Why was Paul so tough on those guys in Galatia? Not the members but the leaders. In chapter 5:7-12, Paul lays into the teachers without mercy accusing them of hindering spiritual progress in the believers. The word used here (5:7) means to obstruct their growth and at times to stop it! Not what you expect a spiritual leader to do with his flock. Paul says what was being taught by these leaders was so unlike the gospel that it could not have come from Him who “called” them (5:8). He gets even tougher and describes their ministry as a leaven which changes everything (5:9) and states that such teachers are worthy of judgment and condemnation (5:10).
Keep in mind that epistles were usually read publicly to the church and these men were likely present. Paul was not playing politics. He was playing for keeps! He goes on to claim that their “gospel teaching” removes Christ and the cross from the Gospel. He was still preaching the Christ and the gospel and was even being persecuted for it! That Jesus died for their sins on the cross was the very heart of their standing with God. His Calvary work assured them of His presence and power in their lives and their eternal future. So dangerous were such teachers that Paul wished they would slip with their own Pharisaical knives and emasculate (castrate) themselves. And yes, that is the literal and accurate translation of the Greek Paul used in verse twelve. Wow! Why was Paul so tough on these guys?
Because the minute self-effort is mixed into the Gospel, it becomes powerless to save. Adding one’s own works to the gospel makes it like all other religions in the world – based on human works and empty of grace. Grace is removed and now one’s salvation depends on being good enough to earn favoritism from God. But God will not ever be in debt to anybody. The minute one can earn their way or “keep” their salvation by their own meritorious works, they become the boaster and God the debtor and it is not possible for God to be God and to be in debt to anyone. God owes no one anything and no sinner can ever produce works enough to put God in his debt. He owes no man salvation or a place in heaven. We cannot do the work it would take. Jesus did the work. The only man who was not a sinner and who was infinitely righteous and eternally existent and able thereby to do the work, earn the merit, pay the debt man owed to God, and please the Father was the God-man Jesus.
The minute the false teachers arrived in Galatia and began to spread their leaven, the glory and majesty of Jesus took a blow. Calvary was no longer the message but a footnote. The glory of God was diminished and the love of God was tarnished. What was their problem? Did they believe the Father did not respect the obedience of His Son? Did they think the life and Calvary-work of Jesus marred and sinful or that it contained errors and missteps? What was it about God’s character that made them think He would send His Son on a mission and then refuse to honor the Son’s worshipful obedience, holy toil and sinless sacrifice? What kind of Father did they think He was?
When these false teachers stepped in and began to devalue the work of Jesus and diminish the glory of God is when Paul got tough. As Paul Washer says in The Gospel Call and True Conversion, “This is why the apostle Paul labors with all his might in his writings to accentuate the depravity of humanity and prove their utter inability to please God in the flesh. He desires that ‘every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God’ (Rom. 3:19). Only then will people turn their eyes from themselves and look to God in faith. Only then will they cease from their work and fall into the arms of grace. Only then will their boasting in self become a boasting in God. ‘As it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the LORD’’ (1 Cor. 1:31).”
Wherever the Gospel of grace has been preached, this heresy follows. Satan is quick to send his preachers to mix the message, dilute the power of Christ, and diminish the name of God. Many believe they’ve been saved but that they had better be good so that they can stay saved. It is as though they believe more in their conduct and behavior than in the conduct and behavior of Jesus. Jesus lived a sinless life and died a perfect death and rose again with new life for those who trust in His work – not their works. No man is saved by his works. One can only be saved by Jesus’ work. Let go of your works and accept His. He obeyed because we could not obey and His obedience can be ours only by faith.
These false teachers did not like the idea that God’s Son had to die for them. This was, as Paul said, an offense and scandal to them (5:11). They must have been embarrassed that there was nothing meritorious within them that would impress God and force him to owe them their salvation. Their pride and desire for self-honor refused to let them give God His honor. We can all understand their struggle. We are strongly bent to please ourselves and seek respect and value in the eyes of others but the only true value and honor we can ever find is that which is found through the infinite value and perfect work of Jesus who invites us to join Him in the Father’s family as joint-heirs. There is our proper and right rejoicing – not in me but in what He has done for me and for who I am through His work – a forgiven and cleansed saint in the eyes of the Father. Beloved and in the family of God. I am child of God and that I can boast in. As Paul exclaimed, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14).