Paul told the Galatian Christians to resist the false teaching that had come to them. The Galatians had been growing in their love for the Lord Jesus Christ and for Paul also. Then they were bushwhacked by those who caused them to take their eyes off Christ and put them on the impossible task of trying to meet their own unrealistic, fleshly expectations by attempting to keep God’s Law (Gal. 5:7-12). The problem is never God’s Law. The Law is holy, just, and good (Rom. 7:14). The problem is our flesh (Rom. 7:18-21). God’s Law never mixes well with man’s flesh. God’s law always does what God designed for it to do – it condemns sinful flesh.
God had called them to Himself by His grace. So why were they leaving that pure relationship with Him and going back into a system of religious rules and self-righteous standards? He used leaven to illustrate what he meant. Notice the effect that a small amount of leaven has on an entire body. “A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (Gal. 5:9). “Legalism” is attempting to live the Christian life based on a myriad of self-imposed rules and laws. Legalism, the grace stealer, does not suddenly overpower a church. A small amount of self-righteousness is first introduced, then a small dash of religious performance, then a touch of traditionalism. “I don’t know why we do it that way, but that’s the way we have always done it.” The first thing you know, the whole ministry is adrift in a sea of legalism.
Believers take their eyes off their personal relationship with Christ and begin to become performance motivated. They tend to compete with each other to see who can perform the best or most religious acts. This performance-motivated religion begins to grow into a religious system that strangles the true spiritual life and power from the fellowship. It ultimately poisons the whole body and people become bitter, critical and judgmental of each other and lose their love, their joy, their peace, and their power.
Paul paused at this point and became dead serious and extremely personal. His words here are so very important, so crucial to the argument for grace. The accuracy of the gospel is at stake, and it was no time for Paul to attempt to win a popularity contest. Paul said he could merely stop preaching grace, and the criticism being leveled at him would end. He allowed the Spirit of God to speak strongly through him to the ears of those religious legalists who were blinding this young church. He was saying in effect, “I wish that those who are confusing you with their legalistic practices, those who are blinding you and convincing you to revert back to law, those who are subverting your souls, those who are causing your spiritual progress to stop, who are stifling your love, joy, peace and power, those who love the ceremony and love involving others in ceremonies and traditions, those who would rejoice in getting you to circumcise yourselves, I wish that they would literally castrate themselves” (Gal. 5:10-12). Maybe this physical act would satisfy their hunger to subjugate this young church.
This is indeed strong language! How could we apply Paul’s strong rebuke today? If we enjoy performing wonderful ceremonies, doing good deeds so we can say in our hearts to others, “Look what I am doing;” if we are secretly challenged by getting other people to submit to our religious traditionalism; if our claim to fame spiritually is that we do not smoke, drink, gamble, dance, use profanity, or wear long hair, gossip, dance, never use bad words, and go to Sunday school, read the Bible every day, and never miss church, the list goes on. This crowd secretly or openly begins to judge other people based on their own set of preexisting standards. If we are here, then we fall into the same deceptive trap as these Judaizers. “For you brethren have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another. I say then, walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary to one another so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Gal. 5:13-17).
Paul reminded the Galatian Christians, and us, one more time that Christian liberty does not mean freedom to live as we please. Instead, he emphasized once more the word “love.” Rather than using our liberty as freedom to exercise our flesh, we are to love and serve one another. The love produced in us by the Spirit of God will motivate us to live a godly lifestyle and to serve fellow believers in Christ. Living by means of the Spirit is the power source that generates our Christian life, producing love and controlling our liberty. Paul did not tell these believers not to fulfill the lusts of the flesh and, as a result, they would walk in the Spirit. That would be like putting the battery power in a small appliance backwards. The electrical power cannot flow. There may be many believers trying desperately to live the Christian life today by attempting to control the flesh by keeping a set of laws or rules, but they are failing miserably. Stop! Get back into the Word of God and begin to know the Person who lives within you and loves you with an infinite love. Walk with Him, love Him, and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. Blessings!