Galatians 5:7-15

Running a good race!


Have you ever watched or taken part in a three-legged race?  It’s the one when a person has one of their legs tied to another person’s leg and you try to run down the race-track to reach the finishing line.  It’s quite hilarious to the onlookers and frustrating for the competitors because as you try to run, if you are not in step with the other person, then you fall over in a heap.  By the time you are up on your feet again someone else has sped past you.

Our passage from Galatians starts today with a reprimand from Paul.  He says “You were running a good race.”  He is implying that the new young Christians in the Galatian church are not running a good race now!  That’s understandable because false teachers have infiltrated the church and are beginning to hamper the Christians in their race.

The problem in Galatia

As you have heard before, the key issue in the Galatian church is false teachers. These false teachers have been ‘causing trouble’ within the church.  In verse 10 of our passage it says “The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty…”  It’s the same Greek word translated here as ‘throwing into confusion’ that Paul uses in 1:7 and again at 6:17 where it is translated as ‘causing trouble’ or in other versions as ‘disturbance’ or ‘unsettling’.  But whatever way we translate it, these false teachers were creating problems in the Galatian church, and putting them off course in their race.  How do we know that this is false teaching?  Well, let’s apply some helpful tests to their teaching.

  1. Is the teaching supported by the Bible and consistent with biblical teaching OR is it counter to the Bible and based on cultural or historical belief?  In 5:8 Paul talks about “That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.”  So, we need to test the Judaizers claims against the word of God.   
  2. Does the message bring glory to God OR glory to the self-appointed arbiter of the faith?  Sometimes the teacher who is bringing this alternative message is trying to create a dependency on themselves for the ‘truth’ or even cultic adherence to the teacher.  In 5:10 Paul explains that ‘The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty…‘ 

Paul is suggesting that the false teachers or Judaizers as they are known are giving a contrary message to God’s teaching.  

  1. The final test is to ask the question ‘Is what these newcomers teaching edifying to the church?  Does the message build up the Christians and make them closer to God?  OR does their message create division, disunity and disharmony?’  When I was last with you, I spoke about the way in which the Judaizers were creating disunity within the church by focusing on the Law and the ritual of circumcision.  Already Paul has accused the Galatians of being ‘foolish’ because they have begun to follow the Judaizers teaching.  But here again, Paul declares in 5:6a “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision or uncircumcision has any value.”

The question of salvation

Now I haven’t heard all the sermons over recent weeks but I expect they have mentioned the important belief that Paul is trying to put over in this letter which is one of the key tenets of the Christian faith that is ‘justification by faith’ in contrast to ‘justification by works.’  In our passage this morning Paul again declares the importance of this belief where he says 5:6b “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

In answer to the question ‘How can sinners be ‘justified’ and accepted in the sight of God?  How can a ‘holy’ God forgive sinful men and women, and reconcile them to himself restoring them to his favour and friendship?  Paul reasserts something that he has declared many times in this letter at 5:13, “You are called to be free…”

The Judaizers were keen to focus on rituals and rule keeping, to enable us to earn our way into God’s kingdom but Paul here echoes his message from 4:7 “So you are no longer a slave but a child, God has made you also his heir.” The Judaizers were trying to make out that they were true Christians because they had their Jewish heritage to fall back on and were God’s chosen people who had received the Law which made them superior to new converts to Christianity, but Paul is continually saying that we are justified by faith and by what Jesus achieved for us once and for all upon the cross.  Saying we are ‘justified by faith’ enables us to be in relationship with our ‘holy’ God.  You see we are in a state that it is ‘just as if I’d never sinned!

Philip Yancey in his book ‘What’s so amazing about grace?’ puts it this way.

“Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more and there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.”

Set free to serve by loving

If we are set free by what Jesus has done for us on the cross, are we free to do as we want? 

No – of course not, and Paul answers this question in the last few verses of our passage today.

5:13 Paul says “But do not use your freedom to indulge your sinful nature.”

Here perhaps we should return to the picture of the three-legged race.  You see Paul is saying the Galatians are being hampered in their race by focusing on the Law and circumcision as the Judaizers are teaching them to do.  If they follow the Judaizers teaching then it is as if their leg is tied to a leg where ‘justification by works’ is prominent and they are incumbered in their race by the rituals and legalism of the Jewish religion.  By putting an emphasis on these things just makes us fall over in a heap.  And as a result Paul is able to say “You were running a good race!” 

But rather, Paul wants the Galatians to, as the write to the Hebrews says Hebrews 12:1 “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance, the race marked out for us…” and “serve one another in love.”

The only way we can achieve this is by being joined to the Holy Spirit in this three-legged race and as Paul says in 5:25 “Let us keep in step with the Spirit.”  But that’s a message for another day!

Let’s pray.

Father God, to you be praise and glory forever.  As your Spirit moved over the face of the waters bringing light and life to your creation, pour out your Spirit on us today, that we may walk as children of light and by your grace reveal your presence in the world.  For the sake of Jesus our Saviour, Amen.

Category: Sermons , The Bridge

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