Paul continued his message of freedom from law by encouraging these believers to stand fast in this freedom. You will recall that under the law, a child has no more freedom than a slave. He must adhere to the rules and regulations of his father’s law and he must be led around by his father’s slave. So it is with the person who attempts to gain salvation by means of the law. These believers were free from the law and had been placed in the family of God as adopted adult children. As God’s adult children, they had all the rights and privileges of royalty. Yet, they were now about to place a yoke around their necks once more. They were like adults putting themselves under rules designed for immature children.
The freedom to which Paul refers is not only a reference to salvation, but includes the freedom available to every believer after salvation. Once a believer, these Galatians had the indwelling Holy Spirit to empower them to execute the Christian Way of Life with the proper motivation. The Judaizers attempted to please God by keeping the law, which they could not do. The believer on the other hand was free to serve God because of his love for God.
Paul continued to explain to these believers that by placing themselves under the law, that Christ would be of no benefit to them. They would still have eternal life, but no spiritual life. Furthermore, by substituting keeping the law for grace the believer has obligated himself to keep the entire legalistic system of the Jews.
If this becomes the case, and the believer abandons grace, Christ cannot be effective in the life of this person. In Galatians 5:5 Paul refers to this spiritual life as “the hope of righteousness by faith,” which is what every believer should be eagerly expecting. This expectation of experiential righteousness is what the Holy Spirit makes a reality in the life of the believer who is executing God’s plan, purpose and will.
Being in union with Jesus Christ cancels all other means of spirituality, such as circumcision (keeping the law) or uncircumcision (not keeping the law). Faith is the ultimate means of spirituality for the believer. It begins with faith in Jesus Christ at salvation and continues with faith in God and His plan after salvation. The expression of spirituality is personal love for God and impersonal love for all mankind.
The Galatian believers had apparently understood this at one time, but now were in jeopardy of falling prey to these false prophets called Judaizers. Paul stated clearly that this false doctrine was not from God and by adding any form of human merit to grace completely cancels it.
Paul then began to encourage these believers by telling them of his confidence in them that they would not succumb to pressure and believe this false doctrine, but would continue to believe the truth as Paul had taught them.
Paul’s argument was that he would be a very foolish person if he preached circumcision for salvation, as he did formerly. When he began preaching the Gospel of grace, after his salvation experience on the road to Damascus, he also began to be persecuted by the religious Jewish establishment. So why would Paul place himself in a position to be persecuted if the preaching of Christ’s death on the Cross for salvation was not true? He could have stopped the persecution caused by preaching the Gospel by preaching circumcision (legalism) for salvation.
Galatians 5:12 is a demonstration of how much Paul was concerned over this false doctrine of the Judiazers. Paul said if performing circumcision would aid in salvation, why not castrate yourself and it aid you even more. The Greek word for cut-off is “apokopto” and means to mutilate. A Gentile ritual of mutilation was practiced when they worshipped Cybele, one of their gods. Therefore, these Gentile believers understood exactly what Paul was saying.
It is sometimes said that those who believe in the simple message of faith alone in Christ alone for salvation are practicing “easy believism” and are giving people a “license to sin.” The freedom that we enjoy as believers also carries with it responsibility. We are responsible to God, ourselves and others. Paul exhorts these believers to not use their liberty in Christ as a license to sin, but use it to serve others by means of impersonal love.
The Old Testament verse that Paul quoted from Leviticus 19:18 was also quoted by Jesus during His ministry. Loving your neighbor as yourself fulfills God’s desire for every believer to use his freedom in Christ as an opportunity to fulfill his role as a Royal Ambassador. However, abusing this liberty can place a stumblingblock in the path of an unbeliever or another believer. Four laws or principles speak to the responsibility of every believer not to cause another person to stumble spiritually. If your words, attitudes or actions could cause an unbeliever to look unfavorably upon the Gospel then think twice before you speak or act. The same principle applies to a believer who may still be in a state of spiritual immaturity.