by Mike Ratliff
6 I marvel that you are so quickly being turned from the one who called you in the grace of Christ to a different gospel; 7 which is not another; except there are some troubling you and are desiring to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel to you besides that which we preached to you, let him be a curse. (Galatians 1:6-8 Possessing the Treasure New Testament v1)
John Bunyan compared the life of faith to a pilgrimage in his masterpiece, Pilgrim’s Progress. On the other hand, the Apostle Paul often compares our life of faith with a race. In my younger days I was a long distance runner. I competed into my late 40’s in the Corporate Challenge and prior to that I was a member of the Oklahoma City Running Club and ran in who knows how many 5k, 10k, 5-mile and even 10-mile races in and around the OKC area. I knew all about what it took to be a good runner on race day. If I didn’t prepare right then I couldn’t race well. If I didn’t put in the miles in training to run in a 10 mile race then I certainly couldn’t run in that race on race day without problems. Our life of faith can be compared in many ways to a race. Paul used it figuratively that way in Galatians 2:2, Romans 9:16, and 1 Corinthians 9:24.
I can remember lining up on race day at the starting line for a long race and it was often very easy to tell those who I was going to pass about two or three miles into it as they struggled with their pace and were obviously in way over their head and were not well prepared. They would crowd the start line and race away at the gun like it was a sprint. I often picked those fellas off on hills as they struggled up the incline gasping for air and we weren’t yet half way through the race.
7 You were running well; who hindered you by persuading you to place no confidence in the truth? 8 This persuasion is not of the one who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens all the lump. 10 I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will take no other view, but the one troubling you will bear the judgment, whoever he may be. 11 But I, brothers, if I still proclaim circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished. 12 I would that the ones troubling you will emasculate themselves. 13 For you were called for freedom, brothers, only use not the freedom for a pretext for the flesh, but serve one another through love as slaves. 14 For the entire law has been summed up in one statement, “LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another beware lest by one another you are destroyed. (Galatians 5:7-15 Possessing the Treasure New Testament v1)
Paul asks the question with reflection about how well the Galatians began their race. They were running well. They had a good beginning. They had received the gospel message by faith and begun to live their Christian lives by faith as well. However, just as most young Christians want, they wanted to do all they could to draw as close as they could to their Lord. Then someone new comes along and tells them that they can have more. They can remain in Christ just as they are and have more of God by being more religious or more spiritual or et cetera. In this case it was Judiazers telling them to conform to the Mosaic covenant, but look how Paul describes it in v7. Here is the Greek, “Ἐτρέχετε καλῶς· τίς ὑμᾶς ἐνέκοψεν [τῇ] ἀληθείᾳ μὴ πείθεσθαι;”. The verb “hindered” translates ἐνέκοψεν (enekopsen), “hinder, detain”, the aorist, indicative, active case of ἐγκόπτω (enkoptō). This is a description of someone coming out onto the racecourse and doing something to impede the runner. What did the Judiazers do to impede the running of the Galatians in their life of faith? I think a lot of modern Bible translations miss this by trying to make v7 more readable. The Greek literally says, “You were running well, who hindered you by the truth not to be persuaded.” I translated v7 as, “You were running well; who hindered you by persuading you to place no confidence in the truth?” The Judiazers were all about causing those they deceived into losing confidence in justification by grace alone through faith alone as God’s gift alone as their only hope. Instead, they held out that thing all people want in and of themselves, the ability to earn it.
Paul reiterates this in v8 by saying that that “persuasion” is not of the one who calls you. No, it is an appeal to the flesh and the call of the genuine gospel will NEVER be an appeal to the flesh to do some work or improve oneself or whatever. No, we are called by God and saved as a gift by his grace through faith. In v9 Paul calls the message of works righteousness that was coming from the Judiazers leaven that was leaving the whole lump. That means that it was sin even though it looked very religious.
I like v10 and I agree with Paul’s assessment. I firmly believe that no matter how bad or prevalent false teaching gets, our Lord will preserve his elect. Yes, the immature may suffer and stumble and have to go through periods of fiery trials and repentance. Most of us can testify to that in our own lives. The fact that I am still a solid Christian after all of what God has allowed in my life since 1986 when he had mercy on me is a miracle of his sustaining grace. However, those who attack us and attempt to derail our walk, hinder our race of faith, to move us from the truth, et cetera; these people Paul declares that they will bear their judgment. That means they are unsaved people still bearing the burden of their sins.
In v11 Paul gives us a clue that the Judiazers had falsely claimed that Paul agreed with their teaching. However, he makes the point that if he was in agreement with them and was preaching circumcision as necessary for salvation, why were they still persecuting him instead of supporting him? The stumbling block of the cross is the offer of salvation that strips man of the opportunity to earn it by his own merit. This stumbling block is what breeds opposition. It did in Paul’s day and still does in our day (Romans 9:33).
I think v12 is one of the reasons that liberals and those who are Biblically ignorant have a dislike for Paul. He is decidedly not politically correct. He would or wishes that the Judiazers would emasculate themselves. This Greek word was often used of castration, such as in the cult of Cybele, whose priests were self-made eunuchs. Paul’s ironic point is that since the Judiazers were so insistent on circumcision as a means of pleasing God, they should go to the extreme of religious devotion and castrate themselves.
Notice that Paul used that sort of language for those who were attacking the gospel and causing problems within the Church. However, for those in the Church, the message is totally the opposite. Carefully read vv13-15. As Christians obeying our Lord in all parts of our lives, running the race of faith his way, we are free, but not as an opportunity to indulge the flesh, but to serve one another through love. Love fulfills the law. There is absolutely no reason to try to keep the Mosaic covenant as a Christian. However, we are to obey our Lord’s commandments.
My brethren, continue running the race with your eyes fixed on the prize. There will always be those seeking to hinder you and distract you from the path. This is why we must abide in Christ and learn to grow and mature in him.
Soli Deo Gloria!