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Galatians chapter 5

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What does Galatians chapter 5 mean?

Paul's letter to the Galatians can be divided into three parts. Chapters 1—2 focus on Paul's biography, including his qualifications to represent Christ as an apostle. The end of chapter 2, through chapter 4, deals mainly with theology, explaining that justification comes by faith in Christ and not by following the works of the law. Chapters 5—6 focus on application of these truths. Knowing all that's been presented in chapters 1—4, how should those who are free in Christ live?

Paul begins chapter 5 by stating flatly that Christ has set us free in order that we should be free. Freedom, though, requires resistance against a return to bondage. Those in Christ must stand firm against anyone who would try to drag them into slavery under the law (Galatians 5:1).

Paul has in mind the issue of circumcision. A group known as the Judaizers were pressuring the Galatians to submit to physical circumcision in order to be acceptable to God. Some of the Galatians may have been willing to do this, simply to cover all possible needs: "Why not believe in Jesus and be circumcised?" they may have thought. Paul insists, however, that faith in Christ must be faith in Christ alone and nothing else. In fact, he writes that to begin to follow the law cuts us off from Christ because we are asking God to judge us by our own works and not by Christ's (Galatians 5:2–11).

Paul, confident the Galatians will reject this false teaching and that the one responsible for teaching it will be held accountable, rejects a rumor that he himself was teaching anyone to be circumcised. If he were, why would they be persecuting him? In fact, he writes that he wishes the false teachers would go past circumcision to castration (Galatians 5:12).

Paul then turns his focus to another way Christians might waste the freedom Christ has won for us. Some might think that since they have already been forgiven for their sin and justified by faith in Christ, what would keep them from indulging in all their sinful desires? That's not what our freedom in Christ is for. Instead, we should use our freedom to serve each other in love (Galatians 5:13–15).

But how can we overcome our sinful desires and focus on serving others? We can only do so by the power of God's Spirit, given to us when we trusted in Christ for our salvation. The Spirit of God is powerful and gives believers the supernatural ability to love as Christ does instead of serving self. The battle for Christians is to allow the Spirit to lead instead of shutting Him down to go our own way. Our own way always leads to sin and then to destruction. Paul provides a list of sinful lifestyles. Those who live in that way without ever turning back should not think that they are in Christ. They will not inherit God's kingdom along with those who have God's Spirit (Galatians 5:16–21).

Then Paul offers a second list. This one reveals what comes out of those who allow God's Spirit to lead the way. It is one "fruit" with nine characteristics: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

By definition, those who trust in Christ's death for their sin on the cross have made the choice to crucify their sinful desires along with Him. That doesn't mean we'll never sin again, but it does mean that when we keep in step with God's Spirit we don't need to sin. In that way, we have been freed from sin's power, as well as its penalty (Galatians 5:22–25).
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