Since Christians are sons of the freewoman and sons of promise, Paul encourages them to stand firm in the freedom that is theirs in Christ.
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Paul transitions to the third major section of his epistle in these verses. First, he defended the gospel revealed to him (chapters 1 and 2). Then, he documented that the gospel revealed to him was God's intent from the beginning, tracing his documentation back to the promises of God to Abraham (chapters 3 and 4). Now, he begins to describe and demonstrate the practical behavioral implications of how this revealed gospel is lived out in freedom and love and interpersonal Christian relationships (chapters 5 and 6).
The reality of the Person and work of Jesus Christ is not just barren theology, as so often explained merely in the juridical and forensic categories of an imputed righteousness that effects a right standing or status before God. The doctrine of "justification by faith," so adamantly defended by Protestantism, has been so objectified in logical and legal categories that the practical behavioral implications of the righteous character of Christ, the Righteous One, lived out through the believer have been neglected. Paul, on the other hand, always brings his readers to the practical implications of the Christ-life lived out in everyday behavior.
In this passage (5:1-12), Paul focuses on the freedom that is the privileged birthright of every Christian. H.D. Betz explains that "freedom is the central theological concept which sums up the Christian's situation before God as well as in this world. It is the basic concept underlying Paul's argument throughout the letter."1 In these verses, Paul is making a passionate appeal to the Christians of Galatia to recognize the freedom they have to live by God's grace.
The situation was critical! If the Galatian Christians would not respond to Paul's appeal to live in the freedom of God's grace, they would likely be lost to religious slavery. Paul seems to have regarded this letter as a last chance, "now or never" opportunity to explain the "either/or" choice between religious performance and God's grace received by faith. The dichotomy of the alternatives is clearly delineated - either Christ is all, or Christ is nothing! T. L. Johnson remarks that "this is one of the most strident passages in the entire letter, echoing the either/or language of Paul's opening blast in 1:6-9."2
So keen is Paul that the Galatians should see the importance of the decision they needed to make and the action they needed to take, that his rhetoric becomes heated and vehement. His statements are short, choppy and pointed, like the thrusts of a sword (especially in verses 7 through 12). These words were uttered in the heat of passion as Paul engaged in a last-ditch effort to convince the Galatians to reject the Judaizers.
5:1 This verse serves as the concluding summary to Paul's contrast between the slavery of the bondwoman, Hagar, and the freedom of the free woman, Sarah (4:21-31), as well as the climactic call to action that culminates from all that Paul has previously written in the letter. At the same time it is the transition to the practical implications of the Christian life (chapters 5 and 6), and more specifically to the appeal to freedom in 5:1-12. This could be called the key thematic verse of the entire epistle.
Picking up the theme he had alluded to earlier when he referred to "our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus" (2:4), Paul now affirms that, "It was for freedom that Christ set us free." He will follow this theme throughout the paragraph to his assertion that "you were called for freedom, brethren" (5:13). Freedom can be a very abstract concept, but Paul is referring to the specific Christian freedom gained for us by the action and performance of Christ, the Liberator, when by His death and resurrection He "set us free" from sin, death, law, etc., in order to be free to function as God intended. Notice that freedom entails both a freedom from, as well as a freedom unto. By the death of Jesus Christ the Christian is set free from all self-effort of performance and productivity to please God, since Christ in His "finished work" on the cross performed everything necessary to take the death consequences of man's sin. By His resurrection to life out of death, Jesus made available in Himself everything necessary to enjoy the freedom unto the functional humanity that lives by the grace-dynamic of the Christ-life. Paul wanted the Galatians to recognize that they were free from the legalistic and moralistic expectations of behavioral conformity that were being foisted upon them by the Judaizers, and free to manifest the character of God by the grace of God unto the glory of God.
Religion often views freedom predominantly as freedom from governmental restriction or the consequences of sin in a sulfuric hell. Like the Jewish leaders surrounding Jesus, they seldom recognize that "if the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed" (Jn. 8:32,36). By the dynamic of the life of the risen Lord Jesus, Christians function by the "perfect law of liberty" (James 1:25), for "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (II Cor. 3:17). Christian freedom is the freedom to be man as God intended man to be; the freedom to love and serve others (5:13,14,22).
Based on the freedom gained for us by Christ and inherent in Christ alone, Paul admonishes the Galatian Christians to "keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." What Christ did, and Who Christ is, is too valuable to be exchanged for the burdens of religious performance. With an imperative command, Paul calls on the Galatians to act on and by the reality of Christ's action. "Continue to stand firm in the grace-dynamic of His Life. Do not capitulate to the religious legalism of the Judaizers." There comes a time when resolute action is required (cf. 2:5,11,14; 4:30), a time to tenaciously defend the freedom we have in Christ, firm in our resolve to live by His grace. This does not imply that we should take violent offensive means of conflict, but that we "stand firm" in the Lord (Phil. 4:1; I Thess. 3:8), in the faithful receptivity of His activity (I Cor. 16:13), and against all diabolic schemes (Eph. 6:11,13,14). Christians are not called to fight, but to "stand firm."
Christians should not allow themselves to be rounded up in the corral of religion, as the Judaizers were attempting to do to the Galatians. Paul commands the Galatians to avoid being confined, loaded down, and oppressed by the burdensome restrictions of performance regulations. He employs the metaphor of a yoke being placed upon a beast of burden in order to restrict its freedom and cause it to perform as desired. "Don't be a dumb ox, and let those religious slave-drivers put the religious yoke upon you in order to drive you to perform according to their expectations," Paul seems to say. That, indeed, is a binding slavery. It is interesting that the same metaphor was used when Paul went to Jerusalem soon after writing this letter. There it was Peter who asked the gathering of predominantly Jewish-Christian conferees (many of whom were demanding circumcision and Law-observance - Acts 15:5), why they insisted upon "placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?" (Acts 15:10,11). It was determined that these should not be restrictive requirements placed upon Gentile believers, but that did not seem to stop the Judaizing traditionalists from dogging Paul's steps wherever he went, intent on implementing their agenda to impose Jewish traditions on Gentile Christians. There is, indeed, a sense in which Christians are yoked to Jesus Christ, for freedom must always have a context, but our connection with Christ is not oppressive or burdensome, as He provides the all-sufficient dynamic of His life. "Take My yoke upon you...and you shall find rest for your souls, for My yoke is easy, and My load is light" (Matt. 11:29,30).
5:2 Going directly to the specific issue at hand, Paul declares, "Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you." "Look," Paul says, "open your eyes, listen up, and take note of this important point." Directly and emphatically, he appeals to them as an apostle (1:1), as a spiritual parent (4:19), and as a brother in Christ (3:15; 4:31; 5:11) "I, Paul, say to you...". Thereupon he attacks what was a major tenet of the Judaizers' platform, the demand for the circumcision of all male believers in order have the identifying physical mark of God's covenant people, and merit God's pleasure. It was the same attitude as displayed by those who came from Judea to Antioch at about the same time as Paul was writing this letter to the Galatians, proclaiming, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1). The Judaizers in Galatia were apparently advocating the circumcision of male Gentile believers in order to identify with the Jewish heritage as the People of God. It became the foremost and ultimate physical action, symptomatic of the entire Judaizing platform of external performance.
Male circumcision was inaugurated as a physical sign of God's covenant agreement with Abraham. God declared, "You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. ...an uncircumcised male shall be cut off from His people" (Gen. 17:11,14). The Judaizers wanted to bring Gentile Christians back to identification with Abraham, but what they failed to understand was that physical circumcision (like so many activities in the old covenant) was merely a pre-figuring of that which God would do in Jesus Christ to fulfill His promises to Abraham. It was repeatedly emphasized that what God really desired was to cut away the sin from man's heart (Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Jere. 4:4), and the prophet Jeremiah explained that one could be circumcised physically and yet be uncircumcised of heart, charging all the house of Israel with such (Jere. 9:25,26). The fulfillment of the Old Testament circumcision picture was effected when Jesus Christ made it possible for sin to be cut away from man's heart by the acceptance of His death and resurrection-life. Paul explains that "in Christ you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ" (Col. 2:11), a "circumcision that is of the heart, by the Spirit" (Rom. 2:29), constituting Christians as "the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God" (Phil. 3:3). The identifying mark of the Christian is not a physical seal, but the seal of the Spirit of Christ (II Cor. 1:22; Eph. 4:30).
The Judaizers of Paul's day were so preoccupied with physical circumcision that they were identified as "the party of the circumcision" (2:12). For many Jewish people of the first century, it was not so much a concern for being identified with God's covenant people receptive to God's promises, as it was a mark of superior distinction from the Gentiles, marking racial superiority, nationalistic privilege, religious exclusivism, and ideological imperialism. The Judaizers were willing to admit that God would include Gentiles, but not unless the males engaged in the performance of receiving this physical mark as an essential element of righteousness before God. This was the premise that Paul would not tolerate, for the gospel that he received and preached was that all righteousness came through Jesus Christ alone, by the performance of Christ's "finished work" alone.
That Paul couches his comment in the hypothetical structure, "if you receive circumcision...," seems to suggest that he had reason to believe that some of the male Christians in Galatia had not yet submitted to the demands of the Judaizers, and he was hoping that what he was writing could forestall such. Again, it was not the physical action of receiving circumcision that was the issue, for Paul will indicate that "circumcision or uncircum-cision mean nothing" (5:6), but when such is received with the belief that it is a spiritual act that has significance before God, meritoriously supplementing or enhancing one's relationship with God, or making one more "spiritual," then one indicates that the work of Christ is insufficient in itself, requiring performance supplementation. If a male receives circumcision on the grounds of health, hygiene or cultural conformity such is irrelevant to Paul, but if it is regarded as having spiritual benefit before God, then Paul draws the "either/or" dichotomy: either Jesus Christ is of sole spiritual benefit before God, or circumcision (or any other action) is of some benefit before God, in which case "Christ will be of no benefit."
Essential to the understanding of the Christian gospel is the realization that the Person and work of Jesus Christ, His Being and His doing, are singularly and entirely efficacious for the redemption, regeneration, salvation, righteousness, and sanctification of mankind. Christ will be no part of an equation that adds circumcision or anything else to His Person and work. Christianity is Christ! Christ plus circumcision amounts to nothing of any spiritual significance before God. There can be no amalgamation, admixture or assimilation; no combination, merging or supplementation. To add anything to Christ's Being and activity does not merely lessen or diminish His benefit; it eliminates, negates, nullifies and voids the singular benefit of Christ. Any addition logically implies that Christ's sacrifice and saving life are inadequate, insufficient, incomplete and unfinished. Paul does not indicate that consent to the benefit of circumcision means that one will retain His redemptive and regenerative benefits, but will lack the experiential sanctifying benefits of His saving life. He categorically explains that Christ will be of no benefit whatsoever. Why? Because Jesus Christ is not a benefactor who distributes certain spiritual benefits! The benefit, worth and value of Jesus Christ is solely in His own Being. There can be no benefit of Jesus Christ apart from His Being expressed in His action. There is no profit in Christ apart from His personal presence and dynamic performance. There is no value of Christ apart from the viability of the vitality and visible expression of His own life. The Being and presence of Christ cannot be detached from His benefits. To attribute spiritual reality and value to anything other than Jesus Christ and His activity alone is to deny Christianity. Christianity is either Jesus Christ singularly and completely, or not at all. Using the economic terminology of "benefit, value, worth or profit," Paul presents the either/or equation: circumcision or Christ, which will you "bank on"? If you put stock in circumcision (or any other act of performance), then the "finished work" of Christ is not finished; He did not really set us free (5:1) from performance; and He died needlessly (2:21). In that case, who Christ is and what Christ did is worthless, useless, and of no benefit or value.
5:3 Paul proceeds to reiterate his thesis by showing the reverse, flip-side of his argument. "I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law." Drawing on the legal terminology of his background as a Jewish lawyer, Paul indicates that he "testifies, witnesses, and is willing to lay down his life" (cf. Acts 20:26; 26:22) to explain the serious gravity of the action that the Galatian Christians are considering. He repeats "again" that anyone who receives circumcision, thinking that such external performance has any spiritual benefit in the sight of God, will of necessity place himself in the debtor's prison condemned to the hard labor of the legal system of performance. Although it is not usually evident in English translation, the word for "benefit" in verse 2 and the word for "obligation" in verse 3 are derived from the same Greek root word having economic implications. If they "receive circumcision" as advocated by the Judaizers, Christ will accrue no value to them, but they will instead accrue the indebtedness of an impossible and futile obligation of subservience and slavery to the performance-system of the Law.
Romans 2:25 must be considered at this point, because it uses the same Greek economic word in conjunction with circumcision: "Circumcision is of value, if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircum-cision." Writing to those of Jewish background in Rome, Paul explains that if the operative system of righteousness before God were meritorious external action of keeping the Law, then the performance of receiving physical circumcision would "count, accrue, have benefit or value" for some advantage before God. But since no man can self-generatively enact or perform the character of God, therefore all men are transgressors of the Law, violating the character of God in sin. Thus the physical circumcision of Jewish peoples done in the context of the self-effort of Law performance is revealed to be but another example of the sinful, uncircumcision of the heart, revealing all men to be sinners before God.
The Romans statement is entirely consistent with what Paul is writing to the Galatians. Paul is not saying that if you choose to live by the Law, you are obliged to keep every detail of the Law. That has already been established as impossible (3:10,11; cf. James 2:10). What Paul is saying to the Galatian Christians is that the reception of circumcision constitutes one's "buying into" the "whole," complete package of an all-encompassing nomistic orientation of self-actuated performance that replaces Jesus Christ, repudiates freedom, and relegates one to the enslaving obligation and condemnation of the Law, without any hope of righteousness (2:16).
5:4 To further amplify his point, Paul continues, "You who are seeking to be justified by law, you have been severed from Christ." The collective group of people in Galatia who sought to become more righteous by engaging in the system of legal performance standards, as advocated by the Judaizers, needed to be aware of the severe consequences of such a choice. Paul had previously pointed out that no one is justified or made righteous by the works of the Law (2:16; 3:11; cf. Rom. 3:20). Here he restates the premise of verse 2 more inclusively by referring to any attempt to be righteous by legal performance (which includes circumcision), and explains the consequences more severely. He wants to make it clear that any attempt to add human works of performance to the reality of the Person and work of Jesus Christ is a complete repudiation of the "finished work" of Jesus Christ. Law performance is not an enhancement of the Christian life, but an estrangement from Christ.
Some might attempt to infer from verse 2 that legalistic acts of performance simply diminish the experiential benefits of the Christian life. This verse denies that possibility by explaining that any works of self-effort regarded as meritoriously righteous before God, create an alienated separation from Christ Himself. Again, this is based on the impossibility of detaching the presence of the Being of Jesus Christ from His "finished work" and the grace-dynamic of His functional work. Any attempt to detract from His all-sufficient function in our Christian lives, is to detach from His Being, from whence comes His function. The Being and the doing of Jesus Christ, His presence and His function, are inseparably united in the ontological dynamic of His life. He offers no benefits, blessings, gifts, or spiritual commodities apart from Himself. He is our righteousness (I Cor. 1:30), or there is no righteousness, and He is not present.
And yet, the preponderance of interpretive comment on this statement of Paul seeks to lessen the severity of its impact in order to preserve static presuppositions of permanence. Over and over again the commentators indicate that the Christian seeking to be made righteous by works is merely severed, estranged or alienated from the sphere of Christ's sanctifying activity, voiding and nullifying what Christ wants to do experientially and behaviorally in their life. Paul's statement is clear the person who is "banking on" righteousness by works is severed and separated from the Being of Christ, from whence comes all His function.
Additional clarification is gained from Paul's further explanation of the consequences of such a choice of alleged works-righteousness: "You have fallen from grace." Severed from His Being, such an apostatizing person falls outside of the dynamic of Christ's activity. Christianity the Christian life is derived solely from God's grace activity in Christ, or not at all! Later in his epistle to the Romans, Paul would use the same Greek word for "falling out" of relationship with God, noting that the people of old covenant Israel experienced God's severity when they refused to stand firm in faith and were cut off.
Grace is the singularity of God's action in Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:17). It is the dynamic expression of divine activity which is singularly served in the "only-begotten Son" (Jn. 3:16,18), Jesus Christ. Grace is not a static condition of redemptive efficacy, or just a threshold function of regenerative sufficiency. Grace is everything God does in and through Jesus Christ. When any man thinks that his own actions can make him righteous, then he is refusing God's grace-activity in Christ.
The dynamic efficacy of God's grace in Jesus Christ must not be statically boxed in epistemological formulations of fixed states of being. Traditional religious expressions of "once in grace, always in grace," or "once saved, always saved," misunderstand the dynamic nature of God's salvific grace in Christ, and lead to meaningless theological arguments about "eternal salvation" and "eternal security," as well as diminishing the consequences of misrepresentative behavior in the Christian. They fail (or refuse) to take into account the severity of the consequences of severance from Christ and His grace-activity that Paul explicitly explains in this verse.
5:5 In contrast to the Judaizers and those subscribing to their attempts to be made righteous by legalistic performance of the Law, Paul inclusively declares that "we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness." "We," genuine Christians who are receptive to God's grace in Christ for all function in the Christian life, are receptive in faith to the grace activity of God by His Holy Spirit. Having received the indwelling Spirit of Christ (3:2), Christians have the dynamic provision of the power of the Spirit (3:5), in order to walk by the Spirit (5:16) and manifest the "fruit of the Spirit" (5:22). By faith we are receptive to God's activity through His Spirit, anticipating and looking forward with confident expectation to the expression of Christ's righteous character in our Christian behavior. Having "Christ in us, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27), we have the anticipatory expectation that the Righteous One (Acts 3:14; 7:52; I Jn. 2:1), Jesus Christ will express His righteous character in our behavior to the glory of God. The anticipated expectation of righteousness should not be objectified into merely or primarily a futuristic hope of arriving at an heavenly state of perfect righteousness with God. Right now, in the present, the Christian can expect that the indwelling Being of the Righteous One, Jesus Christ, will actively express His righteous character in our behavior by His grace. Of course, if we fail to "fix our eyes on Jesus" (Heb. 12:2) in order to derive all from Him by faith, and instead focus introspectively on our fleshliness with a sin-consciousness that masochistically attempts to suppress such or "die to self," then we are not expectantly anticipating the expression of Christ's righteous character in our behavior, but have reverted back to performance evaluation and expectation.
5:6 Since the expectant hope of all righteousness is from Jesus Christ alone, received by faith, then "for those in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love." For those who are Christians, "in Christ Jesus" (3:28), having received His Spirit in spiritual union with their spirit (Rom. 8:9; I Cor. 6:17), and abiding (Jn. 15:4-7) in the dynamic activity of Christ as "Christ-ones," the physical actions, the external rites and ritualistic performances have no meritorious significance. The Christian life is not the behavioral performance of "doing this" or "not doing that," whether eating or drinking (Rom. 14:17; I Cor. 8:8) or circumcision. What one does to the male penis is spiritually irrelevant, having no validity or force referent to righteousness. As noted above, this verse can serve as an antidote to an overly broad interpretation of verse 2 which might imply that anyone having received circumcision cannot be a Christian. The physical criteria of circumcision or uncircum-cision are irrelevant when it comes to spiritual righteousness. As Paul will write later in this epistle, "Neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircum-cision, but a new creation" (6:15) in Christ Jesus (cf. II Cor. 5:17). And when one becomes a "new man" in Christ, there is "no distinction between circumcised or uncircumcised, ...but Christ is all, and in all" (Col. 3:11).
What does have validity and meaning for righteousness in the Christian is not the physical criteria, but the spiritual criteria of "faith working through love." Faith is not just consent or assent to propositional statements of a belief-system, but is the receptivity of God's activity in Jesus Christ to dynamically energize His righteous character in loving Christian behavior. When the Christian is available by faith to allow God to "work according to His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13), working according to the power of His Spirit within us (Eph. 3:20), God then willingly works out His character of righteousness and love. Without such outworking of His character, it cannot be legitimately maintained that there is any presence of Christ or faith (cf. James 2:17,18,26). "God is love" (I Jn. 4:8,16), and this other-oriented feature of His character is "poured out within our hearts by the Holy Spirit He has given to us" (Rom. 5:5), but the absence of such evidences that we do not know God (I Jn. 4:8). The importance of this loving expression of God's righteous character will be further amplified later in this letter, when Paul writes of "serving one another in love" (5:13,14) by the "fruit of the Spirit" (5:22,23).
5:7 Paul now commences an impassioned appeal (7-12) to the Galatian Christians that is somewhat disjointed, and even coarse, due to the intensity of his passion for righteousness in Christ. "You were running well," Paul writes, employing an athletic metaphor that he was fond of using (2:2; I Cor. 9:26; Phil. 3:14; II Tim. 4:7). After Paul had left the region of Galatia, he had apparently received reports that the Christians there were progressing and maturing in the process of allowing the Christ-life to be lived out through them by God's grace, without thinking that their self-effort of performance had any benefit before God. Paul's knowledge of their progress does not necessarily imply that he had returned to Galatia to observe such.
"What happened to your progress?" "Who hindered you from obeying the truth?" This rhetorical question (cf. 3:1) was not a search for the specific identity (names and addresses) of those who were interfering and preventing the progress of the Galatian Christians, but was likely an exposure of the diabolic hinderer behind all such religious diversion. Paul knew the general identity of the Judaizers who had infiltrated the Galatian churches, and there may have been one in particular who was the ringleader of the false-teachers, but the singular "who" can also refer to the spiritual adversary who "thwarts" the actions of Christians (I Thess 2:18), and "disguises himself in the false, religious agents who present themselves as servants of righteousness" (II Cor. 11:13-15).
The Galatians were "running well," progressing in the grace-expression of Christ, but someone "cut in" on them and tripped them up by persuading them against simple obedience to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. "Truth" is not merely propositional data, but is personified in Jesus Christ, who is the Truth (Jn. 14:6) that sets us free (Jn. 8:32,36) to function as God intends. The "truth of the gospel" (2:5,14) is Christ, but the Galatians were obstructed by someone persuading them against the single reality of allowing the Spirit of Christ to live out His life in them.
5:8 Religious legalists can be very persuasive as they use their "persuasive words of wisdom" (I Cor. 2:4), but Paul notes that "This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you." "God called you by the grace of Christ" (1:6), Paul said earlier, and now you have been persuaded to desert Him. God is constantly "calling" us by the impulse of His Spirit to be receptive to His activity in and through us, and to participate in the freedom that is ours in Jesus Christ (5:13). Whatever He calls us to, "He also will bring to pass" (I Thess. 5:24), for His calling is an effectual calling that provides His divine dynamic to "perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish us" (I Pet. 5:10). But if we resist this grace provision of God in Christ, then the antithetical persuasion of diabolic hindrance will attempt to counter God's work in the Christian. We either derive the character of our behavior from God (ek theos), or we derive character from Satan (ek diabolos). "Whatever is not of faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23).
5:9 Employing another metaphor that was probably in the form of a proverbial saying, Paul warns the Galatian Christians about tolerating the Judaizing intruders, by saying, "A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough." The persuasive action of the infiltrating false-teachers is likened to the pervasive, penetrating and permeating action of leaven. The fermentative process of leaven working in the dough was often identified with the contaminative and corruptive process of evil. The tiniest portion of leaven begins the process that will eventually permeate the entire lump, and in like manner the slightest form of perversion advocating legalistic performance or preferential priority can corrupt the presentation of the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ. Christians must be spiritually discerning about the subtle and pervasive influences that deny or fail to present the singularity of God's grace in Jesus Christ for everything in the Christian life. Sometimes in our quest to be tolerant, non-judgmental and non-discriminatory, we become undiscriminating in an epidemic of tolerance that fails to detect the insidious humanistic and diabolic premises that are contrary to God's grace, allowing the church to be infected with relativistic pluralism that denies the singularity of Christ with disastrous consequences. Paul's objective in using this proverbial metaphor was obviously to encourage the Christians of Galatia to take action to terminate the persuasive and pervasive influence of the Judaizers. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul also used the same proverb to address the infectious situation of an incestuous relationship that was being tolerated in the local church. He wrote: "Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump..." (I Cor. 5:6,7). Likewise, Paul was advocating that the Galatians "clean out" the leavening influence of the Judaizers, just as he had indirectly advised them to "cast out the bondwoman" (4:30). In contemporary terms we might use a correlative statement such as, "A little cancer can kill the whole body," evidencing the necessity of taking action to excise the contaminative and corruptive influence of the cancerous cells.
5:10 Paul was still optimistic that such action could be effective in the churches of Galatia. "I have confidence in you in the Lord, that you will adopt no other view..." Paul is persuaded that the Galatian Christians are genuinely "in the Lord," and "confident that He who began a good work in them would perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 1:6). Thus persuaded of the preserving work of Christ in their lives, Paul was confident that God's grace would cause the Galatians to be spiritually discerning (cf. Phil. 3:15) and allow the Lord to "direct their hearts" (II Thess. 3:4,5), so that they would form opinions and "set their minds" (Col. 3:2), not on the false premises of the Judaizers, but on the singular gospel of grace and liberty in Jesus Christ. Adopting such thinking would allow them to "stand firm in their Christian freedom" (5:1), and take the action necessary to expel the Judaizing agitators.
Paul was also persuaded and convinced that "the one who is disturbing you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is." Paul's use of a singular subject, "the one," could refer to the collective whole of the Judaizing contingent that had invaded the churches of Galatia, for he had previously referred to a plurality of disturbing persons (1:7), and would do so again in three sentences when he wrote of "those who are troubling you" (5:12). On the other hand, as noted in verse 7, there may have been a singular ringleader among the false teachers who was more prominent that the others. Regardless, whether individually or collectively as one, Paul was convinced that anyone who would distort the gospel (1:7) of Christ would have to face the condemnatory judgment of God's divine retribution of damnation (cf. 1:8,9). In that "those who believe in Christ are not judged" (Jn. 3:18), Paul must not have considered these false teachers to be Christians, having previously referred to their kind as "false brethren" (2:4). In Paul's mind such a cursed destiny awaited anyone, "whoever he is," without exception, who would purposefully pervert the gospel of the singular sufficiency of Jesus Christ and the living out of His life by the grace of God.
5:11 This statement of Paul may seem somewhat disconnected and interjected as a non sequitur of personal complaint, but in the intensity of his concern Paul may have failed to carry through his thoughts in careful logical transitions. Even so, the theme of circumcision (5:2,3,6), being the culminating act of accepting and identifying with the legalistic system of the Judaizers in contrariety to the gospel of grace, was the issue that Paul was addressing as antithetical to Christian freedom, and the flashpoint that had him so incensed with righteous indignation.
"But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted?" Apparently the claim had been made by the Judaizers that Paul still advocated the rite of circumcision as he necessarily had when he was involved in the Jewish religion. Perhaps they were attempting to imply that Paul, based on his Jewish heritage, was sympathetic with their emphasis on male circumcision, and that because of his brief ministry in Galatia he neglected to explain the importance of such. Then again, they may have charged that Paul "still preached circumcision," but did so inconsistently by advocating such for Jews but not for Gentiles, similar to the later occasion when one of the Galatian young men, Timothy, was circumcised as a cultural and religious accommodation of sociological convenience and expedience (Acts 16:3). These were false and illogical claims made by the Judaizers. The gospel that Paul preached (2:2) was Christ (I Cor. 1:23) alone, and did not include circumcision, for it was even reported that he told the Jews "not to circumcise their children, nor to walk according to the customs of the Law of Moses" (Acts 21:21). Paul reasons with an "if...then" logical syllogism: "If I still preach circumcision (which is not the case), then why (it would be completely illogical) do I continue to be persecuted by the Jewish religionists for the very reason that I have repudiated their legalistic customs (including circumcision), and by the Judaizing faction of "the party of the circumcision" (2:12) because I refuse to allow circumcision as a supplement to the grace of God in Jesus Christ?" Such an argument is contrary to reason, Paul maintains. The Judaizing faction was a persecutive group, Paul had already implied (4:29), but they themselves avoided persecution at the hands of the Jewish religionists by advocating circumcision (6:12).
Paul continues with another "if...then" syllogism that takes his argument to the core of the redemptive and restorative message of the gospel. "If (as is not the case) I still preach the necessity of circumcision, then (as a logical consequence) the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished." Paul's preaching of "Christ crucified" was a scandalous stumbling block to the Jewish peoples (I Cor. 1:23; Isa. 8:14;28:16; cf. Rom. 9:33; I Pet. 2:8), not only because they could not conceive of a crucified Messiah in place of their expected triumphant, nationalistic deliverer, but even more so because the crucifixion of Christ on the cross was proclaimed by Christians to be the singular basis of redemption and the "power of God" (I Cor. 1:18) for salvation unto righteousness. As such it was the abrogation of the old covenant Law as having any benefit of righteousness (2:16,21; 3:11), for the "new covenant in His blood (His death)" (Lk. 22:20; I Cor. 11:25), allowed the Law of God to be dynamically enacted in men's hearts by the indwelling presence of the life of Christ Himself. When Jesus declared "It is finished!" (Jn. 19:30) from the cross, He was proclaiming that He was doing and would do everything that needed to be done before God. As the representative Man, He accomplished and completed all the performance required on behalf of all men. There is nothing more man can do, apart from simply receiving God's grace in Christ by faith. There is absolutely no basis for any pride of performance-righteousness before God, as religious legalists inevitably advocate. Therefore, the "finished work" of Jesus Christ, set in motion at His death, is the scandalous stumbling-block for all Jews, Judaizers and religionists. The performance of circumcision or any other deed has no benefit before God. So Paul's argument is, "If (as is not the case) I preach the necessity of the performance of circumcision, then the stumbling block of the cross (which is the declaration that there is no performance that man can do that has any benefit before God) would be voided, nullified, wiped out, and abolished." Impossible! Unthinkable! If so, "Christ died needlessly" (2:21), in an unfortunate, meaningless martyrdom.
5:12 The thought of the cross being a meaningless event of history, which is where the Judaizers' teaching logically leads, is so abhorrent to Paul that he reacts with a very human mutilation-wish for his Judaizing detractors. "Would that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves." Paul would be the first to admit that he was not perfect (Phil. 3:12), and this was not the most loving solution that Paul could have wished for his enemies (cf. Matt. 5:44; Lk. 6:35). But Paul was so appalled by the thought that Christ's work was all in vain, the logical conclusion of the Judaizers' teaching, that he reverts to the sarcastic irony of hyperbolic over-statement. He had no use for these religious bloodhounds, whom he elsewhere describes as "dogs, and evil workers of the false circumcision" (Phil. 3:2).
"Those Judaizers who are stirring you Galatian Christians up with their unsettling and destabilizing advocacy of circumcision; I could wish that those knife-happy proponents of cutting off male foreskins would just go all the way and cut off their entire organ; that the knife would slip and they would emasculate themselves in a total castration." Now, admittedly, there have been some translations and commentaries that have attempted to interpret these words in a figurative manner in order to avoid such a "delicate" sexual subject, suggesting that Paul simply wanted the Judaizers to "cut it out," to cease and desist from their advocacy of circumcision. Not likely! There is little doubt that Paul was suggesting a physical "cutting off" (cf. Mk. 9:43,45; Jn. 18:10,26) of the Judaizers' genitalia.
Some correlative cultural background information might be pertinent to Paul's thinking. In Jewish thought, it was clearly stated that "no one who is emasculated, or as his male organ cut off, shall enter the assembly of the Lord" (Deut. 23:1). It has been suggested that Paul was thinking that if the Judaizers were "cut off" genitally, they would be "cut off" from God's people, self-emasculated and self-excommunicated, and thus so totally discredited that they could no longer trouble Christian people with their false-teaching. Speculation, at best! Another observation notes that in the religion of the Greek goddess, Cybele, which was practiced in the Galatian region, the pagan priests ceremoniously emasculated themselves by self-castration, allegedly as an act of self-defeating devotion. Some have suggested that Paul was indicating that if the Judaizers wanted to really be religious, they should go all the way and make the "radical cut" like the priests of Cybele. Not very convincing!
As might be expected, Paul has been charged with being coarse, crude and vulgar for making the very earthy comment in this verse. Many have questioned whether he was being vindictive, vengeful, malicious, cruel and unloving. But we must not forget that Paul was passionately determined to defend the integrity, purity and singularity of the gospel of Jesus Christ against those who were equally determined to desecrate and destroy that gospel by their performance supplements. In a similar manner, Jesus Himself said that "whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matt. 18:6; Mk. 9:42; Lk. 17:1,2).
Paul was so desirous that the Christians of Galatia should understand that they "were called to freedom" (5:13), that it was for Christian freedom that Christ endured everything, including death on a cross, to "set us free" (5:1), he was willing to defend that freedom by any means to encourage them to "keep standing firm" (5:1) in Christ alone. He is very forceful in drawing the "either/or," "all or nothing" alternatives of the singularity of Jesus Christ. There comes a time when if we are unwilling to draw the line between truth and error, between the freedom of grace in Jesus Christ and the bondage of religious performance, then there will be no lines of demarcation, and anything goes in the religion of relativistic pluralism in which man's reason and self-effort reign supreme, deified as the gods of humanism.
The "stumbling block of the cross" (5:11), the thesis that man cannot do what is necessary before God, is indeed scandalous today in light of the prevailing humanistic theses of human potential and self-help. Christian religion adapts itself into evangelical humanism when it advocates that performance of any kind moralistic behavior, keeping the Ten Commandments, commitment, dedication, ecclesiastical programs, etc. have any efficacy in the sight of God. Then, as Paul says so clearly, "the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished" (5:11); and God forbid, "Christ died needlessly" (2:21).
When Christians attempt to add anything to the "finished work" of Jesus Christ and the dynamic of Christ's life functioning in their lives by the grace of God, then they ever so subtly negate the benefit of Christ. In Paul's day, in Galatia, the addition-issue was circumcision and the observance of the Mosaic Law. Today, the supplemental issues are different, of course. If we were to take Paul's statement in verse 2, "If you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you," and rewrite the statement by inserting contemporary performance-issues, we might be able to see more clearly how this presently applies. "If you insist that a Christian believer believe in a particular form of baptism, ...speaking in tongues, ...a doctrine of "once saved, always saved," ...a particular millennial theory, ...two conflicting inner natures, etc., then Christ will be of no benefit to you." "If you insist that a Christian refrain from drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, wearing certain clothing, going to movies, dancing, etc., then Christ will be of no benefit to you." "If you insist that a Christian be a contributing member of a particular kind of institutional church, attending three times a week, participating in the programs, tithing a certain percentage of their income, and you regard such as essential to Christian salvation, fellowship, or righteousness, then Christ will be of no benefit to you." This little exercise begins to expose some of our religious tendencies to add performances to the singular efficacy of God's grace in Jesus Christ.
Paul simply wanted Christians to "stand firm in freedom" by deriving all from Jesus Christ alone, apart from any supplemental additions of human performance. The "finished work" of Jesus Christ is the singular sufficiency of the Christian life, as God's grace-dynamic energizes His righteous character received by faith. There is absolutely nothing that can be added to Jesus Christ by man's performance in order to effect Christian living. To supplement is to supplant.
1 Betz, Hans
Dieter, Galatians. Hermeneia A Critical and Historical
Commentary on the Bible. Philadelphia: Fortress Press. 1979.