Running Well by Standing Fast (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.” —Galatians 5:7–9

The race of faith is one in which if you are cut off, you take the blame. If you’re tripped, you’re at fault for not being ready. If you’re not running well, it’s because you’re not standing fast (Galatians 5:1). Enemy interference is expected. This is no gentleman’s race. It is a race for warriors.

The word translated “hindered” can carry the connotation of being cut off. It’s hard to avoid the double entendre. By circumcision the Judaizers were trying to cut the Galatians off in the race of faith. The knight cannot reason that he committed treason because his opponent had a bigger sword.

If you are duped by a false teacher, the blame falls on you. If you eat the apple, you cannot blame the serpent. Tolerated lies are soon digested. Stand firm. Do not submit. Give no quarter.

Rest assured, the serpent and his spawn have been crushed under the crucified foot of Christ. Our Lord will manifest this victory when He returns in glory and the serpent is crushed under the feet of the saints (Romans 16:20). But the saints are those who persevere in the faith. So, paradoxical as it may seem, if you are to run well, you must stand fast.

The Shocking How of a Shocked How (Galatians 3:8–11)

“Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.” —Galatians 4:8–10

Here, Paul is shocked that those who were once the lowest of slaves but who have become sons of the highest of kings, would turn back to their slavery. But just as shocking is the how of this how. How is it that these sons are turning back to slavery to the “elemental spirits of this world”? How is it that these former idolators are returning to the bondage of those that are not gods (cf. Deuteronomy 32:17)? By observing days and months and seasons and years.

The context of Galatians insists we understand these to be the Jewish Sabbath and Feasts. These are part of those works of the law wherein they were seeking to stand just before God (Galatians 2:15). The law is a pedagogue meant to bring sinners to Christ (Galatians 3:24–26). To return to the law from Christ is to swim against the current towards death. To turn from Christ back to the law is to turn from the law as it is of God, to a perversion of the law that is of demons. Luther comments,

“Whoever falls from the doctrine of justification is ignorant of God and is an idolater. Therefore it is all the same whether he then returns to the Law or to the worship of idols; it is all the same whether he is called a monk or a Turk or a Jew… For once this doctrine undermined, nothing more remains but sheer error, hypocrisy, wickedness, and idolatry, regardless of how great the sanctity appears on the outside.

…There is no middle ground between human working and the knowledge of Christ; if this knowledge is obscured, it does not matter whether you become a monk or a heathen afterwards.”

To the Jews who insisted that they were the children of Abraham and that God was their father, but who rejected Jesus, Jesus said, 

“If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (John 8:42–47).

The highest moral efforts, devoid of Christ, are nothing more than slavery to demons.

Curse or Be Cursed (Galatians 1:6–9)

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” —Galatians 1:6–9

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The church is like a nuclear power plant. In his letter to the Romans Paul says, “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” The church’s receiving and being entrusted with the gospel is like her being entrusted with nuclear power. To be clear, the church is not the power, but she is the authorized custodian thereof.

There are attacks against the gospel from without, and so we do well to build strong walls of defense around the church, but the greatest potential threat always lies within. It is the spy within the church, tampering with the nuclear core that can cause the greatest devastation. This is precisely the danger the Galatians find themselves on the precipice of—a nuclear meltdown of the church and their souls.

This is why Paul open this letter with rebuke instead of thanksgiving. In nearly every other letter Paul writes, thanksgiving follows greeting. Consider the following example from Philippians.

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:3–11).

That letter, Philippians, written while imprisoned, is one of Paul’s warmest letters. The tone there is the complete opposite of Galatians. You may reason that this is because there are no serious errors being embraced by the Philippian church at this time. And this is mostly true, but, then what are we to make of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians?

“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:4–9).

Is there any church to whom Paul writes that had such a diversity of problems as the one in Corinth? Among them were divisions, sexual immorality, failure to exercise church discipline, suing one another, syncretism, disorder in the church gatherings, perverting the Lord’s Supper, and a denial of the resurrection of the saints. All of this and Paul still says, “I give thanks to my God always for you.” 

With the Galatians, thanksgiving is not only absent but replaced with a scathing rebuke. Why? Because the very core is being threatened. They are on the cusp of the worst possible spiritual catastrophe, a Chernobyl of the church; and thus it is that Paul expresses astonishment at the Galatians and anathematizes the false teachers. Concerning his cursing the false teachers, no more severe statement could be made and no lesser statement could be justified. When heretics have made their way to the core, it is curse or be cursed. If false gospels are not damned, men are.

“They’re (like) Animals” (2 Peter 2:10b–16)

“But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction” (2 Peter 2:12 ESV).

Long before President Trump described the members of MS-13 as animals, Peter used that word to describe a far more deadly gang. False teachers are like animals in that their behavior is irrational and instinctual. Paul spoke of this instinct which we all have in Adam as the “passions of the flesh” and “the desires of the body and the mind.” This impulse in false teachers is set loose and wed to audacious arrogance (2 Peter 2:10). Some false teachers may appear intellectual and have many academic accolades but what really drives them isn’t the mind, but an animal like lust, craving, and desire.

Additionally, their blasphemy, for that is what their false teaching is, is a further expression of their animal-like, irrational instinct for they blaspheme “about matters of which they are ignorant.” Consider how often false teachers make a big deal of obscure and vague passages in the Scriptures. Their claims of new revelation are really just a cover-up for ignorance. One of fresher laid piles of heresy is known as the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). People like Bill Johnson of Bethel Church in Redding California are regarded as new apostles, just like those of old. John MacArthur quips concerning the NAR, “It is not new, it is not a reformation, and it is certainly not apostolic.” Their arrogance is a guise to veil their ignorance—blasphemous ignorance.

Because our theological walls are down, these animals are allowed to arise within the church (2 Peter 2:1). Peter pulls back the sheep’s clothing to reveal the hideous wolf beneath. Peter’s description of these animal-like predators is meant to revolt, somewhat like watching a predator tear into its prey on a nature documentary. This is not a pleasant chapter, but it is a most necessary one.

Detecting Spirit Fraud (1 Peter 1:10–12)

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…inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.” —1 Peter 1:11 (ESV)

Where the Spirit is so emphasized that there is little to no emphasis on Jesus, it’s not the Holy Spirit who’s involved. Many churches are all kinds of spiritual, in a bad way. A way that grieves the Spirit of Christ. In his great book, The World-Tilting Gospel, Dan Philipps sets forth the litmus test.

“Show me a person obsessed with the Holy Spirit and His gifts (real or imagined), and I will show you a person not filled with the Holy Spirit.

Show me a person focused on the person and work of Christ—never tiring of learning about Him, thinking about Him, boasting of Him, speaking about and for and to Him, thrilled and entranced with His perfections and beauty, finding ways to serve and exalt Him, tirelessly exploring ways to spend and be spent for Him, growing in character to be more and more like Him—and I will show you a person who is filled with the Holy Spirit.”

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. He is sent by Christ. He ministers Christ. He puts us into union with Christ. He is the witness of Christ, the Scriptures are His recorded testimony, and through them He speaks of Christ still (John 15:26). If this is too opaque for you, J.I. Packer stings together a slew of similes that should make things clear.

“We may multiply the illustrations. The Spirit, as we said, is the floodlight, or the searchlight, picking out and illuminating the Lord Jesus for us; also, he is the contact lens that enables us to see him clearly; also he is the matchmaker, drawing us close to Christ for a permanent union; also, he is the intercom, making communication between Christ and us a reality of our experience; also, he is the spiritual pacemaker, implanted to ensure heart-healthy functioning in love to Christ; and with all this he is the channel through which Christ pours his life and power into us for worship, sanctity, and service. But in all that he does he keeps himself out of sight. When he works in us, Christ, not the Spirit, is the center of attention. Spiritual experiences that lead away from Christ, or bypass him, are not from the Holy Spirit at all.”

Any kind of spirit that draws attention away from Jesus, towards itself, isn’t holy, but demonic. You don’t want to be filled with such spirits. You don’t want to be empowered by such spirits. You don’t want gifts from such spirits.

Silly Spirituality (Colossians 2:18–23)

“Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

…These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” —Colossians 2:18–19, 23

False teachings, like the teachers themselves, travel as a pack of dogs. Where you find one, the others are likely present. Do you sense an unbiblical esteem for the spiritual and disdain for the physical that leans toward asceticism? If so, you’ll likely find an unhealthy fascination with angels and demons. Is spiritual warfare concerning said angels and demons made much of in an extra-biblical way? Then there will likely be talk of visions to justify such nonsense.

The irony of this false teaching is that their qualifications disqualify. Their severity to the body strengthens the flesh. Their show of humility is fuels pride. Worshipping angels, they’re enslaved to demons. Seeking higher spiritual knowledge, their minds are fleshly and of this world. By starving the body they’ve only fed the flesh.

Paul is ridiculing these false teachers in the light of the gory of Christ. They are a joke, but not one to be taken flippantly or casually. Laugh at heresy with the utmost seriousness. Let no one disqualify you insisting on something so stupid and silly. See Jesus Christ the Lord, supreme as Sovereign, Savior, and Sanctifier.

Let No One Pass Judgement on You (Colossians 2:16–17)

“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” —Colossians 2:16–17

As far as Scriptures that are loosely referenced and alluded to, Matthew 7:1 has likely usurped John 3:16 for the top spot. “God loves you,” has been replaced by “Don’t judge me!” In this context, a context-less Colossians 2:16 is met with a hearty “Amen!”

In lieu of this, it’s critical to recognize that Paul does not fall prey to the postmodern predicament. The postmodern premise is that there is no absolute truth, which is a self-defeating lie stated as an absolute truth. Based on this premise is the self-defeating lie, “You can’t judge me,” which is itself a judgment on other’s judgment. The reason Paul’s warning is different is because it has an absolute reference point—Christ.

Christians are not immune from all judgment, take 1 Corinthians 5:11–13 for one example, but they should be zealous that no one judge them in a way that is ultimately a judgment on Christ. For the false teachers to insist on the observance of diets and days is to say that Jesus isn’t sufficient.

So, whereas “Don’t judge me!” rings of an arrogant love of self, “Let no one pass judgment on you…” shouts of a humble zeal for Jesus. You may rightly judge me an undeserving sinner. You may not judge Jesus as an inadequate Savior. You may judge my works as lack, but I refuse for you to disdain Jesus’ substitutionary obedience in my stead. I am lacking, He is not.