Judaizers – The Law vs. Grace

The Judaizers

The entire book of Galatians is Paul’s effort to correct the heresy of Judaizers who were trying to tell people that they had to be circumcised and follow Jewish law to be saved. Paul explains at length that we are not saved by law or ritual (i.e. Galatians 4:4-5). In Chapter 5, he is talking about circumcision: how if a person trusts in circumcision to save them, then Christ is of no value (5:2). Paul was furious! He even went so far to say that he wished the people who were trying to convince the Galatian believers to be circumcised (Judaizers) would emasculate themselves!

How Paul deals with the Judaizers

In Galatians 5:19-25, Paul helps distinguish what proceeds from the Spirit, and what proceeds from the flesh. He describes the evidences of living by the flesh (sexual immorality, drunkenness, etc.) and then he proceeds to describe the results (fruits) of walking in the Spirit (Love, Joy, Peace, etc.) and encourages us to continue to walk in the Spirit.

Judaizers were telling people that they had to follow Jewish law to be saved. If they had succeeded, Christianity would have become just another Jewish sect (Barclay, 1976). In the preceding verses, Paul is talking about how if a person trusts in circumcision to save them, then Christ is of no value (Gal 5:2). Paul was furious! He even went so far to say that he wished the Judaizers would emasculate themselves! In verse 13, he warns the church not to use our Christian freedoms to indulge the flesh. Verses 5:16-18 may have been seen by the 1st century church as a “how-to” guide for living in grace instead of under the law. Paul explains that if we live by the Spirit, we will not satisfy our fleshly nature. It’s not going to be easy! Our flesh and spirit are at war, and this conflict does not allow us to do what we want (cf. Romans 7:14-25). And that if we walk in the Spirit we are not under the law. The verses that follow (vv. 19-26) are indications of a life of walking in the flesh contrasted to those of walking in the Spirit. Gal 5:16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

Gal 5:17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.

Gal 5:18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

How might the Galatian people perceive Paul’s letter?

The poor Galatian people had to be so confused! Judaizers were telling people that they had to follow Jewish law to be saved (Barclay, 1976). Paul was furious! (Gal 5:12) If they had succeeded, Christianity would have become just another Jewish sect (Barclay, 1976, p. 3). Paul devotes most of this letter to answering the judaizers. Chapter 5 is the peroration (summary) of his argument (Fausset, 1871). In the preceding verses, Paul tells us we are called to freedom but warns us not to use our Christian freedoms to indulge the flesh (v.13). The poor Galatian people might see vv. 5:16-18 as a “quick-start” guide for living under grace: Live by the Spirit, and we will not satisfy our fleshly nature. But it’s not going to be easy! Our flesh and spirit are at war; we are never free from this conflict (Gl 5:17b NLT). Verse 18 reminds us that if we walk in the Spirit, we are not under the law. The verses that follow (vv. 19-26) describe the fruits of a life of walking in the flesh vs. those of walking in the Spirit.

We could relate to the Galatian people!

We in the Western World could easily relate to the Galatian people. The Galatians, as a part of the Roman Empire, would have been bombarded on all sides by a myriad of religions competing for their attentions just as we are today. And I dare say the subtleties of law vs. grace would easily be lost on the average new believer in America. A new believer in America (and many “old” believers) would be easy prey for a slick-talking judaizer.

The Theology of Galatians 5:16-18

Gal 5:16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

Gal 5:17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.

Gal 5:18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

The theological principles of Galatians 5:16-18 are: 1.) How to live a clean life – to keep from following through with our carnal desires with the help of the Holy Spirit (v. 16); 2.) The ongoing war between our flesh and spirit (v. 17) and; 3.) Christian liberty – living by grace rather than under the law (v.18).

How can we apply God’s Grace to our lives?

1.) In the year 1531 AD, Martin Luther wrote: “When I was a monk I thought I was lost forever whenever I felt an evil emotion, carnal lust, wrath, hatred, or envy. I tried to quiet my conscience in many ways, but it did not work, because lust would always come back and give me no rest…” You don’t have to be a monk to feel this way. I also tend to be a “perfectionist” and have a very hard time dealing with any shortcomings. It is comforting to know that we are not under the law. And as I walk in the Spirit, though I feel unholy desires at times, when I walk with God, I need not carry them out.

Today I am free of the obsession to drink by the grace of God. When I first got sober, I tried everything I could think of to be at peace when not drinking – to no avail. Today, I am doing what is suggested in the 12-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. The 12 steps are a “spiritual program” based on Christian principles. It is not about being “good”, it is about getting rid of the garbage in our mind that is blocking God, then improving our relationship with God and helping others. Today though once in a while, a drink sounds tempting, it is no longer a losing battle because I walk in the Spirit. I quit trying to cure myself long enough to let God in to do His work.

References

Barclay, W. (1976) The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians Revised Edition. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.

Fausset, A.R. (1871) A. R. Fausset commentary on Galatians: The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians

Luther, M. (1531) Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians

Wikipedia (2011) Retrieved April 3, 2011 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galatia

3 Comments

  • By Matthew Zowada, September 2, 2011 @ 7:45 pm

    Love you thoughts on how grace applies to our lives. Usually people think that walking by the Spirit means walking without temptation. The Spirit filled life is not a life without temptation, but a life of victory in the midst of temptation.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

Other Links to this Post

  1. Theology of Ministry — August 3, 2011 @ 10:05 am

  2. Church Leadership — August 4, 2011 @ 1:10 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment


Note to Comment spammers.

Don't waste my time or yours.
Comments are moderated and only comments with something genuinely applicable will be approved.
Flattery will not get your spam approved.
And all URLs will be removed even if it is approved, so begone!

Spam protection by WP Captcha-Free

WordPress Themes