Galatians 5:1-12: Don’t Be a Legalist!
May 23, 2023
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
If—as Paul has been arguing—it is true that the gospel of grace and peace is the one true gospel, and the legalistic, ritualistic gospel of the false teachers in Galatia was heretical, how then do we ensure that we guard our “freedom” in this gospel?
First, remember the core principle. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” To be a Christian is to have been set free from sin and enabled to be free to follow God in the power of the Spirit.
Second, resist legalism. “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Legalism can come in many different shapes and forms. Its one coherent ingredient is: slavery. The desire of a legalistic spirit is to enslave you. To take away the freedom you have in Christ, both the freedom from sin and the freedom to righteousness. Resist legalism in whatever form it comes to you. Stand firm.
Third, hear the warning. “Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.” In the Old Testament, circumcision was the sign of the covenant. But in the New Testament, that genetic sign of being a part of God’s people is now replaced with the all-nations sign of baptism. What counts is circumcision of the heart, regeneration, the work of God’s Spirit that we receive through faith in Jesus. To insist that someone is circumcised today—for a saving reason—is to be legalistic. Similarly, other rituals and rites, if insisted upon as necessary for salvation, become legalistic. What happens if we put our trust in such legalistic tokens and signs to save us is that we are no longer putting our trust in Christ! Be warned, then, says Paul. Trust Christ and Christ alone!
Fourth, note the tactics. Those who come in to add legalism to the gospel tend to “cut in” and “keep you from obeying the truth.” “That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.” Such legalistic tactics tend towards “confusion.”
Fifth, the final warning—this time to the legalists! Paul ends with a remarkable statement: “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” It seems, perhaps, an overly harsh way of speaking to our politically correct age. Of course, Paul is not literally suggesting they emasculate themselves. But he is using strong language to emotively point out the danger of these “agitators” to their own souls. Don’t be a legalist!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
To receive God Centered Life devotionals directly in your inbox, as well as other resources, enter your email address in the form at the bottom of this page and click "subscribe."