Galatians 5:2-4

2 Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing.

3 And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law.

4 You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.

I, Paul (v.2) — probably to remind them of his authority, to counter what others were misquoting him as saying and/or to remind the Galatians of their former love for him.

if you become circumcised (v.2) = receive circumcision. The tense indicates a present, continuous, ongoing action. (Galatians 3:10).  Paul’s warning (based on the text) is not to one who has been circumcised, but to one who is contemplating it as a means of gaining justification.

Those who had been circumcised, whether in infancy, as in his own case (Philippians 3:5) or voluntarily in later years, as in the case of Timothy (Acts 16:3) are not thereby shut out from Christ, they are warned of the danger of pursuing the practice in the case of new converts and of maintaining the teaching of which circumcision is the symbol.

It is plain that “receiveth” is not to be understood of the performance of the rite itself, for that could be done but once. There is here a metonymy: to “receive” circumcision is to acknowledge it to be of divine authority and of Christian obligation, and in like manner to acknowledge all that for which it stood in the mind of the Jews.  — Galatians, by W.E. Vine, page 229

Christ will profit you nothing (v.2) — If the law can save, there was no reason for Christ to die. If you rely on anything else, His death can’t save you.

testify again (v.3) = affirm, protest —  as in the previous verse.

debtor (v.3) = one who is bound to do a certain thing.

whole law (v.3) — If you rely on part of the law, you are obligated to keep the whole law, which none can do (Matthew 5:18; James 2:10-11). Nobody who seeks to be justified by works is saved because nobody can keep the whole law.

estranged (v.4) — severed. Christ must be all or nothing. The KJV has “Christ is become of no effect unto you.” Not position but experience. To be without effective relation to — a loss of some effectual element of life.

attempt to be justified by law (v.4) — those who submit to circumcision. present continuous tense — “are being justified.”

you have fallen (v.4) — “you fell away” (aorist tense). The initial act. They chose the path of the law for justification and so surrendered any choice of justification by grace — 2 Peter 3:17 (except that Paul is talking about doctrine, Peter of morals)

These statements must be understood as explicit denials of salvation to those who, in the face of the apostle’s statements of what was involved, persisted in acknowledging circumcision, and so committed themselves to the works of the law as necessary to justification. Only by grace, and that the grace of the Lord Jesus (Acts 15:11), can any man be saved. How then could they be saved to whom Christ was of no advantage, who had been severed from Christ, who had fallen away from grace? All such as turn to the law for blessing find in it only a curse (3:10), condemnation and death (2 Corinthians 3:7, 9), for the law of god “worketh wrath,” (Romans 4:15), but the grace of God brings salvation (Titus 2:11). — Galatians, by W.E. Vine, page 230.

One could translate “you have become unaffected by Christ,” or “You have become without effective relation to Christ.” The idea is that the Galatian Christians, by putting themselves under the law, have put themselves in a place where they have ceased to be in that relation to Christ where they could derive the spiritual benefits from Him which would enable them to live a life pleasing to Him, namely, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Thus, Chriast has no more effect upon them in the living of their Christian lives.

In depriving themselves of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the living of a Christian life, they have fallen from grace. The words “fallen from” are from ekpipto which means “to fail of, to lose one’s hold of.” The Galatian Christians had lost their hold upon the grace for daily living which heretofore had been ministered to them by the Holy Spirit. God’s grace manifests itself in three ways, in justification, sanctification, and glorification. The context rules. All through chapter five, Paul is talking about the Holy Spirit’s ministry to the believer. Therefore grace here must be interpreted as the daily grace for living of which the Galatian Christians were depriving themselves.

But because they had lost their hold upon sanctifying grace, does not mean that God’s grace had lost its hold upon them in the sphere of justification. Because they had refused to accept God’s grace in sanctification is no reason why God should withdraw His grace for justification. They had received the latter when they accepted the Lord Jesus. That transaction was closed and permanent at the moment they believed. Justification is a judicial act of God done once for all. Sanctification is a process which goes on all through the Christian’s life. Just because the process of sanctification is temporarily retarded in a believer’s life, does not say that his justification is taken away. If that were the case, then the retention of salvation would depend upon the believer’s works, and then salvation would not depend upon grace anymore. And we find ourselves in the camp of the Judaizers, ancient and modern. — Galatians in the Greek New Testament, by Kenneth S. Wuest, page 140-141.

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