Tuesday: The Dangerous Consequences of Legalism
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The way in which Paul introduces Galatians 5:2–12 indicates the importance of what he is about to say. “Look” (ESV), “Listen!” (NRSV), “Mark my words!” (NIV), “I, Paul, say to you” (ESV). Paul is not fooling around. By his forceful use of the word look, he not only calls for his readers’ full attention, but he even evokes his apostolic authority. He wants them to understand that if the Gentiles are going to submit to circumcision to be saved, then the Galatians need to realize the dangerous consequences involved in their decision. 1

Read Galatians 5:2–12. What does Paul warn about in regard to the whole question of circumcision?



The first consequences of trying to earn God’s favor by submitting to circumcision is that it obligates the person to keep the entire law. Paul’s language in verses 2 and 3 includes an interesting play on words. Christ, he says, will not benefit them (ophelesei); rather, they will be obligated (opheiletes) to the law. If a person wants to live according to the law, he or she cannot just pick and choose the precepts to follow. It is all or nothing.

Second, they will be “cut off” from Christ. A decision to be justified by works involves at the same time a rejection of God’s way of justification in Christ. “You cannot have it both ways. It is impossible to receive Christ, thereby acknowledging that you cannot save yourself, and then receive circumcision, thereby claiming that you can.”—John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1968), p. 133.

Paul’s third objection to circumcision is that it hinders spiritual growth. His analogy is of a runner whose progress toward the finish line has been deliberately sabotaged. In fact, the word translated “hindered” (vs. 7, ESV) was used in military circles to refer “to breaking up a road or destroying a bridge or placing obstacles in the way of an enemy, to halt his advance.”—The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 978.

Finally, circumcision removes the offense of the Cross. How? The message of circumcision implies that you can save yourself; as such, it is flattering to human pride. The message of the Cross, however, is offensive to human pride, because we have to acknowledge that we are dependent completely on Christ.

Paul is so outraged at these people for their insistence on circumcision that he says he wishes that the knife would slip and they would castrate themselves! Strong words, but Paul’s tone simply reflects how seriously he views this issue.

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Tuesday: The Dangerous Consequences of Legalism — 4 Comments

  1. Good morning,

    In my class group e mail discussion, the following questions have arisen:

    As we discuss about salvation by faith and not by works, lets interrogate some of the Biblical texts that might 'confuse many' .... check the following text.

    Matthew 19.16 tells of an interesting story of a rich young man who asked Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life and Jesus answered him and said, 'if thou will enter life, keep the commandments', and the man asked Him, which ones? Jesus replied and narrated to him some of the commandments from the Decalogue (10 commandments). The discussion continued with the man saying he had done all this since his youth and wanted to know what he lacked, the following is a description of what he lacked? Jesus said unto him, 'if thou be perfect, go and sell that thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me'. My question is, in simple terms, what did this young man lack?

    Could this be the faith that we have been talking about that he lacked? Mrs. E. G White comments that 'Christ's dealing with the man is an object lesson. God has given us the rule of conduct which his servants must follow. It is obedience to his law, not merely a legal obedience, but an obedience which enters into the life and is exemplified in the character' quoted from 'FROM HEAVEN WITH LOVE Ch. 57

    What is your understanding of the above?

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  2. Brief commentary on Lesson 10---When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word, what a glory He sheds on our way. While we do His good will, He abides with us still, and with all who will trust and obey. Seems to me that if we put our trust in our heavenly Father, we will obey Him. The more we trust the easier it is to obey. If Paul were here today, he would say, "Trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey." For you see if we trust and obey, we are children of the free. Clearly when we trust and obey we have cast out Satan, and our old man of sin or old woman of sin, and allowed Christ to adopt us, becoming sons and daughters of Christ. Now go back and read Galatians 4:21-31. Who desires to be under the law, not I, I desire to carry it around on my heart as a barometer of my relationship with Christ.
    The faith I John live by,
    Good day

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  3. Brian, I agree that the rich, young ruler lacked that faith which works by love and purifies the soul.

    John, well said!

    To all, I must seriously doubt that the Holy Spirit moved Paul to express a wish to see the teachers of error physically injured. I looked in a Greek interlinear translation (with a Greek lexicon), and it seems that the literal meaning of Paul's words is that he wishes they would cut themselves off. In the larger context of Scripture, this seems to have the meaning of separating themselves from the community of God's people.

    In reality, leaving the church might have even more serious consequences than self-castration! However, I perceive that these deceivers were doing themselves no good -- and others great harm -- by their continued connection with the Christian church. By God's grace, may this never be true of you or me!

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  4. R. G. White said......

    "To all, I must seriously doubt that the Holy Spirit moved Paul to express a wish to see the teachers of error physically injured. I looked in a Greek interlinear translation (with a Greek lexicon), and it seems that the literal meaning of Paul’s words is that he wishes they would cut themselves off. In the larger context of Scripture, this seems to have the meaning of separating themselves from the community of God’s people."

    I think EGW holds this view as well.

    Bill

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