In the Bible book of Galatians, the issue at hand was legalism. Specifically, it was about circumcision, and adding works to the Grace of the Gospel.
The Galatians had responded to, and accepted the Gospel, probably during Paul and Barnabas’s first missionary journey. They had accepted God’s free gift of salvation, based upon their faith in Christ, and His atonement alone, recognizing themselves to be sinners in need of a Savior.
Since that time, the pure Gospel of Grace was being diluted, perverted, if you will, by Jewish Christians who were claiming that circumcision was also necessary for Salvation.
This made Paul angry!
Paul, who was probably on his 3rd missionary journey at this time, penned this great letter in response to this legalistic perversion of the Gospel, via the Holy Spirit’s Divine inspiration.
Let me digress for a moment.
When I was a child, even a very small child, I remember vividly how I hated to be helped on any project I was doing. If I was coloring, and one of my siblings decided to “help” me, it wasn’t my picture anymore, and usually I would stop on that page and go to another. If I was doing a jigsaw puzzle and someone wanted to join in, it was all I could do to bite my tongue and let them. I do remember finally conquering this and allowing them to help me, especially my dad, and now that is one of my most precious memories of us doing puzzles together. But it was hard for me, especially early on. If I was doing an art project, or craft, which I have always loved doing, I never wanted any help. It wouldn’t be my own work if I allowed someone to help me.
Fast forward a bit, and when I was presented with the Gospel, the hardest thing I had to let go of was trusting in my own works to achieve Salvation. I was only 12, but I remember fighting for my own ‘truth’ that if I just did more good things than bad things, I would get to go to heaven. Thank God, the Holy Spirit helped me let go of that false truth, and I accepted the free Grace of the Gospel unto Salvation.
Did you know?
Every other religion on Earth bases their path to heaven on works? Doing good works or living a good life, or following the rules of their religion? Some denominations are prone to this too. Even though they may be under the “christian umbrella” some still demand faithfulness to their criteria or sacraments or works to ‘really’ be a christian and gain heaven.
This is the difference between True Christianity and false beliefs. We can do NOTHING to earn our Salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 makes this clear. “For by Grace you have been saved through Faith, and that not of yourselves, NOT OF WORKS lest anyone should boast.”
Titus 3:5-7 also makes this truth evident. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost. Which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior; that being justified (meaning to be made righteous, or, just as if I had never sinned) we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
(parenthesis and capitalization emphasis on the verses above are mine)
This is the battle the Galatians were facing. The battle of adding works, or a specific work, to the Gospel message of grace.
Paul responded to this false doctrine by his own testimony and systematically explaining a few things. One point he made is in Galatians 5:11, “and I brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? Then is the offense of the cross ceased.”
What Paul was saying is that no one would be offended if he were preaching circumcision as the path to God and Heaven. He would not be suffering such great personal persecution for preaching that. Only by preaching the Cross and Christ’s suffering atonement for our sins, our inability to attain it on our own, but only through accepting the free gift of grace & forgiveness for our sins… that is the offense of the cross. Because that truth makes you face yourself and all your unrighteousness, and submit to God in humble repentance.
That is why Paul was suffering persecution.
Remember, before he met Christ on the road to Damascus, (Galatians 1:13-14) Paul was ‘exceedingly zealous of the traditions of his fathers’ and was an industrious persecutor of followers of Christ. Before he personally stumbled over that stumbling stone, (Christ and the Gospel) Paul was putting his faith in his own works. And he was one of the workiest workers of all! A Pharisee of Pharisees. A member of the Jewish Sanhedrin. A well-educated scholar of the Jewish law. A whole lot of ‘good works’ going on there! But nothing that would obtain eternity in heaven, until he surrendered it all and accepted the one he was fighting. Until he turned around in repentance and accepted Jesus as his personal Savior.
We want to do it on our own. Hence, the path all other religions put forth. Works. Think it through… all other religious faiths put some kind of conditional rule on how you achieve heaven. Only the true Christian faith says YOU can’t do it. You on your own will ALWAYS miss the mark. Jesus paid the price for you! You only need to accept His atonement and payment for your sins in your place. Then you are credited with His righteousness, which is the ONLY righteousness good enough for Heaven.
It is FREE. No works you do can buy it. No rules you follow can earn it. Jesus paid the price and wants to give it to you. You only need to ask & receive this precious free gift of forgiveness and eternal life.
You see, “circumcision” was only the popular ‘work’ of the day. Its really just a template word. You could replace it with any other work, or rule, or sacrament, or hoop to jump through, and it would still hold true. If it is a requirement for salvation, then it is perverting and diluting the Gospel.
This is the offense of the cross; that you can’t save yourself. This is the stumbling stone in Matthew 21:44, and Isaiah 8:14. This is why Christians have been persecuted throughout the ages… It’s because people want to think they can do it on their own, and the message of the cross tells them otherwise. Their sinful nature keeps them from wanting to submit to God. They think they can make their own way to heaven, just like the people in Genesis 11 tried to do. They tried to create a ‘backdoor’ into heaven.
But it is impossible. Heaven has no back doors. To achieve Heaven requires Holy perfection. And none of us are perfect. We are all sinners, and one sin is enough to keep you out of Heaven’s splendor. The ‘offense of the cross’ is the stumbling stone to all who won’t accept that Jesus is The Way; the Only Way, to God. Jesus, the God-Man, is the Only Perfect One. He died on that cruel cross, shedding His perfect sinless blood, taking the punishment we all deserve, and then He showed His victory over sin and death and satan by rising again on the third day.
Only by accepting Jesus will we receive His Righteousness credited to our account, and fulfilling the perfection clause for entering Heaven’s gates.
Paul tells the Galatians in 2:16 “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”
The illustration of the stumbling stone in both Matthew 21:44 and Isaiah 8:14 show us the heavy consequences for refusing to acknowledge Christ. If you stumble over the stone; the truth of the free Grace of the Gospel, but then accept Him as your Savior, you will be broken of your own self-righteousness, but you will gain a right relationship with God & Heaven’s splendor for all eternity. But if you stumble and reject, or pervert the Gospel by adding your own works into it, Jesus says the Stone will fall on that person and crush him to powder. A dire warning, indeed!
Paul stumbled over the realization that the one he was fighting against was the very Savior he needed. I stumbled, when I had to be broken from the false notion that my good works could save me. Stumbling may break us, but if we turn around and accept the Truth we stumbled over, we come to Saving Grace. If we reject it and think we can do it our own way, that Stone will one day crush us to powder for all eternity.
That is not a price I want to pay, especially since Jesus already paid the price for my redemption. I am so thankful that I came to that saving knowledge and acceptance of Him as a child. I am so thankful that I gave up my silly notion that I could pay for my own salvation with works. How presumptuous of any of us to think that we could add one iota to the price that only Jesus could pay by any work we could possibly do.
For nothing good have I
Whereby Thy grace to claim;
I’ll wash my garments white
In the blood of Calvary’s Lamb.
Jesus paid it all.
All to Him I owe.
Sin had left a crimson stain.
He washed it white as snow.
Dear friend, let me ask you; if you find yourself at Heaven’s gates and God asks you why He should let you in, what will your answer be? If your answer is “any work, sacrament, church, or deed that you have done,” you won’t be allowed admittance.
The only answer that is going to bring God’s smile and an open gate, is “I accepted the atoning sacrifice of Christ, forgiveness for all my sins, and put my faith in Him as my personal Savior.” Then all of Heaven will be yours, and most of all, fellowshipping with your Savior will be yours to enjoy for all of eternity.
That is my one and only answer. Is it yours?
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