puts no honour upon man; in fact, it
totally condemns him. Circumcision on the other hand, assumes that
there is some possibility of merit in him, that his flesh in this way
can be made profitable to God. And what is true of circumcision would
also be true of any other rite which is performed with the idea that
there is virtue in it. This explains why men so dearly love rites and
ordinances. They induce in men a comfortable feeling of complacency
with themselves. The cross makes nothing of them. Hence its scandal.
The Apostle longed for the true liberty of the Galatians and could
have desired that those who were so zealous for the cuttings of
circumcision would cut themselves off. Liberty, he points out, is not
licence to sin but rather freedom to love and to serve. And this love
was what the law of Moses had been aiming at all the time. Yet, as a
matter of fact, while boasting in the law they had been biting and
devouring one another, instead of loving and serving one another. It is
ever thus. Legality leads to the very opposite of love in action, and
the Galatians had to beware lest their pursuit of holiness by law only
led them to the unholy end of consuming one another in their
contentions and criticisms. They would avoid the scandal of the cross
only to come utterly to grief in the scandal produced by their own
unholy conduct. We have sorrowfully to remark that this just sums up
the history of Christendom. In proportion as the scandal of the cross
has been refused and avoided, the scandal of its divisions and
misbehaviour has increased.
The Galatians, however, might turn round to Paul and say, "you have
pretty definitely and effectively shown us that our thoughts as to
pursuing holiness by law-keeping are wrong, but what is right? You have
demolished what we have been saying, but what do you say?" His answer
to this begins in verse 16. "This I say then, walk in the Spirit."
Walking is man's earliest and most primitive activity. It has
consequently become the figure or symbol of man's activities. To "walk
in the Spirit" is to have one's activities, whether of thought or
speech or action, in the energy of the Spirit, who has been given to
us. The Spirit of God's Son, conferred upon us as God's sons, is to
govern all our activities. This is the way of liberty, a liberty which
is the very opposite of licence, for walking in the Spirit it is
impossible for us to fulfil the desires of the flesh. The coming in of
the higher power completely lifts us above the pull of the lower.
The flesh is not thereby altered, as verse 17 makes plain. Its
nature, its desires, its action remain the same, and always contrary to
the Spirit of God. But the Spirit prevails-if we walk in the
Spirit-against the flesh, so that we "cannot" (or, more accurately,
"should not") do the things that otherwise we would. And then if we are
"led" of the Spirit we cannot be at the same time under the leadership
of "the schoolmaster"-the law.
In verse 16, then, the Spirit is regarded as the new Power in the
believer, energizing him. In verse 18, as the new Leader, taking him by
the hand and directing him in God's will. In Romans 8: 14, the Spirit
is also presented in this capacity. The sons are led by the Spirit. The
servants are led by the schoolmaster.
The fact that there exists a total and absolute contrast and
contradiction between the flesh and the Spirit is very manifest when we
consider the outcome of each. Verses 19 to 21 give us the dreadful
catalogue of the works of the flesh. Verses 22 and 23 present the
beautiful cluster of the fruit of the Spirit. The former wholly under
the condemnation of God and to be excluded from His kingdom. The latter
wholly approved of God and hence no law existing against them. In the
one list we discover the hideous features which characterize fallen
Adam: in the other the character of Christ.
Notice the contrast between the "works" and the "fruit." It is easy
to understand the "works." The earth is filled with the noise of them.
Their confusion and disruption are visible on every side. "Fruit," on
the other hand, is of silent growth, even in nature. In summer time,
amidst the orchards no one is driven to distraction by the noise of
maturing fruit. The wonder of its growth takes place without a sound.
So it is with the fruit of the Spirit. It is "fruit" you notice, not
"fruits;" and this, because these lovely moral features are conceived
of as a bunch; nine in number but all proceeding from one stem-the
Spirit of God.
These lovely traits of character are going to fill the kingdom of
God, whilst the blatant works of the flesh are totally excluded. No
true Christian is characterized by these works of the flesh, though
alas, a true Christian may fall into one or other of them, and only be
extricated by the advocacy of Christ and at the cost of much suffering
to himself both spiritual and physical. To belong to Christ means that
we have come to a definite judgment as to the evil of the flesh, and
have crucified it by heartily ratifying in our own conscience and
judgment the sentence against it pronounced by God at the cross.
We do well to enquire if we have really arrived at this, which is
the proper attitude of the Christian. Have we definitely put the
sentence of death on the flesh? Have we crucified it with the
affections and lusts? Is it what we profess to have done as being
Christians: but are we up to our profession? A very serious question
which we must each answer for ourselves. Let us give ourselves time for
conscience to answer!
Certain it is that we live by the Spirit and not by the flesh. Well,
then, let us walk by the Spirit. Our walk must certainly be according
to our life. A bird cannot have its life in the air and yet all its
activities under the water. A fish cannot have its life in water and
yet its activities on land. Christians cannot have their life in the
Spirit and yet their activities in the flesh.
The last verse of our chapter is another pretty plain hint to the
Galatians that the Apostle well knew what their false pursuit of
holiness was coming to. Depend upon it, if we fall into their snare the
same sad effects will be displayed in ourselves.
Only in the Spirit of God can we reproduce, even in small measure, the beautiful character of Christ.