5:1: For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Ask the Witnesses to tell you what this verse means to them. Odds are, they won’t have much to say. In contrast, I know an ex-Jehovah’s Witness whose life was transformed through this verse.
5:2-4: Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.
The legalists told the Galatians that Gentiles had to be circumcised before they could become Christians. Paul wasn’t against circumcision. He circumcised Timothy (Acts 16:3) in order not to put a barrier to Jews listening to the gospel.
What Paul opposed was trying to be made righteous by following such laws. That was a denial of Christ and of the sufficiency of his sacrifice.
5:5-10: For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. 7 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion is not from him who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is.
According to this passage, what role does keeping the law play in our salvation?
5:11: But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed.
The Watchtower translation reads: “As for me, brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the stumbling block of the torture stake has been eliminated.”
I will often go with their translation in order to avoid fruitless arguments about whether Jesus died on a traditional cross or on a single upright stake with no crossbeam.
Ask the Witnesses, “What does Paul mean by ‘the stumbling block of the torture stake has been eliminated”? They will have a hard time answering that. Paul’s point is that our righteousness depends on faith in Christ and his sacrifice alone. Legalists (such as the Watchtower organization) focus on rule-keeping. But if salvation comes through rule-keeping, why did Christ have to die such a death?
5:12: I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!
This statement would have had tremendous shock value. Do you think Paul considers legalism to be a serious issue?
5:13-15: For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
Legalism produces backbiting and infighting. Everyone compares himself to others by the group’s standards and wants to feel more spiritual than everyone else.
5:16-18: But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Ask the Witnesses what these verses mean. They should have great difficulty replying. Paul is saying that we can try to live the Christian life by self-effort or we can live in reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit, but we can’t do both at the same time.
5:19-21: Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
A legalist would see these things as violations of the law. But Paul sees them as the product of sinful human nature which the law exposes.
5:22-23: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
The solution isn’t to try to life by the “good” side of the flesh, that is by having the flesh (untransformed human nature) trying to produce righteousness that will conquer the “evil” side of the flesh. Flesh is flesh. The solution is to be transformed by faith by the Holy Spirit and to live by faith in reliance on the fact that this transformation has occurred.
5:24-25: And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
Ask the Witnesses:
- Is this for the 144,000 only?
- Don’t we, like Isaac, first have to be born by the power of the spirit and have the Holy Spirit inside us in order to have this fruit produced in us?
- Can we manufacture this in our own strength, relying only on what we received from our natural birth? Isn’t that the mistake the Galatians were making?
5:26: Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
Legalists measure themselves and others by the apparent righteousness they are able to generate in their own strength. When we compare ourselves with others this way, we become either proud or depressed. We look down on one another or we envy one another.
In 2 Corinthians 10:12, Paul said, “Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.
Ask the Witnesses to sum up Galatians 5. When it is your turn, you can make the following points:
- Paul wasn’t opposed to lawful behavior. What Paul opposed was trying to be made righteous by following laws. That was a denial of Christ and of the sufficiency of his sacrifice.
- Legalists are always trying to get people to compare themselves with one another. This either makes them proud or envious.
- Trying to make ourselves righteous through self-effort is the opposite of relying on the Holy Spirit to produce God’s righteousness in us.