In this part of the book, Paul gives practical application to what has been said so far. He gives
instructions describing the way believers can live free from legalism and live in freedom in the power
of the Spirit. The issue is, how do we live in Christian freedom, free from law, without falling into sin
or making our brother stumble. To conclude the argument from Scripture (ch 3-4) and to introduce the
new part, he commands, “Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (5:1).
Warning circumcision - cut off from Christ (5:2-6)
Within the churches, some people had been circumcised in response to the Judaisers. However, many
had not yet received circumcision. If the letter arrives in time, then it may be able to prevent others from following them. Paul gives a strong warning to those considering circumcision. If they obey this law, then they will have to keep all the laws (v2, as 3:10), all 613 of them as taught by the Jewish rabbis. For them to receive circumcision, they are making an implicit statement that they are forsaking Christ and turning to trust in their own ability of keeping the law for their salvation (v3). If they want to be justified by law keeping, then they have cut themselves off from Christ (v4). To rely on our own efforts at keeping the law is to turn away from Christ, a form of apostasy.
Paul then states that circumcision is now irrelevant, unless it is treated as a way of achieving
righteousness (v6). The only thing that matters now is faith working through love. Paul knows how to
conduct himself in complete freedom. Freedom to keep the law, and freedom not to keep the law,
depending on the circumstances. It can be surprising to read that immediately after Paul’s great victory
over the Judaisers at the Council of Jerusalem, he had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:1-5). The reason
he did this was probably for cultural reasons, as Timothy was from a mixed family, half-Jew, half-
Gentile. Paul wanted Timothy to be able to be a witness to Jews, without becoming a stumbling block
Paul's frustration with those who are unsettling them (5:7-12)
The Galatians had been growing well in their faith, but were now becoming confused and unsettled by
the false teachers. Yeast, or leaven, was a common Jewish symbol of evil. A small amount spreads
through a whole loaf of bread. This can be understood on one of two different levels. Either, a few
legalists in the church are causing a huge amount of trouble, or otherwise, one little bit of legalism in
your life messes everything, and nullifies the whole gospel.
A second warning to the false teachers follows. Paul is confident in the Galatians, and that God will
judge the Judaisers. It seems that they are accusing Paul of preaching circumcision (v11). His reply is
to ask why is he still being persecuted? The cross is a stumbling block to human pride. Legalism
encourages pride, the cross encourages humility and grace is offensive to human pride. He ends by
expressing his strong frustration with the legalists, who are causing so much trouble in the church, by
being very sarcastic.
The fruit of freedom is love for your neighbour (5:13-15)
He warns his readers not to use their freedom as an excuse for sin, warning against licence and
selfishness. A genuine relationship with God and a genuine realisation of the grace of God will lead to
love for others. A characteristic of legalism is pride, being judgemental and a lack of love. The false
teaching is causing dissention in the church, arguments and bickering (v15). They are behaving like wild
animals instead of showing love to one another. A balance is needed to walk in liberty by the Spirit, with faith and love, and avoiding the extremes of legalism on one side, and licence on the other.
The works of the flesh (5:16-21)
He commands that they live by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh (v16). These two are totally opposed to each other. This answers the inevitable accusation that the message of the gospel of grace encourages people to sin. In the Christian life there is a continuous battle between the Spirit and the flesh, which did not exist before conversion, when no Spirit was present (v17). We should note that Paul parallels living by the flesh with legalism. Living by the flesh is a Gentile sin, while living by the law is the Jewish sin.
He gives a list of the works of the flesh (v19-21). These are merely a selection. We should notice that the list includes both outward activities, such as fornication and drunkenness, and inward attitudes, such as jealousy and envy. He ends the list with a warning, that to continue living like this without repenting will lead to condemnation and eternal judgement, being excluded from the Kingdom of God (v21).
The fruit of the Spirit (5:22-26)
The works of the flesh are contrasted with the fruit of the Spirit, which are all character qualities of Jesus, and should be the product of the presence of the Spirit in a believer’s life. Like fruit, they can take time to develop, but legalism can never produce these qualities. He calls the Galatians to walk by the Spirit (v25), and to avoid the qualities encouraged by legalism, such as conceit, competition and envy, which are all opposed to walking by the Spirit.
He gives two examples of how faith is to be worked out in love, walking by the Spirit, not the flesh. The first is in relationships, and the second is in the handling of money.
Walking by the Spirit 1: Relationships (6:1-5)
Paul gives instructions about how to restore those who fall into sin (v1). That person should be restored in a spirit of gentleness, and not by condemning them. However all need to be careful, as no one is immune from sin or legalism. One pastoral problem that will arise in the Galatian churches will be how
to restore to fellowship those who have followed the teaching of the Judaisers and been circumcised.
They will need to be handled in that spirit of gentleness, if they are truly repentant, and have realised they have made a serious mistake.
He calls the believers to mutual support, encouragement and accountability, bearing one another's
burdens. This is what he calls the law of Christ, to love one another as he has loved us (Jn 13:34). One
of the fruits of legalism is that very easily leads to pride and criticism of others, as well as self-deception (v3-4). At first sight “bearing one another’s burdens” (v2) and “all must carry their own loads” (v5) seem to contradict each other. Each person has their individual responsibility to walk by the Spirit (v4-5). Each person is accountable to God, and needs to be self-critical, and to avoid criticising others, and within the fellowship we are called to support and encourage each other.
Walking by the Spirit 2: Finances (6:6-10)
It is highly likely that the Judaisers were expecting the believers in the Galatian churches to give
financial donations to them. This is the context of Paul’s teaching on sowing and reaping. If they sow
to the flesh, by giving to the Judaisers, and receiving circumcision, they will reap corruption. But if they sow to the spirit, by giving to those who are truly spiritual and preaching the true Gospel, then they will reap the benefits of eternal life.
Glory in flesh or cross (6:11-16)
This paragraph contains Paul’s conclusion and summary of the letter. The only part of the letter actually written by Paul would be his large letters (v11). The rest of the letter would be written by an unnamed secretary, one of the believers with him (1:2). The large letters were probably a deliberate action to emphasis his message, as it is so important. There is no real evidence that Paul is short-sighted (as 4:15).
He notes the motivation of the Judaisers in compelling the believers to be circumcised, so they can avoid persecution (v12). He notes that they cannot keep the law (v13), and the want success in their message so they can boast about how may ‘converts’ they have. In contrast to this, the only thing Paul wishes to boast about is the cross of Christ (v14). The cross was a shame and stumbling block to Jews, because they rejected any idea of a crucified Messiah. The message of cross is also totally humbling to man's own efforts of earning salvation by keeping the law. Through the cross the world was crucified to Paul, his whole value system was turned upside down.
For Paul, circumcision is now a non-issue (v15, as 5:6). What really matters is that people become a new
creation in Christ, by the grace of God. He wishes peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, of a new
creation and living by the Spirit (v16). Paul controversially re-defines the term ‘Israel’, saying that it is those who follow this rule who are the true Israel of God. In the OT, Israel described the people of God, the physical descendants of Abraham. While in the NT, according to Paul, Israel still describes the people of God, but those who are the spiritual descendants of Abraham, who follow the example of his faith. It is these who live by the Spirit and are a new creation, whether they happen to be Jewish or Gentile (3:28).
Finally he urges his readers, not to make trouble for him any longer, as he bears the marks of Jesus
branded on is body (v17). These are the scars from persecution, particularly from stoning he received
at the hands of the Jews from Antioch and Iconium while he was in Lystra (Acts 14:19).
The letter concludes with Paul’s standard closing benediction of grace (v18). Grace is particularly
relevant in the context of this letter.