Never Go There Again (Galatians 5:1-6)

Never Go There Again

Stay Free–never go back to slavery  Galatians 5:1-6

Americans prize freedom above almost anything else. Our culture treasures freedom. The trouble is, people in the USA generally want the wrong kind of freedom. They often think of freedom only in political terms–freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to bear arms and freedom to vote. However, what most Americans mainly want is personal freedom. In other words, what Americans really want is the freedom to be left alone.

The reason we want to be left alone is that all of us are naturally selfish. We want to do what we want to do, whenever, wherever, however, and with whomever we please. With this type of freedom, belief in God is extremely inconvenient. Everyone knows if there is a God, He undoubtedly has opinions, preferences and rules about what we ought to do, where we ought to do it, and with whom.

As a result, what most Americans want these days is not freedom of religion, but freedom from religion. And sadly, freedom from religion is not freedom at all–it is just another form of bondage. You can be the loving slave of a gracious God or you are the slave of selfishness, pride, sin, a controlling world and a hateful enemy. The best and truest freedom is the kind described by John Stott–“Freedom from my silly little self, in order to live responsibly in love for God and others.” And as Paul transitions to the third section of his letter to the Galatians, he commands believers to live free and never to return to the enslavement of self.

After defending his apostleship (chapters 1 and 2) and his message of justification by faith (chapters 3 and 4), Paul now applies the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith to practical Christian living (chapters 5 and 6), emphasizing that right doctrine should result in right living. Now Paul emphasizes that God designed sanctification to result from justification, through the personal ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer.

Turn to chapter 5. You can’t live for Christ without the Holy Spirit living through you. It is impossible to live for God’s glory, unless the Spirit is glorifying God through you. It is the Holy Spirit who makes the life of faith work. It is only the Holy Spirit who makes the life of faith productive and acceptable to God–for without the Spirit, a life of faith is no better than a life of Law.

A true life of faith lived by the Spirit is freedom, but a life of Law by the flesh is slavery. Romans 8:2, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” John 8:36, “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” The final two chapters of Galatians are a portrait of the Spirit-filled life, which is also a powerful testimony of the life-changing power of true salvation by faith. The Gospel sets you free–so in this chapter you will see Paul correcting another false teacher attack against his teaching. The Judaizers say, by Paul teaching salvation by grace through faith alone with no Law, that Paul is promoting a morally loose lifestyle. And Paul will make clear in this final section of Galatians—no it won’t.

First, any so-called believer who falls back to live under the Law as a way of salvation or who uses grace as a license to sin is turning their back on the spiritual wealth lavished upon them by the death and resurrection of Christ. This is what the Galatians were doing–going back to the Law as a means of salvation. Second, the Galatian believers, like all believers today, have been set free for a purpose–set free to love and serve one another (verses 13 to 14) and to display true Christlike character (verses 22 to 23). By teaching his readers that the Gospel of grace through faith alone provides freedom to live a righteous life, Paul is reaffirming the truth that grace is the way to life and the way of life.

Let’s not overreact, shall we? Christians are famous for their extremism. We don’t believe the gift of tongues is for today, but all the non-sign gifts are in play. We don’t believe the gift of prophecy is for today, but God’s Word is living and active. We don’t believe in gifted healers today, but God still supernaturally heals. And we don’t believe in a later blessing of the Holy Spirit, but we believe in the indwelling of the Spirit at salvation and filling of the Spirit necessary for sanctification.

To be free means we depend on the Holy Spirit to live through us as believers. We’ve been given a freedom to live more like Christ, which is the only path to freedom. Any return to religion, any steps to adding Law to grace, any movement back to being saved by works destroys our freedom and distorts the message of grace. God tells the Galatians, never go back to salvation by Law–but treasure your freedom given through Christ, and enjoyed through the Spirit. So Paul says . . .

#1  Be impacted by Christ’s will to make you FREE  Verse 1a

Paul begins Galatians chapter 5, verse 1 with an assertion, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free.” Paul sounds redundant–he is using simple language to keep his main point clear. In the Greek, Paul arranges the order of the words to place emphasis on the object. You might translate this opening phrase this way–“To liberty, Christ has liberated us,” meaning, Christ didn’t set you free without purpose. Christ didn’t set you free to no end.

Christ didn’t set you free so you could enslave yourself to the nearest legalist or to even pursue a wild frenzy of immorality. Christ set us free so you could bask in the benefits of His salvation–once you are in Christ, you can live a life without condemnation or overt guilt. What is Pail saying? Commentator John Stott lays it out clearly, “Our former state is portrayed as a slavery, Jesus Christ as a liberator, conversion as an act of emancipation and the Christian life as a life of freedom.”

This freedom God gives us is a new lifestyle. Now believers have the ability to live by the Spirit’s power. We’re free to obey God and do God’s will joyfully. We can love and serve others. We’re able to enter into the Lord’s presence through prayer, experiencing a close, personal relationship with the greatest being who has ever existed, the Lord Jesus. Before salvation, we couldn’t take advantage of any of these benefits. We were pathetic and penniless slaves to sin. But now after salvation, we are wealthy freedmen and women, who can enjoy the immeasurable benefits and heavenly blessings of Christ to the fullest.

Verse 1a, Christ has set us free so we can enjoy our freedom. You’ve been made free from the penalty of sin and the very power of sin. You are no longer a slave to your own desires, to the pressure of this world and from the temptations of the evil one. You’ve been freed to live life to the fullest since you’re freed from any fear of death or any judgment or Hell to follow.

True freedom then is unique. True freedom is not self-fulfillment. It is not merely political independence or social equality. It is not the kind of liberty that leads to license, or the freedom to do whatever you want or believe in–whatever you choose. True freedom means liberation from sin, death, your flesh, this world and the devil. And by the grace of God, this is exactly the kind of liberation Christ has come to provide.

#2  Be committed to STAY free, and resist slavery  Verse 1b

Verse 1b, “Therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” J. B. Phillips offers this helpful paraphrase, “Plant your feet firmly therefore within the freedom that Christ has won for us, and do not let yourselves be caught again in the shackles of slavery.” Paul strongly commands the Galatians one positive command and one negative command.

Stay where you are in Christ, positively, and Paul commands you, stand firm—hold your ground, maintain your position in battle, be steadfast, upright, and immoveable. The Lord has given you freedom from sin, and freedom from legalism–you must hold fast to Christ and the freedom He gives you with a life of faith. Hand onto grace, by faith, in Christ alone, through His Spirit–and don’t let go.

Negatively, “do not be subject again” indicates you must not entangle yourself, don’t be burdened by, don’t be oppressed by, and don’t be subject to. By using a passive voice with the Greek command subject, Paul is being super pointed–Galatians and FBC Christian, do not let those false teachers subject you, do not let them force you, and do not become vulnerable in any way to submission–to what? Verse 1b, “the yoke of slavery.”

You know what a yoke is? It is describing the apparatus used to control domesticated animals in order to get them to work together to plow a field. Well, the yoke was used to tie animals to farm equipment and wagons, but a “yoke of slavery” was different–it was any device used to tie slaves to each other or to limit their movements in some way. The yoke could be made of wood or metal–but either way, its function was the same—to force a slave to submit, to remain in prescribed bounds, and to carry out the work assigned to him or her.

The yoke of legalism restricts a believer, or an almost believer, by convincing them that an inflexible list of “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” is the safest way to remain pure and acceptable to God. Beware–those caught in the yoke of legalism always search for partners to share the burden with them, recruiting more converts to the cause of slavery. Their mentality is, the more legalists attached to our chain gang, the better.

This is partly why many Jewish leaders described the “yoke of the Law” as a good thing–thinking it was the essence of true religion. They considered working for their salvation and trying to achieve a lifestyle of perfect obedience, perfect behavior, perfect words was a good thing. Sadly, a few conformed externally and looked good–but they failed to consider their thoughts, motives and hearts before a perfect, righteous and holy God.

Friends, once you go down the road of earning your salvation by human effort, you are enslaved, fearful, not only dreading exposure before men, fearful they might see your sin–but also afraid of never pleasing God who knows your heart, your mind and your motives. Pursuing salvation by keeping the Law, living good, being religious, attending church, makes you yoked in slavery to the fear of men and guilt before God. Like an animal loosed from pulling a plow, we should not seek to be hooked up again. Like a slave released from the yoke of slavery, we must run to freedom to keep it.

Paul is teaching here, for anyone who pursues the Law as a means of salvation, the Law is a yoke of slavery. Only Christ and Christ alone can free you from those chains. Remember Matthew 11:28 and 29, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Like Jesus, Paul’s exhortation breaks the yoke before it catches us by the neck–don’t surrender your freedom, defend it with your life. All who are in Christ, God’s purpose for your salvation was to provide you with freedom. Christ set you free from the guilt-establishing and deadening power of the Law through Christ’s death and resurrection. When Christ died, your sin–all of it, past, present and future–was punished. When Jesus died, all the guilt you have before God was forgiven. When Jesus died and rose, He did all the work to secure you forever forgiven. So for the Galatians to go back into a yoke of slavery is absurd. Yet the believers in Galatia were being duped by the Judaizer false teachers to consider doing just that. So Paul puts the hammer down . . .

#3  Be MOTIVATED to remain free in Christ  Verses 2 to 6

Paul gives the Galatians and you both negative and positive motivation in verses 2 through 6, to run to freedom in Christ, and run away from the Law and its slavery–remain free.

First  Through NEGATIVE motivation–pursuing the Law/works results in . . .

Paul first turns his attention to those who have begun to embrace legalism. Having been duped by the deceivers, many have let that cruel yoke of slavery slip gently around their necks. Paul exhorts the Galatians to reject its flawed legalism and return to a life of grace before the Judaizers screw the bolts tight and bind them in permanent chains–proving they were never saved in the first place. Negatively, Paul motivates the Galatians three ways, starting with verse 2–pursuing the Law/works results in . . .

1.  Christ CAN’T help you

Verse 2, “Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.” If we do not let Christ do everything for us, then Christ can do nothing for us. By receiving circumcision, the Galatians were saying that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was insufficient–either to save them, or to sanctify them. No benefit, no aid, no help, no use.

The Galatians were arrogantly trying to add to Christ’s payment for sin. By accepting the idea of righteousness by their own works (like circumcision), they were rejecting the work of Christ that provides righteousness by faith. From a legalistic point of view, Christ might as well not have come at all, since by turning to the Law, they were turning from Christ.

Circumcision had meaning in Israel as a physical symbol of a cleansed heart. Circumcision served as a reminder of God’s covenant of salvation promise. But the problem here was this–the atoning sacrifice of Christ cannot benefit anyone who trusts in Law, in the act of circumcision or going to festivals for salvation. Paul is not objecting to circumcision itself, but to the belief that circumcision had some spiritual benefit, help or use with God or that the cutting away of the foreskin was actually a prerequisite to salvation or a necessary component of salvation. If we try to help ourselves, Christ will be no help at all.

As John MacArthur states, “A person becomes acceptable to God only by placing his full trust in His Son, Jesus Christ, and after he is saved he perseveres in living a life acceptable to God only by continuing to trust in Christ alone. Whether before or after conversion, trust in human works of any kind is a barrier between a person and Christ and results in unacceptable legalism.” Pursuing the Law/works results in . . .

2.  Your life is all the Law or NOTHING

Verse 3, “And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law.” Paul is speaking out here. Testify (“I testify again”) is a strong protest–it might refer to the previous verse (2), or to this verse (3), but Paul is giving his statements added urgency. By receiving circumcision, the Gentile Galatians were placing themselves under a covenant commitment to keep the whole Law. Just like a wedding vow places a person into a covenant relationship as a husband or wife, circumcision obligates people to follow the lifestyle it initiates.

The noun “obligation” means indebted to, owed to, or a debt to pay. You don’t have a choice–you owe the Lord the whole Law if you try to win salvation by circumcision or any other moral/religious act. It’s either all by grace or all by Law. The Galatians couldn’t merely choose one small part of the Law to obey. Once they chose any of it, they had chosen all of it as a means of salvation.

The only person who has ever kept the entire Law, externally and internally, was our Lord Jesus Christ–He lived a perfect life. And through His flawless life, sacrificial death, and resurrection, He took the debt of your sin upon Himself and can cover you with His perfect righteousness. He can be your substitute–but only if you come to Him by faith . . . never by any amount of works. God’s standard is flawless righteousness, absolute perfection, to be in God’s presence. A failure to keep merely one part of His Law falls short of His perfect character and condemns you to eternal judgment in Hell forever. To move from salvation by grace back to a salvation by works is so bad.

3.  You’re severed and FALLEN

Verse 4, “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” Those who try to be justified by works are cut off from Christ. Paul’s choice of words here in verse 4 is significant. Circumcision involved cutting off the male foreskin. In the old covenant, this was a way of saying that a Jew was cut off from the world and if he ever rejected God, he himself would be cut off from God’s people.

Here, Paul teaches the Galatians just the opposite–Galatian believers belonged to the new covenant, not to the old. If these so-called believers got circumcised now, they would be cutting themselves off from Christ! “Severed” means estranged, separated, or nullified. Rather than separating themselves from sin, they’d be severing their relationship with the Savior. The underlying key principle Paul is getting at is this–if you try to justify yourself before God on the basis of your own works, Jesus Christ becomes a stranger to you and you end up rejecting salvation by grace alone through faith alone.

This is a serious warning to all churchgoers–those who have been exposed to the gracious truth of the Gospel, who then turn their backs on Christ and seek to be justified by the Law (salvation their way) are separated from Christ and lose all prospects of God’s gracious salvation. Their desertion of Christ and the Gospel proves that their faith was never genuine in the first place.

The warning of Hebrews 6 is the same Hebrews 6:4 to 6, “For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.” Once the Galatians chose the Law as their savior and lord, like being spiritually circumcised, they cut themselves off from Christ as their Savior and Lord.

Once they seek to be justified before God and before men by their works, which are done in the power of their own flesh, their own strength and abilities, then it is very difficult to see them come to Christ by grace through faith in Christ alone. They have (verse 4) fallen from grace–literally left grace for Law. “Fallen” means they lost their grasp, they let go–it’s no longer in their trust. Once they take up the torch of the flesh, they scorch the work of the Spirit. So Paul motivates the Galatians with negative motivation, and now verses 5 to 6, he does so . . .

Second  Through POSITIVE motivation

A believer who lives by grace, trusting only in Christ for salvation, lives through the Spirit rather than the flesh–lives by faith rather than works, and lives in patient hope rather than in the anxious uncertainty of bondage to the Law. Notice those three truths in verse 5, “For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness.” Pursuing faith/grace results in . . .

1  Living in the SPIRIT

Verse 5a, “For we through the Spirit by faith”–every genuine Christian is indwelt with the Spirit of Christ, but not every Christian is filled with the Spirit of Christ every moment, under His control. But as you live dependently upon the Spirit, saturated in His Word, confessing all known sin and seeking to pursue serving in the church and sharing the Gospel in the world–you’re demonstrating a life of faith and a lifestyle of becoming like Christ and experience His freedom. Pursuing faith/grace results in . . .

2  Living in the CERTAINTY/hope of a perfect standing

Verse 5b, “by faith are waiting for the hope of righteousness.” One of the big differences between living in the flesh and living by faith is, our approach to righteousness is different. When we live according to our own merit, we believe the burden for holiness rests solely upon our shoulders. As a result, we feel compelled to work by the sweat of our brow to achieve that righteousness.

We are enslaved–but when we live by faith, we trust our righteousness is secure in Christ, that the Spirit is working daily to conform us to His image, and that perfect holiness will only come when Christ glorifies us. We are freed. Justification here is not something we work for–here it is something we wait for.

The Judaizers’ (verse 5) hope of righteousness was based on adding imperfect and worthless works of law in a vain attempt to complete the priceless work of Christ, which they assumed to be incomplete and imperfect. But Paul says true believers, through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness that is based on God’s grace. “Hope”, in English, is maybe. “Hope” in Greek is certain.

You believers already possess the imputed righteousness of justification, but the yet-incomplete righteousness of total sanctification and glorification still awaits you. What is the (verse 5) “hope” of righteousness? In this life, believers are still waiting for the completed and perfected righteousness that is yet to come. Pursuing faith/grace results in . . .

3  Living a life of loving WORKS

Verse 6, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.” Another difference between living in the flesh and living by faith is that your life becomes characterized, not by Law, rule keeping, by living religiously, but by living love. The essential fuel for a flesh-oriented life is works. For a Christ-centered life, it’s faith expressing itself in love.

Paul reminds each and every one of you–the externals, like verse 6, circumcision or no circumcision, like the religious actions, Sunday worship, carrying a Bible, serving your CG, discipling a student don’t matter. What matters before Christ is your heart. Verse 6, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.” Galatians 6:15, “For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” First Corinthians 7:19, “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.”

Nothing done in the flesh makes any difference in one’s relationship to God. What is external is immaterial and worthless, unless it reflects genuine internal transformation—a new nature, Spirit-empowered righteousness and sacrificial love. And you know what James says, “Faith without works is dead.” So look at verse 6, “faith working through love.” Saving faith proves its genuine character by works of love.

Any Christian who lives by faith is internally motivated by love for Christ. A true believer has had the love of Christ shed abroad in their hearts, therefore these actions of love toward God–serving, giving, praising, obedience all come from the heart. And those actions of love toward others come from the same fountain of love within—”faith working through love”.

The Greek working is labor, action, deeds, achievement–you see it. Does your faith work out in love? Friends, take your ministry off the table–does your heart for Christ show in love for Him? Take family off the table, does your faith manifest itself in sacrificial love for others? True born again faith has an internal drive to show love for God and love for others.


A  Do you appear to be more similar to the MAKE believer?

In the Church, there are wheat and tares. There are those who are under grace who you wonder about, and those who are under Law who seem like genuine believers.

Warren Weirsbe says, “Those under the law think thoughts like – If I obey these rules, I will become a more spiritual person. I am a great admirer of this religious leader, so I now submit myself to his system. I believe I have the strength to obey and improve myself. I do what I am told, and measure up to the standards set for me.  I’m making progress. I don’t do some of the things I used to do. Other people compliment me on my obedience and discipline. I can see that I am better than others in my fellowship. How wonderful to be so spiritual. If only others were like me! God is certainly fortunate that I am His. I have a desire to share this with others so they can be as I am.

Beware of the subtlety of being an external Christian.

B  Do you appear to be more similar to the REAL believer?

The surrendered Christian who depends on the power of the Spirit is not denying the Law of God, or rebelling against it. No, the Law is being followed in the power of the Spirit.

A born-again Christian is one who thinks thoughts like, “I have been set free by Christ. I am no longer under bondage to the Law, but I need to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to actually live out God’s Word. Through the indwelling Spirit and a new nature which wants to please Christ, I have a desire to live for others, and not for myself. This life of liberty is so wonderful, I want to live it to the glory of God–for He alone is the one who made it possible.”

C  Do you appear to be FILLED with the Spirit?

Ephesians 5:18 commands us to “be filled with the Spirit” of Christ every moment–under His control. But as you live dependently, saturated in His Word, confessing all known sin and seeking to pursue serving in the church and sharing the Gospel in the world, you will see the Spirit work in you and through you. You will see the Spirit manifest His fruit of love, joy, kindness, faithfulness and self-control. You will see more victory over the desires of the flesh–even getting along better with others. Are you working at being moment-by-moment filled with the Spirit? Is it obvious?

D  Do you appear to be under the YOKE of Christ or Law?

Matthew 11:28 to 30, “’Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.’” The King of the universe, the Lord of all creation, the only Savior from sin gives this open invitation to all who hear–but it is phrased in such a way that the only ones who can respond to the invitation are those who are burdened by their own spiritual bankruptcy and the weight of trying to save themselves by keeping the Law.

Consider your family, your friends, and your own heart. The stubbornness of their sinful rebellion is such that without a sovereignly-bestowed spiritual awakening, every sinner will refuse to acknowledge the depth of their spiritual poverty. That is why Jesus said this in the verse right before His invitation to come—”All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Matthew 11:27).

Jesus declares in verse 27 that your salvation is the sovereign work of God. But the truth of divine election in verse 27 is not incompatible with the free offer to all in verses 28 to 30. God is sovereign, but you are responsible to come to Christ. Come, you who are weary. Come–to those who find it impossible to live pleasing to God in their own strength. Come–to those who are tired of trying to do what is right, but can’t.

And if you do come, then you will find rest from the endless, fruitless effort to save yourself by the works of the Law–you will rest from every and any major religion. You will rest from your own self-made form of Christianity. But this will be true rest from the One who created you, saves you, forgives you, transforms you and made you new. Come to Christ today. Let’s pray.

About Chris Mueller

Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church - Murrieta.

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