IN this chapter the Apostle Paul presents the doctrine of Christian liberty
in a final effort to persuade the Galatians to give up the nefarious doctrine
of the false apostles. To accomplish his purpose he adduces threats and
promises, trying in every way possible to keep them in the liberty which
Christ purchased for them.
VERSE 1. Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made
What liberty does Paul mean? Not civil liberty (for which we have the
government to thank), but the liberty which Christ has procured for us.
At one time the emperor was compelled to grant to the bishop of Rome
certain immunities and privileges. This is civil liberty. That liberty
exempts the clergy from certain public charges. Then there is also another
kind of "liberty," when people obey neither the laws of God nor the laws
of men, but do as they please. This carnal liberty the people want in our
day. We are not now speaking of this liberty. Neither are we speaking of
Paul is speaking of a far better liberty, the liberty "wherewith Christ hath
made us free," not from material bonds, not from the Babylonian
captivity, not from the tyranny of the Turks, but from the eternal wrath of
Where is this liberty?
In the conscience.
Our conscience is free and quiet because it no longer has to fear the wrath
of God. This is real liberty, compared with which every other kind of
liberty is not worth mentioning. Who can adequately express the boon
that comes to a person when he has the heart-assurance that God will
nevermore be angry with him, but will forever be merciful to him for
Christ's sake? This is indeed a marvelous liberty, to have the sovereign
God for our Friend and Father who will defend, maintain, and save us in
this life and in the life to come.
As an outgrowth of this liberty, we are at the same time free from the Law,
sin, death, the power of the devil, hell, etc. Since the wrath of God has
been assuaged by Christ no Law, sin, or death may now accuse and
condemn us. These foes of ours will continue to frighten us, but not too
much. The worth of our Christian liberty cannot be exaggerated.
Our conscience must he trained to fall back on the freedom purchased for
us by Christ. Though the fears of the Law, the terrors of sin, the horror of
death assail us occasionally, we know that these feelings shall not endure,
because the prophet quotes God as saying: "In a little wrath I hid my face
from thee for a moment: but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy
on thee." (Isa. 54:8.)
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. In the eighth chapter of the
Gospel of St. John, Jesus declares: "If the Son shall make you free, ye shall
be free indeed." He only stands between us and the evils which trouble
and afflict us and which He has overcome for us.
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?
Our liberty is founded on Christ Himself, who sits at the right hand of God
and intercedes for us. Therefore our liberty is sure and valid as long as we
believe in Christ. As long as we cling to Him with a steadfast faith we
possess His priceless gifts. But if we are careless and indifferent we shall
lose them. It is not without good reason that Paul urges us to watch and to
stand fast. He knew that the devil delights in taking this liberty away from
VERSE 1. And be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
In this passage Paul again disparages the pernicious notion that the Law is
able to make men righteous before God, a notion deeply rooted in man's
reason. All mankind is so wrapped up in this idea that it is hard to drag it
out of people. Paul compares those who seek to be justified by the Law to
oxen that are hitched to the yoke. Like oxen that toil in the yoke all day,
and in the evening are turned out to graze along the dusty road, and at last
are marked for slaughter when they no longer can draw the burden, so
those who seek to be justified by the Law are "entangled with the yoke of
bondage," and when they have grown old and broken-down in the service
of the Law they have earned for their perpetual reward God's wrath and
We are not now treating of an unimportant matter. It is a matter that
involves everlasting liberty or everlasting slavery. For as a liberation from
God's wrath through the kind office of Christ is not a passing boon, but a
permanent blessing, so also the yoke of the Law is not a temporary but an
Rightly are the doers of the Law called devil's martyrs. They take more
pains to earn hell than the martyrs of Christ to obtain heaven. Theirs is a
double misfortune. First they torture themselves on earth with self-
inflicted penances and finally when they die they gain the reward of eternal
VERSE 2. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ
shall profit you nothing.
This passage is an indictment of the whole papacy. All priests, monks, and
nuns--and I am now speaking of the best of them--who repose their
hope for salvation in their own works, and not in Christ, whom they
imagine to he an angry judge, hear this sentence pronounced against them
that Christ shall profit them nothing. If one can earn the forgiveness of
sins and everlasting life through one's own efforts to what purpose was
Christ born? What was the purpose of His suffering and death, His
resurrection, His victory over sin, death, and the devil, if men may
overcome these evils by their own endeavor? Tongue cannot express, nor
heart conceive what a terrible thing it is to make Christ worthless.
The person who is not moved by these considerations to leave the Law
and the confidence in his own righteousness for the liberty in Christ, has a
heart that is harder than stone and iron.
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.
Let us bear this in mind when the devil accuses our conscience. When that
dragon accuses us of having done no good at all, but only evil, say to him:
"You trouble me with the remembrance of my past sins; you remind me
that I have done no good. But this does not bother me, because if I were to
trust in my own good deeds, or despair because I have done no good deeds,
Christ would profit me neither way. I am not going to make him
unprofitable to me. This I would do, if I should presume to purchase for
myself the favor of God and everlasting life by my good deeds, or if I
should despair of my salvation because of my sins."
VERSE 3. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he
is a debtor to do the whole law.
The truth of this I have experienced in myself and in others. I have seen
many work themselves down to the bones in their hungry effort to obtain
peace of conscience. But the harder they tried the more they worried.
Especially in the presence of death they were so uneasy that I have seen
murderers die with better grace and courage.
This holds true also in regard to the church regulations. 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.
Hence those that seek to be justified by the Law are much further away
from the righteousness of life than the publicans, sinners, and harlots.
They know better than to trust in their own works. They know that they
cannot ever hope to obtain forgiveness by their sins.
Paul's statement in this verse may be taken to mean that those who
submit to circumcision are thereby submitting to the whole Law. 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,
places, 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.
Some would like to subjugate us to certain parts of the Mosaic Law. But
this is not to be permitted under any circumstances. If we permit Moses to
rule over us in one thing, we must obey him in all things.
VERSE 4. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are
justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.
VERSE 4. Ye are fallen from grace.
The words, "Ye are fallen from grace," must not be taken lightly. They are
important. To fall from grace means to lose the atonement, the
forgiveness of sins, the righteousness, liberty, and life which Jesus has
merited for us by His death and resurrection. To lose the grace of God
means to gain the wrath and judgment of God, death, the bondage of the
devil, and everlasting condemnation.
VERSE 6. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness
Holy Writ speaks of hope in two ways: as the object of the emotion, and
hope as the emotion itself. In the first chapter of the Epistle to the
Colossians we have an instance of its first use: "For the hope which is laid
up for you in heaven," i.e., the thing hoped for. In the sense of emotion
we quote the passage from the eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans:
"For we are saved by hope." As Paul uses the term "hope" here in writing
to the Galatians, we may take it in either of its two meanings. We may
understand Paul to say, "We wait in spirit, through faith, for the
righteousness that we hope for, which in due time will be revealed to us."
Or we may understand Paul to say: "We wait in Spirit, by faith for
righteousness with great hope and desire." True, we are righteous, but our
righteousness is not yet revealed; as long as we live here sin stays with us,
not to forget the law in our members striving against the law of our mind.
When sin rages in our body and we through the Spirit wrestle against it,
then we have cause for hope. We are not yet perfectly righteous. Perfect
righteousness is still to be attained. Hence we hope for it.
This is sweet comfort for us. And we are to make use of it in comforting
the afflicted. We are to say to them: "Brother, you would like to feel God's
favor as you feel your sin. But you are asking too much. Your righteousness
rests on something much better than feelings. Wait and hope until it will
be revealed to you in the Lord's own time. Don't go by your feelings, but go
by the doctrine of faith, which pledges Christ to you."
The question occurs to us, What difference is there between faith and
hope? We find it difficult to see any difference. Faith and hope are so
closely linked that they cannot be separated. Still there is a difference
First, hope and faith differ in regard to their sources. Faith
originates in the understanding, while hope rises in the will.
Secondly, they differ in regard to their functions. Faith says what is
to be done. Faith teaches, describes, directs. Hope exhorts the mind
to be strong and courageous.
Thirdly, they differ in regard to their objectives. Faith concentrates
on the truth. Hope looks to the goodness of God.
Fourthly, they differ in sequence. Faith is the beginning of life before
tribulation. (Hebrews 11.) Hope comes later and is born of tribulation.
Fifthly, they differ in regard to their effects. Faith is a judge. It
judges errors. Hope is a soldier. It fights against tribulations, the
Cross, despondency, despair, and waits for better things to come in the
midst of evil.
This passage contains excellent doctrine and much comfort. It declares that
we are justified not by works, sacrifices, or ceremonies, but by Christ alone.
The world may judge certain things to be ever so good; without Christ
they are all wrong. Circumcision and the law and good works are carnal.
"We," says Paul, "are above such things. We possess Christ by faith and in
the midst of our afflictions we hopefully wait for the consummation of
You may say, "The trouble is I don't feel as if I am righteous." You must
not feel, but believe. Unless you believe that you are righteous, you do
Christ a great wrong, for He has cleansed you by the washing of
regeneration, He died for you so that through Him you may obtain
righteousness and everlasting life.
VERSE 6. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing,
nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by love.
VERSE 7. Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey
VERSE 7. Who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?
VERSE 8. This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you.
The devil is a cunning persuader. He knows how to enlarge the smallest
sin into a mountain until we think we have committed the worst crime
ever committed on earth. Such stricken consciences must be comforted
and set straight as Paul corrected the Galatians by showing them that their
opinion is not of Christ because it runs counter to the Gospel, which
describes Christ as a meek and merciful Savior.
Satan will circumvent the Gospel and explain Christ in this his own
diabolical way: "Indeed Christ is meek, gentle, and merciful, but only to
those who are holy and righteous. If you are a sinner you stand no chance.
Did not Christ say that unbelievers are already damned? And did not
Christ perform many good deeds, and suffer many evils patiently, bidding
us to follow His example? You do not mean to say that your life is in
accord with Christ's precepts or example? You are a sinner. You are no
good at all."
Satan is to be answered in this way: The Scriptures present Christ in a
twofold aspect. First, as a gift. "He of God is made unto us wisdom, and
righteousness, and sanctification and redemption." (I Cor. 1:30.) Hence my
many and grievous sins are nullified if I believe in Him. Secondly, the
Scriptures present Christ for our example. As an exemplar He is to be
placed before me only at certain times. In times of joy and gladness that l
may have Him as a mirror to reflect upon my shortcomings. But in the
day of trouble I will have Christ only as a gift. I will not listen to
anything else, except that Christ died for my sins.
To those that are cast down on account of their sins Christ must be
introduced as a Savior and Gift, and not as an example. But to sinners who
live in a false assurance, Christ must be introduced as an example. The
hard sayings of Scripture and the awful judgments of God upon sin must
be impressed upon them. Defy Satan in times of despair. Say: "O cursed
Satan, you choose a nice time to talk to me about doing and working when
you know very well that I am in trouble over my sins. I will not listen to
you. I will listen to Christ, who says that He came into the world to save
sinners. This is the true Christ and there is none other. I can find plenty of
examples for a holy life in Abraham, Isaiah, John the Baptist, Paul, and
other saints. But they cannot forgive my sins. They cannot save me. They
cannot procure for me everlasting life. Therefore I will not have you for
my teacher, O Satan."
VERSE 9. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.
Others of the Galatians perhaps saw no harm in deviating a trifle from the
doctrine of justification and faith. When they noticed that Paul made so
much ado about a matter that seemed of no particular importance to them
they raised their eyebrows and thought within themselves: "What if we
did deviate a little from the doctrine of Paul? What if we are a little to
blame? He ought to overlook the whole matter, and not make such an
issue out of it, lest the unity of the churches be disturbed." To this Paul
replies: "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump."
Our opponents record the same complaints about us. They put us down as
contentious, ill-tempered faultfinders. But these are the crafty passes of the
devil, with which he seeks to overthrow our faith. We answer with Paul:
"A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump."
Small faults grow into big faults. To tolerate a trifling error inevitably
leads to crass heresy. The doctrine of the Bible is not ours to take or to
allow liberties with. We have no right to change even a tittle of it. When
it comes to life we are ready to do, to suffer, to forgive anything our
opponents demand as long as faith and doctrine remain pure and
uncorrupt. The Apostle James says, "For whosoever shall keep the whole
law and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." This passage supports
us over against our critics who claim that we disregard all charity to the
great injury of the churches. We protest we desire nothing more than
peace with all men. If they would only permit us to keep our doctrine of
faith! The pure doctrine takes precedence before charity, apostles, or an
angel from heaven.
Let others praise charity and concord to the skies; we magnify the
authority of the Word and faith. Charity may be neglected at times
without peril, but not the Word and faith. Charity suffers all things, it
gives in. Faith suffers nothing; it never yields. Charity is often deceived
but is never put out because it lies nothing to lose; it continues to do well
even to the ungrateful. When it comes to faith and salvation in the midst
of lies and errors that parade as truth and deceive many, charity has no
voice or vote. Let us not be influenced by the popular cry for charity and
unity. If we do not love God and His Word what difference does it make if
we love anything at all?
Paul, therefore, admonishes both teachers and hearers not to esteem
lightly the doctrine of faith as if it were a toy with which to amuse
oneself in idle hours.
VERSE 10. l have confidence in you through the Lord.
The question occurs to us whether Paul did well to trust the Galatians.
Does not Holy Writ forbid us to trust in men? Faith trusts in God and is
never wrong. Charity trusts in men and is often wrong. This charitable
trust in man is necessary to life. Without it life would be impossible in the
world. What kind of life would ours be if nobody could trust anybody else?
True Christians are more ready to believe in men than the children of this
world. Such charitable confidence is the fruit of the Spirit. Paul had such
trust in the Galatians although they had forsaken his doctrine. He trusts
them "through the Lord," insofar as they were in Christ and Christ in
them. Once they had forsaken Christ altogether, the Apostle will trust the
Galatians no longer.
VERSE 10. That ye will be none otherwise minded.
VERSE 10. But be that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever
The clause, "whosoever he be," seems to indicate that the false apostles in
outward appearance at least were very good and devout men. It may be
that among them was some outstanding disciple of the apostles, a man of
fame and authority. The Apostle must have been faced by this very
situation, otherwise his vehemence would have been uncalled for. No
doubt many of the Galatians were taken back with the vehemency of the
Apostle. They perhaps thought: why should he be so stubborn in such
small matters? Why is he so quick to pronounce damnation upon his
brethren in the ministry?
I cannot say it often enough, that we must carefully differentiate between
doctrine and life. Doctrine is a piece of heaven, life is a piece of earth.
Life is sin, error, uncleanness, misery, and charity must forbear, believe,
hope, and suffer all things. Forgiveness of sins must be continuous so
that sin and error may not be defended and sustained. But with doctrine
there must be no error, no need of pardon. There can be no comparison
between doctrine and life. The least little point of doctrine is of greater
importance than heaven and earth. Therefore we cannot allow the least
jot of doctrine to be corrupted. We may overlook the offenses and errors of
life, for we daily sin much. Even the saints sin, as they themselves confess
in the Lord's Prayer and in the Creed. But our doctrine, God be praised, is
pure, because all the articles of our faith are grounded on the Holy
VERSE 11. And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet
suffer persecution? then is the offense of the cross ceased.
Here someone may be tempted to call the Christians crazy. Deliberately to
court danger by preaching and confessing the truth, and thus to bring
upon ourselves the hatred and enmity of the whole world, is this not
madness? But Paul does not mind the enmity of the world. It made him
all the bolder to confess Christ. The enmity of the world in his estimation
augurs well for the success and growth of the Church, which fares best in
times of persecution. When the offense of the Cross ceases, when the rage
of the enemies of the Cross abates, when everything is quiet, it is a sign
that the devil is the door-keeper of the Church and that the pure doctrine
of God's Word has been lost.
Saint Bernard observed that the Church is in best shape when Satan
assaults it on every side by trickery and violence; and in worst shape when
it is at peace. In support of his statement he quotes the passage from the
song of Hezekiah: "Behold, for peace I had great bitterness." Paul looks
with suspicion upon any doctrine that does not provoke antagonism.
Persecution always follows on the heels of the Word of God as the
Psalmist experienced. "I believe, therefore have I spoken: I was greatly
afflicted." (Ps. 116:10.) The Christians are accused and slandered without
mercy. Murderers and thieves receive better treatment than Christians.
The world regards true Christians as the worst offenders, for whom no
punishment can be too severe. The world hates the Christians with
amazing brutality, and without compunction commits them to the most
shameful death, congratulating itself that it has rendered God and the
cause of peace a distinct service by ridding the world of the undesired
presence of these Christians. We are not to let such treatment cause us to
falter in our adherence to Christ. As long as we experience such
persecutions we know all is well with the Gospel.
Jesus held out the same comfort to His disciples in the fifth chapter of St.
Matthew. "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you and persecute you,
and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice,
and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven." The Church
must not come short of this joy. I would not want to be at peace with the
pope, the bishops, the princes, and the sectarians, unless they consent to
our doctrine. Unity with them would be an unmistakable sign that we
have lost the true doctrine. 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. This would be the
case if we were to preach what the prince of this world and his followers
would be only too glad to hear, the righteousness of works. You would
never know the devil could be so gentle, the world so sweet, the Pope so
gracious, and the princes so charming. But because we seek the advantage
and honor of Christ, they persecute us all around.
VERSE 12. I would they were even cut off which trouble you.
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."
This goes to show again how much importance Paul attached to the least
points of Christian doctrine, that he dared to curse the false apostles,
evidently men of great popularity and influence. What right, then, have
we to make little of doctrine? No matter how nonessential a point of
doctrine may seem, if slighted it may prove the gradual disintegration of
the truths of our salvation.
Let us do everything to advance the glory and authority of God's Word.
Every tittle of it is greater than heaven and earth. Christian charity and
unity have nothing to do with the Word of God. We are bold to curse and
condemn all men who in the least point corrupt the Word of God, "for a
little leaven leaveneth the whole lump."
Paul does right to curse these troublers of the Galatians, wishing that they
were cut off and rooted out of the Church of God and that their doctrine
might perish forever. Such cursing is the gift of the Holy Ghost. Thus
Peter cursed Simon the sorcerer, "Thy money perish with thee." Many
instances of this holy cursing are recorded in the sacred Scriptures,
especially in the Psalms, e.g., "Let death seize upon them, and let them go
down quick into hell." (Ps. 55:15.)
THE DOCTRINE OF GOOD WORKS
VERSE 13. For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not
liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.
Satan likes to turn this liberty which Christ has gotten for us into
licentiousness. Already the Apostle Jude complained in his day: "There
are certain men crept in unawares. . .turning the grace of our God into
lasciviousness." (Jude 4.) The flesh reasons: "If we are without the law, we
may as well indulge ourselves. Why do good, why give alms, why suffer
evil when there is no law to force us to do so?"
This attitude is common enough. People talk about Christian liberty and
then go and cater to the desires of covetousness, pleasure, pride, envy, and
other vices. Nobody wants to fulfill his duties. Nobody wants to help out a
brother in distress. This sort of thing makes me so impatient at times that I
wish the swine who trampled precious pearls under foot were back once
again under the tyranny of the Pope. You cannot wake up the people of
Gomorrah with the gospel of peace.
Even we creatures of the world do not perform our duties as zealously in
the light of the Gospel as we did before in the darkness of ignorance,
because the surer we are of the liberty purchased for us by Christ, the more
we neglect the Word, prayer, well-doing, and suffering. If Satan were not
continually molesting us with trials, with the persecution of our enemies,
and the ingratitude of our brethren, we would become so careless and
indifferent to all good works that in time we would lose our faith in
Christ, resign the ministry of the Word, and look for an easier life. Many
of our ministers are beginning to do that very thing. They complain about
the ministry, they maintain they cannot live on their salaries, they
whimper about the miserable treatment they receive at the hand of those
whom they delivered from the servitude of the law by the preaching of
the Gospel. These ministers desert our poor and maligned Christ, involve
themselves in the affairs of the world, seek advantages for themselves and
not for Christ. With what results they shall presently find out.
Since the devil lies in ambush for those in particular who hate the world,
and seeks to deprive us of our liberty of the spirit or to brutalize it into
the liberty of the flesh, we plead with our brethren after the manner of
Paul, that they may never use this liberty of the spirit purchased for us by
Christ as an excuse for carnal living, or as Peter expresses it, I Peter 2:16,
"for a cloak of maliciousness."
In order that Christians may not abuse their liberty the Apostle encumbers
them with the rule of mutual love that they should serve each other in
love. Let everybody perform the duties of his station and vocation
diligently and help his neighbor to the limit of his capacity.
Christians are glad to hear and obey this teaching of love. When others
hear about this Christian liberty of ours they at once infer, "If I am free, I
may do what I like. If salvation is not a matter of doing why should we do
anything for the poor?" In this crude manner they turn the liberty of the
spirit into wantonness and licentiousness. We want them to know,
however, that if they use their lives and possessions after their own
pleasure, if they do not help the poor, if they cheat their fellow-men in
business and snatch and scrape by hook and by crook everything they can
lay their hands on, we want to tell them that they are not free, no matter
how much they think they are, but they are the dirty slaves of the devil,
and are seven times worse than they ever were as the slaves of the Pope.
As for us, we are obliged to preach the Gospel which offers to all men
liberty from the Law, sin, death, and God's wrath. We have no right to
conceal or revoke this liberty proclaimed by the Gospel. And so we cannot
do anything with the swine who dive headlong into the filth of
licentiousness. We do what we can, we diligently admonish them to love
and to help their fellow-men. If our admonitions bear no fruit, we leave
them to God, who will in His own good time take care of these
disrespecters of His goodness. In the meanwhile we comfort ourselves
with the thought that our labors are not lost upon the true believers. They
appreciate this spiritual liberty and stand ready to serve others in love and,
though their number is small, the satisfaction they give us far outweighs
the discouragement which we receive at the hands of the large number of
those who misuse this liberty.
Paul cannot possibly be misunderstood for he says: "Brethren, ye have been
called unto liberty." In order that nobody might mistake the liberty of
which he speaks for the liberty of the flesh, the Apostle adds the
explanatory note, "only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by
love serve one another." Paul now explains at the hand of the Ten
Commandments what it means to serve one another in love.
VERSE 14. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, thou
shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
In adding such precepts of love the Apostle embarrasses the false apostles
very much, as if he were saying to the Galatians: "I have described to you
what spiritual life is. Now I will also teach you what truly good works are.
I am doing this in order that you may understand that the silly ceremonies
of which the false apostles make so much are far inferior to the works of
Christian love." This is the hall-mark of all false teachers, that they not
only pervert the pure doctrine but also fail in doing good. Their
foundation vitiated, they can only build wood, hay, and stubble. Oddly
enough, the false apostles who were such earnest champions of good
works never required the work of charity, such as Christian love and the
practical charity of a helpful tongue, hand, and heart. Their only
requirement was that circumcision, days, months, years, and times should
be observed. They could not think of any other good works.
The Apostle exhorts all Christians to practice good works after they have
embraced the pure doctrine of faith, because even though they have been
justified they still have the old flesh to refrain them from doing good.
Therefore it becomes necessary that sincere preachers cultivate the
doctrine of good works as diligently as the doctrine of faith, for Satan is a
deadly enemy of both. Nevertheless faith must come first because without
faith it is impossible to know what a God-pleasing deed is.
Let nobody think that he knows all about this commandment, "Thou
shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." It sounds short and easy, but show me
the man who can teach, learn, and do this commandment perfectly. None
of us heed, or urge, or practice this commandment properly. Though the
conscience hurts when we fail to fulfill this commandment in every
respect we are not overwhelmed by our failure to bear our neighbor
sincere and brotherly love.
The words, "for all the law is fulfilled in one word," entail a criticism of
the Galatians. "You are so taken up by your superstitions and ceremonies
that serve no good purpose, that you neglect the most important thing,
love." St. Jerome says: "We wear our bodies out with watching, fasting,
and labor and neglect charity, the queen of all good works." Look at the
monks, who meticulously fast, watch, etc. To skip the least requirement of
their order would be a crime of the first magnitude. At the same time they
blithely ignored the duties of charity and hated each other to death. That is
no sin, they think.
The Old Testament is replete with examples that indicate how much God
prizes charity. When David and his companions had no food with which
to still their hunger they ate the showbread which lay-people were
forbidden to eat. Christ's disciples broke the Sabbath law when they
plucked the ears of corn. Christ himself broke the Sabbath (as the Jews
claimed) by healing the sick on the Sabbath. These incidents indicate that
love ought to be given consideration above all laws and ceremonies.
VERSE 14. For all the Law is fulfilled in one word.
Paul knows how to explain the law of God. He condenses all the laws of Moses
into one brief sentence. Reason takes offense at the brevity with which Paul
treats the Law. Therefore reason looks down upon the doctrine of faith and
its truly good works. To serve one another in love, i.e., to instruct the
erring, to comfort the afflicted, to raise the fallen, to help one's neighbor
in every possible way, to bear with his infirmities, to endure hardships,
toil, ingratitude in the Church and in the world, and on the other hand to
obey government, to honor one's parents, to be patient at home with a nagging
wife and an unruly family, these things are not at all regarded as good
works. The fact is, they are such excellent works that the world cannot
possibly estimate them at their true value.
It is tersely spoken: "Love thy neighbour as thyself." But what more needs
to be said? You cannot find a better or nearer example than your own. If
you want to know how you ought to love your neighbor, ask yourself how
much you love yourself. If you were to get into trouble or danger, you
would be glad to have the love and help of all men. You do not need any
book of instructions to teach you how to love your neighbor. All you have
to do is to look into your own heart, and it will tell you how you ought to
love your neighbor as yourself.
My neighbor is every person, especially those who need my help, as Christ
explained in the tenth chapter of Luke. Even if a person has done me
some wrong, or has hurt me in any way, he is still a human being with
flesh and blood. As long as a person remains a human being, so long is he
to be an object of our love.
Paul therefore urges his Galatians and, incidentally, all believers to serve
each other in love. "You Galatians do not have to accept circumcision. If
you are so anxious to do good works, I will tell you in one word how you
can fulfill all laws. 'By love serve one another.' You will never lack people
to whom you may do good. The world is full of people who need your
VERSE 15. But if ye bite and devour one another take heed that ye be
not consumed one of another.
For the avoidance of discord Paul lays down the principle: "Let every
person do his duty in the station of life into which God has called him. No
person is to vaunt himself above others or find fault with the efforts of
others while lauding his own. Let everybody serve in love."
It is not an easy matter to teach faith without works, and still to require
works. Unless the ministers of Christ are wise in handling the mysteries of
God and rightly divide the word, faith and good works may easily be
confused. Both the doctrine of faith and the doctrine of good works must
be diligently taught, and yet in such a way that both the doctrines stay
within their God-given sphere. If we only teach works, as our opponents
do, we shall lose the faith. If we only teach faith people will come to think
that good works are superfluous.
VERSE 16. This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not
fulfill the lust of the flesh.
With this verse Paul explains how he wants this sentence to be understood:
By love serve one another. When I bid you to love one another, this is what
I mean and require, 'Walk in the Spirit.' I know very well you will not
fulfill the Law, because you are sinners as long as you live. Nevertheless,
you should endeavor to walk in the spirit, i.e., fight against the flesh and
follow the leads of the Holy Ghost."
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 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."
VERSE 16. And ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
Therefore the Apostle establishes this rule of love for the believers. Serve
one another in love. Bear the infirmities of your brother. Forgive one
another. Without such bearing and forbearing, giving and forgiving, there
can be no unity because to give and to take offense are unavoidably
Whenever you are angry with your brother for any cause, repress your
violent emotions through the Spirit. Bear with his weakness and love
him. He does not cease to be your neighbor or brother because he offended
you. On the contrary, he now more than ever before requires your loving
The scholastics take the lust of the flesh to mean carnal lust. True,
believers too are tempted with carnal lust. Even the married are not
immune to carnal lusts. Men set little value upon that which they have
and covet what they have not, as the poet says:
"The things most forbidden we always desire, And things most denied
we seek to acquire."
VERSE 17. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit and the Spirit
against the flesh.
VERSE 17. And these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye
cannot do the things that ye would.
The scholastics are at a loss to understand this confession of Paul and feel
obliged to save his honor. That the chosen vessel of Christ should have
had the law of sin in his members seems to them incredible and absurd.
They circumvent the plain-spoken statement of the Apostle by saying that
he was speaking for the wicked. But the wicked never complain of inner
conflicts, or of the captivity of sin. Sin has its unrestricted way with them.
This is Paul's very own complaint and the identical complaint of all
Paul never denied that he felt the lust of the flesh. It is likely that at
times he felt even the stirrings of carnal lust, but there is no doubt that he
quickly suppressed them. And if at any time he felt angry or impatient, he
resisted these feelings by the Spirit. We are not going to stand by idly and
see such a comforting statement as this explained away. The scholastics,
monks, and others of their ilk fought only against carnal lust and were
proud of a victory which they never obtained. In the meanwhile they
harbored within their breasts pride, hatred, disdain, self-trust, contempt of
the Word of God, disloyalty, blasphemy, and other lusts of the flesh.
Against these sins they never fought because they never took them for
Christ alone can supply us with perfect righteousness. Therefore we must
always believe and always hope in Christ. "Whosoever believeth shall not
be ashamed." (Rom. 9:33.)
Do not despair if you feel the flesh battling against the Spirit or if you
cannot make it behave. For you to follow the guidance of the Spirit in all
things without interference on the part of the flesh is impossible. You are
doing all you can if you resist the flesh and do not fulfill its demands.
When I was a monk I thought I was lost forever whenever I felt an evil
emotion, carnal lust, wrath, hatred, or envy. I tried to quiet my conscience
in many ways, but it did not work, because lust would always come back
and give me no rest. I told myself: "You have permitted this and that sin,
envy, impatience, and the like. Your joining this holy order has been in
vain, and all your good works are good for nothing." If at that time I had
understood this passage, "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the
Spirit against the flesh," I could have spared myself many a day of self-
torment. I would have said to myself: "Martin, you will never be without
sin, for you have flesh. Despair not, but resist the flesh."
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.)
No man is to despair of salvation just because he is aware of the lust of the
flesh. Let him be aware of it so long as he does not yield to it. The passion
of lust, wrath, and other vices may shake him, but they are not to get him
down. Sin may assail him, but he is not to welcome it. Yes, the better
Christian a man is, the more he will experience the heat of the conflict.
This explains the many expressions of regret in the Psalms and in the
Everybody is to determine his peculiar weakness and guard against it.
Watch and wrestle in spirit against your weakness. Even if you cannot
completely overcome it, at least you ought to fight against it.
According to this description a saint is not one who is made of wood and
never feels any lusts or desires of the flesh. A true saint confesses his
righteousness and prays that his sins may be forgiven. The whole Church
prays for the forgiveness of sins and confesses that it believes in the
forgiveness of sins. If our antagonists would read the Scriptures they
would soon discover that they cannot judge rightly of anything, either of
sin or of holiness.
VERSE 18. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.
But Paul says not to let it trouble us. As long as we are led by the Spirit,
and are willing to obey the Spirit who resists the flesh, we are not under
the Law. True believers are not under the Law. The Law cannot condemn
them although they feel sin and confess it.
Great then is the power of the Spirit. Led by the Spirit, the Law cannot
condemn the believer though he commits real sin. For Christ in whom
we believe is our righteousness. He is without sin, and the Law cannot
accuse Him. As long as we cling to Him we are led by the Spirit and are
free from the Law. Even as he teaches good works, the Apostle does not
lose sight of the doctrine of justification, but shows at every turn that it
is impossible for us to be justified by works.
The words, "If ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law," are replete
with comfort. It happens at times that anger, hatred, impatience, carnal
desire, fear, sorrow, or some other lust of the flesh so overwhelms a man
that he cannot shake them off, though he try ever so hard. What should
he do? Should he despair? God forbid. Let him say to himself: "My flesh
seems to be on a warpath against the Spirit again. Go to it, flesh, and rage
all you want to. But you are not going to have your way. I follow the
leading of the Spirit."
When the flesh begins to cut up the only remedy is to take the sword of
the Spirit, the word of salvation, and fight against the flesh. If you set the
Word out of sight, you are helpless against the flesh. I know this to be a
fact. I have been assailed by many violent passions, but as soon as I took
hold of some Scripture passage, my temptations left me. Without the
Word I could not have helped myself against the flesh.
VERSE 19. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these.
There were many hypocrites among the Galatians, as there are also among
us, who pretend to be Christians and talk much about the Spirit, but they
walk not according to the Spirit; rather according to the flesh. Paul is out
to show them that they are not as holy as they like to have others think they
Every period of life has its own peculiar temptations. Not one true believer
whom the flesh does not again and again incite to impatience, anger,
pride. But it is one thing to be tempted by the flesh, and another thing to
yield to the flesh, to do its bidding without fear or remorse, and to
continue in sin.
Christians also fall and perform the lusts of the flesh. David fell horribly
into adultery. Peter also fell grievously when he denied Christ. However
great these sins were, they were not committed to spite God, but from
weakness. When their sins were brought to their attention these men did
not obstinately continue in their sin, but repented. Those who sin through
weakness are not denied pardon as long as they rise again and cease to sin.
There is nothing worse than to continue in sin. If they do not repent, but
obstinately continue to fulfill the desires of the flesh, it is a sure sign
that they are not sincere.
No person is free from temptations. Some are tempted in one way, others
in another way. One person is more easily tempted to bitterness and
sorrow of spirit, blasphemy, distrust, and despair. Another is more easily
tempted to carnal lust, anger, envy, covetousness. But no matter to which
sins we are disposed, we are to walk in the Spirit and resist the flesh.
Those who are Christ's own crucify their flesh.
Some of the old saints labored so hard to attain perfection that they lost
the capacity to feel anything. When I was a monk I often wished I could
see a saint. I pictured him as living in the wilderness, abstaining from
meat and drink and living on roots and herbs and cold water. This weird
conception of those awesome saints I had gained out of the books of the
scholastics and church fathers. But we know now from the Scriptures who
the true saints are. Not those who live a single life, or make a fetish of
days, meats, clothes, and such things. The true saints are those who believe
that they are justified by the death of Christ. Whenever Paul writes to the
Christians here and there he calls them the holy children and heirs of
God. All who believe in Christ, whether male or female, bond or free, are
saints; not in view of their own works, but in view of the merits of God
which they appropriate by faith. Their holiness is a gift and not their own
Ministers of the Gospel, public officials, parents, children, masters,
servants, etc., are true saints when they take Christ for their wisdom,
righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, and when they fulfill the
duties of their several vocations according to the standard of God's Word
and repress the lust and desires of the flesh by the Spirit. Not everybody
can resist temptations with equal facilities. Imperfections are bound to
show up. But this does not prevent them from being holy. Their
unintentional lapses are forgiven if they pull themselves together by faith
in Christ. God forbid that we should sit in hasty judgment on those who
are weak in faith and life, as long as they love the Word of God and make
use of the supper of the Lord.
I thank God that He has permitted me to see (what as a monk I so earnestly
desired to see) not one but many saints, whole multitudes of true saints. Not
the kind of saints the papists admire, but the kind of saints Christ wants. I
am sure I am one of Christ's true saints. I am baptized. I believe that
Christ my Lord has redeemed me from all my sins, and invested me with His own
eternal righteousness and holiness. To hide in caves and dens, to have a bony
body, to wear the hair long in the mistaken idea that such departures from
normalcy will obtain some special regard in heaven is not the holy life. A
holy life is to be baptized and to believe in Christ, and to subdue the flesh
with the Spirit.
To feel the lusts of the flesh is not without profit to us. It prevents us
from being vain and from being puffed up with the wicked opinion of our own
work-righteousness. The monks were so inflated with the opinion of their own
righteousness, they thought they had so much holiness that they could afford
to sell some of it to others, although their own hearts convinced them of
unholiness. The Christian feels the unholy condition of his heart, and it
makes him feel so low that he cannot trust in his good works. He therefore
goes to Christ to find perfect righteousness. This keeps a Christian humble.
VERSES 19, 20. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are
these: adultery, fornification, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry,
witchcraft . . .
They may think about God, Christ, and heavenly things, but they do it
after their own fashion and not after the Word of God. They have an idea
that their clothing, their mode of living, and their conduct are holy and
pleasing to Christ. They not only expect to pacify Christ by the strictness of
their life, but also expect to be rewarded by Him for their good deeds.
Hence their best "spiritual" thoughts are wicked thoughts. Any worship of
God, any religion without Christ is idolatry. In Christ alone is God well
I have said before that the works of the flesh are manifest. But idolatry
puts on such a good front and acts so spiritual that the sham of it is
recognized only by true believers.
Witchcraft is a brand of idolatry. As witches used to bewitch cattle and
men, so idolaters, i.e., all the self-righteous, go around to bewitch God and
to make Him out as one who justifies men not by grace through faith in
Christ but by the works of men's own choosing. They bewitch and deceive
themselves. If they continue in their wicked thoughts of God they will die
in their idolatry.
VERSE 21. Of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in
the past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom
VERSES 22, 23. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.
VERSE 23. Against such there is no law.
VERSE 24. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the
affections and lusts.
To resist the flesh in this manner is to nail it to the Cross. Although the
flesh is still alive it cannot very well act upon its desires because it is
bound and nailed to the Cross.
VERSE 25. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
Now vainglory has always been a common poison in the world. There is
no village too small to contain someone who wants to be considered wiser
or better than the rest. Those who have been bitten by pride usually stand
upon the reputation for learning and wisdom. Vainglory is not nearly so
bad in a private person or even in an official as it is in a minister.
When the poison of vainglory gets into the Church you have no idea
what havoc it can cause. You may argue about knowledge, art, money,
countries, and the like without doing particular harm. But you cannot
quarrel about salvation or damnation, about eternal life and eternal death
without grave damage to the Church. No wonder Paul exhorts all ministers
of the Word to guard against this poison. He writes: "If we live in the
Spirit." Where the Spirit is, men gain new attitudes. Where formerly
they were vainglorious, spiteful and envious, they now become humble,
gentle and patient. Such men seek not their own glory, but the glory
of God. They do not provoke each other to wrath or envy, but prefer
others to themselves.
As dangerous to the Church as this abominable pride is, yet there is
nothing more common. The trouble with the ministers of Satan is that
they look upon the ministry as a stepping-stone to fame and glory, and
right there you have the seed for all sorts of dissensions.
Because Paul knew that the vainglory of the false Apostles had caused the
churches of Galatia endless trouble, he makes it his business to suppress
this abominable vice. In his absence the false apostles went to work in
Galatia. They pretended that they had been on intimate terms with the
apostles, while Paul had never seen Christ in person or had much contact
with the rest of the apostles. Because of this they delivered him, rejected
his doctrine, and boosted their own. In this way they troubled the
Galatians and caused quarrels among them until they provoked and
envied each other; which goes to show that neither the false apostles nor
the Galatians walked after the Spirit, but after the flesh.
The Gospel is not there for us to aggrandize ourselves. The Gospel is to
aggrandize Christ and the mercy of God. It holds out to men eternal gifts
that are not gifts of our own manufacture. What right have we to receive
praise and glory for gifts that are not of our own making?
No wonder that God in His special grace subjects the ministers of the
Gospel to all kinds of afflictions, otherwise they could not cope with this
ugly beast called vainglory. If no persecution, no cross, or reproach trailed
the doctrine of the Gospel, but only praise and reputation, the ministers of
the Gospel would choke with pride. Paul had the Spirit of Christ.
Nevertheless there was given unto him the messenger of Satan to buffet
him in order that he should not come to exalt himself, because of the
grandeur of his revelations. St. Augustine's opinion is well taken: "If a
minister of the Gospel is praised, he is in danger; if he is despised, he is
also in danger."
The ministers of the Gospel should be men who are not too easily affected
by praise or criticism, but simply speak out the benefit and the glory of
Christ and seek the salvation of souls.
Whenever you are being praised, remember it is not you who is being
praised but Christ, to whom all praise belongs. When you preach the
Word of God in its purity and also live accordingly, it is not your own
doing, but God's doing. And when people praise you, they really mean to
praise God in you. When you understand this--and you should because
"what hast thou that thou didst not receive?"--you will not flatter
yourself on the one hand and on the other hand you will not carry
yourself with the thought of resigning from the ministry when you are
insulted, reproached, or persecuted.
It is really kind of God to send so much infamy, reproach, hatred, and
cursing our way to keep us from getting proud of the gifts of God in us.
We need a millstone around our neck to keep us humble. There are a few
on our side who love and revere us for the ministry of the Word, but for
every one of these there are a hundred on the other side who hate and
The Lord is our glory. Such gifts as we possess we acknowledge to be the
gifts of God, given to us for the good of the Church of Christ. Therefore we
are not proud because of them. We know that more is required of them to
whom much is given, than of such to whom little is given. We also know
that God is no respecter of persons. A plain factory hand who does his work
faithfully pleases God just as much as a minister of the Word.
VERSE 26. Let us not be desirous of vain glory.
VERSE 26. Provoking one another, envying one another.