Article Categories

Commentary on Galatians 5

Compiled by Eric Johnson

Highlighted parts are key quotes that may have been used on the radio shows

5 questions for chapter 5 (to answer before you study chapter 5)

  1. In verse 3, Paul says that a person who holds to a specific law (i.e. circumcision) needs to obey the whole law. What does he mean by this?
  2. Paul says in verse 4 that if you are attempting to keep the whole law, you have fallen with grace. Why is it impossible to be saved by grace after all you can do? In other words, why can’t we fit the fulfillment of the law (by one’s personal actions) with the gift of grace given through the cross?
  3. Verse 16 says that Christians should “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” What are some practical ways that a believer that walk by the Spirit in this 21st century?
  4. We are told in verse 18 that if we live by the Spirit, then we are not under the law. Paul then talks about the benefits of living by the Spirit rather than attempting to gain God’s favor through commandment-keeping.  With so many benefits available, why do you think so many good people–including Mormons–want to continue trying to earn God’s favor rather than accepting grace and living by the Spirit?
  5. Which of the gifts of the Spirit given in Galatians 5 are the toughest for you to see in your own life? Why is that the case? What are ways to help hone those gifts and make those some of the most evident fruit in your walk with God?


Christ Has Set Us Free

5 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

 Eric’s Commentary: Freedom in Christ versus slavery to the law: Which do you choose?

NIV Study Bible:set us free. Emphasized by its position in the Greek sentence. The freedom spoken of here is freedom from the yoke of the law. Stand firm. In classical Greek the verb meant ‘to be caught or entangled in.’ yoke of slavery. The burden of the rigorous demands of the law as the means for gaining God’s favor—an intolerable burden for sinful man.”

Luther:We shall appreciate this liberty all the more when we bear in mind that it was Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who purchased it with His own blood. Hence, Christ’s liberty is given us not by the Law, or for our own righteousness, but freely for Christ’s sake. Reason cannot properly evaluate this gift. Who can fully appreciate the blessing of the forgiveness of sins and of everlasting life? Our opponents claim that they also possess this liberty. But they do not. When they are put to the test all their self-confidence slips from them. What else can they expect when they trust in works and not in the Word of God.”


2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.

Moo:Paul warns the Galatians that accepting circumcision will mean that Christ will be no benefit to them on the day of judgment rightly draws attention to the future focus that characterizes the entire paragraph. In a stark portrayal of the options typical of Paul’s rhetoric in this letter, he insists that circumcision and Christ cannot mix. One cannot choose circumcision and Christ: it is circumcision or Christ. . . . It is not the physical act as such that Paul opposes; it is its ritual significance within the first-century Jewish context that is the issue” (322).

Luther: “Paul does not condemn circumcision in itself. Circumcision is not injurious to the person who does not ascribe any particular importance to it. Neither are works injurious provided a person does not attach any saving value to them. The Apostle does not say that works are objectionable, but to build one’s hopes for righteousness on works is disastrous, for that makes Christ good for nothing.”


3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.

Eric’s Commentary: If you think a certain law (i.e. circumcision) must be kept to gain God’s favor, then what else is necessary? As I explained in the last chapter, the law is a terrible taskmaster and is never satisfied with partial completion.

James 2:10: For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.”

Moo: “Justin, writing a bit later than Paul, summarizes the standard Jewish view: ‘If, then, you are willing to listen to me…, first be circumcised, then observe what ordinances have been enacted, with respect to the Sabbath, and the feats, and the new moons of God; and, in a word, do all the things which have been written in the Law’” (323).

Luther: “When I was a monk I tried ever so hard to live up to the strict rules of my order. I used to make a list of my sins, and I was always on the way to confession, and whatever penances were enjoined upon me I performed religiously. In spite of it all, my conscience was always in a fever of doubt. The more I sought to help my poor stricken conscience the worse it got. The more I paid attention to the regulations the more I transgressed them.”

“To obey Moses in one point requires obedience to him in all points. It does no good to say that only circumcision is necessary, and not the rest of Moses’ laws. The same reasons that obligate a person to accept circumcision also obligate a person to accept the whole Law. Thus to acknowledge the Law is tantamount to declaring that Christ is not yet come. And if Christ is not yet come, then all the Jewish ceremonies and laws concerning meats, paces, and times are still in force, and Christ must be awaited as one who is still to come. The whole Scripture, however, testifies that Christ has come, that by His death he has abolished the Law, and that He has fulfilled all things which the prophets have foretold about Him.”


4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

NIV Study Bible: “fallen away from grace. Placed yourself outside the scope of divine favor, because gaining God’s favor by observing the law and receiving it by grace are mutually exclusive (2 Peter 3:17).”

Luther: “We can hear him (Paul) say: ‘I do not condemn the Law in itself; what I condemn is that men seek to be justified by the Law, as if Christ were still to come, or as if He alone were unable to justify sinners. It is this that I condemn, because it makes Christ of no effect. It makes you void of Christ so that Christ is not in you, nor can you be partakers of the knowledge, the spirit, the fellowship, the liberty, the life, or the achievements of Christ. You are completely separated from Him, so much so that He has nothing to do with you any more, or that matter you with Him.’”

“I do not want to withhold from good works their due praise, nor do I wish to encourage evil works. But when it comes to justification, I say, we must concentrate upon Christ alone, or else we make Him non-effective. You must choose between Christ and the righteousness of the Law. If you choose Christ you are righteous before God. If you stick to the Law, Christ is of no use to you.”


5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

Keller: “Christians base their whole lives on the assurance and certainty of their present and future acceptance with God. Assurance of salvation is not possible if we think we must earn or even maintain our salvation by our efforts. If we keep ourselves saved by good living, how could we ever be sure we were being good enough to retain God’s favor? Yet the Bible often says that we Christians can know we are safe and saved (eg: 1 John 2:3). In other words, we didn’t earn our salvation by our behavior, and we can’t ‘un-earn’ it by our behavior” (134).

“But Christians still need to hear the warning of verses 2-4. Paul is saying: No matter that you insist you’ve been converted or you say you feel Christ has changed your life. If by deciding your salvation rests in any way on your performance, you deny salvation by faith alone in Christ alone (which I’m confident you won’t), you can’t be saved by Him. He is saying that this is an acid test of whether someone is a Christian or not” (134-135).


7 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion is not from him who calls you.

 Eric’s Commentary: This verse is crucial. While it might “sound right” that there is something we need to do to effect our personal salvation (you don’t get paid until you’ve worked the hours), this is not how God works. Just because it might sound appealing doesn’t make it true or right. This is why the believer needs to stick with scripture, our only way to know for sure that what we are believing is true, and not listen to others or our own voice when what we are accepting is contrary to scripture.

NIV Study Bible: were running well. Before the Judaizers hindered them, Paul was fond of depicting the Christian life as a race (see, e.g., 2:2; Php. 2:16).

Moo:‘Him who calls’ them is God. As often in Paul, ‘call’ has the sense of God’s effectual call, his powerful reaching out to bring people into relationship with himself. The Galatians were initially ‘called’ to live in God’s grace (1:6); the attempts of the agitators to persuade the Galatians do not arise from that God who initially called them” (334).


9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump.

Eric’s Commentary: It doesn’t take a whole law to invite heresy to the party. Be careful how you compromise.

1 Cor. 5:6: “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?”

Moo: “The prohibition of leaven in some key Jewish rituals, such as Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, as well as on other occasions, resulted in leaven being used to symbolize something negative. Thus, Jesus warns about ‘the leaven of the Pharisees [and Sadducees]’ (Matt. 16:6, 11, 12; Mark 8:15; Luke 12:1). But leaven does not necessarily symbolize something evil; in Matt. 13:33 its power is used to describe a feature of the kingdom of heaven” (334).


10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed.

1 Cor. 1:23: “but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles”

Moo: “Circumcision signifies a way of salvation that focuses on doing the law (5:2-4), while for Paul, Christ’s crucifixion signifies a way of grace and faith (2:21; 3:1-6; 5:5). The ‘offense’ of the cross, then, may include the need for human beings to give up any means by which they might by their own efforts secure their status before God” (337).

Luther: “Briefly, as long as the Church proclaims the doctrine she must suffer persecution, because the Gospel declares the mercy and glory of God. This in turn stirs up the devil, because the Gospel shows him up for what he is, the devil, and not God. Therefore as long as the Gospel holds sway persecution plays the accompaniment, or else there is something the matter with the devil. When he is hit you will know It by the havoc he raises everywhere. So do not be surprised or offended when hell breaks loose. Look upon it as a happy indication that all is well with the Gospel of the Cross. God forbid that the offense of the Cross should ever be removed.”


12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

NIV Study Bible: “emasculate themselves. The Greek word means ‘to cut off,’ or ‘to castrate.’ In Phil. 3:2 Paul uses a related word to describe the same sort of people as ‘mutilators of the flesh.’ His sarcasm is evident.”

Luther: “We had better answer at once the question, whether it is right for Christians to curse. Certainly not always,  nor for every little cause. But when things have come to such a pass that God and His Word are openly blasphemed, then we must say: ‘Blessed be God and His Word, and cursed be everything that is contrary to God and His Word, even though it should be an apostle, or an angel from heaven.”


13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

1 Timothy 1:8-11: Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully,understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers,10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers,liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.

Moo: “In keeping with the central theme of the letter, Paul once again emphasizes that Christ has inaugurated a new era, an era in which ‘observing the law’ takes on a new, Christological form. The Galatians are to serve one another ‘in love’ precisely because love is the true meaning and ‘fulfillment’ of the law in this new era. Paul’s wider concern is to assure the Galatians that their new life in Christ does indeed provide them with the direction (love) and power (Spirit) that they need to live godly lives. Indeed, it is only with the coming of Christ and the gift of the Spirit that true ‘completion’ of the law has become possible. But that completion does not take the form of obedience to the many commands of the law. Rather, it happens as Christians love others—with a love possible for those who are in Christ and walk according to the Spirit” (348).

Keller: “Christians do have to obey the truth, and there is a gospel dynamic or gospel motivation for obeying the truth that the Galatians used to have (“were running”), but which is now diminishing” (142).

“The gospel therefore neither leads us to live a guilty life (since God has lovingly accepted us), nor an unholy life (since the God who has accepted us is perfectly holy). To forget the first is to fall into the mistake Paul deals with in verse 1, and lose our freedom; to forget the second is to make the verse 13 error, and abuse our freedom. Both mean we lose grasp of the gospel” (142).

“So Christians are freed from the law as a way to win merit from God, but we are not freed from the law as a way to please God. Rather, that obligation is increased. For the law is an expression of God’s nature and heart, and thus we now doubly owe it to Him to use it to please and imitate Him. We owe it to Him as our Creator, since He designed us and owns us, and so He has both the wisdom to know how we are to live and the right to demand that we live that way. On the other hand, we now also owe it to Him as our Redeemer, since we gratefully want to please the one who saved us at such immeasurable cost” (143).


Keep in Step with the Spirit

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

NIV Study Bible: “live by. Present tense—‘go on living’ (used of habitual conduct). Living by the promptings and power of the Spirit is the key to conquering sinful desires.”

Luther: “It is quite apparent that Paul had not forgotten the doctrine of justification, for in bidding the Galatians to walk in the Spirit he at the same time denies that good works can justify.”

‘When I speak of the fulfilling of the Law I do not mean to say that you are just justified by the Law. All I mean to say is that you should take the Spirit for your guide and resist the flesh. That is the most you shall ever be able to do. Obey the Spirit and fight against the flesh.”


17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Romans 7:22-23: For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”

Keller: “Living the way of the Spirit is what we most deeply ‘want,’ yet the sinful nature continues to generate alternative and competing desires which we experience and can give in to, but which now contradict our most abiding love and goals. The reborn person has both sinful desires and godly desires, but ‘we’ most truly want what our Spirit-renewed heart wants” (147).

“To be ‘led by the Spirit’ is to change, and be changed, to be the people we want to be. The Spirit-filled development of Christ-like character is liberating, because it brings us closer to being the people we were designed to be, the people our Spirit-renewed hearts want us to be” (151).

Luther: “I remember how Doctor Staupitz used to say to me: ‘I have promised God a thousand times that I would become a better man, but I never kept my promise. From now on I am not going to make any more vows. Experience has taught me that I cannot keep them. Unless God is merciful to me for Christ’s sake and grants unto me a blessed departure, I shall not be able to stand before Him.’ His was a God-pleasing despair. No true believer trusts in his own righteousness, but says with David, ‘Enter not into judgment with thy servant; for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.’ (Ps. 143:2) Again, ‘If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?’ (Ps. 130:3.)”


19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,


“’Sexual immorality’ refers to sexual sins of any kind. The Greco-Roman world in which Paul was proclaiming the gospel was noted for considerable ‘openness’ in sexual matters, and so he and the other early Christian evangelists specially emphasized that conversion means a fundamental new orientation to sexual habits” (359).

“’Impurity’ is a word that looks at sin from the standpoint of Jewish purity concerns. The word can, then, denote any kind of sinful behavior. But it occurs with other words for sexual sin in Paul’s ‘vice lists.’ These associations suggest that the word connotes sexual misbehavior in general” (359).

“Sensuality’ involves one in conduct that violates all bounds of what is socially acceptable. In some Jewish texts as well as in the NT,  it is associated with wild living, the kind of lifestyle we would today associate with the ‘party animal’” (359).


20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,


“’Idolatry’ is a general word for the worship of anything apart from the one true God. The word itself is rare (only four times in Biblical Greek), but the idea it connotes is very widespread, touching on perhaps the fundamental sin that humans commit” (359).

“’Sorcery’ has a negative sense, referring either to the administration of poison or to the use of drugs in magical practices and, by extension, to those practices themselves” (359).

“’Enmity’…the context argues strongly for a human-against-human hatred. The term is very general, but it is unlikely that it denotes a fundamental attitude that manifests itself in some of the more specific sins that follow in the list” (360).

“’Strife’…a word that characterizes the unprofitable and self-oriented bickering that erupts between rival factions” (360).

“’Jealousy’ …the sinful jealousy of others” (360).

“’Fits of anger’ …obviously, the reference is to human anger” (360).

“’Rivalries’ (selfish ambition)…the plural form of the word may again connote various manifestations of this attitude as ‘rivalries’” (360)

Dissensions, Divisions: “The formation of cliques, with the resultant exhibitions of party spirit, is in view both at Corinth and in Galatia.”

21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Ephesians 5:5: For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”

Bruce: Envy: “…the grudging spirit that cannot bear to contemplate someone else’s prosperity.

Moo: “’Drunkenness’ may refer simply to inebriation, but it may suggest the more specific nuance of ‘drinking bout’” (361).

“’Orgies’ originally referred to a festal procession in honor of a Greek god and then came to be used more broadly for a feast or banquet. In Biblical Greek, however, the word always has the negative sense of ‘excessive feasting,’ always involving too much drinking and often sexual liberties” (361).

“In light of NT teaching elsewhere and Paul’s own blunt appraisal of continuing sinfulness among the holy people of God, this does not mean that the kingdom is reserved only for the sinless. But it does mean that a consistent preoccupation with these sins resulting in a life marked by the them rather than by the fruit of the Spirit reveals that such a person is not ‘being led by the Spirit.’ Clear NT warnings of the necessity of putting away sin in order to gain eternal life must not be swept under the carpet by a one-sided and unbiblical understanding of ‘justification by faith alone’” (363).


22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

NIV Study Bible: “Christian character is produced by the Holy Spirit, not by the mere moral discipline of trying to live by law. Paul makes it clear that justification by faith alone does not result in libertinism. The indwelling Holy Spirit produced Christian virtues in the believer’s life.”

Keller: “If someone has the Spirit in them—if they are a Christian—the fruit will grow. Whatever a Christian’s life is like, the fruit of the Spirit will burst through. It’s inevitable. . . . We are saved by faith, not by growing fruit; but we are not saved by fruitless faith. A person saved by faith will be a person in whom the fruit of the Spirit grows” (151-52).

Moo: “’Love’ The headline placement of ‘love’ in the list of the Spirit’s fruit is due both to the centrality of love within new-covenant ethics and because it is the most important bulwark against the factional infighting that seems to be racking the Galatians churches. . . . This noun, along with it cognate verb, denotes the love that God and Christ have for us as well as our love for God and Christ and our love for one another”  (364).

“’Joy’ is a settled state of mind that arises from a sense of God’s love for us, produced by the Spirit and that exists even in the face or difficulties and trials” (364).

“’Peace’ can mean ‘peace with God’: the objective state that follows our deliverance from the hostility that characterizes our natural relationship with God because of sin. But ‘peace’ can also denote the harmonious and loving relationships with other believers that are the natural outcome of the peace we have with God. It is this attitude toward fellow believers to which Paul probably refers here” (364-5).

“’Patience’ is also an attitude that both God the Father and Christ display toward sinful creatures and that we, as his people, should display toward one another” (365).

“’Kindness’ is related to ‘patience’ and to both patience and love’” (365).

Keller: “’Goodness’ (integrity) is being the same person in every situation, rather than a phony or a hypocrite. This is not the same as being always truthful but not always loving; getting things off your chest just to make yourself feel or look better (154).

“’Faithfulness’ denotes an attitude or response that we have toward other people, and especially other Christians” (365).

“’Gentleness’ is the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance” (366).

Keller: “’Self-control, the ability to pursue the important over the urgent, rather than to be always impulsive or uncontrolled. The slightly surprising counterfeit is a willpower which is based on pride, the need to feel in control” (155).


24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Eric’s Commentary: This verse doesn’t mean we won’t be tempted by evil. Au contraire. Our flesh rears its ugly head in too many places. But for those who have convinced themselves that the flesh is to be opposed, it makes it much easier to participate in the battle. As Paul has made clear throughout this epistle, it’s not our successful keeping the commandments that earns us God’s favor. When we realize that the Spirit enables us to live this Christian life and produce fruit, we become more in tune with God and less consumed with trying to do the impossible. I am so glad that we are saved by grace through faith and not by works because, as Paul has made clear, our works will never be “good enough.”

Keller: “’Crucifying the sinful nature’ is really the identification and dismantling of idols. It means to put an end to the ruling and attractive power that idols have in our lives, and so to destroy their ability to agitate and inflame our thoughts and desires” (155).


25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Keller: “This is a positive process (not simply giving things up), an active process (which we do), and something more than simple obedience (though it is not less than simple obedience). The Spirit is a living person, who glorifies in and magnifies the work of Jesus. Once we specifically find the particular false beliefs of our flesh which generate the ‘over-desires’ and lead us to sin, we must replace them with Christ” (157).

“This is not just an intellectual exercise. We must worship Christ with the help of the Holy Spirit, adoring Him until our hearts find Him more beautiful than the object we felt we had to have. As we do that, we will put to death our old sarx nature, clearing room for the fruit of the Spirit to grow; and we will find that fruit growing, changing us more and more into the people we long to be, and God desires us to be” (157).

Share this

Check out these related articles...