Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
7 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion is not from him who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump.10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!
13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. – Galatians 5:2-15
This post will probably offend some readers just as Paul’s message offended some of his hearers. Fortunately for me, you are reading this on some digital device many miles from where I stand so you can’t easily arrange to persecute me and stone me as Paul’s hearer’s persecuted him.
Paul seems to be agitated again. He starts this paragraph with “Look!,” or another translation has it, “Mark my words!” (NIV). This is me, Paul, talking. I’m the one who brought this gospel message to you in the first place. Pay attention to what I am saying! (My paraphrase, but I think I am communicating the spirit of Paul’s message.) If you accept circumcision (a euphemism for the law of God as a means of justification) Christ is of no advantage to you.
I don’t think Paul’s language could be more direct. If you look to human efforts, law-keeping, in any fashion or to any degree, you are severed from Christ, you are fallen from grace.
He then likens even the smallest of human efforts in attaining salvation to a little pinch of yeast put into a lump of dough. That tiny pinch of yeast is so small it couldn’t affect the gospel, could it? Paul says, yes. It leavens the whole lump. In other words, a gospel that includes law-keeping or human effort in even the smallest form is no longer the gospel. You have leavened the entire gospel lump. Any yeast added to the work of Christ voids the work of Christ just as attempting to improve perfection only destroys perfection. When you change in the smallest way that which is perfect, then it is no longer perfect. And, the work of Christ is perfect.
My longtime best friend and early discipler in my walk with Christ, Steve Stone, once called to my attention a frequently seen phenomenon. We have probably all observed the glow about a person who has just come to Christ and experienced the love of God and forgiveness of sins. They just kind of shine with the glory of God. Not literally like Moses, but metaphorically. This glow lasts for a while and then seems to fade so that a few months later it is gone. Why? If we are to grow in Christ and be changed from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord, shouldn’t the “shine” become more pronounced instead of fade? So, why does it fade? Steve postulated, and I agree, that people began to “lay down the law” to new converts for obedience to please God. Their blessedness instead of resting on the finished work of Christ began to rest on how well they matched up to the legalism they were being trained into. Some yeast had been introduced into their gospel lump of dough. Joy dissipated because they were no longer living under grace but under the law.
But what about teaching new believers how to live as a Christian instead of as a pagan? Pauls response: For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
The new believer’s instruction isn’t law-for-life, but love-for-life. The whole law is fulfilled in this word; You shall love your neighbor as yourself. This love will subdue our sinful ways whereas law won’t, and it will keep the joy and glory of Christ alive in us.
Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice!