Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand. As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.
We are well into that part of Galatians where we see Paul summarising his message. First it was what we sow that we shall also reap: that is do we walk in the Spirit or in the flesh. This is the central theme of the book. The Key verse, as we have already pointed out is Gal.2:20 study 15 It is not I, but Christ. This is the key to Christian living.
Now Paul makes one last mention of the false teachers, those who were teaching that adhering to the Jewish law was a necessity for salvation. However the responsibility of their falling away was the Galatians’ believers themselves, for they walked after the flesh, and so reaped what they sowed. When false teaching come across our paths we always have a choice: to go along with it or resist. Chapter 2 of Galatians shows what choices some of the apostles made, and how the situation was rectified. But a choice we do have. The question is which way will we take?
These false teachers were the Judaizers who insisted on circumcision as necessary for salvation. as noted in the previous studies of 9, 10, 16 & 32. We concluded that such people brought bondage, not liberty in Christ; they bring compulsion, confusion and additions to the plain revelation of Scripture; they promise much but add nothing of worth to a person’s walk with Jesus. They place some obstacle in the believer’s path, and whatever it may be it tempts the believer to be like Peter when walking on water: he takes his eyes of Jesus and sinks into the flesh. This then ends in the harvest of disobedience and living a life in the flesh as opposed to that of the Spirit.
In this and the next study we shall conclude our look at these false brethren.
D8.1 To make a show in the flesh
The work of God is in the inward heart of men and women. No amount of outward ceremony and religious workings can save a person. Yet false teachers want an outward show. This was purely to show off, to have the eyes of others on them, Jesus had a lot to say about such things.
Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward…….And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward……Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments……. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.
We see the Lord’s judgment on the religious leaders of the day, they were only interested in being seen of men, to receive the praises of men rather than God. It is not beyond the realms possibility that some of those leaders, of whom Jesus spoke, would have been involved in the false teaching to the Galatians. But even if not, then the same spirit is present. Those religious leaders, if truly saved in the first place, had fallen back into the flesh.
Here Paul is saying that they were glorying in the Galatian believers. It as almost as if they were more concerned with a following than with following God themselves. Here is a dire warning then, we are not to make disciples of ourselves or a cause, nor are we to be disciples of any man or cause; rather we are follow Christ, and encourage others to follow Christ alone. The Holy Spirit is given to point men and women to Christ (Jn.16:8-14) so if we are walking in the Spirit we ‘d be doing the same.
In effect these false teachers were taking the rightful place of Christ in peoples’ lives. Let us remember that the Christian life is : Christ in us the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). We are to be conformed to the image of Jesus (Rom.8:29-30). This being God’s purpose for us we should resist attempts by anyone to make us conform to their image of how they think the Christian life should be, and we should definitely not make people follow us and become an image of us. Instead we should be pointing men and women to Jesus.
D8.2 They constrain you
The false teachers insisted on the gentile believers being circumcised. (Acts 15:1), thus they were imposing a requirement that scripture did no even mention with regard to salvation. In doing so these people were denying the once and for all sufficient work of Christ in this regards. And here Paul gives us their motivation: to avoid suffering for the sake of the Cross.
In constraining others, their concern is not for the followers but for themselves. They are doing all that is possible to save themselves from the persecution of being identified with Christ and His cause. The cross divides: to those who believe it is the power of God, for the Jews, a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness.( I Cor. 1:22-24). Here the religious leaders of the day wanted a sign, namely circumcision in the flesh of their followers, not realising the true circumcision is not made with hands (Col. 2;11). The cross is God’s instrument of circumcision, for it is the heart that has to be dealt with and not the outward flesh.
Thus the false religious teachers, having rejected God’s way, have gone back to the outward. They did not want to be identified with Christ and the narrow way of which He spoke whilst on the earth. The cross indeed had become a stumbling block to them. For the Cross of Christ is the only way which God has appointed. The cross destroys all efforts of the flesh. It is therefore clear that anything that reverts back to the flesh is contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So these false teachers, not willing to submit to the cross of Christ, revert to the only other thing they can have, the outwards trappings of a religion; in doing so they require others do the same. They constrain others, lest they should suffer persecution.
D8.3 Our choice
What will do then if we are faced with such false teachers? Do we allow them to have power over us, or do we remain loyal to Christ? As we saw with Peter even apostles can fall, but praise God that restoration is also possible. We are promised that we will not be tempted above that we can bare.( I Cor. 10: 13 ) but with it there will be a way of escape. Let us keep close to Jesus, walk in the Spirit, embrace His cross and die daily so that we may live to His glory alone.