Paul wraps up the whole section about slavery and freedom with the exhortation in Galatians 5:1 to stand firm in freedom, and not to submit again to a yoke of slavery. The Galatians were called to imitate Paul this way in Galatians 4:12. Paul will elaborate in verses 2-6 the reasons for standing firm in this freedom, and what it entails with regard to Christian duty.
The first and uppermost reason why we need to stand firm in freedom is that Christ died precisely for it. Verse 1 says; “For freedom Christ has set us free.” The prepositional phrase for freedom is in the emphatic position, highlighting the fact that it’s the very purpose of Christ. Paul was simply saying that Christ intends to maintain this freedom. So he gave first the positive command to stand firm, then the negative command to not submit again to a yoke of slavery. In other words, if you are slipping into slavery again, you are not standing firm in freedom, and vice versa.
Oh how many of us today are being tempted or have fallen into slavery again! If you are working in order to get some favor from God, no matter how religious that is, it is slavery. You are not walking in freedom. Or some of us, because of peer pressure, were just going with the flow of how others live their Christian lives. If others read their Bibles, you read your Bible. If they’re praying, you’re praying. If they go to church to worship, you go. That’s not freedom! Freedom was purchased for us by Christ so that we can obey him, not dutifully and begrudgingly but joyfully.
Then in verse 2 Paul gave the second reason in the form of a solemn warning; “If you accept circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing.” You cannot claim what Christ accomplished for the true believers if you are to be found adding something else to improve upon it. Christ would be of no advantage to you. You either rely on Christ alone or not at all. This is of course contingent on the response of the Galatians. Remember that they were at that time, already in the process of abandoning the gospel. Now if they continue in slavery, it would be evident that Christ would profit them nothing.
So Paul goes on to explain in verses 3-4 what he meant in verse 2 by “Christ will not profit you.” Paul’s primary argument was the unity of the law. The person who accepts circumcision is obligated or a debtor to keep the whole law. Now do note that Paul’s assertion will rise or fall depending on whether the Mosaic law must be taken as a whole or as divided. If it is divided, then to say that “when a person obeys one, he is obligated to obey the whole law”, would make no sense at all. Because one can make the excuse that yes, there are parts of the law that doesn’t apply to me, but not the other parts, so I’m not obligated to keep all. Therefore a consistent understanding of Paul’s argument here suggests that the Mosaic law must be taken as one unit, otherwise you’ll remove the weight and fangs of the warning. So verse 4 wraps up the explanation in verse 3 by saying that those who would try to be justified by the law are severed from Christ, and they have fallen from grace. That is what Paul meant when he said that Christ would be of no profit to you when you rely on yourselves, through law keeping.
Now, when you have warnings like that in Scripture, don’t soften it by saying; “Well, I believe in eternal security. I don’t think my actions today will affect my eternal destiny, as long as at one point in my life I placed my trust in Christ.” These are real warnings, and it has real contingency with our decisions and actions today. If you submit yourselves under slavery again and remain there, then indeed Christ will be of no value or benefit to you at judgement day. We ought not to elevate one doctrine at the expense of the other. Instead, we ought to hold on both the assuring and the persevering nature of saving faith. The faith that saves is the faith that perseveres.
What does standing firm in freedom looks like? If it isn’t servitude under the law, what is it? The answer to this question is the last reason why Paul exhorts the Galatians to stand firm in freedom. Verse 5 begins with the conjunction “for” which means that this verse is the reason why circumcision(or any other works) is not the way towards righteousness. For righteousness is attained only through the agency of the Holy Spirit. It is not by the works of the flesh just as Abraham worked in unbelief(Galatians 4:22-23; 4:29), but by the Spirit(4:28). In Galatians 3:3-5, Paul already hinted on the necessity of relying on the Holy Spirit alone and not on the flesh if we are to be perfected. With regard to the flesh, John 6:63 says that it profits nothing and only the Spirit that gives life. And if we turn and rely on the Lord who is the Spirit, there will be freedom according to 2 Corinthians 3:15-18. Paul says that whenever Moses(the law) is read a veil lies over their hearts, only when they turn to the Lord, the veil is removed.
Not only that it is through the agency and empowerment of the Spirit that we are justified or counted righteous, but it is also by means of faith alone. Faith is that one and only virtue that doesn’t look to one’s self for any merits that a person claims to have. Instead it is a receiving act, because it admits that we are bankrupt of such merits.
Now there’s a question that we should ask; since we are justified the moment we put our trust in Christ’s finished work alone, why then bother standing firm in faith and freedom? Because after all, it is not our faith that justifies, but the object of our faith right? The answer is in the last half of verse 5. Righteousness is something that we still eagerly wait and hope for. Meaning, there is no assurance of righteousness for those who will not stand firm. Nowhere did the Scripture gives assurance or security for non-continuing faith. Yes, we are immediately justified by faith, as long as the nature of that faith is a persevering one. So Paul is not saying that you can lose your justification, or that we don’t have one, but that you’ll prove yourselves to have no saving faith at all if you don’t have that eager waiting for the hope of righteousness. In other words, righteousness, is not something to work for, but something we eagerly hope for.
Lastly, we are to stand firm in freedom, that is, to rely on the Spirit alone, by faith for righteousness, because the only works that has any weight or value are works that are flowing from faith. This is faith working through love. Circumcision is not evil in itself, just as uncircumcision is not. So one can be very legalistic both in his anti-legalism, and pro-legalism. If you boast in your circumcision, that’s legalism. If you boast in your uncircumcision, you’re still legalistic. Genuine saving faith does not boast in his faith, works or non works, it boast in someone outside of itself. It looks outside of us. Its boast is Christ alone, nothing more, nothing less.