Paul’s Letter to the Galatians – Part 5
A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
Part 5 – The conclusion of Paul’s case against combining Law and Grace
We’ve arrived at the final chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, where Paul has presented a strong case against combining Law and Grace. In effect, he has said the two are like oil and water; they don’t mix. Jesus died to set us free from the Law. Therefore, believers who place themselves under the Law are denying the sufficiency of the cross. A little Law mixed into Grace is like a little yeast mixed into a batch of dough. Both eventually permeate everything and cause irreversible changes.
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:1-2).
In 1 Cor. 5:1-5 Paul took the Corinthian church to task for allowing a man to carry on a relationship with his father’s wife in their midst. They apparently thought they were expressing the Lord’s love by being tolerant, but he told them such behavior was not acceptable in a Christian fellowship and that as a group they should exclude the man from their fellowship.
Later, in 2 Cor. 2:5-11, Paul said their unified approach to this problem had worked and it was time to forgive and comfort the man and reaffirm their love for him. He said they should do this in order that Satan would not outwit them after all. In other words, their failure to restore him would result in just as much a victory for Satan as their earlier failure to exclude him had been.
Paul’s advice to the Corinthians gives us a model of the proper way for a fellowship to deal with sin in their midst. But in Galatians 6:1-2 he was speaking to individuals. Individual believers are called to gently restore those who are caught in sin, being careful not to become ensnared themselves. In this way, we support each other because none of us can know when we’ll be the ones needing support.
Paul mentioned the “Law of Christ” only here and in 1 Cor 9:21 where Paul said, “To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.”
The Bible offers no specific definition of what Christ’s Law is, but I believe it refers to His statement in John 15:9-12.
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”
In these references, both Paul and Jesus distinguished between the Law of God (my Father’s commands) and the Law of Christ ( Love each other as I have loved you.) Therefore I believe Galatians 6:2 is saying by lending spiritual support to a brother caught in sin and gently restoring Him we are fulfilling the Lord’s command to love each other as He has loved us. He always favors reconciliation and restoration.
If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor (Galatians 6:3-6).
In these verses Paul identified the temptation he was warning them against in Galatians 6:1-2, and it’s the danger of thinking we’re spiritually superior to the brother or sister we’re trying to restore. Thinking we’re any better than someone else is self-deception. The only valid evaluation is self-evaluation. The exception is when the Lord gives us a deeper understanding of Scripture we’re being taught. In that case, we should share it with our instructor so he or she can benefit from it as well.
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Galatians 6:7-10).
We’ve all heard Galatians 6:7 used out of context. Now let’s learn what it really means. Paul had to be warning us that adopting an attitude of spiritual superiority in the process of restoring a brother who has sinned turns it into a work of the flesh that mocks God and makes us no better than an unbeliever. Otherwise, his statement here would be in direct contradiction to his other statements that our inheritance is guaranteed from the time we believe (2 Cor. 1:21-22, 2 Cor 5:5, Ephes 1:13-14, Ephes 4:30), and that God does not attribute our sins to us but the sin nature that lives in us (Romans 7:18-20).
We’re accustomed to having our leaders make statements that contradict things they’ve said before, but God is not like that. When He commissioned people to write His word, the Holy Spirit placed in their minds what He wanted them to say (2 Tim. 3:16). That way He could make sure they didn’t contradict themselves or each other.
By lifting Galatians 6:7 out of its context we could conclude that Paul was saying our salvation depends on our behavior and we can’t allow ourselves to grow weary of doing good if we want to reap eternal life. But because of his strong and clear statements about our security in the Lord, we can be sure that’s not what he meant. He had to be speaking in the context of Galatians 6:1-6.
Our motivation in helping others who have slipped or stumbled should always be the desire to do good in the eyes of the Lord. The harvest we will reap by not growing tired of doing good to all people will come in the form of treasure in heaven our good deeds help us accumulate (Matt. 6:19-21).
See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand! (Galatians 6:11).
Paul wanted the Galatian churches to be sure this letter had been written personally by him. He was concerned that his enemies would circulate forgeries in an attempt to lead new believers astray. This actually happened in Thessalonica. Between Paul’s first and second letters, the Thessalonians had received a forgery saying the Day of the Lord had already come (2 Thes. 2:1-2). 2nd Thessalonians is Paul’s rebuttal to that forgery. Because of his poor eyesight, Paul usually had someone like Timothy write for him, but when he wanted there to be no doubt as to the authorship of a message, he wrote it himself.
Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation (Galatians 6:12-15).
As we know, the Judaizers who hounded Paul and tried to undo his teaching on Grace were also converts to Christianity. Many were Pharisees who were trying to combine Judaism and Christianity. Teaching this kind of hybrid theology kept them out of trouble with Jewish congregations they visited; the kind of trouble Paul always encountered on his visits to them.
Paul was reminding the Galatians that the Judaizers who were trying to bring them under the Law were unable to keep the Law themselves. This is because the Law is impossible to keep. But causing the Galatians to be circumcised allowed the Judaizers to show tangible results for their efforts.
Paul was not concerned about keeping score on Earth. He rightly said that whether a man is circumcised or not means nothing in the eternal sense. What matters is whether a man is a new creation in Christ because that is what allows him to inherit eternal life.
Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God. From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.(Galatians 6:16-18)
The rule Paul was referring to is, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation”.
Paul explained his phrase “the Israel of God” in Romans 2:28-29.
A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.
Being physically circumcised identified a man as being of Jewish descent, but it did not mean he was saved. What identifies a person as being saved is the Holy Spirit dwelling within him, which Paul described as having one’s heart circumcised. Invisible to other people, this form of circumcision is visible to God, the only One who matters. This is what makes us Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:29).
Although Paul was circumcised, the physical marks he wanted to be known for were the scars he bore as a result of the beatings he had taken because of his faith in Jesus.
Paul closed his letter to the Galatians in the manner unique to him, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.”
In summary, let’s review Paul’s case.
Any so-called gospel message that contradicts the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone as presented in Paul’s letters is by definition a different gospel and puts those who teach it under a curse that dooms them to destruction.
Whether Jew or Gentile, we are not justified (rendered righteous) by the works of the Law but by faith in Jesus Christ. We know that Paul was not trying to marginalize the Law because in places like Romans 7:12 he said the Law is holy, righteous and good. But he was arguing against the improper use of the Law as the basis by which we are made acceptable to God. We are not justified by observing the Law but by faith in the completed work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Law cannot be fully obeyed. In order to be strict enough for God’s requirements, it has to be too strict for man’s abilities. Therefore, all who rely on the law are automatically cursed and cannot be justified before God.
Because of the cross, there is no longer any reason for anyone to go under the Law. God does not require it, and we cannot benefit from doing it. On the contrary, it could be counterproductive for us, a step backward in our spiritual growth.
That’s because we don’t get to decide which parts of the Law we want to obey. Picking any part of it obligates us to all of it. And the Law is not just the 10 Commandments. The Torah contains 613 commandments.
That means you can’t have a little bit of Law mixed with Grace. Just as a little bit of yeast will permeate the whole batch of dough to change its composition, a little bit of Law will work its way through the doctrine of Grace, changing it into something it was not intended to be. In effect, the Law cancels Grace.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. But in exercising that freedom we are to be aware of two statements the Lord made. First, He said the entire Law could be summarized in two commandments. One, we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, and two, we are to love our neighbor as ourself (Luke 10:27). Second, He said He was giving us a new commandment, “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
These are not things we do to justify ourselves before God. We are already justified by faith in the Lord’s atoning sacrifice on our behalf. These are things we do as a way of expressing our gratitude for what the Lord has done for us. So if you’re looking for some laws to keep so you can express your gratitude for the free gift of salvation without any risk of getting into trouble, these are the ones to keep.