These small group studies of Galatians contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications. Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.
Galatians 5:1-15 Inductive Bible Study Notes – Teaching Guide With Questions
I. Christ has set us free (1-6)
II. The Galatians were succumbing to false teaching (7-12)
III. Do not abuse your freedom (13-15)
I. Christ has set us free (1-6)
- What has Christ set us free from?
- What has He set us free to?
- What is the yoke of slavery Paul refers to?
- In what ways were you like a slave prior to coming to Christ? How is your life different now?
- Is Paul teaching that it is wrong to be circumcised? What then, is his point?
- What is the relationship between circumcision and the law?
- Why is a person who tries to satisfy the demands of the Old Testament law “severed from Christ?”
- Explain the meaning of the word “grace.” How is our salvation grace from God?
- What key word besides “grace” is mentioned in verses 5 and 6?
- How do faith and grace work together?
- What works besides circumcision might a person depend on today for salvation?
1 Corinthians 7:19 – For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.
Jeremiah 4:4 – Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.”
Romans 2:25-29 – For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
Galatians 2:3 – But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. It was for freedom that Christ set us free – We are free of the power of sin and death. And we are free from the burdens of trying to follow a set of rules in order to please God. A free person doesn’t want to go back to be a slave, does he? A healthy person doesn’t want to go back to being sick.
Going back to the law is to go back to the rules of the old covenant and reject the grace offered by Christ in the new covenant. That would mean once again taking responsibility for our own sins and not relying on Christ’s death on the cross to take them away.
Christians too often focus on rules rather than relationship. To be a “good Christian,” they adhere to certain practices. Sometimes this is done out of habit. Other times it is because other people are watching. Such religion can be very wearying.
God looks at our hearts. When we love God, we will want to serve Him. We will want to not because it is on a list or because we will get blamed by other Christians if we don’t. We want to please God because of what He has done for us. When you have that type of relationship with God, serving Him is not wearying. It is joyful. It is freeing.
Take for example giving money or tithing. If you feel compelled to do it, then it will be a burden and you will begrudge doing it. But when you voluntarily do it because you want to, it can fill you with a sense of joy and meaning, knowing that you are able to help others.
The same principle applies to every area of the Christian life. We should not serve God reluctantly or out of compulsion, but cheerfully. When you have the right relationship with God, you will freely choose to serve Him from your heart and you will enjoy doing it.
2. If you accept circumcision Christ will be of no advantage to you – These verses would seem to indicate that circumcision is wrong. However, based on the context of the whole book, we know that Paul is arguing against relying on the law. The Galatians had begun relying on the Old Testament law and their circumcision was the symbol for that.
They were receiving circumcision with the idea that this work could somehow save them. Since they had this mentality, Paul told them they should not even get circumcised. This was the same logic he used when he refused to have Titus circumcised in the beginning of the book.
There is a lesson here. Any good deed which is done out of a motivation to earn salvation or merit favor with God then becomes a sin and not a good deed. For a deed to be truly good in God’s sight, the action must be right and the motivation must be right. If either one is wrong, then it is sin.
How can a righteous act be like a filthy garment? Often the reason is because the motivation is faulty. Take the Pharisees for example. They loved to give. But they would walk to the front and put in large sums while drawing attention to themselves. It was a show. And they did it in order to gain respect from man. Jesus said that they “have their reward in full.” (Matthew 6:2)
The Galatians were considering circumcision for all of the wrong reasons. It was pride so that they could declare they were worthy of God and superior to others.
Application: Be mindful of your own motivations. Why do you go to church on Sunday? Is it because it is Sunday? Is it because people will be watching and notice if you aren’t there? Here is a simple application. Every Sunday before going to church, pray. Ask God to help you worship Him in spirit and truth. Ask Him to enlighten you and open your eyes to sin. Ask Him to to give you the strength to obey what you learn. Ask Him for opportunities to reach out. A simple prayer can help you have the right attitude before God.
3. Is salvation by works or grace? – Every other religion in the world teaches people to rely on good works. Our faith is different.
Salvation is a gift from God. Grace is something we don’t deserve. If we try to earn it, we can’t have it. We can only having grace by accepting God’s offer of it to us as a free gift.
Paul writes, “you are severed from Christ… you have fallen away from grace.” Christ’s sacrifice is offered to those who come to Him on their knees and say, “I need you.” It is not for those who think, “I can do it myself.” You either believe in Christ or you believe in yourself.
There is a reason that Jesus said it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24). It is because rich people trust in themselves. It is extremely difficult for them to humble themselves by saying, “I need you” to Jesus.
It is difficult for anyone, rich and poor, to come to the point when they are ready to throw themselves 100% on the mercy of God.
4. We eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness – Here is one of the “already but not yet” verses. We are already made positionally righteous before God the moment we believe. And we are already forgiven of our sin. We are already recipients of a new nature and the Holy Spirit. But we are not yet perfectly righteous practically. That is what we are waiting for in faith.
And while we are waiting we are being sanctified day by day.
God has predestined us to be “conformed to the image of His Son.” This is a process. He began it in our lives and He will complete it (Philippians 1:6).
5. Circumcision not uncircumcision count for anything – Here Paul makes it clear circumcision does not save. Neither does refusing to be circumcised. The only thing that saves is faith. This is working in love because God loves us and we are responding to His love.
Reflection: Circumcision itself is not now the controversial issue it was at the time of Paul. What are other religious rites that people may rely on for salvation? How should you view these things?
II. The Galatians were succumbing to false teaching (7-12)
- How did Paul describe the beginning of their Christian race?
- What had happened which had begun to hinder them?
- Share the top 3 things you can think of which may hinder new believers from running well?
- Based on the context, what false teaching had begun to make inroads into the Galatian church?
- What does the phrase a “little leaven leavens the whole lump” mean?
- How can you protect yourself, your family, and your church from false teaching?
- How did Paul feel about this false teacher? Was his reaction too extreme? Why or why not?
1 John 4:1 – Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
2 Peter 2:1 – But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.
Matthew 7:15 – Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
Matthew 17:6 – Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. You were running well – The Galatians started well. When Paul left them, they seemed to be excited about their faith. But starting well does not guarantee finishing well. Obeying God yesterday doesn’t mean you will obey God today or tomorrow.
If you have been involved in ministry, you can probably remember many examples of people who seemed to be following God, but then fell away. And it is a sad thing.
A Christian sister I know faced this issue. She shared the good news with people and invited them to Bible study. She would say, “they are so excited!” And she too, would be excited. But then many of these same people would give up fellowship and Bible study and go back to the world. Some of them said they had exams to prepare for. Others said they were too busy. We saw Jesus’ teaching on the Parable of the Sower coming true before our eyes. Many a times the thorns of worry and busyness and profit seeking choked out the passion of young professing believers.
We see this happen to others. But know this. You are not immune. Any person can stumble and fall away from God. Your marriage can fall apart. Your love for God can grow cold. We have all seen it happen too many times to believe it can’t happen to us.
Paul says in the next verse, “who hindered you?” There will always be those who want to hinder us. Sometimes these people will attack from the front and we will see them coming. They are the atheists and God haters. But more often, they attack from within, wolves in sheep clothes. They sneak in pretending to be one of us. And they spread their false teaching. Other times, they are people even closer to us. A spouse who abandons God little by little. A parent who pressures us.
Application: What steps can you take to make sure that you keep running well? What can you do to keep alert so that you won’t be hindered in your faith by others?
2. A little leaven leavens the whole lump – One bad apple spoils the crate. This is why Paul was so strong against this false teaching. If allowed to remain, it would fester and grow. We must in the same way refuse to tolerate any sin. We must also refuse to tolerate any false teaching, either in our homes, in our studies, our fellowships, or our churches. Bad counsel and teaching which is allowed to go unchecked can have serious consequences.
3. I have confident that you will take no other view – Paul expresses confidence that the Galatians (once they have heard his full arguments) will make the right choice.
Paul is optimistic toward the Galatians. He believes the best of them. He hopes for the best for them. We should have the attitude to believe and expect the best from those we counsel and disciple.
4. If I still preach circumcision why am I am persecuted? – Here Paul makes an interesting argument.
The logic goes like this:
- I am being persecuted (by the Jews).
- The Jews would not persecute someone who is preaching the circumcision (this argument is implied.)
- Since they are persecuting me, I must not be preaching circumcision.
- If I was preaching that, then I nullify the cross.
- The conclusion: Don’t believe anyone who tells you I agree with this whole mandatory circumcision idea!
5. Paul strongly condemns false teachers – He wishes they would mutilate themselves! If they did, it could perhaps show that even they were no longer trusting in circumcision.
This “curse” shows us how extremely important pure teaching is. We must make sure that we accurately divide the Word of Truth so we don’t even accidentally become false teachers.
Application: Where have you encountered false teaching recently? When you encounter it, what should you do about it?
III. Do not abuse your freedom (13-15)
- If an unbeliever asks you “what does it mean that you have freedom after salvation” how would you answer?
- How might some professing believers abuse this freedom?
- How does Paul teach us we should use our freedom?
- What are some examples of Biblical commands that relate to love?
2 Corinthians 3:17 – Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
1 Peter 2:16 – Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.
John 8:32 – And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. You were called to freedom brothers – Many people look at the Bible and say, “There are too many rules. I want to be free to live my own life.” And in fact Satan promises freedom. He promises people that they can do what they want, and enjoy themselves. They can live a life of new restrictions. At the same time, Satan would accuse God of having too many rules and burdening people, taking away their freedoms. So who actually gives freedom? And what is freedom?
When people follow Satan’s route, what they will get is slavery, not freedom. An alcoholic who can’t stop lifting the bottle does not feel free. He is a slave to his desires. A drug addict does not feel free. Neither does he experience an abundant life or joy. He is also a slave. A sex addict does not enjoy the “freedom” of sleeping around or watching porn. The chains of lust weigh him down and cause guilt and shame that rob him of any joy. So it always is with sin. Satan makes big promises, but he can’t fulfill them. Sin enslaves those who give themselves to it. The more a person sins the heavier his chains become.
The Pilgrim’s Progress illustrates this concept with the ever heavier burden on Christian before he comes to the cross.
On the other hand, God does not promise that His followers are free to do whatever they want. That is not what freedom means.
Hosea 11:4 – I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them.
This is God talking about His relationship with Israel. He leads His people. He does give them commands. He does hold them to a standard. However, notice that they are not bound by heavy chains. God leads them with cords of kindness and bands of love. He has compassion on His people. He leads them as gently as possible. There is a yoke, but He makes it as comfortable as possible.
Matthew 11:28-3 – Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart; and you will find rest. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
God never promises to let us do whatever we want. He gives us boundaries. But these are for our good. These are meant to increase our joy. The boundaries He gives can give us an abundant life if we follow them.
Sin never brings happiness. Adam and Eve sinned and then they hid in shame from God. Going back to the example of sex above. A person who follows Satan’s way of sleeping around will enjoy the passing pleasures of sin. But his life will be devoid of lasting joy. On the other hand a person who stays within God’s boundaries and honors the marriage bed, enjoying only an intimate relationship with his spouse, will experience abundant, full life (John 10:10.)
God does not give us freedom to sin. He gives us freedom from sin.
2. Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh – We should not take for granted the grace of God.
Romans 6:1-2 – What then shall we say? Shall we continue in sin so that grace may increase? Certainly not!
We are not under the Old Testament law. Instead we live in the era of grace. God’s grace covers our sins. But this is not license to sin. Believers who are born again do not want to sin. The Holy Spirit has regenerated our hearts.
3. Love your neighbor as yourself – This is the core of the Old Testament law. Take for example the Ten Commandments. The first four deal with loving God and the next six deal with loving others.
- Honor your father and mother – If you love them, then you will honor them.
- You shall not murder – You will not murder a person if you are loving them.
- You shall not commit adultery – If you love your spouse, you will not betray them by committing adultery. And if you love the other party, you will not cause them to sin by committing adultery with them.
- You shall not steal – How can you steal from a person you love?
- You shall not bear false witness – You are not loving someone, when you are lying to them.
- You shall not covet – If you love someone, you will be happy for their success rather than envying it.
In the Old Testament there are many commands. Some seem odd and irrelevant today. For example, God commands His people to save their enemy’s ox from the pit and return it to them (Exodus 23:4-5). I doubt you have seen very many oxen in pits lately. But the principle behind this instruction is love. And if you love others you will go out of your way to help them. A modern day application would be to return a phone you find in the park to its owner.
Everyday is filled with abundant opportunities to “love your neighbor.” And our neighbors are not just those who live next door to us. Jesus made it clear in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) that our neighbors include everybody we meet who needs help.
Application: What is one specific way you can show love to a non-family member?
Galatians E-Book Bible Study – You can access the complete online study of Galatians by downloading our e-book here.
Galatians Paperback Study Guide – You can also order a paperback version of the study from Amazon.
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