Study Notes

Galatians 5:2-12


Last week, we saw Paul's exhortation to the Galatians to stand firm in their freedom. Not only their freedom from sin, but freedom from religion as well.

5:2 Circumcision Is The Law

Circumcision is the cutting away of the male foreskin. All Jewish boys were to be circumcised when they were eight days old.

It was the sign of the covenant between God and the descendants of Abraham. It became a symbol of the fact that they were under the Law of Moses.

Of course, because the non-Jews of the day were not under the Law of Moses, they were naturally not circumcised either. But as you know from our study of Galatians these past weeks, when Gentiles began to hear the gospel and be saved, there were some Jews who thought that adopting the Law should be included in the gospel to them. Because circumcision was the symbol of being under the Law, that became the main issue of contention.

In Acts 15, we read of Paul's ministry in Antioch. Many Gentiles in that city heard the gospel and were saved.

Acts 15:1 And some men came down from Judea and {began} teaching the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved."

As I said, circumcision was not the only issue - it was the symbol of being under the entire Law. When they held the council at Jerusalem, it was stated more plainly,

Acts 15:5 ..."It is necessary to circumcise them, and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses."

If You Receive

As Gentile Christians, the Galatians had experienced the same opposition from the same kind of people. They had been pressured to follow the Law, to be circumcised.

And so here in Galatians, Paul tells them that if they receive circumcision, they will be buying into a system based on works, not on grace. If they decide that being circumcised will make themselves more holy, or more right before God, they are destroying the gospel of salvation by grace. In that case, Christ will be of no benefit to them whatsoever.

The same is true for us: if we add any sort of works to the gospel as a prerequisite for salvation, we are destroying it. We are nullifying the cross. We are taking the statement of Jesus, "It is finished," and saying that Jesus said, "Okay, it's 90% complete - the rest is up to you guys."

As soon as someone tells you, "You must believe in Jesus and speak in tongues," "You must believe in Jesus and be baptized by a minister in our denomination," "You must believe in Jesus and complete the catechism," "You must believe in Jesus and become a member of our church," "You must believe in Jesus and give at least 10% of your income to the church," etc., then they have perverted, corrupted, and destroyed the gospel.

Difficult as this may be to hear, for people who add any man-made religion to the cross, Christ is of no benefit to them. Back in chapter two, Paul called people who do this "false brethren" (Gal. 2:4). In chapter one, he made an even more radical statement:

Gal. 1:9 "...if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed."

Folks, don't buy into legalism for a moment. Don't let anything be added to the gospel of the saving grace of Christ. That message is very simple: repent and believe (Mark 1:15). Turn away from your sin and receive forgiveness for your sin through Christ's work on the cross. There is nothing more that can save you. Not tongues or baptisms or tithing or pledging.

What the Scripture is saying is that anyone who claims there is another religious work that you must perform in order to have your sins forgiven is a heretic. Plain and simple.

5:3 Under Obligation To The Whole Law

As we saw in chapter three, if you depend on the Law to save you, you'd better keep the whole thing perfectly. If you're going to depend on your own works to save you, then they'd better be 100% righteous. Because,


Or, as James put it,

James 2:10 ...whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one {point,} he has become guilty of all.

If you are going to stand before God on the basis of your own works, you'd better be prepared to show that you have been perfect.

If you're relying on church attendance to save you, you'd better never miss a service.

If you're relying on the fact that you give 10%, you'd better keep an accurate accounting - making sure to give 10% of your birthday money and 2.5¢ from the quarter you find on the street.

If following the Ten Commandments is what you are relying on, you'd better hope that you've never looked lustfully at another human being, otherwise you're toast.

I'm glad that I'm not depending on my own perfection and adherence to a religious system to be saved. I'm saved exclusively by Jesus Christ dying on the cross to pay the death penalty for my sins.

5:4-6 Fallen From Grace

Paul says that if they have began to depend on their own righteousness, then they have fallen from grace. Grace and works are mutually exclusive. If you depend on your works to save you, then grace means nothing. But if you depend on God's grace to save you, then your works mean nothing.

Under grace, we know that we are not righteous. As the Scripture says,


We know that righteousness will come when we are glorified in heaven. We do not believe that we are completely righteous, but through faith, we believe that one day we will be in His presence.

1John 3:2 ...We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is.

In that day, we will be truly and completely righteous. Until then, we are waiting for the hope of righteousness.

5:7-8 Who Hindered You?

Paul had given them a good start when he preached the gospel of grace to them. They had turned from their sin, believed that they were forgiven at the cross, and were walking victoriously in the Lord. But when the Judaizers came in preaching Law and circumcision, they were thrown off track.

Paul uses the example of running the race. It was like these guys had come in like football linebackers, slamming into them and knocking them off their feet. He says, "this wasn't from God. These guys are not doing the work of the Lord."

5:9 Leaven

How could one little addition to the gospel corrupt it so badly? Well, how can one little AIDs virus harm an adult's body? How can one drop of cyanide ruin a glass of water? How can adding a tiny bit of yeast affect a whole loaf of bread dough? It only takes a little lie to corrupt a large truth.

5:10-12 Paul Didn't Preach Circumcision

Although Paul was circumcised as a newborn Jewish boy, and as a man had been strictly obedient to the Jewish Law, he no longer preached it. He knew it was only a mirror to show people their need for salvation. He makes the point that if he was still preaching Judaism rather than Christianity, then there would be a lot less people trying to kill him, and fewer folks who hated him.

But in reality, Paul preached the cross. It was a stumbling block to the Jews, because their mindset was that you could only be right before God by your works. Maybe some of you here today are from religious backgrounds and it just doesn't seem to sit right with you, that a person going to heaven isn't based on their works, but on their faith alone. It's a stumbling block to you. But that is the gospel.

Everybody has sinned: you have and I have. We have all fallen short of the glory of God. Our best righteousness, according to the Scriptures, is like a filthy garment to God. But Jesus Christ, God's Son, died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin. It was nothing we did - it is everything that He did. And so the Bible says,

Eph. 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, {it is} the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.

Nothing religious you've ever done means anything to God. The one test you will be given is this: "Did you believe that My Son died on the cross to forgive your sins?"

Go to next study

Go to previous study