It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
Paul continues into the fifth chapter making his case for two distinct covenants. He opens with the statement that Christ has set us free and then moves into an exhortation for us to remain free in Christ, and never to go back again to slavery under the Law. He states it so very clearly in verse 2: “mark my words…” Entering into the Law will do no good, carrying the sign of an already fulfilled covenant will do no good. Stronger still, he tells us that if we seek to reenter the Law, we will be “alienated from Christ” and “fallen away from grace.” Quite frankly, it seems incomprehensible to me that anyone can read these words and be confused about their meaning.
In the final line, he comes to the crux: The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!
The Galatians had gotten off to a good start, but somewhere along the path, somebody “cut in” to divert them to a different path; this kind of teaching is not from God. Paul’s reference to yeast goes back to the Old Testament imagery of yeast as sin, thus a little sin makes its way through the entire group. Then, Paul seems to be saying that he is confident that the Galatians will not listen to them anymore, yet he still isn’t quite finished with his rant…
He points out that these false teachers will pay the price for their actions, and lest anyone should think that Paul was behind these teachings, he reminds them that if he were teaching circumcision, the Jewish authorities wouldn’t still be persecuting him. Finally, he makes one more statement. It seems to me that Paul has tried several methods to make his case against the teaching of first becoming a Jew, and then and only then receiving Christ. He has chided, reasoned, encouraged and exhorted. In case anyone hadn’t gotten the point yet he has one more thing to say, this time of a rather personal nature.
You might ask why it is that Paul is so passionate about this issue. Why did he go to such lengths and give the Galatians such a chewing out?
You’re free to disagree with me of course, but I think that the answer is really simple. When someone adds to, or subtracts from the Gospel, that person is perverting the Gospel. Since the Gospel is the “power of God to salvation,” this kind of perversion undermines the very eternal purpose of God. As a consequence, it is not merely a different interpretation or a differing opinion; it is rebellion against God all over again. Its source, as Paul has clearly stated, is not God. With that in mind, let’s ask ourselves what the source might be, if it isn’t God. Could it be a simple misunderstanding, or would it really come from a more sinister origin?
I’ll let you be the judge of that one, but I would add one more question: Who stands to gain by perverting the “power of God to salvation”?