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"The Offense of the Cross and Other Truths."

MESSAGE FOR SEPTEMBER 21, 2008 FROM GALATIANS 5:7-12

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This week in Galatians, Paul concludes the theme with which this letter is most frequently identified—justification by faith alone.  Since the middle of chapter two, Paul has been making his case to these Galatian believers that the only way to be acceptable to God is through faith in Christ alone—faith in his righteous life as a substitute for our sinful life and faith in his atoning death to cleanse us from sin.  Faith in Christ and his saving work alone is the only ground upon which we stand before a holy God.  Faith in Christ PLUS anything else ---any attempts to be acceptable to God through our own performance—our own goodness—our own futile efforts to keep the law of God is spiritual quicksand.  We saw last week that anyone who walks along that dead end street finds that Christ will be of no advantage to them.  They will discover they must keep the whole law perfectly and will find themselves severed from Christ, having fallen from grace.  Instead of eagerly anticipating their final vindication in Christ at the final judgment, they will live in mortal fear of it.  Finally, they will have no genuine love for God or others because love doesn’t come through the law, but through faith alone.

As he closes this section of the letter, he doesn’t have one unifying idea within these verses, but for the sake of organizing our thoughts, let’s place the truths Paul teaches here in two major categories under which they broadly fit.  The first and predominate category is final truths about false teaching.  The second is the cost of teaching the true gospel.  I see four truths here about false teaching.  The first truth is--false teaching comes from an evil source.  We see this in verses seven and eight.  Paul writes to these Galatians, “You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?  8This persuasion is not from him who calls you.  It’s not uncommon for Paul to compare the Christian life to a race as he does here.  As he sat in a prison cell perhaps hours from death, he looked back on his own life and wrote in Second Timothy 4:7, “I have finished the race.”  The Galatians had been faithfully running the race of faith in Christ when they were hindered.  The question Paul asks is literally, “Who cut in on you?”  As they were running, someone—the false teachers--cut into their lane and through their lies caused them to badly stumble.

When Paul asks the question about the identity of those who had hindered the Galatians, it’s not because he didn’t know the answer.  His point is to one more time remind these Galatians of the evil role played by the false teachers through their false gospel.  They had cut in on them when they were running well.  To change the metaphor, the Judaizers had come in and polluted the spring of fresh, gospel water the Galatians had been drinking with the poison of works righteousness.  In doing so they had “hindered [the Galatians] from obeying the truth.”  Paul had called these Galatians to trust in Christ alone for salvation—that was the truth they were to obey.  The Judaizers, in calling them to trust in Christ PLUS their own performance of the law, were hindering them from obeying the command to trust in Christ alone for salvation.  As we have seen, trusting in Christ and his atoning death and his righteousness is radically opposed to trusting in Christ PLUS our performance.  If you obey a call to trust in Christ PLUS anything, you are disobedient to the call to trust in Christ. 

One final time Paul counters the claim of the false teachers that their teaching originated with God.  He answers, “This persuasion is not from him who calls you.”  This false gospel did not come from God.  Like all lies, its father was Satan, not God.  Satan loves this false gospel of works on so many levels.  First, because it’s a lie—that means when someone preaches a false gospel of works, he’s speaking in Satan’s native language—deception.  He loves to watch believers try to live under the power of this lie because ultimately those believers who are under the law are miserable.  Their sinful flesh may enjoy the occasional pity parties that come with the dismal failures of life under the law.  They may take small satisfaction from the arrogant self-righteousness that occurs on the other extreme under the law, but ultimately the law makes you miserable when you are living under it.  That’s its job—to expose your sinful heart and manifest your need for Christ and his salvation.   Satan knows that when believers are living under the law they will always fail and he loves to watch God’s children bloody their heads again and again by beating them against the invincible wall of the law of God.  He delights at the hopelessness believers experience when they live under the law.  To witness that kind of utter futility in a child of God must thrill his little black heart.

He loves it when a believer is under the law because he gets to bludgeon them with condemnation and his club is the holy law of God.  Satan has no hesitation about using the Scripture to destroy someone.  He tried that with Jesus in Luke chapter four, twisting Scripture in a vain attempt to convince Jesus to leap off the temple.  He is a past master at using the law to heap scorn and condemnation and hurl accusations at God’s people.  Satan loves to see people under the law because he knows that as long as they are in that kind of slavery themselves, they are probably not setting anyone else free through the gospel.  People who are under the law are seldom very excited about their twisted understanding of the good news, so they don’t share it with those lost people who are under Satan’s domain.  If they do share it with any zeal, they are almost certainly just passing on the same legalistic distortions they are living under—imprisoning people even more deeply through the lies they believe.  Finally, the Adversary loves the false gospel of works because if a person truly believes it without repenting and turning to the gospel of grace, they end up in hell.  Mission accomplished!  Paul says of the false gospel of works, “This persuasion is not from him who calls you.” 

A second truth about the false gospel is in verse nine.  Paul writes, “9A little leaven leavens the whole lump.”  Paul uses a proverb about the nature of leaven to warn the Galatians that false teaching is infectious.  Anyone who has made sourdough bread knows that when you put a pinch of sourdough into another batch of dough the leavening agent spreads to the entire loaf.  The influence of a little can spread to a much larger area.  Paul tells us that is the nature of false teaching and it is true both personally and corporately.  If you get a few people together in a church who are zealously living under the law, that can easily spread to others.  There are several reasons for that—one is, because in any church there are relatively few people who genuinely know and cherish and live out the gospel of grace.  So, if a few zealous, hard-working, upstanding people come in and live out their performance mentality within the church, there are not many healthy believers who will be able to bring gospel correction to them.   Some churches celebrate their Pharisees because they tend to be very good workers.  It’s hard to bring correction to someone who is lauded for their ministry—even if a deeper examination of their life reveals some significant warning signs—which it always does in the case of a performance oriented person.   The outwardly impressive performance masks a tattered and dangerous heart. 

Works righteousness also spreads rapidly because this sinful world powerfully reinforces that value system.  We swim in an ocean of performance orientation.  The only place in our lives where we are reinforced in the gospel of grace is in the church of Christ.  In the school and in the workplace, our value is mostly determined by our performance.  We are generally made to feel good about ourselves if we do well and poorly about ourselves if we do poorly.  The message is clear—I am a good person if I perform at a certain level, but I am a bad person if I fail to do what is expected of me. This is the way many of us were parented.  When I do well, my parents love me.  When I mess up, I think they may still love me.

          When people come out of homes and workplaces where that is the ruling ethic, it’s easy to understand why the church is filled with people who feel a compulsion to live under the law.  These people come into the church of Christ where, if the preaching is faithful, there are rightly many calls for people to be holy—share your faith, don’t lust, do love others, don’t do this, do this--and on and on, all these moral standards are set forth to God’s people.  For believers who have been inundated with this performance orientation, it feels like a very short distance between on the one hand, “Be holy” and on the other, “so that God will love and accept you.”  As we have seen, Paul never connects those two.  His order is more like this—“God through Christ has made you holy—he has given you abundant grace through Christ. In his great love for you, shown through the blood of his dear Son, he has equipped you to be holy in manifold ways.  Therefore, dear brothers, be holy.  That’s a grace orientation—that’s living life in response to God’s grace.  As C.J. Mahaney would say, that’s a cross-centered life.

          But in our fallen world that cannot comprehend grace, when we hear the call to be holy, we so easily hear that call coupled with the lie, “so that God will love you.”  A church that is not regularly saturating its people with the fire-retarding waters of God’s grace becomes tinder dry in very little time.  And when the spark of this performance-orientation comes into a grace bereft church, it can spread like wild-fire because most of the influences in our lives fuel a performance-oriented value system.  On both a personal and corporate level, because false teaching is infectious, we must constantly and vigorously war against our fallen tendency to base our relationship to God on our performance.  A third truth about the false gospel or false teaching is in verse 10.  Paul writes, “10I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine…” This verse tells us that though works righteousness is a powerful spiritual foe, Christ can and does overcome it.  The third truth is false teaching cannot ultimately prevail over the grace of God. 

          Paul has not been shy in expressing his deep concern over the influence of the Judaizers and the false gospel they sowed among the Galatians.  He says in 4:10, “You observe days and months and seasons and years!  11I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.”  Later in verse 19 he says, “my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!  20I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.”  As Paul heard of the toxic influence the false teachers were having on the Galatians and understood how that had affected them, he openly wondered about them. “I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.” But here at the end of the section, after he has made his Holy Spirit-inspired argument, he looks not to the Galatians—not to these prodigals, but to the Lord and he can say, “I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine...  That is, “I have confidence in the Lord that you will be persuaded by the truth of God’s word.”  As Paul looked at the Galatians there was not much to inspire confidence—they were circling the drain.  But knowing the power of the word of God he had written to them and with his eyes fixed on Jesus, he could have confidence.

          The assurance the Bible teaches is that believers will endure many dangers, toils and snares—will wander away from God for a season—will go sideways from time to time—will perhaps even come dangerously close to falling off the precipice—BUT, Christ and his saving purposes will prevail in their lives.  And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” [Philip 1:6]  First Thessalonians five says that God will keep his own blamelessly “at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”  Saving faith in a believer DOES SAVE!  The grace of God in a believer does ultimately triumph over false teaching.  If you belong to Christ, Christ will deliver you one way or another from the trap of false teaching.  Jesus says of his sheep, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” [John10:28]  That “no one” includes false teachers.

          Notice however that Paul’s understanding of God’s triumphant sovereignty did not dissuade him from writing this very strong letter of correction.  Its not as if Paul saw heard about these struggling Galatians and thought to himself, “I know God will pull those Galatians through this mess, so there’s no need to correct them.”  Paul knew that God’s saving and keeping grace worked through various means and among those means was this letter he wrote to them.  Paul wrote this letter with great zeal to give the Galatians a means of grace through which they could know the triumph of Christ of which he was confident.  Paul believed in BOTH divine sovereignty AND human responsibility.  He calls these Galatians again and again to account for their foolishness in their willingness to be influenced by a false gospel—human responsibility.  But ultimately his confidence is in God to keep these Galatians from falling into the abyss of apostasy—divine sovereignty.  The application to us in the midst of struggle is—do every truth-driven thing you can to keep yourself or get someone else on track, but in the end—God will deliver the genuine believer.

          A fourth truth regarding false teaching is found in two places in this text.  The first is in the second half of verse 10.  Paul says not only that he has confidence that the Galatians will adopt his right understanding of the gospel, but he is also confident that “the one troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is.”  There may have been a ringleader of the Judaizers who Paul holds accountable in a unique way.  He is also confident that he will “bear the penalty.” The word translated “penalty” speaks of the final condemnation of God at the judgment.  Loosely translated, Paul is saying of this one leading the Judaizers, “God is going to get him.”  God hates false teaching and false teachers and he will judge them.  That is another truth—false teaching is hated by God.   

          God has reasons to hate false teaching about the gospel that no one else has.  It misrepresents his plan of redemption that he conceived from before creation.  God’s plan was—redeem fallen humanity by sending his Son to live a perfectly righteous life and die a sin-atoning death so that all who place their trust in him alone would be saved.  Only Christ’s perfect life was good enough for God.  Only Christ’s blood cleanses people from their sin.  People who teach that they can be acceptable to God on the basis of both Christ and their works have struck at the very heart of his redemptive plan.  They have said to God either—“You didn’t need to do that for me.”  Or, as the Judaizers were saying to God, “Christ wasn’t quite enough to save me—I need to supplement what you did in sending your Son with my works.”  Do you think God might just hate that?  Do you think God might hate it when he sees his children—who he loves far more than any of us love our kids, being lied to about what he has done for them in his Son?  Do you think God might hate seeing his children, who he set free from the tyranny of the law at the cost of the precious blood of his Son, place themselves back under bondage through the influence of false teachers?

          God hates false teaching--it diminishes his gospel. He hates it with a passion only he knows.  And we see that hatred mirrored by Paul in verse 12 where he says, “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves.”  That’s an accurate translation.  Paul is saying that he wished these teachers who were so fond of the circumcision knife would use it to castrate themselves.  This call for the false teachers to castrate themselves is, you may have noticed, strong language.  One scholar says, “It is the crudest and rudest of all Paul’s extant statements.[1] Why would Paul say something like this?  The big answer is because God inspired him to say this.  We must not forget that this razor sharp remark was inspired by God.  This wasn’t just Paul letting his acidic wit get the best of him.  There are other portions of the Bible that are more cutting than this.  If a preacher wants to get thrown out of his pulpit, he can preach on Ezekiel 23 with its explicit references to certain anatomical parts of donkeys and horses without dismissing the children first.  The prophet Ezekiel is nothing less than lewd.  And the reason its lewd is because the Israelite idolatry it exposes and condemns is lewd before a holy God.

          If you come to sections of Scripture that use very powerful—even offensive language over sin, the proper response is not to be offended. The proper response is to say, “WOW, this must be extraordinarily offensive to God to use this language.”  There are some sins that are so hated by God; he uses offensive phrases to help us to see his white-hot opposition toward them.  According to Galatians five, false teachers who try to supplement the cross of Christ with works of the law are those who in God’s sight should go castrate themselves. Don’t be alarmed by the phraseology—see the hatred of God for those who would denigrate the sufficiency of his Son’s cross!  God hates this—do we!  False teaching is hated by God.

          In the brief time remaining, I want to focus in on verse 10.  Evidently, there were false reports circulating that Paul himself would at times teach that circumcision was necessary for salvation.  The false teachers were apparently trying to portray Paul as someone who was not always consistent about his view of salvation through Christ alone.  Paul denies that in verse 11.  He says, “But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted?  In that case the offense of the cross has been removed.”  We’ve seen the truth about false teaching.  Now, let’s briefly look at some of the cost associated with teaching the true gospel.  Paul’s refutation of this claim that he preached the necessity of circumcision is very simple.  He says, “If I am still preaching that, how come I keep getting beat up?”  There was no persecution for preaching circumcision.  Later in 6:12 Paul says the reason the false teachers preach circumcision is “only in order that they may not be persecuted.” 

          The cross is offensive for several reasons that Paul knew better than anyone.  Here are three of the offenses as we close.  First, the cross is offensive because the notion of a crucified Messiah is a seeming contradiction.  The Jews held it to be an abomination to think that their Messiah, their national and spiritual hero would be cursed by God on a cross.  As a people, they have yet to see the deep, redemptive wisdom of the cross.  Second, the cross is offensive because it mandates that we need to be saved by someone.  For a fallen race of people characterized by our rebellious independence, our desperate need for a Savior is a tough pill to swallow.  On the most important question conceivable—“Am I good enough for the Creator of the universe—good enough to go to heaven and be with him?”—God through the cross answers with a resounding, “No, in fact you’re not anywhere near good enough.  Your life is so spiritually lacking—so far from being acceptable, I sent my Son to live a substitute life for you.  You are in such spiritual debt to me because of the sinful life you have lived and you are so far from being able to settle that debt that I sent my own Son to pay a substitute penalty for you.  Your life isn’t good enough and your death isn’t good enough—I sent my Son to do both for you.”  Some people find that message to be the sweetest truth conceivable, but others find that highly offensive.

          Finally, the cross offends because it implicitly teaches that Christ is the only way to be saved.  We’ve seen this before.  If people could be saved without Jesus’ dying on a cross, then the cross was unnecessary and if the cross was unnecessary, then the Father was guilty of divine child abuse for punishing his Son for our sins.  If, as the Bible clearly teaches, he poured out his wrath on Jesus to pay the penalty of our sin, when there was another way to deal with people’s sin available to him, then what does that say about God?  People find the notion repulsive that Jesus is the only way to God.  A far more repulsive notion if you understand the atonement is, if Jesus is NOT the only way—then the cross is the greatest abomination in history.  It makes Jesus Christ out to be a spiritual dupe who was needlessly victimized by his cruel Father at Calvary.

          As we close this section on justification by faith in response to the false teaching of the Judaizers, remember that false teaching is comes from an evil source, Satan. False teaching is infectious in nature.  False teaching cannot ultimately prevail over the grace of God and God hates it because, among other reasons, it drains takes away the blessed offense of the cross.  May God give us the grace to know and embrace and be liberated by the truth that Christ alone is sufficient to bring us into relationship with a holy God.


[1] Longenecker, Galatians, 234

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