Obeying the truth is believing His gospel of grace that we are saved not by any of our own works but by faith alone, Christ alone, and grace alone.
Galatians 5:7-12: You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! (ESV)
Have you ever heard the story of the blind men who tried to describe an elephant while each holding only one of its parts? In the story, the guy who had the trunk in his hands said that an elephant is like a giant snake; to the one holding the leg, an elephant was like a strong tree; and the one who had the side of the elephant said it was like a wall. No one got it right because no one had the whole elephant in his hands. People have drawn many morals out of the story, but I think the story is not about the blind men. It is about the one who is watching them and can see the whole elephant and can describe what it is.
When it comes to the truth, humans are like blind men; every person and every religion has some aspects of the truth but not the whole truth. Only God sees and knows the whole truth. He is the only one who can define and describe the truth.
In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” He didn’t say, “I am a truth or a way to the truth.” He said, “I am the truth.” When we reject Jesus, we reject the truth, the whole truth, the absolute truth about us, our purpose, and our responsibility.
In this passage, Galatians 5:7-12, Paul admonished the Galatians and explained that rejecting the Gospel’s truth is rejecting Jesus, the way, the truth, and life. Obeying the truth is believing His gospel of grace that we are saved not by any of our own works but by faith alone, Christ alone, and grace alone. So, the question is, are you obeying Jesus by believing His gospel of grace?
Let’s look at three hindrances to obeying the truth that Paul exposes.
Cut off from Our Calling
Obeying the truth is hindered when we are cut off from pursuing our calling. Verses 7-8 say, “You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you.”
Paul identifies an external instrument of hindrance in obeying the truth using the metaphor of runners in the Roman games. The word “hindered” here in Greek is from eng-kop’-to, which is when another runner cuts in. We who drive in New Jersey are very familiar with the feeling and concept of being cut off, right?
Paul tells the Galatians they were running the race of faith well in love and obedience to the truth of their salvation by the power of the Spirit. This is why, in Galatians 3:1-3, Paul asked, “who has bewitched you? Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”
If you are seeking righteousness and holiness through your works, this is for you too. In this passage here in Galatians 5:7, they were running the race of faith well, and then, they were not. So, Paul asked, “Who hindered you from obeying the truth?” because what you are obeying now is not the truth.
Again, obeying the truth here is obeying Jesus by believing His gospel. The term gospel literally means good news. So, what is the good news of Jesus? That we are justified by grace through faith in Jesus and not any works of our own? Therefore, anything in opposition, omission, or in addition to the gospel of grace is a lie. No matter how harmless that lie might be, it will leaven the whole lump, as Paul warned in verse 9.
The false teachers were guilty of opposition, omission, and additions to the gospel of grace and submission to a gospel that was no gospel; their gospel was the leaven that will leaven the whole lump. Their gospel is no good news at all because it is a distorted gospel full of lies.
Paul in Galatians 1:7 says, “not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” This word “distort” in the Greek text is μεταστρέφω, metastrefo, which is to reverse or change to its very opposite. How opposite was it?
Well! The false teachers said, believe in Jesus, obey the law, and you will be saved. You see, they built their lies on some truth, as an aspect of the truth. The gospel Paul was preaching was the whole truth, and it said believe in Jesus, be saved, and obey. The lie said believe in Jesus, focus on obeying, and you will be saved; the truth said, believe in Jesus, be confident that you are saved, and as a result, you will obey. So subtle but so destructive.
Anytime you see the word “calling” or “called” in Paul’s letters, almost always, it is the calling to salvation in which God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, brings the gospel to all spiritually dead people and grants them the favor by giving them a desire and faith to believe the gospel to be saved and once they are saved, as a result, they obey. You see, believing is obeying, and obeying is believing.
What is the application here? The truth is that as Christians, you are saved by the gospel of grace, and you are responsible for running a good race by pursuing a life of holiness and by sharing the gospel with others because you are a Christian, not because it makes you a Christian. So, hold on to this truth.
Adopting Other Views
Obeying the truth is hindered when we adopt other views on our calling. Verses 9-10 says, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is.”
The phrase “take no other view” in verse 10 can be translated as “do not adopt other views.” Paul warns the Galatians that on the day of judgment, this particular false teacher representing all false teachers who put the heavy yoke of the law on the Galatians will bear a much heavier burden of the wrath of God for dissuading the Galatians from the path of righteousness.
The expectation from the Galatians and us is to take action, identify the person, and throw him or her out. That sounds very harsh, but a lack of action will result in a harsher judgment by the Lord on the day of judgment because, just as leaven or yeast does not remain isolated to a spot but rather spreads and leavens the whole lump, if such a person is not identified, cut off, and cast out, has the power to corrupt everyone. There is a lesson for every church and every believer.
You do not need many troublemakers: one is enough. One snake in the Garden of Eden and one act of disobedience brought the Fall of humanity. Satan needed only one Judas to betray Jesus. It applies to morals and ethics too. In 1 Corinthians 5:1-8, Paul uses the same metaphor of “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” to tell the Corinthians who were tolerating a man guilty of sexual immorality to throw him out of the midst. Paul is confident in the Lord, not in their own flesh, that the Galatians will prevail and will not adopt other views on their calling—their salvation.
So, what is the application? In Matthew 16:6, talking about the false teachings, “Jesus said to them [His disciples], ‘Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’” You may not see or hear from Pharisees and Sadducees today, but a form of them lives among us.
Sometimes we become Pharisees and Sadducees to ourselves by creating our own laws to fulfill our desires, regardless of if they’re good or evil because one leads to legalism and the other leads to antinomianism. One abuses freedom in Christ and binds us to works, and the other abuses the grace of Christ to live a life of sin. So, watch out, do not let your habit become your addiction.
The Offense of the Cross
Obeying the truth is hindered when we remove the offense of the cross, the basis of our calling. Verses 11-12 say, “But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case, the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!”
Basically, there were rumors that Paul was no longer preaching the gospel but circumcision. One of the reasons for that might have been the circumcision of Timothy in Acts 16. Acts 16:3 says, “Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.” But that was not for his salvation to make him a Christian. He was already saved; it was done so that they could enter synagogues to proclaim the gospel.
Paul’s argument was if he was preaching circumcision, which is the necessity of obeying the law of Moses on top of believing in Jesus to complete salvation, then why was he still being persecuted for preaching the gospel of grace?
The logical conclusion, therefore, was that Paul preached the gospel of grace; he preached redemption through the complete work of Christ on the Cross, an offense to every Jew and unbeliever. Why? Because the message of the cross makes all religious activities and human efforts meaningless. This offends people that their good deeds, hard work, and rituals are nothing but dirty rags.
Paul closes this section with a hilarious but very strong statement: he says if you love circumcision so much and if cutting off a little skin makes you feel so righteous about yourself, why don’t you just go all the way and cut the whole thing off.
What is the application here? It most certainly is not castration. Rather it is obeying Jesus by believing in His Gospel because believing is obeying, and obeying is believing. I have been telling my boys not to jump on our bed; you will get hurt. The other day Arius hurt himself badly while jumping on the bed, and when I told him this is why I have been telling you not to jump on the bed, the boy got really upset with me. Then a couple of days later, Asher hurt himself, too, while jumping on the bed. His mother scooped him up, hugged him, loved him, and told him that this is why your daddy has been telling you not to jump on the bed because he knew that you would fall and would hurt yourself.
My point is that obedience is believing. If the boys had believed what their dad had been telling them, it would have produced obedience in them which could have saved them from being hurt. When we truly believe the gospel of grace, that truth produces obedience to the truth of the gospel that saves us. However, obeying the gospel’s truth that Christ saved us completely without any human efforts is hindered when we are cut off from pursuing our calling, adopt other views on our calling, or remove the offense of the cross, the basis of our calling.
All of this requires some action on our part. Let me close with some action steps:
A). Act against those who intend to hinder you, to cut you off. You are responsible for running a good race.
B). Be aware of the false teachers and preachers. They will claim the name of Jesus to hide their lies, but Jesus would say they belong to their father, the devil, who is a liar from the beginning.
C). Commit to obeying the truth, not some aspects of the truth but the whole truth, no matter what. This means obeying by believing and living what you believe to be the truth. If you say you are a Christian and no one knows it, no one is offended by you being a Christian. My guess is you do not share the message of Christ and His cross with others, perhaps because of fear of rejection and persecution.
D). Don’t lie to yourself that you do not want to offend people; the truth is you don’t want to be offended or be embarrassed by others.
E). Evangelize others by sharing your faith. That is obedience. Obeying is believing and believing is living, so how do you live your faith? The answer is by sharing the gospel of Jesus. The Great Commission in Matthew 28 is a command, not a suggestion. It commands all believers to go, and as they go, they ought to make disciples among all nations and teach them all that Jesus commanded, but how can we teach others to obey all that Jesus commanded if we are not willing to obey all that Jesus commanded? Will you obey, will you go, will you say, Lord, here I am, send me?