Chapter 5 Verse 1:
In what ways do Christians frequently think about the will of God that creates a sense of fear? Often we can think of God’s will as a needle in a haystack. There are things we know that are outside God’s will (sin; negative commands; “do not”) and things we know are in God’s will (positive commands; “do”). However, many Christians live in fear of missing something hidden within those parameters (which car, house, job, school, activity, etc…?). Part of the Christian liberty Paul speaks of in Galatians 5 is the freedom (even the responsibility) to choose based upon our God given talents and interests those matters that are not delineated by God’s negative or positive commands.
Chapter 5 Verse 2
“A Yoke of Slavery”
Where there is slavery, there is a yoke. Where there is a prisoner, there is a prison. This is so much easier to grasp when the bondage is physical, but in Galatians 5 Paul is not speaking of a physical bondage. The “yoke” was made of wood and placed on the neck of an ox, but the yoke made of guilt, fear, insecurity, or doubt (“yoke emotions”) is embedded in the heart of God’s children.
Galatians 5:1 echoes Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The question we must ask ourselves is, “Do I experience condemnation in the form of yoke emotions?”
First, we should examine our heart, life, thoughts, and relationships to discern whether there is sin to be repented of (I Cor 11:28) or discord to be made right (Matt 5:23-24). Based upon the context of Galatians 5 we will assume the primary problem is not here.
Second, we should examine the beliefs that undergird our yoke emotions. This is where Paul was challenging the Galatians. If certain laws and rituals are necessary in addition to faith in Christ, how do we know which ones and on what do we rely when we break one of those?
To assist in identifying this underlying belief(s) give attention to the emotional triggers: time, place, your actions, people, preceding events, etc… What significance or history do these things have? What “law” are you following in their presence or whose acceptance are you seeking / earning by keeping that “law”?
Third, we should understand how the Gospel transforms this belief. Paul was not against circumcision as a Jewish custom, but only as a pursuit of God. Chances are your “yoke” will either reveal a practice you have given undue significance in the pursuit of God or something / someone you have begun to treat as a god (idol). Seeing this allows you to strip off the “yoke of slavery” (repent) and return to the freedom of Christ (faith).
Chapter 5 Verses 3-4
Why would getting circumcised obligate someone to keep the entire law? Imagine this scenario: a parent has a child with a 4.0 grade point average (perfect) and says to their child, “When you get your grades up I will buy you a new car.” Nothing can be added to a 4.0. There is no “up.” If the obviously well-studied child tries to improve his/her grades, no amount of studying will result in any progress. Nothing can be added, so the effort to improve will result in infinite exhaustion. We have the righteousness of Christ by faith in His work on the cross. If we seek to add to it, our efforts would be caught in the same exhausting trap of trying to improve upon perfection (see Isaiah 64:6 for another refute of salvation by works).
Chapter 5 Verse 7
Why would Paul ask a question that he and his audience already knew the answer to? Paul and the Galatians knew it was the Judaizers who caused the conflict. In this case, the answer is found in Paul’s objective. Paul was more concerned in this letter to win the Galatians than he was to attack the Judaizers. The Judaizers were (or had been) friends to the Galatians. Paul wanted to focus upon the Judaizers actions, values, and beliefs more than their persons. If Paul were seeking to evangelize the Judaizers or writing a letter to them his purpose would be different. Here Paul did not want to allow the allegiances that develop in relationships to cloud the evaluation of sound doctrine on a matter as important as salvation. In what situations might we find ourselves in a scenario of being more concerned about winning one person than refuting another person or group (i.e., a teenager with questionable new friends) and what can we draw from Paul’s example in Galatians?