Galatians is Paul’s focused argument regarding what should govern the lives of Gentile Christians. Paul’s thesis to the Galatians was clear: the justified should live by faith in Christ, and not the law (Gal 2:15-21). In Galatians 5-6, Paul rounded out his argument and applied it to the ethical norms he hoped to see established in the churches receiving his letter. For Paul, the Old Testament was part of God’s progressive revelation, requiring that one interpret it in light of the new creation that had begun in Christ.
(1) In Gal 5:6 and 6:15, Paul stated that circumcision was inconsequential for Christian fellowship, departing from commands in the law that the descendants of Abraham must be circumcised. The Lord commanded Abraham to circumcise Ishmael and all the males in his household (Gen 17:1-14). Abraham obeyed and circumcised Isaac when the boy was eight days old (Gen 21:4). Moses’ wife Zipporah circumcised their son as they returned to Egypt to confront Pharaoh (Exod 4:24-26). Joshua circumcised all the males born during the forty-year period of wilderness travel so that they could identify as Abraham’s descendants before taking the land of Canaan (Josh 5:1-9). In Paul’s logic in Rom 4:1-12, circumcision represented the law and placed an ethnic restriction on the covenantal blessings God gave to Abraham by faith (Gen 12:1-3; 15:1-6). The Lord blessed Abraham before He instituted the covenant of circumcision (Gen 17:1-14). Paul told the Galatians, “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love” (Gal 5:6); and, “Both circumcision and uncircumcision mean nothing; what matters instead is a new creation” (Gal 6:15).
(2) In Gal 5:14, Paul quoted Lev 19:18 and stated that love for one’s neighbor fulfills the law. In Leviticus 19, Moses established laws for relational justice and integrity in Israel. Moses’ commands were based upon God’s covenant with the people, that they would represent Him in Canaan. The command of Lev 19:18, “Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community but love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD,” has a theological basis. Jesus cited Lev 19:18 as one of the most important commandments in the law (Matt 19:19; Matt 22:39//Mark 12:31//Luke 10:27) as did Paul in Rom 13:9 and James in Jas 2:8. Paul told the Galatians that in Christ they were free from the law and needed to be slaves to serving one another in love. He said, “For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Gal 5:14).
(3) In Gal 5:16-26, Paul described the Spirit as the agent working through believers to express God’s presence among them, reflecting Ezek 36:24-37:14. In Ezek 36:24-37:14, the prophet described the day when the Lord would restore His people to Himself by cleansing them from their sin and giving them new life by His Spirit. On that day, he said, “You will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves, for your iniquities and your abominations” (Ezek 36:31). Ezekiel portrayed the Spirit as God’s agent producing ethical uprightness and purity in His people. What Ezekiel prophesied, Paul witnessed in his own life and in the lives of all who belonged to Christ. In Gal 5:16-26, Paul contrasted the vices produced by people of the flesh, those who sought to be justified by works of the law, with the fruit the Spirit produced in those trusting Christ for right standing with God.