THE RESULTS OF LEGALISM (Verses 1-12)
Verse 1. Christ has set us free from bondage to serve God in freedom. We do not well to go backwards, therefore, and be held in by any kind of yoke. The yoke is here used figuratively of the slavery of the obligation to keep the law, but applies to any kind of spiritual bondage.
Verse 2. Paul personally denies that he taught circumcision, v. II, as some said that he did. He reminds them that if they go on being circumcised (Acts 15. 1) their faith in Christ would become unprofitable, as all law-keeping is without profit, 3. 11. As these two arc mutually exclusive, the benefits of faith are lost.
Verse 3. Not only will Christ profit you nothing, but every one that receiveth circumcision places himself under the legal system, and is bound by it all. lie cannot choose, one part and refuse the other.It is all or none.
Verse 4. You are rendered useless for Christ, who profits you nothing if you seek justification by the law, as evidenced in receiving circumcision.You have renounced grace as a means of justification.
Verse 5. The proof of v. 4 is that believers, depending only on grace, are enabled to live to please God by the indwelling Holy-Spirit. By faith, through the Spirit, they wait for the hope of being conformed to the image of Christ. The word “ wait “ suggests looking forward to something so eagerly as actually to receive the realization of it. They will then live in perfect relationship with Cod, doing His will alone.
Verse 6. In those who are united by faith to Christ circumcision is unable to produce anything, e.g. righteousness, in God’s sight. Nor does uncircumcision produce anything. Neither of these justifies. But faith does, energetically displaying its power in love, the real fulfilment of the law (Rom. 13. 8).
Verse 7. Paul appeals to them as those who had started well in tile Christian fife, and asks who had obstructed their progress that they were not being persuaded by the gospel, accepting it as the rule of their life. The word “ hinder “ suggests a runner whose race is interfered with by another cutting in before him. The Judaizers had cut in, and taught them that something else was needed. Thus, in the race they were not striving lawfully, and would not be crowned (2 Tim. 2. 5).
Verse 8. This false teaching did not come from God. He called them in grace. Those who hindered them called them to legal forms.
Verse 9. Paul uses an illustration from baking, the use of leaven. This was a small piece of sour dough that fermented the whole mixture. So the persons who were hindering by their false teaching would soon affect them all. It may be that some had excused their defection by saying that the Judaizing party was so small as to be negligible, or that circumcision was so small a concession that it made no real difference. Paul warns as to the outcome of tolerating either idea.
Verse 10. But he was persuaded that the leaven of Judaism would be stopped before doing its deadly work. The Lord would look after His own. The Galatians would consider Paul’s advice good, and act on it. But the guilty individual who was stirring up trouble among them would suffer according to his sentence, whether he be an important person in the Church or not, 2. 11.
Verse 11. Paul now answers a supposed objection, namely, that he still preached circumcision, as lie did before conversion, or as ho did early on so as to conciliate the Judaizers (Acts 16. 3). The (act of his persecution by Judaizers everywhere was a proof that he preached a doctrine contrary to theirs. If ho advised circum¬cision, the cross, which stumbled the Jews as a means of life, would be of no effect. If he preached justification by the law it would be tantamount to saying that the cross was unable to justify.
Verse 12. Paul’s wish was that those who had upset their minds, and desired to cut them off from the fellowship of other believers, 4. 17, would cut themselves off from the Galatians.
THE USE OF CHRISTIAN LIBERTY (Verses 13-15)
Verse 13. Paul tells why he is denouncing the Judaizers. The purpose of God’s calling was not to another bondage, v. 1. But he warns against the improper use of freedom, not to make it into a starting-point for an assertion of the old nature, dominated by sin and self. This would lead to antinomianism and unbridled lust (2 Pet. 2. 18, 19). Instead of boasting in law-keeping, and activity of the flesh, they should glory in love, the outcome of faith, v. 6. They were now in bondage to God (Rom. 6. 22), and should serve one another in love.
Verse 14. All the individual precepts of the Mosaic laws are carried out if the believer loves his neighbour as himself. If he loves God and his neighbour lie will do nothing in violation of the law. He is keeping the law in the spirit, not in the letter merely.
Verse 15. Instead of producing love the introduction of legalism engenders in the Church party strife, and produces spiritual wounds. These are due to a censorious spirit, and eat away at their vitality, continuing to spoil the testimony. They should pay heed lest their contentions cause the total destruction of their testimony.
THE CONFLICT BETWEEN THE FLESH AND THE SPIRIT (Verses 16-24)
Verse 16. Paul shows how v. 13 can be; worked out, doing the common rounds by the help of the Holy Spirit. If He guides He will not permit the lusts of the flesh in the believer to go on to completion. They may arise, but will not rule. Lust is the earnest fixing of the desire upon something, usually sinful.
Verse 17. Proof of v. 16. The Spirit and the flesh are both .striving (or the uppermost place in the believer’s mind. These arc naturally opposed. The pull of the flesh and of the Spirit prevents the believer’s will from acting independently. It is influenced by one or the other.
Verse 18. If the believer willingly submits to the will of God lie is not dominated by the law. The desire to do the law is a fleshly impulse.Instead he is dead to the law (Rom. 7. 4-6).
Verse 19. The fulfilment of the lustings of the flesh is catalogued. This list is difficult to differentiate, suggesting possibly the havoc sin produces. Works 1-3 relate to sensuality, 4 and 5 to worship, 6-13 to the assembly, 14 and 15 are personal. Adultery, v. 19, and murders, v. 21, are omitted in the Revised Version. The various manifestations of the works of the flesh arc (1) illicit inter¬course, (2) the opposite of chastity, (3) unbridled lust.
Verse 20. (4) worship of idols, (5) dealing in magic. These five deal with former pagan worship. (6) hatreds, (7) bitter discussion, (8) jealousies, i.e. zeal to do evil, (9) wraths, i.e. the habit of mind, bent on evil, (10) factions – ambitious self-seeking. (11) divisions, a standing apart, (12) heresies, lit. choosing one’s own way.
Verse 21. (13) envyings – the passion that pines away at another’s success, (14) drunkenness, lit. full of wine, (15) revellings, i.e. feastings, ending in drunken frolics. Those who pander to these lusts, and have made this their course of conduct will receive no share in the future blessedness.They are not born again (John 3. 3).
Verse 22. In contrast to the works of the flesh is the fruit of the Spirit. Works imply activity, but fruit suggests quiet, inward power, the inherent energy of a living organism. There is a 9-fold cluster. 1-3 are Godward, 4-6 are manward, 7-9 are selfward. (1) Love is active regard for another’s need despite his attitude, (2) joy – gladness from a full heart, (3) peace – smooth-running activity for God, (4) long suffering – longmindedness, a long time before giving vent to one’s mind, (5) kindness – using oneself for another’s good, (6) goodness – action that benefits another, (7) faithfulness – confidence in the promises of God.
Verse 23. (8) meekness – a mind under proper control. Compare the taming of wild animals. There is no idea of weakness, but of strength brought under control, (9) temperance – power over oneself. The law has nothing to say against these. Rather they are the ful¬filment of the law, v. 14 (1 Tim. 1. 9, 10).
Verse 24. They who really belong to Christ, at conversion judicially saw the flesh crucified with Christ on the cross, 2. 20. Its emotions or irritations, and its eager desires were also seen put to death there.
LIVING BY THE SPIRIT (Verses 25, 26)
Verse 25. We have crucified the flesh, v. 24, therefore we live by His Spirit, as one or other must have the control, v. 17. Let us then keep step with, walk along with, the Holy Spirit, and not seek to be regulated by the law, the keeping of which is an energy of the flesh.
Verse 26. Let us not become vainglorious, full of empty pride. This is the danger liable to overtake those who put themselves under the law. It leads to one challenging another – the result of vainglory in stronger brethren, or to one envying another – the result of vainglory in weaker brethren.