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Galatians Chapter Five


5:1 - For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.


Comments:  There is a very nice segue-way from the last verse of Chapter Four and the first verse of Chapter Five in the Greek, which can be easily be seen in the English (both verses NIV):


4:31 - Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.


5:1 - It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.


As can be easily seen and understood by the words underlined above, “free” and “freedom” share the same root Greek word ἐλευθερία eleutheria.  This is no mystery and it does not require seminary to notice the link between the two verses.  The obvious sense is that Sha'ul is continuing his thoughts from the last chapter as he sets up an intense warning against letting oneself be influenced by a pseudo gospel that promises covenant membership and right standing with God in Isra'el (the message of the Influencers), but in reality will not deliver on the goods.  Oh, on the surface, all might appear to be “hunky-dory,” but in point of fact, a conversion to Judaism (or legal Jewish status for those already born Jewish) will do nothing to change the volition of an individual outside of also allowing the Ruach HaKodesh to write the Torah on the heart.  Don't misunderstand what I am stating here.  Jewish identity is a good thing to have.  What is more, I am not stating that conversion to Judaism is the “unpardonable sin.”  Rather, all too often, our outward actions reveal our true inner motives and when it comes to the object of saving faith, we must place our focus exclusively on Yeshua—God’s means of making a person forensically righteous—if we ever hope to be truly saved.


The Galatian Gentiles were at the crossroads of decision.  Would they invest their faith in Jewish ethnicity?  Or would they invest their faith in Jesus Christ—the one who died and rose again?


To be in Messiah is to be truly free (recall Yeshua’s declaration from John 8:36, If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (KJV).  How is it then that these Galatian Gentiles wish to return to the slavery that marked their former manner of life?  Can’t they see that anything less than a complete commitment to the true Gospel is not good news at all, and will eventually result in slavery?


As is to be expected, historic Christianity interprets the slavery of verse one as a return to Judaism, a return to living in the confines of Torah observance, a return to Sabbaths, keeping kosher, keeping the Feasts, and of course, circumcision.  I shouldn't really need to bring Christian commentaries into this study for you to see that this is true, but since I cannot resist, I will include just one from David Guzik.


Yoke of bondage: This phrase reminds us of what Peter said in Acts 15:10 about those who would bring the Gentiles under the Law: Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? The Jews themselves were not able to justify themselves before God by the law, so they shouldn't put that heavy, burdensome yoke on the Gentiles.


i. Certain Jewish teachers of that day spoke of the Law of Moses as a yoke, but they used the term in a favorable light. Paul saw a legal relationship as a yoke, but as a yoke of bondage. It is related to slavery, not liberty. This yoke of bondage does nothing but entangle us. We try hard to pull God's plow, but the yoke of bondage leaves us tangled, restricted, and frustrated.


ii. It certainly was bondage. Jewish teachers counted up 613 commandments to keep in the Law of Moses. "Even to remember them all was a burden, and to keep them bordered on the impossible. Small wonder that Paul referred to subjecting oneself to them all as entering into slavery." (Morris)[1]


The standard Christian interpretation of this verse does not fit with Paul’s view of Torah, and most importantly, it does not follow from the Scriptural view of Torah.  The Torah is not bondage; the commandments are not burdensome, else 1 John 5:2, 3 would not make sense:


“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (ESV, emphasis mine).


Moreover, with eyes opened by the Spirit of God (like Melekh Dah-vid had), to walk in Torah by faith in Messiah is to walk in liberty.  Take careful notice of these verses from Psalm 119:44, 45:


“So I will keep Your law continually,

            Forever and ever.


“And I will walk at liberty,

            For I seek Your precepts” (NASB, emphasis mine).


However, if one bypasses Yeshua and places their trust in ethnicity and/or Torah obedience (viz, maintenance of covenant membership), then that person is truly a slave to their old nature—whether they know it or not.  Bondage according to the biblical model is rejecting genuine faith in Yeshua, resulting in a status of “spiritual slavery.”  The battle lines were not being drawn between the relevance of Torah for believers vs. the relevance of Yeshua for believers.  Paul is not asking Christians to avoid Torah obedience so that Yeshua can be at the center of their devotion.  This type of approach to the book of Galatians represents essentially a more modern Christian Church ambivalent attitude towards the Law of God vis-à-vis those who are already Christians.  By historic comparison, the Influencers were likely accepting of Gentile proselytes proclaiming Yeshua as the Messiah of Isra'el (much like those believing Pharisees of Acts 15:5), provided, the definition of Isra'el was “Jewish-only Isra'el.”  The Influencers do not seem to have a problem with Gentiles as Christians; they seem to have a problem with Gentiles as Gentiles!  The lines were being drawn between the necessity of Jewish identity for covenant inclusion vs. the necessity of falling on the mercy and grace of Messiah for genuine covenant membership and forgiveness of sins.  The yoke of slavery that one would return to is not a yoke of slavery to commandment keeping.  The yoke of slavery one would return to is a life outside of the freedom of Messiah’s atoning righteousness.  When the passage is put back into the socio-religious context of the 1st century, we find that Paul doesn't need to denigrate the Torah in order to elevate the work of Christ.  The important issues in Galatians that we need to focus on in our study were the social questions surrounding membership in the people of God, and as we shall see in the next verse, circumcision (not Torah) was the fulcrum by which membership into 1st century Isra'el was being weighed.


5:2 - Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.


Comments:  This verse sounds strikingly similar to what Sha'ul already stated in 2:21, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (ESV).  In 2:21, the contest in the mind of the Galatians used the verbiage of Christ vs. the Law.  Here in 5:2, the contest uses the verbiage of Christ vs. circumcision.  By this point in our study, it should be amply clear that Paul did not mean Torah observance when he used the word “Law” in 2:21.  By the same token, it should be amply clear that he does not simply mean the physical cutting away of the flesh of the male sex organ when he uses the word “circumcision” in 5:2.  In both passages, Paul states that if the Galatians wish to continue down the road constructed by the Influencers—the road described by the 1st century Judaisms as “the law,” “under the Law,” “works of the Law,” and “circumcision,”—and reject the free offer of genuine and lasting covenant membership into Isra'el as offered by God and outlined in the TaNaKH, then (using the language of our verse here) the work done by Yeshua on the cross will indeed have no value for them at all, or (to use the language of 2:21) his death will have been purposeless.


Paul’s desperate, personal plea is demonstrated in the phrase, “Mark my words!  I, Paul tell you…” (NIV).  Our apostle to the Gentiles is pouring out his heart in an effort to yank them back from the dangerous precipice they are standing near.  The stakes of the game are quite high indeed!  The Galatian Gentiles are in decision mode and Paul would have them make the right decision based on the fact of Yeshua’s historical importance and on the trustable testimony of scripture.  But is Paul suggesting that mere circumcision alone could ruin all that Christ accomplished by his death and resurrection?  How can a single act of the flesh ostensibly undo the mighty work of Yeshua’s ministry on the cross?! 


Herein lies the mystery of free will.  God is mighty to save all that come unto him with a genuine broken spirit and broken and contrite heart (Ps. 51:17).  Likewise, Jesus himself stated in no uncertain terms that “no man cometh unto the Father except by me” (John 14:16, KJV).  According to Paul’s gospel, the object of saving faith—and subsequent genuine and lasting covenant membership into the Isra'el of God—can only be the Son of God, Yeshua the Messiah.  Any other supposed “way to God,” “way to receive the genuine favor and blessings of God,” would ultimately prove to be a lie from the pit of Hell.  The Galatians Gentiles were seeking the right goal, the very same goal the Jews were seeking: to be accepted as the people of God for the sake of receiving the blessing and favor of God.  Paul is chastising the Galatians, not for the goal they are pursuing, but for the method in which they hope to secure that goal.[2]  Having God’s favor on your life is a good thing!  After all, why else would Gentiles seek membership into Isra'el?  Paul was trying to get them to understand that they had heard the message of the Gospel correctly and that they had begun as a community under the power of the Ruach HaKodesh, but that if they succumbed to the message of the Influencers and took on Jewish identity and Law-keeping at this stage in the game, and for the reasons he suspected they were taking, then, in HaShem’s eyes, it would be tantamount to trying to “reach the goal under [their] own power” (3:3, CJB).


5:3 - I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.


Comments:  The warning in 5:2 against trusting in Jewish conversion for covenant membership essentially repeats again in this verse.  However, because circumcision and Torah obligation are both conveyed in pejorative terms in this verse, it presents difficulties for those who only read the scriptures from a face-value perspective, primarily because the Torah itself doesn’t warn Isra'el away from circumcision and keeping its commandments! Adding to the interpretive challenge is the fact that in other letters, Paul himself seems to approve of the value of circumcision so long as one keeps the commandments!  Consider Romans 2:25, “For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision” (ESV).  Most Christian commentators see Gal 5:3 to be implying a warning away from circumcision and Torah obedience based on the fact that once a person becomes circumcised (understandably, this must indicate adult circumcision later in life), that person is subsequently obligated to obey every single mitzvah found in the Torah of Moshe.  Such a choice, many commentators believe, would conflict with a life of  faith in Yeshua.  Of course, I disagree.  Therefore, I want to explore two issues commonly brought up by this verse.


·         Issue One: Does Paul believe that there is a problem with circumcised people being obligated to keep the whole Torah?

·         Issue Two: Is Paul even talking about the written Torah of Moses here?


Let us start with Issue One:


Does Paul believe that there is a problem with circumcised people being obligated to keep the whole Torah?  Additional questions might also be posed for our consideration.  Does Paul have a problem with Gentiles wanting to keep the whole Torah?  Did Paul have a problem with Jews wanting to keep the whole Torah?  Didn't Paul believe that God expected total Torah obedience when he gave the Torah in the first place?  Doesn't the Torah itself command total allegiance to its precepts and commands?  So many questions…  Let us begin to find some answers.


If we follow from the prevailing Christian interpretations of this passage, then anyone wishing to follow after Torah beginning with circumcision is going to run into a problem since no one alive can keep all of the Torah perfectly, and thus comes under condemnation for breaking even a single commandment.  Such an interpretation is supposedly confirmed by the words in James 2:10 that state, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (ESV), and Paul’s own words in Galatians 3:10, “For all who rely on works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them” (ESV).  Thus, the standard Christian interpretation has Paul warning anyone wishing to become circumcised that once they start down the path of Torah obedience, they are obligating themselves to keep all of it and to keep it perfectly!  100%!  No deviation.  No excuses.  But since no one but Yeshua kept the Torah perfectly, the proposal is doomed to failure—sending the Torah-obedient follower into a tailspin, and crying out desperately for a Redeemer to rescue them from the bondage of impossible Torah observance that they have gotten themselves into by becoming circumcised.  Once this poor soul realizes the error of their ways, they will abandon Torah in favor of the true freedom only offered at the foot of the Cross.  They will turn from Torah obedience to a life of grace in Jesus, never to return to those old vestiges of Jewish bondage ever again.  Is this what Paul is teaching the Galatian Gentiles who are entertaining the notion of becoming circumcised?


I have the highest respect for many, many Christian scholars and commentators both past and present.  But I simply cannot agree with the line of thinking that supposes Paul is warning Christians away from Torah obedience based on the reality that no one can keep it perfectly.  John MacArthur’s commentary sermon to this passage from Galatians will serve to demonstrate the standard Christian view.  Because of its relevance, I have quoted it word for word at length from his website:


You know everybody's been looking for righteousness, Jews and Gentiles. And you know who found it Paul says? Gentiles. And I suppose if we were to compare the two we'd probably say the Jews were looking harder. The Gentiles found it. Why? Israel followed after the law of righteousness has attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they sought it not by faith, but by the works of the Law, do you see? So many Jews wanting righteousness, searching for righteousness, seeking righteousness, never found righteousness because they tried to find self-righteousness. And the Gentiles just kind of wandering around got invited to the banquet didn't they? By faith they came upon righteousness.


So first of all he says false doctrine, the false doctrine of human achievement renders Christ worthless to you. He may as well have never died. You may believe 99% in Christ act in your behalf and 1% in some act of your own and you're disqualified. It might as well be that Christ did nothing, never existed and never lived. He prophets you nothing. He benefits you nothing. All of His sacrifice on the cross is absolutely empty, absolutely meaningless if you count on work that you've ever done to save you. All of grace, absolutely all. And if you add one work, grace is nor more grace. You've destroyed it and you've destroyed the gracious work of Christ. That's a pretty strong statement then isn't. Now he's saying here, he's continuing to compare and he's showing the absolute dichotomy between grace and law.


All right, let's go to the second thing. The first result of the doctrine of achievement is Christ profits you nothing. The second is this, "your debtor to the whole law," verse 3. And boy this is really a hard one to handle. He says in verse 3, "I testify again to every man that is circumcised." Every man literally, it says every man who lets himself be circumcised that's the Greek rendering. Every man who let's himself be circumcised. "If you are to do this, here's another thing you've done, you are debtor to do," what, "the whole law." If you want to live by law fellow, you're going to live by the whole thing. One goof and you're finished.


That's pretty strong stuff. He says, "I testify," interesting word martyromi, it shouldn't be translated just simply testify. That doesn't really unload nearly the concept. It should be translated, "I protest." Strong statement. I protest, look at this, again to every man. Now it may be that the again means I just said it in verse 2. I'm saying it again in verse 3. It may mean I'm protesting again as I did to you on a previous occasion. So it's either a previous verse or a previous occasion, but whatever he says, "I am protesting that everyone who lets himself be circumcised is debtor to do the whole law."


In other words, if you're going to wipe out grace, there's only one other thing you can live under, what is it? Law. And the only way to be justified by law is to do what? Keep the whole law. Man I don't want any part of it, do you? I don't want a thing to do with it. Man, I just accept the fact that God loved me and redeemed me by pure Grace. I didn't do one single thing to add to it and I'm scared to death to try to do one thing to add to my salvation. Then I'm out of grace and under the whole law and I'm damned because I can't keep it. No thanks. Pretty strong argument isn't it.[3]


Here is the sad reality of Christian exegesis that has its origins in the early Gentile Christian movement that sought to distance itself from its Jewish roots and from anything that resembled Torah observance: the 1st century Judaisms—to include the Apostle Paul—did not interpret God’s commands to keep Torah as a rulebook that must be kept perfectly.  As far as we can tell from reading the Torah itself, corroborated with the rabbinic writings that have survived from the first few centuries around the time of the writing of the Apostolic Writings, no one in Isra'el would have approached Torah observance with the interpretation that God was expecting 100% perfect obedience.  In fact, quite the opposite is true, and it is easily understood if one will remove the anti-Torah bias and let the text speak for itself.


The Torah commands one to love God with one’s whole heart, soul and being (Deut. 6:5).  But the Torah anticipates our failure to keep its precepts and thus provides a means to restore the relationship with God and with our fellow man.  From the perspective of the temporal covenant, the entire priestly cult with its sacrifices was that means.  From the perspective of the eternal covenant, the blood of Yeshua is that means.  On both levels, both the earthly/temporal/fleshly, as well as the heavenly/eternal/spiritual, we have a mechanism that will restore right standing with our God whenever we trip up and sin.  Thus, the Christian notion that God expects 100% perfect obedience is wrong headed in its approach to begin with.  God doesn't expect 100% perfect obedience.  He knows we are faulty.  That is why he sends his precious Holy Spirit into our lives to enable us to become more like Yeshua, and to actually walk into his Torah with empowerment.


Answers to the questions raised in Issue One: 


·      I asked:  Does Paul believe that there is a problem with circumcised people being obligated to keep the whole Torah? 

·      Answer:  No.  Paul expects all genuine followers of HaShem to become submissive to Torah because that is one of the purposes for HaShem giving the Torah.  Torah is a document that was meant to be followed under the power of the Ruach HaKodesh.  Torah is meant to be kept, not discarded and ignored.


·      I asked:  Does Paul believe that there is a problem with Gentiles wanting to keep the whole Torah? 

·      Answer:  No.  As long as we understand that the word Torah here is being used to speak of God’s Word as over against the additional legalistic fences that the Jewish sages had added to the written word of God.


·      I asked:  Did Paul have a problem with Jews wanting to keep the whole Torah?

·      Answer:  No.  Jews, both Messianic and non-Messianic, were naturally spoken of in the Bible as being zealous for Torah (read Acts 21:20).


·      I asked:  Didn't Paul believe that God expected total Torah obedience when he gave the Torah in the first place? 

·      Answer:  Yes.  Paul correctly interpreted God’s intended meaning of giving oneself completely to obedience to his Word.  But this does not mean perfection; else the entire book of Leviticus with its sacrifices would not make any sense.  God expects obedience, but he anticipates our failures.  From ancient Isra'el’s perspective in the TaNaKH, to follow after Torah meant to also bring the required sacrifices when one violated Torah.  Thus, instead of expecting perfection, the logic follows that, from God’s perspective, the required Torah obedience of Isra'el also actually anticipated Isra'el’s failure to keep it perfectly.


·      I asked:  Doesn't the Torah itself command total allegiance to its precepts and commands?

·      Answer:  Yes, but this goal is completely attainable, but only if one surrenders his will to God by allowing God to write the Torah on the heart.  Of course, using 20/20 hindsight, we now understand that this implies surrendering to Yeshua, the very goal of the Torah from start to finish.


Conclusions to questions raised in Issue One:


Paul affirms that the Law expects total allegiance but not perfect performance. Contrary to popular Christian teaching, God’s Torah never commanded or expected sinless perfection else the sacrifices for sin would be meaningless. However, in Messiah, we are in fact supposed to strive towards perfection in this life until we one day we finally put it on for eternity. Therefore, in this life, and while the Temple stood in Jerusalem, true obedience to Torah included bringing sacrifices when one sinned—thus, the Torah actually anticipated our failure to keep it from time to time by making provision for our shortcomings (read Gal. 3:19). Without expecting sinless perfection, the Torah nevertheless does consider even a single breach to be guilty of violating the whole, thus, to break one commandment was to be guilty of breaking them all (read James [Jacob] 2:10). Paul’s words to the Galatians here in 5:3 are not a warning against mere biblical (physical) circumcision and God's understanding of Torah observance; he is warning them to avoid a sectarian halakhah (conversion) that is headed in the direction of the exclusion of Gentiles in Isra'el (more on this concept below).


Issue Two:  Is Paul even talking about the written Torah of Moses here?


In my comments to Galatians 3:12 above I made the following observation,


“Paul will eventually spell out some of the furthering damning implications of following the influencers’ dangerous theological view in Gal 5:3 by warning the Galatian Gentile Christians, “every man who accepts circumcision… is obligated to keep the whole Law,” a statement that must by context refer to a Gentile convert’s commitment to a Jewish-only written and Oral Torah. Such a commitment would demonstrate that the new Jewish proselyte is separated from his fellow believing Gentile counterparts who had decided not to undergo conversion. This type of Jewish-only commitment to the Torah runs counter to the Abrahamic promise itself!”


With that in mind, let us talk about this word “Torah” from a 1st century Jewish perspective. At first blush, it does seem like Sha'ul is talking about the Law of Moses when he warns anyone wishing to receive circumcision that they are under obligation to keep the whole Law.  But the careful Berean student of God’s Word will discover that the 1st century Judaisms did not speak of the Torah in monolithic terms.  That is, to the Judaisms of Paul’s day—as it is also in today’s Judaisms—there was the Torah Shebichtav (Written Torah) and there was the Torah Sheba’al Peh (Oral Torah).  Many of you know the Oral Torah by its other familiar name: Talmud.  The problem with this two-Torah idea is that in the 1st century Jewish societies, more and more the Oral Torah (as unwritten sayings transmitted by the sages) was being received as equal to—or in some cases, more important than—the Written Torah.  Yeshua did not have very nice words for those who allowed tradition to nullify his Father’s Torah (read Mark 7:13).


Let’s take a peek at this two-Torah concept as described by a well-known traditional (non-Messianic) Jewish organization named Chabad.org.


The Torah has two parts: The "Torah Shebichtav" (Written Law), which is composed of the twenty-four books of the Tanach, and the "Torah Sheba'al Peh" (Oral Law).


Gd told Moses that he will give him "the Torah and the commandments." Why did Gd add the word "commandments?" Are there any commandments which are not included in the Torah? This verse (amongst others) is a clear inference to the existence of the Oral Torah.


Originally the Oral Law was not transcribed. Instead it was transmitted from father to son and from teacher to disciple (thus the name "Oral" Law). Approximately 1800 years ago, Rabbi Judah the Prince concluded that because of all the travails of Exile, the Oral Law would be forgotten if it would not be recorded on paper. He, therefore, assembled the scholars of his generation and compiled the Mishnah, a (shorthanded) collection of all the oral teachings that preceded him. Since then, the Oral Law has ceased to be "oral" and as time passed more and more of the previously oral tradition was recorded.[4]


Now, as a Messianic Jew, I am not saying that I agree with Chabad.org in that there truly exists two authoritative parts to HaShem’s Torah.  Quite the contrary.  I believe and espouse to only ONE authoritative part to God’s Torah: the Written Torah.  Yes, I acknowledge the existence of an Oral Torah, but I do not believe its teachings are binding on believers—whether Jewish or Gentile.


Additionally, if we continue to research the history of ancient Isra'el’s views on Torah, we will find that sectarian halakhah can also be interpreted as “laws binding on all group members.”  In other words, the term Law in ancient Judaism did not only speak of Written Torah and/or Oral Torah, but quite often, it also designated the specific “by-laws” that separated one sect from another, so that to identify with any particular sect, a follower would naturally come under the jurisdiction of the sect to which he had aligned himself.  E.P. Sanders’ remarks about sectarian Judaism in the 1st century are fitting for our study:


The Pharisaic/Rabbinic concept of ‘oral law’ shows that they wanted to assert that the law given to Moses was adequate in all respects—even when they were in fact adding to it, deleting from it, and otherwise altering it.  Similarly in 1QS a distinction is made between the ‘hidden things’ in the law, which are known only to the sect, and the rest (1QS 5.IIf.).  Entrants to the community pledge to keep ‘every commandment of the Law of Moses in accordance with all that has been revealed of it to the sons of Zadok’ (1QS 4.8f.).  Thus the sect’s special rules were formally considered to be in ‘the law of Moses’, though from our point of view they are additions and modifications.[5]


Relevant to our verse here in Galatians 5:3 is the striking similarity in verbiage between the Apostle Paul and those in the Qumran community of his day!  Did you catch it?  For those who would seek to be identified by the particular Jewish sect of their choosing, both Paul and the Qumran community spoke of the reality to “keep every commandment of the Law of Moses!”


Conclusions to the question raised in Issue Two:


Instead of Paul warning his Gentile readers away from total allegiance to the Written Torah of God if they undergo proselyte conversion to Judaism, perhaps it is better to understand the verse as a warning against total allegiance primarily to the Oral Torah and/or the sectarian halakhah of the Influencers—a halakhah that does not include Gentiles in their membership roster—a halakhah that Paul would definitely have problems with.


5:4 - You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.


Comments:  Merit Theology would have the phrase “justified by the law” as teaching that anyone wishing to keep the Torah of Moshe perfectly for the purpose of gaining salvation has alienated themselves from Christ.  They have fallen from grace.  Why the alienation and the fallen state?  Because, according to these same theologians, to attempt to keep the Torah for salvific purposes is tantamount to works/legalism, and everyone knows that we are not saved by works, viz, by legalistically following Torah, but by calling on the name of the LORD Jesus Christ.  Luther’s famous words on this passage are telling.  Allow me to quote them at length:


Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.


Paul in this verse discloses that he is not speaking so much of circumcision as the trust which men repose in the outward act. We can hear him say: "I do not condemn the Law in itself; what I condemn is that men seek to be justified by the Law, as if Christ were still to come, or as if He alone were unable to justify sinners. It is this that I condemn, because it makes Christ of no effect. It makes you void of Christ so that Christ is not in you, nor can you be partakers of the knowledge, the spirit, the fellowship, the liberty, the life, or the achievements of Christ. You are completely separated from Him, so much so that He has nothing to do with you any more, or for that matter you with Him." Can anything worse be said against the Law? If you think Christ and the Law can dwell together in your heart, you may be sure that Christ dwells not in your heart. For if Christ is in your heart He neither condemns you, nor does He ever bid you to trust in your own good works. If you know Christ at all, you know that good works do not serve unto righteousness, nor evil works unto condemnation. I do not want to withhold from good works their due praise, nor do I wish to encourage evil works. But when it comes to justification, I say, we must concentrate upon Christ alone, or else we make Him non-effective. You must choose between Christ and the righteousness of the Law. If you choose Christ you are righteous before God. If you stick to the Law, Christ is of no use to you.


Ye are fallen from grace.


That means you are no longer in the kingdom or condition of grace. When a person on board ship falls into the sea and is drowned it makes no difference from which end or side of the ship he falls into the water. Those who fall from grace perish no matter how they go about it. Those who seek to be justified by the Law are fallen from grace and are in grave danger of eternal death. If this holds true in the case of those who seek to be justified by the moral Law, what will become of those, I should like to know, who endeavor to be justified by their own regulations and vows? They will fall to the very bottom of hell. "Oh, no," they say, "we will fly straight into heaven. If you live according to the rules of Saint Francis, Saint Dominick, Saint Benedict, you will obtain the peace and mercy of God. If you perform the vows of chastity, obedience, etc., you will be rewarded with everlasting life." Let these playthings of the devil go to the place where they came from and listen to what Paul has to say in this verse in accordance with Christ's own teaching: "He that believeth in the Son of God, hath everlasting life; but he that believeth not in the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth in him."


The words, "Ye are fallen from grace," must not be taken lightly. They are important. To fall from grace means to lose the atonement, the forgiveness of sins, the righteousness, liberty, and life which Jesus has merited for us by His death and resurrection. To lose the grace of God means to gain the wrath and judgment of God, death, the bondage of the devil, and everlasting condemnation.[6]


As accurate as Luther’s theology is in explaining works/legalism vs. grace, unfortunately, it is NOT what the verse is speaking of historically.  And we must remember this hermeneutic principle if we are ever to interpret scripture accurately: context is king, and any given passage must be interpreted in light of what it meant to the original audience before making practical application for us today.  Using this principle, we cannot have Sha'ul warning his readers against misusing Torah observance for the purpose of justification (viz, salvation, membership into Isra'el, etc.).  The term “law” here must be understood to indicate “legal Jewish status” or some other term similar to proselyte conversion for Gentiles.  Paul is not warning them about a misuse of Torah.  Paul is warning them about a misuse in identity and social status.


But how could Paul say that they have been “alienated from Christ,” and that they have “fallen from grace”?  Does Paul now imagine that his genuine Gentile Christian readers have somehow lost their salvation?  Is that what alienation from Christ and falling from grace means?  I think it hardly possible that Paul would speak of conversion to Judaism for a true Gentile believer as something that would undo a person’s position of salvation in Christ.  Rather, within the mystery of God’s spiritual attraction on and calling of a person or a community, there seems to exist circles of graduated mercy and grace—revelation, if you will—so that the closer you get to surrendering your life completely into the loving arms of Yeshua HaMashiach the more light and revelation you are shown until the moment of salvation is finally “birthed” within you and you call upon the name of the LORD for personal deliverance.  To join oneself to a believing community and then intellectually confess faith in Yeshua and then to shrink back, reject Jesus, and pursue another intellectual interest is indeed to alienate yourself from Christ and to fall from grace.  It is not as if you had genuine salvation and then lost it.  It is that by leaving Christ so cavalierly, you prove that you were never truly genuinely saved to begin with!  Truly a dangerous game to play with God considering the sober warnings in Heb. 6:4-8, “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned” (ESV).


The Torah teaches that if we continue on in the grace that God has shown us—even as unbelievers—that he himself will grant grace upon grace to help us understand the work the Messiah has done on our behalf:


“Draw near to God and he will draw near to you…” (James [Jacob] 4:8, ESV)


I believe this verse works just as well for the unbeliever as it does for the believer.  For example, would you not agree that those unbelievers who nevertheless attend church on a regular basis are “closer to accepting Yeshua” than possibly those unbelievers who don't attend church and get a chance to hear the gospel at all?  In my limited understanding of God’s grace, he positively utilizes the social settings that we associate with for his advantage and purposes in his efforts to reveal his Son to us.  Children born of Christian parents in a Christian nation, surrounded by Christian friends would naturally exist in a more graduated state of “grace” than someone without all of these “advantages,” right?  God rescued the People of Isra'el out of the clutches of the Egyptians so that he could bring them to the foot of Har Sinai (Mount Sinai), give them his Torah, and then bring them into the Land of Promise.  Living in the Land of Promise, with the very words of the Living God of the universe in your community is definitely a position of grace—even if every single Israelite did not eventually go on to foster a personal relationship with their God.  From God’s perspective, their position of grace  (as the chosen people) did not change.  Only when Isra'el continued to play the harlot by engaging in idolatry did they “fall from grace” so to say, and suffer exile from the Land.


5:5, 6 - For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.


Comments:  These two verses form a semi-conclusion to verses 1-4. Verse 5 is included above in order to capture the context of Paul's double “for” (Greek=γὰρ gar) argument (both verses start with the same English word), but I only want to specifically comment on verse six which reads,” For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” Paul repeats this statement, with a slight variation, later on in 6:15,”Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.” Is Paul now saying that Jewish identity is worthless after the cross? For that matter, is he also saying that Gentile identity is likewise useless? If indeed we interpret his words this way, then how can we reconcile them with what he states in Romans?


Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision?  Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:1, 2, NASB).


In a seeming reversal of opinion, Paul states in Romans that Jewish identity is “great in every respect.”  This doesn't sound like he consistently thought Jewish identity to be worthless.  Perhaps he changed his mind from the time he wrote Galatians to the time he wrote Romans?  To make matters even more confusing, he ends up repeating his original Galatians comments in his letter to the Corinthians:


Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God” (1 Cor. 7:19, NASB).


Is Paul schizophrenic?  Why does he seemingly keep going back and forth on his opinions about Jewish identity?  Is it “valueless,” or is it “great in every respect”?  Of course I am being a bit facetious here just to prove my point.  Context must determine the meaning of any given word or phrase we find in the Bible.  The context of Paul’s whole warning in this chapter—indeed in the book as a whole—is the equality of Jewish and Gentile ethnicity in the Kingdom of God.  Or to put it the way an old Baptist preacher once told me:  “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.”  This is the exact opposite of the message the Influencers were teaching, for in their theology, there was no place in Isra'el for the Gentile wishing to be counted as equal among his legally Jewish counterparts.


Paul is not denigrating one ethnicity in favor of another.  He values all ethnicities, and Paul would be the first to teach that a person should value his ethnicity and praise God in whatever station of life they find themselves in without investing unnecessary time trying to change things (read 1 Cor. 7:20).  So, even though Jewish and Gentile identities are important in God’s scheme of things, he also realized once he came to believe in Yeshua that being born Jewish did not grant a person automatic corporate right-standing in God’s sight.  Nor did conversion to Judaism guarantee a person a place in the ‘Olam Haba.  That same Baptist preacher used to say that when we get to heaven and St. Peter meets us at the pearly gates and asks why he should let us in that he is not going to ask us if we are Jewish or not.  Instead, he is going to ask us if we are in Christ or not.


5:7 - You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?


Comments:  That Paul describes his readers as “running a good race” means that he regarded them as beginning with the Truth of the Gospel and only after considering the ethnocentric message of the Influencers did they veer off the straight and true path so to say.  In fact, Paul even goes so far as to indicate that if it were not for the sway of this other “gospel” that the Galatians would likely still be in pursuit of the pure Truth.  In other words, Paul doesn't seem to indicate that once his readers acquired Truth that they then went looking for “more truth” in the marketplace of religions, but rather, they were already on the good path of genuine Truth and running for the finish line when the Influencers cut in and upset their momentum in so many wrong ways (to use the running metaphor that Paul chose).


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.


Comments:  As can be expected, prevailing Christian interpretations of this verse have Paul emphatically stating that he no longer believed circumcision to be of any value.  They take Paul’s words to naturally include the Torah as a whole, and therefore, would opine the apostle to be confessing his conversion from traditional Judaism to early Christianity of sorts.  They gain support for their view from Paul’s self confession earlier in this book at 1:13, interpreted to mean that Judaism was his former lifestyle but that Christianity is his present lifestyle: “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it” (ESV).


But how can this view be tenable if Paul went on to circumcise Timothy in Acts chapter sixteen?  What is more, if Paul was indeed confessing that he no longer felt Torah and circumcision were relevant for the life of a follower of Yeshua, why does he go through with the sacrifice decision from James made in Acts 21:17-26?


“Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law” (verse 24, ESV).


One view is that Paul was being accused of hypocritically switching back and forth to fit whatever situation he was in—sort of a “situation ethics” if you will.  There will be more on this view below, when we take a look at Tim Hegg’s remarks.


I don't really believe that Paul abandoned Judaism and circumcision and I don't think you the reader do either or else you probably wouldn't have made it this far into my commentary.  Instead, that Paul still upholds Torah, but that he is merely conveying that he used to actually agree with the theology of a Jewish-only Isra'el is likely from his statement in this verse.  To “preach circumcision” meant to tow the standard party line that “All Isra'el shares a place in the world to come,” one of the primary motivating maxims of Paul’s day, one based on Isaiah 60:21, “Thy people also shall be all righteous; they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified” (ASV).  Recall that the Influencers, like many of the Judaisms of the 1st century, believed sincerely—albeit incorrectly—that genuine and lasting covenant membership was granted to Isra'el based on her ethnicity, and that if a citizen of another nation wished to join Isra'el’s lot, that person had to undergo the manmade ceremony of the proselyte—complete with mandatory circumcision for males.


To be sure, if Paul were still preaching a Jewish-only Isra'el, then why would so many Jews in the book of Acts be out to kill him?[7]  Why would he have gotten arrested for supposedly bringing Greeks into the Temple and defiling it?[8]  Why would he still be persecuted if he actually agreed that Gentiles needed to undergo the ritual of proselytism?  Of course we already know the answer to his question.  The true reason he receives persecution from the traditional Jewish authorities is because, in point of fact, he does NOT agree that Gentiles needed to become legally-recognized Jews before being received into the community of Torah-keeping Isra'el. 


Consider once again the words of Mark Nanos here:


One of the critical questions in Christian theology is the relationship of its members to Jewish identity and behavior, an identity concern, which, for the original audiences, supports the claim that they understood themselves to be participants in Judaism, albeit not Jews. In Paul's time, although no longer, for Christ-believers who were not Jews, the first question was whether they could or should become members of Israel, Jews, which is accomplished by completion of the rite of proselyte conversion. For males, this includes circumcision at the conclusion of the conversion process. Circumcision thus functions in Paul's time as a metonym for the rite of proselyte conversion. It is a rite or work or deed prescribed by Torah to become a member of Israel, and thereafter, a person obliged to observe Torah, that is, responsible to practice Jewish behavior.[9]


In my estimation, we must consistently return to this central hermeneutic principle if we wish to properly understand the book of Galatians from an historic religious perspective.


But, as mentioned above, there may be another way to interpret Paul’s saying about “still preaching circumcision.”  Tim Hegg is of the opinion that “Paul was being accused of being inconsistent.  He was preaching a “circumcision-free” gospel to the Galatians, but when among a primarily Jewish audience, he was holding the “party line” and teaching that Gentiles needed to become proselytes, in order to avoid being ostracized from his own community.”[10]  If Hegg is correct, then this would fit best with the overall context of Galatians.


The second half of the verse states, “In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.”  To what “case” is he referring when he says “in that case…”?  Naturally, he is referring to his previous statement.  If he is still preaching that Jews and Gentiles are not equal before God, then the offence of the cross has been abolished.  Why?  Because, Yeshua’s death opened the way for both Jew and Gentile to enter into the genuine presence of God without the perquisite of pedigrees and the like.  Ephesians 2:14-18 says it best:


“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit” (NIV).


Couple the truth of this verse with what Paul teaches elsewhere:


But we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23, NIV).


Yes, the cross of Christ is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles—truly offensive to both groups when one considers the absurd reality that God is willing to completely forgive a person on the basis of faith alone!  “Surely,” the world says to itself, “there must be more to it than that!”  What a wonderful truth that God does NOT require more than that.  Our sufficiency is in Yeshua alone!


5:13 - 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.


Comments:  The place of Torah in the life of ancient Isra'el functioned to set the people apart from the world in service to the One, True God of the universe.  As the people engaged in the righteous activities of the Torah lifestyle, the surrounding people groups would have an opportunity to see and understand that God was close to his people as they called upon him, that they were wise, and that his statutes and ordinances were righteous!


Behold, I have taught you statutes and ordinances, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the midst of the land whither ye go in to possess it. Observe therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, that, when they hear all these statutes, shall say: 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.' For what great nation is there, that hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is whensoever we call upon Him? And what great nation is there, that hath statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day” (Deut. 4:5-8, JPS 1917).


What does this have to do with Paul explaining to his readers that they were called to be free?  If Paul believed that his Gentile audience was genuinely grafted into Isra'el via faith in Messiah Yeshua, then Isra'el’s grand call became their grand call as well.  1st century Isra'el viewed the Torah as a community privilege, a God-given responsibility meant to be carried out by every “good Jew” since he bore the humble task of representing the image of the Divine “in the sight of all the other peoples” of the earth (recall Moshe’s words from Deuteronomy above).  What the average modern Christian often overlooks as they read about the Law in their Sunday school textbooks is that the central tenet of God’s Torah was “Love God with all your heart, soul, and strength,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Too often, all the modern church Bible student sees in the Law is “Thou shalt,” and “Thou shalt not!”  They forget that the TaNaKH commanded Isra'el to have circumcised hearts so that they could in fact love and obey God with a genuine heart of faith, and subsequently love their neighbors the way they should.[11]  Genuine freedom in Christ is freedom from the bondage of flesh and freedom to walk into Torah obedience—empowered by the Ruach HaKodesh.  This is the point I am trying to make by reminding us about Isra'el’s responsibilities to love God, love their neighbors, and be a light to the surrounding nations.  The point I am stressing is that like Isra'el of old, Paul did not expect his readers to be able to embrace freedom and resist indulging the sinful nature under their own power! He urged them to serve one another in love. Indeed as Paul is going to state forthrightly in the very next verse, serving one another in love is tantamount to fulfilling the true intentions of the Torah, and this type of love can only be done as we live by the Spirit of God, which brings us to the next verse and to my next comment:


5:14 - For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”


Comments:  If Paul thought that Torah was done away with in Yeshua, as the prevailing Christian interpretation would have us to believe, then how in the world is it also fulfilled (summarized) in a single command to love our neighbor as ourselves? Firstly, in stating that the entire Torah is fulfilled in a single command, Paul follows in a tradition not uncommon among Jews of his day, a tradition Yeshua himself seems to have also followed. Recall that when questioned about the greatest commandment, Yeshua stated that to love God was the greatest and that a second was like unto it: love they neighbor as thyself. He went on to explain that on these two hang the entire Law and the Prophets—i.e., the fulfillment/summary (Matt. 22:36-40).  Tim Hegg and David H. Stern remind us that the Babylonian Talmud contains a well-known passage about Micah, Isaiah, Amos, and Habakkuk summarizing the Torah commandments, distilling them down to a few and eventually one command.[12]


But is Paul saying that the rest of Torah is irrelevant and that we need only focus on this single command to love our neighbors?  This can hardly be the correct interpretation, for indeed this would mean that Paul himself has just overthrown the greatest commandment, stated by Yeshua above to be love for God, with our neighbor coming in as a close second!


I think it fair to say that if we were to corner your average church pastor and ask them to state outright that they believe Paul to be uprooting all of Torah save this one commandment that they would not hold to that opinion.  Therefore, since we know Paul is not uprooting Torah here, we must confess that he is simply helping his readers to understand the Law’s priorities about genuine, spirit-led love for God that works itself out in maintaining control over our own sinful propensities, all the while nurturing within us an unselfish love for those around us.


5:16 - But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.


Comments:  This verse is such a wonderful promise for us as believers in Yeshua!   What is more, it is so practical and easy to understand that it is incomprehensible why more Christians are not following its rich, spiritual truth.  If we are to be obedient to God’s ways and love our neighbor, as we ought, then we have to live by the Spirit so that we can allow God to empower us to subjugate our stubborn flesh.  Paul has stated this very same principle elsewhere in his writings:


“So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:12-14, ESV).


To live by the Spirit means to walk by the Spirit, to be empowered by the Spirit, to be filled by the Spirit (more on Spirit-filling below).


5:17 - 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.


Comments:  Like verse 16, this verse too finds parallels in Paul’s other writings:


“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.  So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Romans 7:15-23, ESV).


Like the Romans passage quoted above, Paul would have us understand here in Galatians that once a person surrenders to Yeshua, a war between his old nature and new nature begins, with the flesh battling the Spirit and the Spirit battling the flesh.  Such a contest might lead one to despair and wonder if there will ever be victory for the child of God in Christ this side of heaven if this is the way it is going to be from now on.  But Paul already gave us the answer to the dilemma of dealing with our stubborn flesh:  “Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”  As believers, we need not despair as long as we remain firmly rooted in Christ!  To be sure, in Galatians 5:14, Paul conveys the concept of fulfilling the Torah by commending us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and in Romans, Paul equates the concept of fulfilling the Torah with walking according to the Spirit:


“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3, 4, ESV).


Isn’t it fantastic how the Word of God fits perfectly together in all of its parts!


5:18 - But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.


Comments:  Nearly every Christian commentary I consulted on this verse interpreted it in such a way as to teach that being Spirit-led meant that one was no longer bound by Torah ceremonies and the like, taking the phrase “not under the Law” (Greek=ὑπὸ νόμον hupo nomon) to indicate “not under obligation to carry out the letter of the Law.”  To be sure, most of those same commentaries looked ahead in Galatians to 6:2 contrasting the law (νόμος nomos) in this verse (presumed to be the Law of Moses) with the Law of Christ in 6:2 (more on “Law of Christ” in my comments to that verse below).  As was to be expected, those same Christian commentaries cross-referenced Paul’s words in Romans 6:14, particularly because the entire phrase “not under the Law” was used there as well.


David H. Stern’s Complete Jewish Bible translates this Galatians verse as “But if you are led by the Spirit, then you are not in subjection to the system that results from perverting the Torah into legalism.”  I'm going to have to disagree with all of the standard Christian commentaries on this verse, and I'm going to have to disagree with Stern’s translation on this pasuk as well.  Paul is not pitting Torah observance against being led by the Spirit.  Nor is he contrasting the life of the Spirit with a life of legalism—as theologically true a statement as that may sound.


As was discussed in Section Seven as well as the Summary above, when Paul uses the phrase “under the Law” in his letters, it is usually utilized in a technical fashion, referring either to Jewish identity, or to the condemnation that the Torah spells out for sinners, brought on by a penchant lust for repeated and unremorseful sin.  Context must determine which use is in view, and since Paul is in the middle of a dialogue about the old nature vs. the new nature that is controlled by the Spirit’s infilling, we can safely interpret “under the Law” in this verse as shorthand for “under the condemnation of the Law.”


But this verse not only emphasizes our freedom from condemnation, but our need to be “led by the Spirit.”  I interpret the term “led by the Spirit” to be tantamount to being “filled with the Spirit,” a familiar phrase also found in Paul.[13]  As one reads through my commentary here to Exegeting Galatians and notices the way I regularly disagree with standard Christian commentaries, one might get the impression that I have nothing positive to say about the prevailing Christian views at all, but that is far from the case.  In point of fact, I have the utmost respect for every Christian translator and commentator that I encounter, often gleaning rich spiritual nuggets from their non-Law related materials.  To be sure, John MacArthur is one of my all time favorites, and because of his pertinent words on the concept of being filled with the Spirit, I want to quote him at length here:


Facets of Spiritual Filling


When we use the word fill in English we normally think of something being placed into a container such as milk being poured to the brim of a glass, water being run into a bathtub, or gasoline being pumped into a gas tank. But none of those examples conveys precisely the meaning of to fill or be filled as does the Greek pleroo, a form of which is used in Ephesians 5:18 .


Pleroo has three shades of meaning that are helpful in illustrating the scriptural meaning of Spirit-filled. The first carries the idea of pressure. It is used to describe wind billowing the sails on a ship, providing the impetus to move the vessel across the water. In the spiritual realm, this concept depicts the Holy Spirit providing the thrust to move the believer down the pathway of obedience. A Spirit-filled Christian isn't motivated by his own desires or will to progress. Instead, he allows the Holy Spirit to carry him in the proper directions. Another helpful example of this first meaning is a small stick floating in a stream. Most of us have tossed a stick into a creek and then run downstream to see the twig come floating by, propelled only by the force of the water. To be filled with the Spirit means to be carried along by the gracious pressure of the Holy Spirit.


Pleroo can also convey the idea of permeation. The well-known pain reliever Alka Seltzer illustrates this principle quite effectively. When you drop one or two tablets into a glass of water, they instantly begin to fizzle and dissolve. Soon the tablets are transformed into clear bubbles throughout the glass, and the water is permeated with the distinct flavor of the Alka Seltzer. In a similar sense, God wants the Holy Spirit to permeate and flavor our lives so when we're around others they will know for certain we possess the pervasive savor of the Spirit.


There is a third meaning of pleroo, actually the primary one in the New Testament, which conveys the sense of domination or total control. It is used by the Gospel writers to indicate that people were dominated by a certain emotion. In Luke 5:26, after Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and healed the paralytic, the people were astonished and "filled with fear." In Luke 6:11, when Jesus restored a man's hand on the Sabbath, the scribes and Pharisees "were filled with rage." When our Lord told the disciples that He would soon be leaving them, He told of their reaction: "sorrow has filled your heart" (John 16:6). Each of those uses reveals an emotion so overwhelming within the people that it dominated their thoughts and excluded every other emotion.


Most people are able to balance their emotions from day to day. But there are times when the emotional balance is tipped to one extreme or another. Such occasions might include a wedding, the death of a close family member, or an extreme emergency or trial. When someone is totally dominated by a particular emotional reaction in secular contexts, it can be foolish, sinful, a waste of time, or even frightening and physically harmful. But in our spiritual lives we are commanded to yield to the total control of the Holy Spirit, so every emotion, thought, and act of the will is under His direction. That kind of complete spiritual control is for our benefit and totally in line with God's will.


A directly parallel passage to Ephesians 5:18 is Colossians 3:16, which explains in a slightly different way the meaning of the command "be filled with the Spirit." The Apostle Paul says, "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you." One can be filled with the Spirit only when controlled by the Word. It is knowing truth and obeying it (all emphases his).[14]


Such powerful words for us to contemplate!  John MacArthur hit the nail on the head with this one!  I cannot stress enough the importance of this need:  As believers we absolutely must, must, must be led by/filled with the Spirit!  Jesus must, must, must be first and foremost in our lives if we ever hope to bear genuine and lasting fruit for the Kingdom of God, and if we ever hope to live victorious lives over our stubborn flesh.  As Paul is going to admonish us in a few verses from now, those who belong to Yeshua prove their belonging by living lives marked by being Spirit led and Spirit filled.  Such individuals have, by the power of the Ruach HaKodesh, crucified the sinful nature so that they not only live by the Spirit but they keep in step with the Spirit’s leading.


5:19-21 - Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 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.


Comments:  Paul provides a sample list of what life is characterized by when the old nature is in control instead of the Spirit of God in our lives.  The harsh reality of this passage is, in my opinion, the very real possibility that if a person’s life is indeed regularly marked by actions similar to this list (which is not all-inclusive), then perhaps that person has not been truly born again.  Again, getting ahead of myself here, those who belong to Christ have in fact crucified the sinful flesh with its passions and desires already.  It is a spiritual reality in the mystery of Messiah!  Even though true believers occasionally slip up and sin from time to time, our lives should not be characterized by such slip ups.  Paul warns those who claim to belong to Yeshua, yet allow the acts of the sinful nature to dominate and control their lives, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.  I don't believe he is saying that the acts of the sinful nature have the ominous ability to somehow uproot the work of Christ in our lives.  Rather, I believe he is saying that if we are consistently and unremorsefully sinning, even while professing faith in Yeshua, that we just might be fooling ourselves about being a genuine child of God.


5:22, 23 - But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self- control; against such things there is no law.


Comments:  This is one of the first passages that I memorized while growing up in a Baptist school.  And I am so glad I memorized it!  The first part of the passage is self-explanatory and (Surprise! Surprise!) I heartily agree with every single Christian commentary that I consulted on the first part!  It is the sermons on the last part of the passage that I regularly found disagreement with.  Luther’s comments are representative:


Galatians 5:23. Against such there is no law.


There is a law, of course, but it does not apply to those who bear these fruits of the Spirit. The Law is not given for the righteous man. A true Christian conducts himself in such a way that he does not need any law to warn or to restrain him. He obeys the Law without compulsion. The Law does not concern him. As far as he is concerned there would not have to be any Law.[15]


When one properly reads through and studies the Torah with unbiased eyes, one does not encounter laws without love or rules without relationship.  Instead, one encounters a God brimming with love for his people Isra'el!  A God so in love with and concerned about them that he rescues them from the clutches of lawless Egyptian bondage and brings them to the foot of Har Sinai to personally hand them his gracious and righteous Law!  This is the very same Law that Paul calls “holy and righteous and good” in Romans 7:12!  This is the same Law that Paul calls spiritual in Romans 7:14!  This is the same Law that Paul says he delights in with his inner being in Romans 7:21!  This is the same Law that Paul confesses he is subject to with his mind in Romans 7:25!  Are you beginning to see my point yet?  I think it hardly considerate of the Torah or of Paul’s writings to pin Paul with the concept of identifying the Law of God as worthless when it comes to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.


Of course we know and understand that the Law in and of itself without the commensurate Spirit’s indwelling is nothing more than—as Tim Hegg likes to call it—letters on parchment.  Thus, the proper position to take when studying Law and Spirit is not to contrast them against one another, but rather to compliment them one with another!  They go hand in hand.  They are both necessary in the life of a genuine follower of Yeshua.  For indeed, as we have already noted from our quote from MacArthur above, to be Spirit-filled is to be controlled and filled with the Word of Christ!  It is to have the Word of God permeate your every facet of being until you are saturated with the Words of the Master!  One can be filled with the Spirit only when controlled by the Word.  And all of this is in accordance with what has already been promised in the TaNaKH of old—to which we are certain Paul understood and agreed with.  For indeed, when God promised Isra'el that he would take out the heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh, he also promised to write his Law—the very same Torah given on Sinai—on the hearts of those whom he redeemed:


“And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God” (Ezek. 11:19, 20, ESV).




“I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you” (Ezek. 36:24-29, ESV).


We of course are also familiar with the famous passage out of Jeremiah 31 that speaks of a “new covenant”—a passage quoted at length in Hebrews chapter eight and repeated in Hebrews chapter ten—a passage which also promises that God would write the Torah on the hearts of all those who participate in his New Covenant![16]  In light of these data, I think it inconceivable that Paul would fail to make the positive connection between being genuinely Spirit-led as a follower of Messiah coupled with walking out the Torah in one’s everyday life.


5:24-26 - And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.


Comments:  Bringing his comments of Chapter Five to a close, Paul reiterates the true believer’s position in Messiah.  We are dead to sin.  We are dead to legalism.  We are dead to trying to earn God’s favor.  And for the Galatian Christian, this means he doesn't need to undergo an unnecessary legal status change from Gentile to Jew as if that will somehow improve his existing right-standing with God in Messiah!  To be sure, outside of the genuine heart-change that happens when we are filled with the Spirit of Yeshua, a change in ethnicity (if such a thing is possible, according to some!) can never do anything to improve our true inner man, especially if that man is an ‘old man.’


As he is going to go on and write in Romans 6:2, Paul teaches, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?”  Indeed, we have in fact been given a new nature in Yeshua, one that does not seek to belong to the ways of the world, but instead seeks to be pleasing to the One who shed his very life-blood so that we might live as new creations unto God.  And since we live (Greek= ζάω zao, exist among the living, enjoy life, have vital power[17]) by this Spirit of Yeshua inside of us, Paul emphasizes, we will also keep in step (Greek=στοιχέω stoicheo, a word that has military connotations of proceeding or marching in a row[18]) with the Spirit!  It is vital as we read through Paul—indeed all of the Apostolic Writings—that we understand the teachings on ‘old man’ vs. ‘new man.’  In Paul, ‘old man’ is a way of describing the old nature or volition or will of a person before coming to genuine faith in Jesus as LORD.  By contrast, ‘new man’ is a way of describing our nature or volition or will once we have surrendered to Yeshua’s Lordship:


“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17, KJV).


The truth of the matter is that Torah observance exists (from God’s perspective) as a matter of the heart.  It always has been and always shall be.  Genuine and lasting covenant membership will always be characterized by genuine and lasting obedience:


“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James [Jacob] 2:14-26, ESV).


And also see,


“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8, 9, ESV).


The Judaisms of Paul’s day quite possibly had this sequence backwards:  "Submit to the ‘works of the Law’ and God will grant you genuine faith and right standing in his people Isra'el.”


[1] David Guzik, Commentary on Galatians (Enduring Word Media, 2004-2010), http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/4805.htm.

[2] Romans 9:31, 32 says, “Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works.”  The pursuit of this righteousness was not a bad thing in God’s eyes.  On the contrary, it was the right thing to do!  Paul does not chastise Isra'el for pursuing a law that would lead to righteousness.  Instead, as the rest of the verse states, how they pursued it was real problem.  If we continue on into Chapter Ten we will see that he chastises them for rejecting the Rock of Offense in 9:33 and sough to set up their own Jewish ethnicity (the “works” of 9:32).  10:3 describes it this way: “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness.”

[3] John MacArthur, Sermon: Fallen From Grace, Part 1: The Works of False Doctrine (Grace to You, 1974), http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/1665/fallen-from-grace-part-1-the-works-of-false-doctrine.

[4] Naftali Silberberg, What is the “Oral Torah”? (www.AskMoses.com, as quoted by Chabad.org, http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/812102/jewish/What-is-the-Oral-Torah.htm).

[5] E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Fortress Press, 1985), pp. 248-249.

[6] Martin Luther, Galatians Five


[7] Acts 23:12.

[8] Acts 21:27-29.

[9] Mark Nanos, Paul and the Jewish Tradition: The Ideology of the Shema (http://www.marknanos.com/Paul-Shema-10-27-08.pdf, 2008), p. 7.

[10] Tim Hegg, A Study of Galatians (www.torahresource.com, 2002), p. 188.

[11] Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4.

[12] Tim Hegg, A Study of Galatians (www.torahresource.com, 2002), p. 193, and David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, Galatians 5:14 (Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996), p. 565.

[13] Ephesians 5:18.

[14] John MacArthur, What Does it Mean to Be Filled with the Spirit? (www.gty.org, 2003) http://www.gty.org/resources/positions/P04/what-does-it-mean-to-be-filled-with-the-Spirit.

[15] Martin Luther, Galatians Five


[16] Jeremiah 31:31-34; cf. Hebrews 8:8-12; 10:16.

[17] Thayer’s and Smith’s Bible Dictionary (TSBD), ζάω.

[18] Ibid., στοιχέω.