Christian Liberty an incentive to Holiness of Life.
Christian liberty opposed to legal bondage:
v. 1. Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
v. 2. Behold, I, Paul, say unto you that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.
v. 3. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised that he is a debtor to do the whole Law.
v. 4. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the Law; ye are fallen from grace.
The concluding verse of chapter 4 is incidentally the transition to the hortatory part of the epistle. Because the Christians are not children of the bond-woman, but of the free, because they are no longer under the Law, but under grace, therefore they should remember: Unto freedom Christ has liberated us. Stand firmly, then, and be not held again in the yoke of bondage. Christ has redeemed us from the servitude of the Law by fulfilling the Law in our stead; the Law, therefore, as such has no power over us as believers, since we are not under the Law, but under grace, Rom_6:14. Ours is the true freedom of the children of God, who are not under the restraint of injunctions and prohibitions, but find their greatest joy in showing their appreciation of the liberty which has been given them by a life in accordance with the will of the Lord. The Gospel freedom in no way imposes upon us restrictions, since it is a gift unto faith. But since it is such a great blessing, a blessing, moreover, which men are ever endeavoring to take from us by every form of persecution, therefore it is necessary that we stand firm and unmovable lest someone ensnare us by enticing and plausible arguments and bring us into subjection again under the yoke of the Law.
With solemn emphasis Paul calls to the Galatians: Behold, I, Paul, say to you that, if you are circumcised, Christ will benefit you nothing. That was one of the objects of the Judaizing teachers, to introduce all the forms and ceremonies of the Jewish law into the Galatian congregations as obligatory and binding also under the new dispensation. And so the former sacrament of circumcision, now a mere rite and in itself pertaining to things indifferent, became a very serious matter indeed. To the Galatians that gave heed to the words of the false teachers and believed the rite essential for salvation, it was anything but a thing indifferent. They were placing their trust in a ceremony which Christ had abrogated by His fulfilling the Law; they sought righteousness and salvation in circumcision, and therefore rejected the merit of Christ. As a mere hygienic custom Paul would not have thought of rejecting the act of circumcision, but as a religious ceremony necessary for salvation he did reject it, most emphatically, telling the Galatians that under those circumstances the work of Christ no longer had any value for them.
And not only that, but, as Paul writes: I testify again to every person that is circumcised (namely, with the intention just indicated) that he is a debtor to the whole Law. The work and merit of Christ, on the one hand, and man's own fulfillment of the Law, on the other, mutually exclude each other. If a man believed circumcision necessary for salvation, he thereby placed himself under the Law as a whole, laying himself under the obligation of fulfilling all its precepts, ordinances, and injunctions. He cannot evade the issue by stating that he wishes to accept only this one point; it is either all or nothing. All that are of the works of the Law are under the curse, chap. 3:14.
The consequence is: You are separated from Christ, as many as are justified by the Law; you are fallen away from grace. Paul uses strong language, but intentionally so. He applies the figure of a severance from the source of life and power, by which the severed members are made subject to death and destruction. By their course of seeking the righteousness before God by means of circumcision they had severed the connection, the fellowship, the union with Christ. Their sincere opinion as to being justified through the Law would avail them nothing; by this very means instead they had fallen away from grace, they had spoiled their own chance of salvation. "If you hold that by the observance of the Law you merit to be accounted righteous before God, Christ will profit you nothing; for what need of Christ have those who hold that they are righteous by their own observance of the Law? God has set forth Christ with the promise that on account of this Mediator, and not on account of our righteousness, He wishes to be propitious to us."