The Effects of Leaven

“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” (vv. 7–9).

- Galatians 5:7–9

Returning again to the topic of circumcision (Gal. 5:1–12) might seem to be a strange way for Paul to begin his exposition of Christian freedom in Galatians 5–6, but it makes sense given that the imposition of circumcision and the attendant yoke of the Torah is what most threatened the Galatians’ liberty in Jesus. Today we might not be tempted to add old covenant ceremonies to our faith in Christ, though there are all sorts of voices around us that tell us Jesus is not enough. Sometimes we are told that we need a second blessing or baptism in the Holy Spirit to give us that extra strength we need to live the “victorious Christian life.” Perhaps others want us to follow a magic “prayer formula” or guarantee new power if we “do church in a new way.” Whatever the form they take, all of us deal with the suggestion that Jesus is not sufficient.

Believing that we need anything more than faith in Christ, which is evidenced in the imitation of Him through the Spirit (3 John 11), leads us only into new bondage. Invariably, these extra things fail to deliver on their promises and we find ourselves enslaved to false guilt, believing that it is our fault somehow that these extra things did not work. Such false guilt can paralyze us, encouraging us to give in to sin, thinking that there is no way we can resist it.

But there is no silver bullet for sanctification. Becoming holy, which will be completed when we are glorified, is a marathon, not a sprint. Surely this is the implication of Paul’s teaching in Galatians 5:7, which is one of the many instances in his letters where he likens Christian growth to an athletic race
(see also 2 Tim. 4:7). Our progress unto holiness might seem slow to our eyes, but if we are daily looking to Christ and trusting in His sufficiency, we are running well. Those who would tempt us to doubt that we have all we need for life and godliness in Jesus (2 Peter 1:3) are not representative of the One who has called us (Gal. 5:8) and must be rejected.

The things that we might want to add to Christ may seem innocuous, but to even start questioning whether He is sufficient for our needs is to lose the battle. For such doubts, if not quickly checked, only lead to more errors (v. 9).

Coram Deo

John Calvin comments, “Satan’s stratagem is, that he does not attempt an avowed destruction of the whole gospel, but he taints its purity by introducing false and corrupt opinions.” The blatant heresy endorsed in many churches today did not come out of nowhere. Only through the slow erosion of truth do the visible churches of Christ come to the point where they deny Jesus. Pray that you would always stand firm on the truth of the gospel.

Passages for Further Study

Genesis 3:1–7
Luke 4:1–13
1 Corinthians 9:24–27
2 Corinthians 12:1–10

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.