The opening twelve verses of Galatians 5 are designed to make it clear how the apostle Paul and God Himself feels about false doctrine and false teachers. Now I’m not talking about other religions, the issue here is about the aberrant forms of Christianity. And what Paul is attacking in this letter is the idea that you can change the gospel of salvation. Salvation is by faith in Christ alone, apart from any works.
All glory goes to God. It results in a transformed life, which then produces righteous works. And there are no righteous works or religious works that contribute anything to salvation. The gospel was preached so that people believed. Their lives were transformed. They were justified by God, their sins were forgiven, they were given the Holy Spirit, and they began to see the Spirit of God operating in their lives.
They were flourishing, until some Jewish teachers showed up, who basically followed Paul everywhere, to undermine the gospel. They were like Satan disguised as ministers of light, but they were ministers of darkness who represented Satan and the kingdom of darkness. They had a deviant, quasi-Christian message; and that’s what made them so deceptive in their message.
They taught, “You cannot be saved by believing in Christ alone; that’s not sufficient to save you. You must follow the rules and external rituals from the Law of Moses; and that means you have to go through Judaism. Paul stated that this is a different gospel. It is a distorted form of Christianity that says salvation comes by faith in Christ plus your works. But they say it is the combination that brings salvation.
Paul says, “Even if we or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed.” There is a place for righteous anger over these false doctrines that have found their way into Christianity and seduced people. In the first six verses we looked at last time he confronts their false doctrine. Now Paul confronts these false teachers.
From verse 7 to 12 Paul looks at the character of false teachers, the very work that marks them. They declared that they are the people of the true God, and that they acknowledge Jesus Christ as their Savior, but they add works to faith. In fact, this hybrid kind of salvation, consists of the largest number of so called Christians in the world, including both Eastern Orthodoxy and the Roman Catholic Church.
Galatians 5:7-12, “You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you. 9 A little yeast spreads through the whole batch of dough. 10 I am trusting the Lord to keep you from believing false teachings. God will judge that person, whoever he is, who has been confusing you. 11 Dear brothers and sisters, if I were still preaching that you must be circumcised, as some say I do, why am I still being persecuted? If I were no longer preaching salvation through the cross of Christ, no one would be offended. 12 I just wish that those troublemakers who want to circumcise you, would mutilate themselves.”
Verse 7, “You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?” Paul liked to use the metaphor of a race, which was very popular in the ancient world. Collectively he was looking at the church and seeing that everything seemed to be going in the right direction. He is saying “you,” meaning the people in the congregation, some of whom were being seduced by these Judaizing teachers.
“Who hindered you?” It’s a rhetorical question. “You’ve got to understand who it is that is hindering you.” These false teachers act as scholars of the Old Testament. They would let you think that they have the authority of James, who was the leader of the Jerusalem church. Today they may be religious leaders, may be pastors, and they may be false teachers. But who are they really?
First, they hinder the truth. They attacked Paul’s apostolic authority, they attacked the Old Testament, and they certainly attacked the Holy Spirit’s power. They were throwing legalism at these people, and making them confused. Paul asked, “Who is it that hinders you from obeying the truth?” What does that mean? To obey the truth in the New Testament means “to believe the gospel.”
The gospel is a command. It is not a suggestion, it is God commanding you. As believers, when we present the gospel it is better not to say we share the gospel, but to talk about God commanding people to believe. Because that’s what the gospel does: it calls for obedience. Acts 6:7 says, “The word of God spread; the number of the disciples increased. And a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”
Paul in Romans 15:18 says, “I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles, obedience to the gospel command.” Romans 16: 26 says, “Now the gospel, the preaching of Christ, the mystery of the revelation of Christ is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the command of the eternal God.”
2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 says, “God will send the Lord Jesus from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, bringing judgment on those who don’t know God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with eternal destruction, forever separated from the Lord and from his glorious power.” Those who do not obey the gospel will be destroyed.
Some of these Galatians were almost coming in full faith to Christ, but like those in Hebrews were hesitant. And now these legalists had come along to push them into legalism and away from the gospel. Why? Galatians 6:12, “They desire to make a good showing in the flesh, and so they try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.”
Then verse 13, “And even those who advocate circumcision don’t keep the whole law themselves. They only want you to be circumcised so they can boast about it and claim you as their disciples.” They want to be able to say to their Jewish community, “No, we’re supportive of Judaism. Christianity is just a branch of Judaism, and we still believe that the law has priority.” They did that for their own social benefit.
Paul says in verse 8, “This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you.” This is a false gospel. If you go that way Christ is no benefit to you. You’re under the law to keep the whole law perfectly if you think you are saved by the law. You are severed from Christ, you are fallen from grace, and you will never get the righteousness you pursue.” False teachers get in the way of the truth.
Look at 2 Peter 2:1, 3, “But there were also false prophets in Israel, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will cleverly teach destructive heresies and even deny the Master who bought them. In this way, they will bring sudden destruction on themselves. 3 In their greed they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money. But God condemned them long ago, and their destruction will not be delayed.”
Secondly, they do not represent God. This is Satan’s work, even though it has Christianity as a label. They will claim divine rights, divine authority and divine power. They may even say they speak for God. False teachers are smooth talkers, but they lie the same way their father the Devil lies. 1 Corinthians 7:5, “be on guard so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”
Whenever we see the last phrase in verse 8, “Him who calls you,” it is always the effectual saving call. It’s the call mentioned in Romans 8, that “whom He called, He justified.” It’s the call that awakens the dead sinner, that regenerates and gives spiritual life. It’s the call from God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. “This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you.”
Recently there was a presidential prayer breakfast, which was a meeting together of apostate heretics and children of God. And people say, “But they all talk about God, and they talk about Jesus.” We applaud people who get together for some noble cause to benefit to mankind. But there is a lot of confusion about who these people represent. Some represent God and some represent Satan.
Thirdly, they contaminate the church. Verse 9, “A little yeast spreads through the whole batch of dough.” Yeast is a picture in Scripture of permeation evil influence. The Jews before the feast of unleavened bread would remove all yeast. That feast was to recognize that they needed to get rid of the influence of sin. The problem was that they looked at sin only from the outside and not from their heart.
Jesus in Matthew 16:6 said, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” What did He mean by that? Verse 12 answers it, “Then at last they understood that He was not speaking about the yeast in bread, but of the deceptive teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” The teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees were dangerous. And here the apostle Paul explains it.
We see so many “evangelical people” embracing these congregations as if they are part of the kingdom of God, when in reality they are of the kingdom of darkness, and they are a corrupting evil influence. Jude 1:11, “What sorrow awaits them! For they follow in the footsteps of Cain, who killed his brother. Like Balaam, they deceive people for money. And like Korah, they perish in their rebellion.”
And then they are described in Jude 1:12-13, “They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain. They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots. 13 They are like wild waves of the sea, churning up the foam of their shameful deeds. They are like wandering stars, doomed forever to blackest darkness.”
Paul comes to a fourth characteristic in verse 10, “I am trusting the Lord to keep you from believing false teachings. God will judge that person, whoever he is, who has been confusing you.” I have confidence that the Lord is going to bring you to the truth, and that you will adopt no other view. But with regard to these false teachers, they will bear judgment from God no matter who they are.
Two judgment letters in Revelation 2. The first to the church at Pergamum in Revelation 2:13-15, “I know that you live in the city where Satan has his throne, yet you have remained loyal to me. You refused to deny me even when Antipas, my faithful witness, was martyred among you there in Satan’s city. 14 “But I have a few complaints against you. You tolerate some among you whose teaching is like that of Balaam.”
The teaching of Balaam is being in the religious business for money, which is what false teachers do. Verse 14 continues, “Who showed Balak how to trip up the people of Israel. He taught them to sin by eating food offered to idols and by committing sexual sin. 15 In a similar way, you have some Nicolaitans among you who follow the same teaching.” This is another false doctrine.
Now verse 16 says, “Repent of your sin, or I will come to you suddenly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” The letter to Thyatira, verse 19, “I know all the things you do. I have seen your love, your faith, your service, and your patient endurance. And I can see your constant improvement in all these things. 20 “But you are permitting that woman, that Jezebel who calls herself a prophet to lead my servants astray.”
Verse 21, “I gave her time to repent, and she did not repent. 22 Therefore, I will throw her on a bed of suffering, and those who commit adultery with her will suffer greatly unless they repent and turn away from her evil deeds. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am the one who searches out the thoughts and intentions of every person.”
Fourth, God will judge them. They hinder the truth, they do not come from God, they contaminate the church, and fourth, they end in judgment from God. Then Paul says, they persecute true teachers. Verse 11, “Dear brothers and sisters, if I were still preaching that you must be circumcised, as some say I do, why am I still being persecuted? If I were no longer preaching salvation through the cross of Christ, no one would be offended.”
Paul met Timothy, and was impressed by Timothy’s righteous life, godliness as a believer in Christ. His father was a Gentile, but his mother was Jewish. Timothy had never been circumcised. So Paul had him circumcised. Somebody told the Judaizers and they said, “Look, you even preach circumcision.” And Paul said, “If you think I preach circumcision, then why are you persecuting me?
Of course they didn’t think that. They persecuted him because he didn’t preach it. Why? Timothy was already a believer; it had nothing to do with salvation. But he would have had no access to synagogues. This would have made it difficult for Timothy to minister alongside Paul. So Paul accommodates the Jewish expectation by having Timothy circumcised so that together they can minister to the Jews.
The Jews had two objections with apostolic preaching. Number one was the crucified Messiah. That was a stumbling block to them, because they thought the Messiah was going to come be a king, not a crucified victim of the Romans. The greater problem was that other believers would not have to adhere to all the Mosaic ordinances. That is why they were so much against him.
Lord, I hope that the full implications of the gospel will take hold of the hearts of preachers, teachers, and believers everywhere, that they would proclaim the true gospel with boldness that would expose those hybrid misrepresentations of the gospel that comes from Satan himself. Let us pray.