Galatians 5

Galatians 5:1

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.

(a) For freedom. The purpose of grace is to liberate the prisoner and give life to the dead.

There is a difference between being freed and living free. We were freed by Jesus but whether we live free depends whether we choose to walk in the new way of the spirit or the old ways of the flesh (Rom. 6:4). For example, a Christian who lives under the old ways of the law is not walking in the new way of the spirit (Rom. 7:6).

(b) Keep standing firm and don’t allow yourself to be tempted back to the old ways of DIY religion. We are under grace, not law. The Christian who looks to the law for anything is cheating on Jesus.

(c) Yoke of slavery. Living under the relentless demands of the law is a form of bondage. Jesus’ yoke is light and easy to bear (Matt. 11:30), but the yoke of Moses is heavy and hard to bear (Act 15:10).

Galatians 5:2

Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.

Christ will be of no benefit to you. Grace brings freedom and that includes the freedom to make poor choices, but if you use your freedom to enslave yourself to sin, then you have missed the point of grace. “It was for freedom that Christ set us free” (Gal. 5:1), so be free.

Some quote these verses to claim Christians can lose their salvation. Paul says nothing of the sought. Fall from grace back under law and you will end up in bondage, but God won’t kick you out of his family. See also the entry for Gal. 5:4.

Galatians 5:3

And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law.

(a) Circumcision. For the Galatians, the issue was circumcision, but “the law” can be anything that puts a price tag on God’s favor – church rules, denominational traditions, confession of sin, tithing, the spiritual disciplines. These are not necessarily bad things, but if you think you must heed them to add to or improve upon Christ’s work, you have fallen from grace and become estranged from Christ.

(b) Keep the whole Law. Jesus would rather you were cold than lukewarm (see entry for Rev. 3:15). If you wish to live under law, you are obliged to keep it all. Neglect just one law and you will be judged guilty of breaking it all (Jas. 2:10).

Galatians 5:4

You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.

(a) You have been severed from Christ, does not mean you have lost your salvation. You may let go of Christ, but he will never let go of you. Even when you are faithless, he remains faithful (2 Tim. 2:13). But trust in your own efforts, and Christ will be of no benefit to you (Gal. 5:2). Like an unbelieving believer you will have cut yourself off from heavenly favor.

(b) Seeking to be justified by law. No one is justified or made right with God by doing good works or keeping the law (see entry for Rom. 3:20). Rather, our justification is a gift of grace (Rom. 3:24, Tit. 3:7) that is received by faith (Rom. 3:28, 5:1, Gal. 3:24).

(c) You have fallen from grace. This phrase is often applied to influential people who have fallen into sin, but when you sin, you don’t fall from grace but into grace (Rom. 5:20). We fall from the high place of grace when we submit to the yoke of law. If you think God will bless you because you pray a lot, give a lot, or serve a lot, you have fallen from grace. You are no longer continuing in the grace of God, but are relying on your own efforts.

If you fall from grace you won’t fall out of the kingdom, but you will lose your freedom (Gal. 5:1). Paul never tells the Galatians, “You are losing your salvation.” Instead, he says, “You are indulging the flesh” (Gal. 5:13). The Galatians were becoming carnal, biting and devouring one another in vicious arguments. The danger was not that God would destroy them, but that you “will be destroyed by each other” (Gal. 5:15).

Remove grace from any community and you will soon have quarrels, strife, bickering, manipulation, envy, hatred, and all the other works of the flesh that Paul lists in Galatians 5:19–21. But none of these things will send you to hell. When Paul reminds the Galatians that “they who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom,” he’s saying, “Those who belong to Christ shouldn’t act like those who don’t.”

Further reading: “What does it mean to fall from grace?

Galatians 5:14

For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”

(a) The whole Law is fulfilled in what James called the royal law (see entry for Jas. 2:8).

(b) Love your neighbor. This law, which comes from the law of Moses (Lev. 19:18), was quoted by Jesus more than once (Matt. 19:19, 22:31, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27).

(c) As yourself. Under the old covenant, you provided the love and whatever else was needed to fulfil the law. But in the new covenant, we are able to love others because of the love we have from God (see entry for John 13:34). Under the old, you were the supply, but in the new, God supplies all our needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Php. 4:19).

Galatians 5:15

But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

(a) If you bite and devour one another. Dissension is a fruit of the flesh, because the flesh lives for itself and will fight to protect itself from others. It is the antithesis of loving your neighbour (Gal. 5:14).

(b) Take care that you are not consumed by one another. The end game in any society obsessed with self-preservation of self-destruction. Selfish marriages split and fail, while selfish nations wage war and kill.

Galatians 5:16

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.

(a) Walk by the Spirit. To walk by the spirit means being mindful of spiritual things – what God has said and is now saying, what God has done is now doing. See entry for Gal. 5:25.

(b) Desire of the flesh. Our flesh has natural desires that are shaped by the world we live in. These include not only the desires for survival and comfort (food, clothing, etc.), but also the desires to get your own way, get everything for yourself, and to appear important (see entry for 1 John 2:16).

Galatians 5:17

For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.

(a) The flesh sets its desire. Everyone has legitimate needs but how we meet those needs reveals whether we are walking after the flesh or the spirit. The flesh craves independence and control. “I can do this by myself.” The independent flesh has little interest in the needs of others. “It’s every man for himself.” The bitter fruits of this selfish way of life are listened in Gal. 5:19-21. See entry for The Flesh.

(b) These are in opposition to one another. Your body is a battleground where the old desires of your flesh collide with the new desires of your spirit (Rom. 7:23).

We are offered two ways to live: We can walk after the flesh or we can walk in the new way of the spirit (Rom. 8:5, Gal. 3:3). These choices are mutually exclusive. It’s one or the other. The way of the flesh leads us down a cursed and barren path to death and destruction, but the way of the Spirit leads to a blessed and everlasting life (Rom. 8:13, Gal. 6:8).

(c) So that you may not do the things that you please. As a result of the conflict between your flesh and your spirit, you’ll do things you don’t want to do. You’ll end up frustrated and wretched (Rom. 7:24).

The context is justification by law (Gal. 2:16, 21, 5:4). The Galatians were trying to make themselves righteous through the law and Paul’s response was, “Tried that. It doesn’t work” (see Rom. 7:15, 23). No matter how hard we try to do right, we ultimately fail because the flesh is weak (Rom. 8:3). Happily, there is a better way.

Galatians 5:18

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.

(a) Led by the Spirit. We are led by the Spirit when we look to the Lord as our source and supply. “What does God want? What does he say?” (Rom. 8:14).

(b) You are not under the Law. When we submit to the Spirit of grace, we are no longer under the dominion of the law.

Those who are led by the spirit are Sons of God (Rom. 8:14), and the law is not for them. The law is for the ungodly and rebellious (1 Tim. 1:9). It’s for creatures of brute instinct who must be kept in check with goads and sticks. But the spirit-filled Sons of God live on a higher realm. They are not lawless, but they are no longer under the supervision of the law.

Galatians 5:19-21

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

(a) The deeds of the flesh are the things we do when we indulge the desires of the flesh (the desire to get your own way, get everything for yourself, and to appear important).

(b) Those who practice such things are those who have not been born of the Spirit. Paul is not talking about Christians who stumble, but unbelievers who walk after the flesh because they don’t know any other way to live.

(c) Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God for the same reason caterpillars don’t fly: they cannot. But fornicators and swindlers who come to Jesus don’t remain fornicators and swindlers. They become new creatures, clothed with Christ and filled with his indwelling Spirit.

Further reading: “No liars in heaven

Galatians 5:24

Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

(a) Those who belong to Christ Jesus are those who have put their faith in him and received his Spirit (Rom. 8:9). Christians, in other words.

(b) Crucified the flesh. We are done with that inferior way of living. Our old selves have been crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20). Now we sin comes knocking, we play dead (Rom. 6:11).

(c) With its passions and desires. The desire to get your own way, get everything for yourself, and to appear important (see entry for 1 John 2:16).

Galatians 5:25

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

(a) Live by the Spirit. The supernatural and abundant life that we’re called to live can only be received by faith and experienced by walking in the spirit. This is why the New Testament writers admonish us to put off the old ways of the flesh and put on the new ways of the spirit (Eph. 4:22-24).

We don’t put off and put on to become spiritual; we do this because we are spiritual. Everyone who is born again is born of the spirit (John 3:7-8). Since we are already in the spirit, let us walk after the spirit.

(b) Let us also. Only those who are filled with the Spirit can be led by the Spirit.

The person unacquainted with the Holy Spirit cannot walk in the spirit. The natural world is the only world he knows. But when you have been born of the Spirit you have a choice. You can interpret any situation with your natural senses or with faith.

(c) Walk by the Spirit. To walk after the spirit means we are mindful of spiritual things – what God has said and is now saying, what God has done is now doing. The opposite of this is walking after the flesh – being mindful of natural things, what we see, hear, touch, etc.

Further reading: “Life doesn’t have the last word (when you’re walking in the Spirit)

Galatians 5:26

Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.

The tripartite desires of the flesh lead to three outcomes: When we want our own way we end up challenging one another. When we want everything for ourselves, we end up envying one another. And we want to appear important, we become boastful.

The Grace Commentary is a work in progress with new content added regularly. Sign up for occasional updates below. Got a suggestion? Please use the Feedback page. To report typos or broken links on this page, please use the comment form below.

Leave a Reply