Galatians 5:4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
Some of the early Christians struggled with the heresy of antinomianism. It is the idea that we can sin without restraint, and still be saved, as long as we are trusting in Christ alone. Jesus refuted this idea when he said, Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (Matthew 7:21).
The heresy in Galatia was just the opposite. Instead of trusting in Christ alone for their salvation, they wanted to be saved by trusting in Christ, and keeping the Law of Moses. This is the heresy of legalism. As much as we trust in anything other than Jesus Christ to be saved, we are not trusting in Christ alone to be saved. And to that degree we imperil our souls.
It is important to understand how to avoid the competing heresies of antinomianism and legalism. The simple answer is to believe in Jesus Christ enough to follow him. We are saved by faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), but not by faith that is alone. [F]aith without deeds is dead (James 2:26), wrote James. True belief behaves, and real faith works. Faith in Christ is the root of our salvation; obedience to Christ is the fruit of our salvation. We must never confuse the root with the fruit.
Galatians 5:12 As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!
Again, Paul was referring to the false teachers who wanted Christians to submit to the Law of Moses, including circumcision. Blending Christianity with the Law of Moses would have created a radically different religion. Paul was so alarmed that he wished the agitators would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! This may be a call for the removal of the entire sexual organ, and shows what a serious error legalism is.
Even the multiplication of rules for Christian living is not always wise because it leans toward legalism. It can also create a culture that is harmful to people and to churches. Those who accept and keep the rules tend to become judgmental. Those who fail to keep the rules tend to become discouraged. Those who are in authority tend to become controlling. And everyone becomes a little more hypocritical. No wonder Paul wanted the circumcisers to go the whole way and emasculate themselves!
Galatians 5:15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
Legalism was already having a negative effect on the Christian community. Instead of loving and accepting each other, they were biting and devouring each other, and would soon be destroyed by each other. Satan took their desire to please God, and used it to turn them against each other.
A zookeeper threw a hotdog into a snake pit and two snakes began to devour it—one at either end. When they got to the middle, the bigger snake kept going, and consumed the smaller one. When Christians bite and devour each other, with unkind words, they are like snakes that are willing to swallow each other whole.
Galatians 5:19-21 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Here and elsewhere the Bible has lists of sins that characterize those who are lost, along with terrible warnings. Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10), wrote Paul.
Likewise, the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur (Revelation 21:1), wrote John.
Christians are repulsed by the sins we used to love, because we now have the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9). But we still have a sinful nature that wants to drag us back to our old way of living. The pleasure will never be the same, of course, because the Spirit of Christ troubles us whenever we sin.
A Christian man had an affair and regretted it profoundly. The passion was intense, but he was filled with more self hatred than he had ever known. The devil promises pleasure, but always disappoints. We are better and wiser to leave our sins behind, and walk in ways that are pleasing to God.
Reflection and Review
What is Antinomianism?
What is legalism?
Why should Christians avoid sin?