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Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Galatians 5:2-6

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified[a] by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.


Last week’s post concluded Paul’s allegory comparing Abraham’s Sarah to freedom and Hagar to slavery. It was his way of convincing the Galatians that the Judaizers promoting circumcision and Mosaic law were exhorting them to become slaves to the law, something which can only convict and condemn to hell. It can never save.

Galatians 5:1 is in the Lectionary (emphases mine below):

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

That is one of Paul’s several verses encouraging converts to ‘stand firm’. He also used the word ‘endurance’ several times in his letters, conveying the idea that the Christian journey is beset with temptation from outsiders like the Judaizers, from the world, from Satan, from persecution, among other things.

John MacArthur says:

Now verse 1 begins with a very strong statement: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free;” – the implication is He set us free to stay free, He set us free to remain free – “therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” “You just got out of one slavery as a Gentile, you got out of the slavery to sin and the law and death and Satan; don’t go back again to a yoke of slavery. Keep standing firm in your freedom.”

Gentiles going back to Mosaic law they never even knew about, because they needed to work some part of their salvation on their own? In swinging back to the externals of the law of Moses they would be nullifying the work of God. “Therefore keep standing firm. Do not be entangled, enechō, or oppressed by a yoke of slavery. Don’t go back.”

Galatians 5 is a hard-hitting chapter, one of Paul’s strongest.

Paul tells the Galatians that if they submit to circumcision, then Christ is of no advantage to them (verse 2).

Note that he says ‘I, Paul’.

Then he says ‘I testify again’ that anyone who accepts circumcision is obliged to follow the whole of Mosaic law (verse 3).

He is referring to himself in that way to say that, he, born a Jew, raised as a Pharisee, knows of what he speaks.

MacArthur explains these two verses. In his translation, the word ‘look’ is ‘behold’, always a call to attention:

The false doctrine said you have to be circumcised or you can’t be saved. It’s a small thing; just acknowledge a minor surgical operation. This will open the door to the kingdom of God for you. And then follow the Mosaic prescriptions. Faith is not enough. Mosaic ritual, circumcision has righteous merit.

So Paul says this: “If you do this, you who are contemplating it, if you do this, here are the results. Number one,” – verse 2“Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.” That is a stunning statement. That’s why it says, “Behold,” because it’s shocking. “Behold” is an exclamation.

“I, Paul, I an apostle, and more than that a circumcised Jew, proud of my heritage, proud of my Judaism, living my entire life under the Mosaic restrictions. I, Paul, this Jewish patriot, I’m telling you, if you receive circumcision, Christ is of no benefit to you.”

This is the dilemma: it’s Christ or works, it’s all Christ or no Christ, it’s all faith or no salvation. “If you get yourselves circumcised” – and this indicates that they hadn’t yet gone this far – “if you do this, if you’ve come to the brink of salvation by faith and you turn and go the way of law, Christ is of no benefit. You’ve canceled Christ.” This is a severe danger. This is a shocking statement

Second effect, verse 3: “And I testify again,” – me, the circumcised lifelong Pharisee until my conversion, I lived in all of this – “I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, if you do that you have placed yourself under obligation to keep the whole law. I testify again, marturomai, “I affirm.” Literally could be translated, “I protest further, every one of you who lets himself be circumcised, you have just placed yourself under the law. If you’re going to be saved by law, then you’re responsible to keep all of it.”

Matthew Henry points out:

He was so far from being a preacher of circumcision (as some might report him to be) that he looked upon it as a matter of the greatest consequence that they did not submit to it.

Yet, faith plus works is a common belief in churches, even those where the official denominational doctrine forbids such a belief or action.

MacArthur says:

There is no hybrid salvation. If you accept circumcision, thinking it necessary for your salvation, you just forfeited Christ. Romans 11:6, “If it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, or grace is no more grace.” It’s either grace or works – all of Christ or none of Christ.

You say, “But there’s so many people who profess Christ, claim Christ, acknowledge Christ, and think their works contribute to their salvation.” They have no connection to Christ. He is meaningless to them no matter what they say.

Faith and works cannot go together. This is basic to the doctrine of salvation. It is impossible to say, “I want to receive Christ, thereby acknowledging that I cannot do anything to save myself,” and then go do something that I think helps to save myself. You have to choose. If you add anything to Christ you lose Christ.

I know we like to say, “Well, you know, there’s lots of people and lots of forms of Christianity; and they go to church, and they believe in Christ, and they believe in God, and all of this. And isn’t is just a minor deal that they’re trusting in their works, their infant baptism, their adult baptism, or their adherence to rituals, and sometimes their moral conduct?” No. If you are depending on anything other than Christ, you have no benefit from Christ. If you submit to circumcision, you have canceled Christ. Christ is everything.

Paul goes further, saying that those who want to be justified by the law — Mosaic law, in this instance — have severed themselves from Christ and have fallen away from grace (verse 4).

MacArthur notes the hard-hitting bluntness of the verse:

That is just amazing. You say, “Well, can’t you believe in some in your baptism, in your works, and the things that you do, the rituals that you go to, and your morality, and also believe in Christ?” No, no. If you’re counting on any of that for your salvation you are severed from Christ. That is a violent word, a violent word. You are cut off from Him.

Henry’s commentary tells us that Jesus will not save everyone for that very reason:

Note, (1.) Though Jesus Christ is able to save to the uttermost, yet there are multitudes whom he will profit nothing. (2.) All those who seek to be justified by the law do thereby render Christ of no effect to them. By building their hopes on the works of the law, they forfeit all their hopes from him; for he will not be the Saviour of any who will not own and rely upon him as their only Saviour.

Paul then mentions that the key to spiritual freedom — freedom from the condemnation by law, which is impossible for any person to keep — is the Holy Spirit, which enables us by faith to await the hope of righteousness (verse 5), which only God can give.

Note that Paul uses the pronoun ‘we’ in that verse, meaning himself and the Galatians, who were once true believers but are now wavering.

MacArthur ties this verse in with the preceding ones and offers further analysis:

If you try to invent any hybrid gospel, Christ profits you nothing, you’re a debtor to the whole law, you’re severed from Christ, you’re fallen from grace. And a final, verse 5, you’re excluded from righteousness. The very thing you seek will never be yours.

Verse 5, notice the change in pronouns: “For we, we.” Now he’s speaking to believers, including himself. “For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness.” We have to wait for the hope of righteousness, because it’s a gift from God, we, literally as to ourselves. It is through the Spirit, by faith, that we eagerly await the hoped for righteousness. We’re not trying to earn it, we’re waiting for it. And in our sanctification the Lord gives it to us as a grace gift. And one day in our glorification He’ll give it to us perfectly.

“We through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting.” I love the fact that he used the verb “waiting.” This is something God has to do for us and in us, and is doing it by His Holy Spirit. If you follow the path of any works, you have lost the very thing you hoped for: righteousness. It comes only by waiting, in faith, on the work of the Holy Spirit.

Paul concludes this section by saying that circumcision or the lack of it has nothing to do with salvation; only faith working through love counts (verse 6).

What a beautiful verse that is.

Henry says:

Note, 1. No external privileges nor profession will avail to our acceptance with God, without a sincere faith in our Lord Jesus. 2. Faith, where it is true, is a working grace: it works by love, love to God and love to our brethren; and faith, thus working by love, is all in all in our Christianity.

MacArthur describes the connection between faith and salvation:

The whole law is fulfilled by faith and love, believing God, loving God. It’s all gone internal; it’s all gone inside. It’s faith working through love. Our hearts are literally drawn to God in trust; that’s what faith is. We live trusting God, and we live loving God, and as a result, loving those around us as well.

MacArthur illustrates how sanctification plays its part:

It’s a working faith. It’s a living faith. It’s a growing faith. It’s an increasing faith. It’s a growing love. It’s an increasing love. It’s a multiplying love, as we wait and the Spirit in grace does His work in us.

When did I really have time to do a deep dive into the Bible? When I became semi-retired. I finally had the time to explore Scripture, which has answered so many of my decades-old questions.

My prayer life has also improved enormously.

This is not to suggest waiting for retirement to start reading Scripture and praying more often, far from it. However, time does bring us a great gift in this regard. Part of the reason for writing this series is to give bite-size portions of the Bible that working people might not have time to explore for themselves.

Another insight I gained yesterday was from putting together an exploration of John 21:1-19, which showed the difference between John, Peter and the other Apostles.

It answered a question I had for many years about the makeup of church congregations. Do you notice the varied personalities and talents therein? When I was younger, I often wished there were more Petrine and Pauline personalities.

However, Matthew Henry explains that we all bring different gifts to our congregations, just as the Apostles did to the early Church. His discourse is most enlightening:

Now here we may observe, (1.) How variously God dispenses his gifts. Some excel, as Peter and John; are very eminent in gifts and graces, and are thereby distinguished from their brethren; others are but ordinary disciples, that mind their duty, and are faithful to him, but do nothing to make themselves remarkable; and yet both the one and the other, the eminent and the obscure, shall sit down together with Christ in glory; nay, and perhaps the last shall be first. Of those that do excel, some, like John, are eminently contemplative, have great gifts of knowledge, and serve the church with them; others, like Peter, are eminently active and courageous, are strong, and do exploits, and are thus very serviceable to their generation. Some are useful as the church’s eyes, others as the church’s hands, and all for the good of the body. (2.) What a great deal of difference there may be between some good people and others in the way of their honouring Christ, and yet both accepted of him. Some serve Christ more in acts of devotion, and extraordinary expressions of a religious zeal; and they do well, to the Lord they do it. Peter ought not to be censured for casting himself into the sea, but commended for his zeal and the strength of his affection; and so must those be who, in love to Christ, quit the world, with Mary, to sit at his feet. But others serve Christ more in the affairs of the world. They continue in that ship, drag the net, and bring the fish to shore, as the other disciples here; and such ought not to be censured as worldly, for they, in their place, are as truly serving Christ as the other, even in serving tables. If all the disciples had done as Peter did, what had become of their fish and their nets? And yet if Peter had done as they did we had wanted this instance of holy zeal. Christ was well pleased with both, and so must we be. (3.) That there are several ways of bringing Christ’s disciples to shore to him from off the sea of this world. Some are brought to him by a violent death, as the martyrs, who threw themselves into the sea, in their zeal for Christ; others are brought to him by a natural death, dragging the net, which is less terrible; but both meet at length on the safe and quiet shore with Christ.

I sat at church this morning, noting how many different personalities who serve our congregation faithfully every week: the introverted bachelor, the meticulous grandmother, the congenial yet discerning churchwarden — the list goes on. No doubt it is the same for other churchgoers reading this. Everyone brings his own God-given gifts to our local churches in different ways and in different capacities all for our Lord’s glory and for our spiritual edification. Our churches could not run without them.

But I digress.

Paul’s righteous anger increases next week towards the Galatians and the Judaizers.

Next time — Galatians 5:7-12, 26

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