All pastors have an abiding love for the people of their congregation. The apostle Paul was no different. So when he heard news of false teachings in the Galatian church after his departure, he was compelled to write. Paul’s letter to the Galatians reveals his two greatest concerns: Theologically, that a person can be justified by faith and faith alone. Practically, that believers’ actions should stem from their freedom in Christ, which liberates them to treat everyone with love and respect since all—regardless of differences—have been accepted. Paul explores these concerns by discussing the authenticity of the Gospel, the connection between the Gospel and the Old Testament law and covenants, and the theme of Christian freedom from the law.
Galatians 5 serves as a wake-up call to the Galatian believers who were falling prey to false teachings and returning to a “yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). To explore this, let’s take a look inside the Galatians volume of the Lexham Bible Guides: Paul’s Letters Collection:
Issues at a glance
- Severed from Christ
- Will Not Inherit the Kingdom of God
- The Fruit of the Spirit
- Key Word Study: Katargeō, “To Abolish”
- Key Word Study: Anastatoō, “To Disturb”
- Key Word Study: Epithymia, “Desire”
Severed from Christ
In Galatians 5:1–6, Paul warns the Galatians of the peril of giving into “a different gospel” (Gal. 1:6) by adhering to the law and trusting Christ. Paul insists that the Galatians stand to gain nothing through circumcision—it has no additional value for believers (see Gal. 5:6). He goes on to argue that those who attempt to be “justified” by the law, and are thus obligated to keep the entire law (Gal. 5:3), are “severed” (ESV) or “estranged” (LEB) (katargeō, “to abolish”) from Christ and have “fallen” (exepesate) from grace (Gal. 5:4). This has prompted significant debate among scholars and theologians alike due to its alleged implication that believers can be “justified” or saved and then “severed” from Christ and his grace. Did Paul intend to suggest that people can lose their salvation by trying to keep the law? Or does his language in Gal. 5:4 owe more to hyperbole and polemic?
- Betz likens the Galatians’ change in allegiance from Paul’s theology to the theology of his opponents to “changing denominations.” He interprets Galatians 5:4 to mean that Gentiles who are circumcised after becoming Christians will become “real converts to non-Christian Judaism.”
- Bruce reads Galatians 5:4 in light of the other occurrences of the term “grace” (charis) in Galatians. He notes that God has called the Galatians “in grace” (Gal. 1:6), so to rely on the “works of the law” instead of God’s grace alone (see Gal. 2:21) would mean “self-expulsion from his grace.”
- Dunn suggests that Paul’s “intolerant-sounding” polemic was meant to counter his opponents’ strong claims about the necessity of circumcision for salvation. Given the rhetoric of Paul’s polemical statements, Dunn cautions against using this text as the basis of any doctrinal statement.
- George rejects the suggestion that Paul contemplated “the forfeiture of salvation by a truly regenerated believer.” He argues that instead, Paul was concerned about the danger his churches, which were founded on the basis of his gospel of grace, faced if they attempted to live (as believers) on the basis of a Gospel that included “legal obedience.” In this case, the Galatians would become responsible for the entire law (Gal. 5:3) and removed from the “sphere of [Christ’s] operation.”
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