Paul Bible Study, Lesson 6.
*The next verse in Galatians continues this thought: “Now that no one is justified by the Torah before God is evident; for, ‘The righteous man shall live by faith.’” Since nobody is able to perfectly obey the Torah, and are thus under a curse, it cannot be through obedience that we are justified, otherwise everyone who ever lived would be doomed. Instead, it is through faith that the righteous live. This does not mean that Torah observance out of love for God and His word invokes a curse. The curse is upon everyone, regardless of attempts to live up to God’s standard. The only way to be free of it is to live by faith in Yeshua. A side-effect of this faith is that it will cause us to want to always live the way God wants rather than following what is right in our own eyes.
So how should we look at this situation? Let’s compare it to Christianity today. There are many different doctrines of faith within the Christian realm, each with their own doctrines. Some say that once you hold to that set of beliefs, you are “in.” Some even take this to the point of saying that once you are “in” you can never be “out” of that faith. It is a similar situation that was going on in Galatia that Paul was addressing. Gentiles were being encouraged to become legally Jewish by those who still held the belief that only someone who was legally Jewish could be justified. Paul was warning them that if they became legally Jewish, they would be held legally responsible to obey the whole Torah, because that’s what the Torah says, according to verse 10 above.
Paul goes on to say in Galatians 3:12 that the Torah is not of faith. He seems to contrast those who keep the Torah against those who live by faith. This has caused the majority of the church to shun even a hint of Torah observance. Did Paul really mean that faith and Torah observance are opposites?
Let’s look at life and death. Deuteronomy 30:19 says, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life.” Paul looked at these two terms, life and death, with more than just the literal meaning. For Paul, “to live” is what some would call “saved:” in other words, to attain the right to participate in the resurrection and eternal life in the Kingdom and the World to Come. So then, to “die” is what some would call “unsaved” or “lost“: in other words, to face death without hope and with dread of the final judgment. Paul did not invent these definitions, rather they were common terminology and interpretations he would have learned as a Pharisee. An example is in Leviticus 18:5, which says, “Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I Am the Lord.” This verse was interpreted by the well-known Torah scholar Rashi to mean that resurrection into the World to Come was granted by obeying God. So to Paul the phrase “He who practices them shall live by them” would mean that the one who obeys the commands will find eternal life through them. Because of this, relying on obedience does not come from a heart of faith. Those who are expecting to receive their justification by converting to Judaism and becoming reliant upon outward acts rather than deeds borne out of love from the heart are not truly acting in faith.
So what Paul is saying is that no one is exonerated before God by becoming legally Jewish, because the righteous will enter the World to Come by faith. Becoming legally Jewish by works of the Torah is not of faith, but the one who as a result of his faith does the commands will receive a reward in the World to Come (Luke 12:33, John 14:15, 21; 1 John 2:3-6, Romans 2:11-13).
Instead of presenting faith as against the keeping of Torah, Paul is clarifying the role that each of these things plays in the life of the believer. Since he was writing to a community that was falling into deception about how they received their justification, his goal was to bring the truth in relation to that practice. In letters to some of the other assemblies, he is more focused on their actions (Titus 2:14, 2 Thessalonians 1:8, Ephesians 5:11).
The righteous man who lives by faith is the one who lives by God’s commands and does them (Romans 2:6-10). After he has been redeemed from the curse of the Torah, that is, he has put his faith in the death of Yeshua for his sins (Galatians 3:13), this faith will manifest itself in a desire to live the way God has established for mankind, Jew and Gentile alike (Ecclesiastes 12:13, Galatians 3:14). Even when our desire is to walk in this way, we will still slip up and sin. When this happens, we must show our faith by repentance, trusting in the blood of Yeshua to wash us clean so that we may turn from the impure and strive for holiness (Hebrews 12:14, 1 Peter 1:14-16, Revelation 22:11-12). Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Yeshua the Messiah for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” If we look at it this way, then there is no problem here: we are justified by faith, and we live out that faith and show our right standing before God by obedience.
Now let’s move on to another of Paul’s interesting analogies. In Galatians 3:19-26, Paul compares the Torah and Jewish status to a paidagogos, a tutor. Because of the wording in this portion of scripture, the majority of the traditional church taught that the Torah was just a guardian until Messiah came, and that once He came, the Torah was canceled. Is this true? If it is, then we have a problem, because Yeshua said He did not come to cancel the Torah (Matthew 5:17-20, John 14:15-21). If Paul teaches contrary to Yeshua, he is a false teacher. Thankfully, we know that that is not true.
God made the promise to Abraham that all nations would be blessed in His seed. Paul goes on to say that the Torah was added “because of transgressions… until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made” (Galatians 3:19). The Torah was added to identify and define God’s righteous standard (Romans 5:20), as well as to provide a foreshadowing of how mankind could be cleansed from sin through redemption when sin works through us. In Galatians 3:20, Paul quotes Deuteronomy 6:4 to remind us that the revelation of God through the Torah is not separable from His being. The Torah serves to reveal God’s essence until the promised seed comes, His blessed Son, who is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). “Until” does not mean that now that Yeshua has come, the Torah does not reveal God’s nature. We see this term used similarly in Psalm 110:1: “Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” The word does not signify an ending of one thing and the beginning of another, but the state of the first looks toward the second. In other words, the verse could read something like, “Why the Torah then? It was added because of transgressions… looking toward the seed [who] would come to whom the promise had been made.”
After saying all of this, Paul wants to make sure we don’t think Torah contradicts the promise to Abraham of salvation through faithfulness/faith and all nations being blessed through the Messiah. Galatians 3:21-22 says,
Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Messiah Yeshua might be given to those who believe.
The word “imprisoned” is not necessarily the best choice for the Greek word here. It actually means “to shut in, enclose, or confine.” In that sense, the verse means that we are all left without any other means of salvation but through Yeshua. Because of our inability to be perfect, the only way we can achieve justification is through Yeshua. We also see that the word translated as “believe” here is actually a form of the Greek word for “faith.” We don’t have a word in English for “faithing,” but the original word implies an active, ongoing, trusting, relational, obedient, confident exercise of faith in God’s promises.
Verses 23-26 continue with his explanation of the role of the Torah. The phrase “held captive under the Torah, imprisoned” is an unfortunate translation. It makes the Torah sound like it was keeping people from faith, or somehow holding them back, when it is not the Torah, but our sinful nature that holds us back (Romans 7:16-17). The Greek word translated as “held captive” is more literally translated as “guarded,” and likewise the word for “imprisoned,” means “shut in” or “enclosed.” Thus the function of the Torah which Paul describes here is not to serve as a harsh prison warden, but as a protective guardian.
This concept is further developed in verse 24. In English, Bibles often translate the word paidagogos as “tutor” or “guardian.” This term is not synonymous with the modern English word pedagogue, which has a somewhat negative connotation, meaning “a dull, formal, or pedantic teacher.” Since Paul is using the analogy of a paidagogos, we need to understand exactly what this was in Paul’s day. Upper class families in the ancient Greco-Roman world would hire a person to serve as a warden for their children. This person, a paidagogos, was responsible for the conduct of the child. His full job was to be a caretaker, to supervise, and to direct the child’s conduct and moral behavior. He would also serve as a type of bodyguard, protecting the child from both outside forces and inward desires.
Paul is saying that the job of the Torah was previously to do this same thing for the Jewish people, protecting them and leading them to the Messiah. Rather than enslaving them, it served as a source of protection and moral guidance. Because the Jewish people were under the care of the paidagogos, previously any Gentiles would need to come fully under the authority of the paidagogos by becoming Jewish. The job of the paidagogos, however, is to lead to the teacher, the Messiah. Now that He has come, the Gentiles are joined to Him and taken under His authority along with the Jewish people: “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian” (verse 25).
Does this mean that we no longer follow the instructions of that guardian? No, but the lessons which the guardian teaches us are learned more in depth as we mature. Once we have come to faith in Yeshua, we see the Torah in the light of His revelation. Every part of the Torah reveals Yeshua, for He is the Living Word, and therefore every “jot and tittle” within the Torah has something to teach us about Yeshua. Through the Torah, we learn that we are unable to keep it perfectly, which leads us to Yeshua. Nevertheless, the lessons it teaches us and the ways it expects us to behave are essential to growing closer to Him in holiness. We must remember that this is a metaphor, and thus has certain limitations. In order to understand this metaphor, we must understand its purpose: Paul is creatively articulating to the Gentiles why they do not need to become Jewish through circumcision. Now that the object of faith has come, the way has been opened for the Gentiles also to join to Him and learn, and thus the role of the Torah as a paidagogos is not applicable to them. This by no means negates the Torah as a lifestyle for the redeemed to walk in.
Paul goes on in Galatians 3:26-29 to explain that “in the Messiah Yeshua we are all sons of God through faith… There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua.” We also see this in other Scriptures (Colossians 3:10-11, Ephesians 2:15-16). In the broader Christian community, most say that these verses prove that after coming to faith, Jewish people are no longer really Jewish, but are now a new creation, no longer bound to their former religious expression. According to this “one new man” theology, Jewishness is erased by the Messiah. The problem with this is that instead of there no longer being any Jew or Greek in Messiah, everyone is Greek.
What was Paul’s rule for the churches in this matter? He lays out his thoughts in
1 Corinthians 7:17-24. This passage clarifies Paul’s intent in Galatians 3. When it comes to salvation and justification, all are made righteous through faith alone, which Paul is speaking of in Galatians. When it comes to living out that faith, what counts is following God’s commands, as he is speaking of in the passage in 1 Corinthians. There are different expressions of faith for different members in the body.
Think about it this way: Paul says “there is neither male nor female” (Galatians 3:28). Does this mean that in Messiah there is no difference between men and women? Besides any obvious physical differences, Paul himself gives different instructions for different groups of people (Titus 2). This is not because there is a different standard of holiness for everyone, but because certain commands don’t apply to everyone the same way. This is true in the Torah as well, where different commandments apply only for certain groups of people. There are certain commandments only for Levites (Numbers 1:51), there are different times of purification for men and women (Leviticus 12:2, 5). and there are certain things foreigners are not able to do (Exodus 12:43), among many other distinctions.
We see an example of what the body of Messiah should look like in Genesis 2:24. In marriage, a husband and wife become one, but they are still two different people, a man and a woman. The same is true in the body of Messiah. Both believing Jews and Gentiles are brought into Yeshua through faith, and each have a distinct way of living out their faith in accordance with the calling of God. Now let’s look at Acts 15:9. We all have the same access to salvation through Yeshua, but this does not eliminate distinct identities and roles (1 Corinthians 12:12-27, Romans 12:4-5).
In Galatians 3:29, Paul said to the God-fearing Gentile believers, “If you are Messiah’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.” As we see in Romans 11, Gentiles are grafted into the promises of Abraham. We know that Abraham is the father of many nations. Believers from the nations become the spiritual children of Abraham and become fellow heirs with the Jewish people when they put their faith in Messiah. The Gentile does not become Jewish; he keeps his nationality. If you were Italian, you remain Italian, or if you were Greek, you retain that nationality. If you were Jewish, you stay Jewish. This is why Abraham is called the father of MANY nations, not one nation.
So we see here that if a Jewish person receives the work done on the cross by Messiah, he is still a Jew, but what you would call a complete Jew, for our lives are complete in Yeshua. Many Jewish people who believe in Yeshua never call themselves Christian, for a believing Jew is still a Jew. Remember, we have been grafted in and the roots support us, not the other way around (Romans 11:17-18).
Now we move on to chapter 4 of Galatians, starting with verses 1-12. The traditional interpretation of these verses claims that they show without a doubt that no one should be “enslaved,” which is true. The confusion arises over what the Galatians were being enslaved to. This interpretation also claims that Paul rebukes them for following the biblical calendar. Is this true? It is interesting to note that though this interpretation teaches that it is un-Christian to keep the biblical calendar and honor God’s holy days such as the sabbath, they see no conflict between Galatians 4:10 and the celebration of days as long as they are Sundays; months as long as they are not biblical months; seasons as long as they are Lent, Advent, Christmas and Easter.
In Galatians 4:3, and 4:9, Paul addresses “elementary principles” of the world. In 4:3 he says, “in the same way we (the Jewish people) also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.” And in 4:9 he says that the Gentile believers were also once slaves to these “weak and worthless principles of the world.” No one is exactly sure what Paul meant by this phrase, but he used it several times: in Colossians 2:20-21 in reference to ascetic practices, and here in Galatians. The Greek word he uses is stoicheion, which has to do with elements that comprise a series, essential parts, or members of a row. It was also a military term denoting a row, rank, or a line in a military formation. In Paul’s time it had several meanings, one of which was the basic elements of the cosmos (fire, earth, air, water), another being spiritual forces such as angels, or it could simply mean the basics of something, as in elementary teachings. As far as Paul’s use, two main categories are frequently accepted: elementary principles refer to Torah and Judaism or elementary principles refer to paganism and idolatry.
Let’s look at the first theory. We must ask ourselves, would Paul really put God’s commands in the same category with idolatry? Is it really possible that he would refer to the precepts of the Lord as “weak and worthless” or as “elementary principles of the world?” Psalm 19:7 says, “The Torah of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.” Paul himself says in Romans 7:12 and 14 that the Torah is holy, righteous, good, and spiritual. Do we believe that God changes? Is He untrustworthy? If He is unchanging, then how can He change His word? Because of how Galatians has traditionally been interpreted, it is a logical succession from “the law is no longer important” to “the Biblical feast days are no longer important.” As we have seen in this study, the book of Galatians is not intended to dissuade anyone from keeping God’s Torah, but was a correction on false teachings that were going around about circumcision and how the Gentiles were to fit into the community of believers, which was at this time predominantly Jewish.
Let’s look at the second theory. Do the “elementary principles” refer to certain practices within paganism and idolatry? Again let’s look at Galatians 4:8: “Formerly, when you (Gentile believers) did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.” Paul reminds his Gentile listeners of their previous life of idolatry. So, if they were raised in this idolatrous system, then it would make sense that the “weak and worthless elementary principles of the world” are not God’s ways, but the idolatrous rituals and false religion they had been raised in. So, if this is the case then he was not telling them to avoid God’s calendar, but rather to avoid falling back into the pagan calendar they had been raised in.
As we have worked our way through Galatians we have been straightening out common misconceptions. One question we should ask ourselves is, was Paul a hypocrite? You may wonder why I ask this. Let’s look at a few portions of scripture (Galatians 4:12, 1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Are these saying that Paul possibly used false pretenses to win people to the gospel, pretending he was something he was not? Some say these passages prove that Paul was only “appearing” to be Torah-observant, in the cases where we see him doing so, to win those “under the Torah.” But Paul himself asserts in 1 Thessalonians 2:3-4 that, “our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts.” Paul was bold in condemning Peter for behaving differently when different people were present, so we can hardly expect him to behave this way as well.
What’s really going on here? Let’s break down 1 Corinthians 9 to help us understand Paul’s unique way of becoming “all things to all people.” To help us, we need to remember the three types of people that would have been found in a first century synagogue, which we learned earlier: Jews, proselytes, and God-fearers. When Paul says, “to the Jew, I became like a Jew,” he was obviously talking about native born Jews. So when he reached out to his fellow Jews he used that common heritage in presenting the gospel. When he says, “to those under the Torah,” he adds, “though I myself, not being under the Torah.” Being “under the Torah” does not equate to obeying God’s commandments. It is a state where one has not yet accepted the sacrifice of Yeshua for atonement, thus being under the curse of the Torah, the penalty for disobeying it. When Paul preached to those who don’t have Yeshua, he presents himself in a way that will be accessible to them without compromising his own beliefs. Paul goes on to the next group of people: “To those outside the Torah I became as one outside the Torah (not being outside the Torah of God, but under the Torah of Messiah) that I might win those outside the Torah” (1 Corinthians 9:21). He is referring to Gentiles who have no true knowledge of the Torah, though they are not free from the consequences of disobeying it (Romans 3:23). Paul made certain social sacrifices to associate with the God-fearing Gentiles, sacrifices which cost him much. This is what Galatians 4:12 is about. Paul was asking the Gentile Galatians to also bear the weight of social ostracization for the sake of the gospel. By not becoming circumcised, these Gentiles would be in a sort of no-man’s land. Their Roman neighbors would not accept them because of their refusal to partake in idolatry, and the Jewish believers may be hesitant to accept them because they were not circumcised. In all of Paul’s becoming all things to all men, he never compromised in the area of his Torah observance.
Based on what we have discussed thus far, we have seen that the “other gospel that is no gospel” that was being presented by these influencers was that the God-fearing Gentiles could not remain a part of the Kingdom unless they became legally Jewish. This was Paul’s concern that he addresses through the entire letter to the Galatians. So he, being their spiritual father, was deeply concerned for them until “Messiah is formed” in them (Galatians 4:19). What does it mean that “Messiah is formed” in us? Let’s look at Luke 6:40. What does it mean to be a disciple of Yeshua? In first-century Judaism, a disciple would emulate every area of his teacher’s life. This is our job as disciples of Yeshua, and this is what Paul meant when he said “until Messiah is formed in you.” So what we should think about is that Paul’s harsh words were not because he was worried that the God-fearing Gentiles would be observing God’s calendar and obeying His commands, but that they would take their reliance off of Yeshua by becoming legally Jewish.
So one of Paul’s biggest concerns was discipleship, and it should concern us too. In Paul’s day, being a disciple of Yeshua required a radical all-or-nothing commitment. Today, especially in this country where we live in relative ease, many follow a lukewarm, casual, taken-for-granted religious experience that requires no social discomfort. The average believer has no idea what it truly means to become like our Master. Think about what Paul says: he feels like a woman in birth pains for a child that has already been born (Galatians 4:19). This bears some resemblance to Hosea 13:13 which says, “The pangs of childbirth come for him, but he is an unwise son, for at the right time he does not present himself at the opening of the womb.” It’s like the opposite of John 3:3, “I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the Kingdom.”
So this was Paul’s concern, that all would become like our Master, as it says in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Messiah. It is no longer I that live, but Messiah who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom that Messiah has set you free; stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” The question is, how can a Gentile who was never under the full weight of the Torah be set free from that which he was never yoked to in the first place? Paul urged Gentiles not to undergo circumcision and become legally Jewish because this would be taking on another yoke. This would be taking their faith off of Yeshua and putting it in the flesh. They were already grafted in by faith, so they did not need to be circumcised and become “physical” sons of Abraham. Paul’s understanding was that Gentile believers were grafted in by faith and were already “sons of Abraham,” and therefore already justified (Romans 3:28-31, 4:11).
In Galatians 5:4, Paul says, “You have been severed from Messiah, you who are seeking to be justified by Torah; you have fallen from grace.” How so? Because of what it says in Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not of yourself, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Through the atoning work of the Messiah Yeshua, we have all been justified by grace, through faith, no work needed. Remember that this has to do only with justification. However, we must not assume this means there is no work required at all, for Paul also says in Philippians 2:12, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” 1 Corinthians 7:19 also says, “Neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commands of God.” This sounds very similar to Galatians 5:6. So we see that there is a place for obedience—not for salvation, but as a part of our loving relationship with God.
Now let’s read Galatians 5:13-14. Paul starts to drive the point home here. He wants to make sure that we don’t use our freedom in the wrong way. We must not indulge the flesh, but rather serve out of love. And how do we do this? By living the truly Spirit led life. Remember, earlier we discussed the evil inclination, which is the fleshly desires. Paul goes back to this idea here in verses 16-17. Our old sinful nature, the flesh, does not desire to do the things of God. Paul explains this in Romans 8:7-8, saying, “The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the Torah of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” We also see this idea in Ephesians 5:3-7 and James 4:4. But if we are led by the Spirit of God, we are not under the condemnation of the Torah (Romans 8:1), and therefore, by the power of the Spirit, we will no longer be hostile toward God. Whereas before, because of the sinful nature, we could not submit to God’s Torah, now by the spirit we will be able to.
In verses 19-21, Paul gives a list of the acts of the sinful nature. This should not be looked at as an exhaustive list. Paul ends the list with the words, “and the like.” He uses very harsh words, as he says at the end of verse 21, “I warn you, as I did before, those who live like this will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” Where did Paul get this list from? Did he make it up? The fact is that Paul takes them from the prohibitions in the Torah. Leviticus 18 deals with unlawful sexual relations; chapter 19, things like idolatry and how to treat our fellow man; and chapter 20, various laws. This should not surprise us, because at the time Paul was writing there was no New Testament canon. Paul wrote, in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” At the time he wrote this, the Scriptures we call the “Old Testament” were the only Scripture they had.
Now Paul moves on to the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-26). Maybe we could call it the evidence of the Spirit of God in a person’s life. He says there is no law against these, or better yet, maybe he is saying that when we walk in these, we will not come under the condemnation of the Torah (verse 18). Since we have crucified the sinful nature, we are now able to walk in the way which is pleasing to God. Ephesians 4:1-2 says, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love.” If we have truly crucified the flesh with all its passions and desires, it will be the natural outflow of that process that we walk according to the morality spelled out in God’s Torah. This is how we “walk” by the spirit, walking being an action (Colossians 1:10).
A major theme here is love for our brother. Paul continues in chapter 6 by telling us how to deal with fellow believers. Let’s read verses 1-5. Who is the one who is “spiritual?” Since there were no chapter divisions in Paul’s original letter, we should look at what he was previously talking about. Those who are leading Godly lives with the evidence of the fruit of the spirit are to correct those who stumble, doing so with love. This command of Paul is also directly from the Torah (Leviticus 19:17). We should not assume that Paul means this in regard to issues of personality or personal shortcomings, but rather, serious transgressions, as he goes on to say, “Bear each other’s burdens.” Paul says that when we do this, we are “fulfilling the Torah of the Messiah” (verse 2).
Many assume that the Torah of Messiah replaces the “Torah of Moses.” First, we must remember that they are God’s commands, not Moses’. Second, we must remember that Yeshua did not come to do away with the Torah (Matthew 5:17-20). What Yeshua did was re-prioritize the Torah under the two greatest commands (Matthew 22:34-40). And just so we don’t think these are new commandments, these are also taken directly from the Torah. Deuteronomy 6:5 says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” And Leviticus 19:18 says, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I Am the Lord.” So love is the defining principle of Yeshua’s approach to Torah. James was the brother of Yeshua, and he refers to this commandment as the “Royal Torah” (James 2:8).
Paul says in Galatians 6:3-5 that instead of judging others, we should look at ourselves first. This works together with what he was saying in verse 1, and also echoes what Yeshua said in Matthew 7:5. It is good for us believers to correct each other when the Spirit leads us to do so, but this should be done in love, with the recognition that we have our own flaws and faults that others could come to us about as well. We shouldn’t let a fear of being perceived as judgmental hinder us from bringing sin to light, so long as it is done through the right motives and in a Godly manner (1 Timothy 5:1-2, Hebrews 3:13, 10:24, James 4:11-12).
Paul now starts to wrap up his letter. He must have known that some would twist his words, that they would take his declarations of “not under the Torah” as a license to sin. So he says in Galatians 6:7, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” This reaping is what is spoken of in 2 Corinthians 5:9-10. If we do not crucify the sinful nature, we will continue in the ways that are contrary to God’s ways. The sinful nature is hostile to God’s ways, and it is impossible for such a person to please God. They will only reap destruction. They are the same people written about in James 4:4-10. But those who crucify the sinful nature and plant the fruit of the spirit in their lives will reap eternal life.
Paul knew that life is hard. We don’t always see the rewards for our faithfulness right away. So in verse 9 he encouraged the faithful believers saying, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” We see similar messages of encouragement throughout Scripture (1 Corinthians 15:58, James 1:12, Matthew 25:21).
Paul closes his letter to the Galatians with his autograph, his way of letting them know the letter is actually from him (Galatians 6:11). This was the way he ended all his letters (Colossians 4:18, Philemon 1:19). As the letter draws to a close, we see he summarizes the main point of his letter. Was it to do away with God’s Torah? Were God’s holy commands now null and void? He says:
Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Messiah. For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Torah themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh. (verses 12-13)
He sums up the issue by again exhorting the Galatian Gentiles to not allow themselves to be circumcised. Those who were bringing pressure on the Gentiles were not actually concerned with their spiritual growth, but were seeking to avoid being persecuted by the larger Jewish community by conforming to their idea of salvation. He presents their failure to live according to the Torah as hypocritical and a negative. So what Paul was really teaching against was a “once-saved-always-saved” type of cheap grace. When religious systems form, eventually people tend to replace actual obedience to God with institutional status. The Christian may say, “I’m a Christian, I’m saved. I have nothing to worry about.” Maybe in Paul’s day, it would have been called “once-circumcised-always-saved.” This is what he was teaching against. Paul’s gospel was that the Gentiles were justified by faith, just like the Israelites who had remained faithful, and were heirs to the promise by faith. This was the offense of the cross. In Acts 22 Paul gives a lengthy account of his experience on the road to Damascus and his revelation of the risen Messiah. There are no complaints until he mentions the inclusion of the Gentiles (Acts 22:21-22). This is the case for Paul throughout his life as he preaches that the message of Yeshua the Messiah is received by Jew and Gentile alike.
Paul states this succinctly in Galatians 6:15: “For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” This is his whole point. Gentile believers are sons of Abraham by faith and not excluded because of their uncircumcised status, just as the Jewish believer is also a son of Abraham by faith. Remember in Romans 11:17-24 Paul refers to the Gentile believers as grafted into Israel and fellow heirs of the covenant. Never in any of his letters does Paul ever mention that Israel is no longer God’s chosen people or that they have been replaced with the Gentiles. In fact, Romans 11 tells us that those branches of Israel that were removed can be grafted back in and that the Gentile branches that were grafted in can also be cut off.
Paul continues in verse 16: “And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” As we mentioned earlier, in Hebrew the word for “walk” is halakhah. This word refers to God’s commands and how we practically apply them in our lives. An example of this would be Matthew 5:21-22. Yeshua discusses the command not to murder, then gives the halakhah, the practical application, on how to live it out. Another example is Ephesians 4:28. Here Paul tells the thief how to walk out his new life and leave that former way behind. So what is Paul’s ruling to the God-fearing Gentile and Jewish believers? That all are justified through faith in the atoning work of Yeshua the Messiah. But we must remember that being justified and how we then live out that new life are two separate things (James 2:14-26, 1 John 2:6, 1 Corinthians 11:1).
In this verse, Paul refers to God-fearing Gentile believers as spiritually part of the “Israel of God” along with Jewish believers (Galatians 6:16), which belongs to the realm of faith. Some have used this verse as a proof text for replacement theology. According to this line of thinking, the Jews are no longer the Israel of God; now the church is. This is not what Paul is saying. This “Israel of God” includes both Jewish and God-fearing Gentile believers in Yeshua who have crucified the sinful nature and are walking out their salvation with the evidence of God’s fruit in their lives.
In conclusion, we have seen that the letter to the Galatians was primarily concerned with addressing the false teachings of a group of people who had come to the Gentile believers there and compelled them to be circumcised. This group was of the opinion that the Gentiles could only receive salvation and access to the promises of Israel through legal conversion. Paul’s argument throughout is that the Gentiles as well as the Jews are saved through faith in Yeshua and the obedience to His commandments which this faith inevitably leads to. By becoming circumcised, the Gentiles would be in a sense asserting that faith alone is not sufficient to be grafted into the promises of Israel, including that of entrance into eternal life. These promises were never achieved through obedience to the commandments, but were always through faith and the grace of God.