The Offense of the Cross

“But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed” (v. 11).  

- Galatians 5:10–11

Even before Paul gets into the details of the Spirit-led life in his epistle to the Galatians (5:16–6:10), there are clues that Paul had no doubt the Holy Spirit would preserve those in his audience who, though they were straying from the gospel, had truly believed in Jesus. His assertion that at least some of the Galatians received the Spirit by faith (3:2–6) points us in this direction, but 5:10 also demonstrates Paul’s confidence. The apostle’s readers may have been toying with the idea of adding the works of the Law to their faith and were at risk of forfeiting their redemption; however, Paul was assured in the Lord that this would not continue forever. As Paul tells us elsewhere, God always completes the good work that He begins in His people (Phil. 1:6), and He will do whatever it takes to ensure that we work out our salvation in fear and trembling (2:12–13).

Circumcision could never be one of the ways by which the Gentile believers in Galatia grew into holiness, but not because it is inherently dangerous to the soul. Actually, circumcision is an indifferent matter (Gal. 5:6), indicating that Paul forbade the practice in Galatia (v. 2) due to the Galatians’ belief that the rite would justify them. Yet there was apparently some doubt regarding his position on the subject, for the apostle must make it clear that he never preached its necessity (v. 11). His Judaizing opponents probably told the Galatians that Paul did proclaim circumcision, at least when it suited him.

The suffering Paul endured was proof that circumcision was never a requirement he added to the gospel. If he had been preaching the need for Gentiles to receive the old covenant sign he would not have run into any trouble. His refusal to impose the Mosaic law upon non-Jews was one of the things that made the news of the crucified and risen Messiah a stumbling block to the Jewish authorities and incited them to take action against him. Some even tried to say that his refusal to toe the orthodox line extended even to his barring of the Mosaic law for Jewish Christians, although this was a demonstrable lie (Acts 21:17–26).

Paul refused to compromise the gospel to make it acceptable to the sensibilities of his fellow countrymen. May we always follow his example.

Coram Deo

Martin Luther says that “when the cross is abolished, and the rage of tyrants and heretics ceases on the one side, and all things are in peace, this is a sure token that the pure doctrine of God’s Word is taken away.” The world’s hatred is sometimes a sign that we are being faithful to Scripture, provided the world detests us due to the message we preach, not because we are obnoxious. If we meet no worldly opposition, it may mean we are not being true to the offense of the cross.

Passages for Further Study

Jeremiah 38:1–13
John 15:18–16:4a

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