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Galatians 5:7-12 by Robert Dean
Series:Galatians (1998)
Duration:1 hr 2 mins 12 secs

Legalism destroys the Spiritual Life
Galatians 5:7-12

The point that Paul is making in these next six verses is that legalism destroys spiritual life. In vv. 7-10 he talks about how legalism hinders and reverses spiritual life, and in vv. 11 & 12 he shows how legalism removes the offence of the cross, so it is obviously false.  

Galatians 5:7 NASB "You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?" The main verb that we have here is the Greek word trecho [trexw]. It is in the imperfect active indicative. There are two past tenses in the Greek, the imperfect and the aorist. The imperfect tense is comparable to the present tense. The present tense indicates continual action in present time; the imperfect tense emphasizes continuous action in past time. So what this means is that the Galatian believers were running well in past time. Running is a metaphor for the spiritual life. They were running well in the past but were no longer so. Active voice: the subject produces the action. This means it was their volition, their decision to run well; obviously it was their responsibility to not run well. They couldn't say it was the Judaisers' fault, it was their decision to follow false teaching.

It is not uncommon for Paul to use a running metaphor and in Scripture athletic metaphors are common. 1 Corinthians 9:24 NASB "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but {only} one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win." Here Paul compares the spiritual life to a race, and it has a course. We are to run as winners, there is a prize at the end. The prize is an inheritance which is our reward as believers for having run well.

1 Corinthians 9:25 NASB "Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then {do it} to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable." "Self-control" here is enkrateuomai [e)gkrateuomai] and it also means self-discipline, restraining one's self, controlling one's self, being focused on a goal. It is used in Galatians 5:23 as one of the fruits of the Spirit. Cf. Titus 1:8; 2 Peter 1:6. This is a crucial element of the spiritual life. 1 Timothy 4:7, 8 uses the word for self-discipline gumnazo [gumnazw]. NASB "But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline [gumnazw] yourself for the purpose of godliness…" that is, strip out of your life any distractions that keep you from the goal of the spiritual life. Godliness is the Greek word eusebeia [e)usebeia] which is always translated "godliness" in the Scriptures and that is a poor translation. It has to do with a person's relationship with God. So it is best to understand godliness as the spiritual life—relationship with God. Godliness is one of those archaic words that just doesn't communicate a lot to people so it brings it into focus by translating it "spiritual life." "… for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness [the spiritual life]  is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and {also} for the {life} to come." They were to run for a prize. "…They then {do it} to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable." 

1 Corinthians 9:26 NASB "Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air." It must be understood what the goal is: that there is a goal and the goal is not simply that we enter into heaven. The issue is: What is going to happen when we get to the judgment seat of Christ? Paul buffets his body in such a way that he is not beating the air, and here we see a very dramatic picture of self-discipline. There are many things in life that are good and wonderful and pleasurable but he is going to physically restrain himself and keep to the course. [27] "but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified." He would not lose his salvation but would be disqualified from inheritance. 

Galatians 5:8 NASB "This persuasion {did} not {come} from Him who calls you." That is, it does not have its source in God the Father. Then he quotes a proverb: [9] "A little leaven leavens the whole lump {of dough.}" This is why doctrine is important; it is why understanding doctrinal controversy is important. Unfortunately, in most churches today the issue is not what you believer but how comfortable you feel, e.g. "Let's not get all caught up with doctrine, we are supposed tom have unity." The unity that the Scripture says we have is positional in the body of Christ, but when it does talk about experientially it is the unity of doctrine, not unity at the expense of doctrine but unity on the basis of the truth. So this proverb reminds us that it doesn't take much if somebody comes in and teaches principles of legalism, emphasizing morality over spirituality, emphasizing do-goodism as a means of gaining favour with God, to begin to permeate everything in the local church. We can see historically how legalism has destroyed the witness of Christians in our culture.

Galatians 5:10 NASB "I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view…" He is confident that they are going to get straightened out and are going to come back to grace. "… but the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is." That is, if they continue to listen to him [the legalist] they will come under divine discipline.

Verse 11 is a difficult verse for some people to understand. Paul is using a little sarcasm. Galatians 5:11 NASB "But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished." He was being maligned and misrepresented by these Judaisers. He is asking why the legalists are still maligning him if he ism in agreement with them. He says the cross is a stumbling block. That is what people stumble over. They can't understand a free gift. Yet it is so simple to understand that Christ paid it all. 

Galatians 5:12 NASB "I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves." Doesn't that just sound so antiseptic! That is not what Paul says at all. He has been talking about circumcision and he says here that he wishes that those who were teaching the false doctrine would just castrate themselves. He is very blunt. The reason he does this is that he picks up the analogy from the local Phrygian priests of Sybille who as part of their initiation rites would castrate themselves so that they would not propagate. That is the thrust of Paul's sarcasm. He doesn't want these legalists to propagate their false teaching. This is how seriously we need to treat legalism. It is destructive to the spiritual life.