Galatians 5 – Cutting Out the Legalism

Galatians 5 Bible with Endangered Species Forest Mint Dark Chocolate

Today’s ChocolateEndangered Species Dark Chocolate with Forest Mint

Today’s Passage: Galatians 5

This chapter takes me back. My freshman and sophomore years of college, the leader of the campus Christian Fellowship was big on the first verse: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” You know how some verses you memorize deliberately, and some verses you end up memorizing accidentally just through exposure? The head of the Christian Fellowship was so big on this verse that I accidentally memorized it through exposure.

The lesson took a while to sink in, though. I transferred to a different college after my sophomore year, and that summer, I was a stressed-out wreck. I was terrified of sinning–or more accurately, I was terrified that the damage I would incur by sinning would push me over the edge. Believing that, through the strength that God supplies, I was capable of doing the perfect thing at every moment, I tried to live each day in constant perfect obedience to God, second by second by second. But honestly, I was just subjecting myself to a yoke of slavery again: driven by anxiety and trying to measure up to some code of conduct, ruled by the Rules. Paul writes, “For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness” (5). I wasn’t exercising faith! I wasn’t walking by the Spirit! I was trying to rush straight to righteousness rather than waiting for God to do his work in me in his time.

God eventually got it through my head that Christ set us free just so that we could be free, not so we could keep the Law perfectly. But it took time for me to get it.

But enough about me, right? This chapter is not about me; it’s about Paul and the Galatians. And for the Galatians, the sticking point is circumcision. Paul tells them: “Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law” (2-3). Man, harsh words! Paul makes it sound like the decision to get circumcised is a decision to cut yourself off from Christ. And you can’t re-uncircumcise yourself. If you put yourself under obligation to keep the whole Law, is there any way back to freedom?

I think there is. Paul reminds his readers: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love” (6). If a man has tried to live by the Torah and gotten circumcised, Jesus Christ can still take away that burden if the man returns to him in faith. Even so, Paul’s droppin’ the hammer. He has no intention of going easy on legalists and Judaizers.

I was going to conclude by talking about the Real Live Preacher blog, which I discovered my sophomore year of college. In one of the RLP articles, Gordon Atkinson, the Real Live Preacher, discussed strong language and pointed out the raw nature of Paul’s statement about advocates for circumcision: “I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves” (12). But I discovered that Atkinson has since moved on to other things, keeping only a small archive of selected RLP posts, none of which appear to be that particular article. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised; college for me was almost fifteen years ago. But at that point in my life, Real Live Preacher was a breath of fresh air, and it helped me work through my issues with doubt, faith, and legalism.

Galatians 5, man. Takes me back. You can’t step in the same river twice.

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