The Offense of the Cross
Galatians 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love. 7 You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in you, in the Lord, that you will have no other mind; but he who troubles you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is. 11 And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased. (NKJV)
Paul has just completed his first missionary journey in which he and Barnabas planted churches in southern Galatia at Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. This letter is the first of Paul’s letters.
The new believers in Galatia, influenced by Judaizers, have already turned from Paul’s Gospel to a false gospel of a mix of works and grace instead of grace alone. Judaizers claimed that Christians must also follow the Old Testament law, including circumcision. So Paul is writing to the Galatian believers to direct them back to the true Gospel of salvation by grace and not a combination of grace and works.
Paul tells these Galatian believers, those “in Christ Jesus”, that circumcision does not mean anything (v. 6a). Whether a Christian is circumcised or not has nothing to do with being a Christian. We are Christians because of God’s grace through our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We then work out that faith “through love” (v. 6b).
Paul commends the new Galatian believers that they “ran well”, meaning that they initially did well in receiving and living out the Gospel (v. 7a). But now, some have been “hindered…from obeying the truth” (v. 7b). Some have believed the Judaizers who insist that Gentile believers must be circumcised.
This “persuasion” from the Judaizers does not come from God (v. 8). On the contrary, it comes from Satan. It is not truth. It is a lie. It is evil. “Leaven”, as used in the Bible, is a term for evil, or sin. Sin leads to more sin, just as “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (v. 9). If sin is allowed to exist in the church it will soon take over the whole church. The sin of the Judaizers is legalism. They are teaching salvation by works and not grace.
Paul then encourages the believers by expressing “confidence in you”, and even more so “in the Lord” that He will use these words to change the hearts of the believers (v. 10a). They “will have no other mind” than the Lord’s (v. 10b), which should be the case with every Christian.
In referring to the Judaizers, they “shall bear his judgment, whoever he is” (v. 10c). The Judiazers, or anyone who teaches a false gospel, will be judged harshly by God. Jesus made this clear when He said: "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'” (Mt. 7:21-23).
Next, Paul defends himself from false accusations by the Judaizers. The Judaizers accused Paul of requiring circumcision when he called for Timothy to be circumcised, when the real purpose of having him circumcised was so that Timothy would be accepted by Jewish non believers when he shared the Gospel with them (Acts 16:3).
So Paul asks why he is still being “persecuted” if he is no longer preaching the Gospel (v. 11a). If he was teaching salvation by works he would no longer be preaching the Gospel, and if he was no longer preaching the Gospel he would not be persecuted. But he was still being persecuted.
Paul continues by saying if he is preaching salvation by works that “the offense of the cross has ceased” (v. 11b). The “offense of the cross” refers to sin, the “leaven”.
Sin is offensive. No one likes to be reminded of their sin. The cross does just that. Jesus died a painful death on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin. That penalty is Hell. We are saved from that by God’s grace through our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
Online Bible Commentary