Galatians 5 Devotional
by Pastor Mark Hudson
Provocative language. Some people make their living off saying things that shock. Howard Stern, Muhammed Ali, Rosie O’Donnell, Roseanne Barr, are a few that come to mind. Sometimes, people use language to help us see life more clearly by their choice of words. John Piper’s use of Christian hedonism comes to mind. But the use of provocative language is nothing new. In 1531, in discussing an illustrative conversation he had with the Devil (which took place on a toilet), Luther said, “I am cleansing my bowels and worshipping God Almighty; You deserve what descends and God what ascends.” This is only a taste of what Luther said.
We even find provocative language even in the Bible. Hosea marries a prostitute, Jesus in Luke 12:32 calls Herod a fox, and here in Galatians 5:12 Paul writes, “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! This is clearly provocative.
Why does Paul use such language? Does he literally wish that? Of course not. I speculate that provocative language is effective in some cases and with some people. Notice what Paul says in v. 9, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” One could also say that bad teaching works its way through an entire congregation. This is what Paul is fighting for: truth, holy living, and godliness in the church.
Paul is not merely talking about circumcision although he is addressing circumcision. Paul is pressing home to his audience how a sinful person gets right with a holy God. One path to God is faith plus something. That can include doing good things, following rules, or being Jewish- i.e. circumcision.
The other path is what Paul taught: Faith + 0. To be accepted by God means to believe in God’s plan: place your faith in His Son who died as a substitute for your sins. Your good words are not added to your faith but as evidence of genuine faith. This path to God is simple, eternal, Spirit led, but His gospel has been controverted for thousands of years. This is God’s gospel and available to all who believe.
In verses 2-3 Paul writes “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.” For a new Christian who intentionally undergoes circumcision for religious reasons, Paul states that one is leaving Christianity and pursuing a righteousness based on works. If that is the case, one has to obey the entire law, which no one can do and is a type of slavery.
This is why Paul argues this position in terms of freedom. Paul knows Christ has freed us from the “yoke of slavery” (v. 1) of trying to please God by what we can do. This is the bondage of law. Bondage is trying to keep the law as a way to please God.
Let me quickly mention this law keeping does not refer to obey just laws of our country. Christ did not see you free from the law of sales tax, speed limits, etc. This obedience refers to our part in salvation. Our good works, our good deeds to earn, even in the slightest degree, any favor with God.
Those who are troubling them (v. 12) are not offering a minor change to Paul’s gospel. In fact, they were offering a different gospel. There is no possible way one could ever combine these two versions of the gospel.
As you reflect on your salvation, remember it is all of grace. The only think you contributed was the sin that made Christ’s death necessary. But we are all called to exhibit love and good works as evidence of our salvation. So think of people you disagree with or think are hurting our country. Those are the people you are called to listen to, care for, and help. What a different place this would be if we did just that much. As you worship Christ’s salvation, ask him to keep you from the error in ever thinking you could help Christ along with his insufficient death on the cross with a little help from you.