November 4, 2018

Jesus + Nothing = Everything

Jason Meyer | Galatians 5:2-4

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.—Galatians 5:2–4

Global Focus 2018

At the end of this sermon, I am going to be calling three groups of people to come to the front: (1) current global partners, (2) those in the Nurture Program, (3) those sensing a stirring to global missions. As always, there will be no guilt trips or gimmicks or manipulation. We have a text and we are going to ask God to speak to us and move in us so that we have clarity for what to do and the Christ-exalting courage to do it.

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.—Galatians 5:2–4 

Outline (repetition and intensification)

  1. Christ will be of no advantage to you (if you accept circumcision) – v. 2
  2. You are obligated to keep the whole law (if you accept circumcision) – v. 3
  3. You are severed from Christ and have fallen from grace (if you attempt to be justified by law) – v. 4 

The apostle Paul here builds to a climax through repetition and intensification. Verse 4 is perhaps the clearest and most climactic way of stating the point: Adding something to Christ means being severed from Christ.

Let’s see this point emerge as we unpack the three claims of the outline.

1) Christ Will Be of No Advantage to You (If You Accept Circumcision) – v. 2 

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.

Do you feel the confrontation here? Paul’s directness leaps off the page: Look: I, Paul, say to you …” This word we translate as “Look” is often called a “metacomment” in that it is a front-loading device meant to focus our attention on the tremendous importance of what he is about to say. It’s the equivalent of saying: “Mark my words.” So the phrase is not adding content—it is communicating the intense importance of the words that follow. 

The “I, Paul” should probably be taken in a way that combines the personal and the positional. From the personal standpoint, they draw upon the relationship that Paul has with the Galatians. He founded this church. He is in labor once again until they close with Christ. But there is also a positional standpoint. Paul is an apostle, an authoritative representative of the risen Lord who speaks for the risen Lord. 

We should be prepared now to hear what Paul has to say. What is it? He says, in effect, don’t believe the lie of Christ and circumcision; it is Christ or circumcision. You think you are adding circumcision, but you are actually canceling out Christ. Circumcision does not supplement their faith, it is a radical break from their faith, because Christ + nothing = everything, and Christ + circumcision = nothing. Christ becomes of no advantage at all. 

The context of Galatians matters here. These are Gentile believers. The false teachers are claiming that Paul just gave the Galatian believers a half gospel: Yes, they need Christ to be saved. But they need more! They have a salvation deficiency. To be full members in the family of God as children of Abraham, they must supplement Christ by adding Jewishness. They must add Jewish practices and laws like circumcision. It looks like they have already begun to follow parts of the Jewish law, but have not added circumcision yet. Listen to Galatians 5:10–11.

You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

He uses the present tense: You are observing days and months and seasons and years—the Jewish calendar. This means that my efforts to share the gospel of salvation look like they have potentially failed (“I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain”). The opponents—and now the Galatians—have failed to understand the “all or nothing” logic of faith that is an essential part of the gospel.

2) You Are Obligated to Keep the Whole Law (If You Accept Circumcision) – v. 3

I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.

You can feel the moment of intervention again, can you not? The word Paul uses here is “testify.” He is making a case and he is giving it all he has. He resorts to repeating himself for the sake of emphasis. “I testify again.” Some people think the “again” refers back to Galatians 3:10.

It is tempting to see this as the reference because these statements are similar, but that is not the way the word again works. It refers back to something just stated (cf. Romans 15:10, 11, 12; 1 Corinthians 3:20, 12:21; 2 Corinthians 11:16; Galatians 1:9; Philippians 4:4). You can see the repetition in the repeated words “accept circumcision” (vv. 2, 3). He is explaining the “all or nothing” logic again. If you accept circumcision, Christ is of no advantage and all you have to rely upon now is the law. You are putting yourself under the law = under obligation to keep all of it. If you forsake the truth of Christ alone for salvation, then you are on your own for salvation.

Now why wouldn’t someone simply reply and say: Fine. I will just keep the whole law. What is the problem? I will obey all the commandments. Even if I can’t keep them all perfectly, then I will obey the other commandments about the sacrificial system. The law included commands about what to do when you couldn’t keep the commands. 

There are two problems with this response. You have to keep the law perfectly, and no one can. Here is the similarity between Galatians 3:10 and Galatians 5:3—the word “all” and “whole.” One must abide by “all” the things written in the book of the law (Deuteronomy 27:26). A similar emphasis emerges in Galatians 5:3 with the adjective “whole” (holos). One who receives circumcision must obey the “whole” law.

You have to keep it perfectly, and you cannot. There is only one who kept the law perfectly, and that was Christ. The Son of God was born under the law to save those under the law. Here is the second problem: There is no more sacrificial system. It was always meant to be temporary. The blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin. Christ is the once-for-all sacrifice. So once again, it is all or nothing. Keep the law perfectly or trust the one who kept the law perfectly and paid the price for your failure to keep it perfectly.

So what is the problem with syncretism? It takes the Christian faith and radically alters it by adding to it so that it becomes just like every other religion: a law-based or works-based salvation. Paul makes this contrast clear repeatedly in Galatians. Consider the contrast in Galatians 3:1–14. 

Law-Works/Flesh Path Faith/Spirit Path
“from works of the law” (v. 2) “from hearing with faith” (v. 2)
“by flesh” (v. 3) “by Spirit” (v. 3)
“from works of the law” (v. 5)  “from hearing with faith” (v. 5)
“those of the works of the law” (v. 10) “those of faith” (v. 7)
“live by them” (v. 12) “live by faith” (v. 11)

In other words, all religions may have different practices and rules, but they are all the same in saying, “This is what you must do to reach God.” Christianity alone says, “This is what God has done to reach you.” Syncretism creates a salvation by works system; the gospel is a salvation by faith system.

3) You Are Severed From Christ and Have Fallen From Grace (If You Try To Be Justified by Law) – v. 4

You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

This is perhaps the clearest moment of Paul’s confrontation as we move from the specific issue (circumcision) to the real problem: accepting circumcision is attempting to be justified by law, not faith in Christ. You can see the either-or and all or nothing logic once more on display. Notice the parallel relationship between grace and Christ and the contrast with law. Being justified by grace means we do nothing to merit the right standing with God. If we don’t do the work—we don’t merit this right standing with God. Then who does—how does it happen? It is the work of Christ. It is the grace of Christ (unmerited favor because it is based on the merit of Christ’s work).

Application: Sharing the Gospel or Becoming Part of the Gospel? 

  1. The Distinction Between Syncretism and Cultural Contextualization

We must make a distinction between syncretism and contextualization. Many people will be called to take the gospel to a different culture. That means cultural adaptation—some aspects of culture will be adopted for the sake of the gospel—but how do you avoid making those things part of the gospel?

Circumcision is a good test case. Why does Paul speak so strongly against these Gentile Christians accepting circumcision, when this same Paul himself was the one who decided to have Timothy circumcised in Acts 16?

Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.—Acts 16:1–5

 Now listen to Galatians 2:3–5.

But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery—to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

Don’t miss the three key differences between these two texts.

  1. The first difference involves the people who could be circumcised. Titus was “all Gentile,” while Timothy was “half Jew” and “half Gentile.” He had a Greek father and a Jewish mother.

  2. The second difference is the people for whom they would be circumcised. The pressure to circumcise Titus came from “false brothers” (v. 4). The pressure to circumcise Timothy came from unbelieving Jews, not professing Christians. Paul wanted Timothy to be a traveling companion in a mission to share the gospel with unbelieving Jews so he “took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek” (Acts 16:3).

  3. The third difference is therefore why they were circumcised or not. Timothy was circumcised in order to tear down potential barriers to sharing the gospel. Titus was not circumcised because it would have built up a barrier to being saved by the gospel. Timothy was circumcised for the sake of propagation, Titus was not circumcised for the sake of salvation: “To them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you” (Galatians 2:5).

Therefore, notice that we cannot be simplistic about syncretism. It is not enough to say: Do that thing or don’t do that thing. Should someone be circumcised? You cannot simply say “yes” or “no.” One must say, “it depends.” It depends on who would do it or not do it, for whose sake are they doing it or not doing it, and why would they do it or leave it undone?

It also raises the question about how one separates cultural practices from religious practices. Jewishness was bound up with the practice of circumcision. It became a marker of Jewish culture: “We are a people who practice circumcision.” The same is true today of many cultures. “We are a people who practice _______.”

The real question is interpreting the pressure to do something or add something. “Why must it be kept or added?” Does it make the gospel “hearable” or “possible?” If it becomes part of the gospel, then it is syncretism—it is added to the list of what someone has to do to be right with God. If it becomes something you trust in or rely upon for salvation, then Christ has gone from everything to nothing. If it is part of what comprises the gospel, then it compromises the gospel. That is when it becomes deadly. 

  1. Syncretism Turns the Gospel Into Paganism

Circumcision was something God commanded in the past to set apart the people of God with those who don’t know God (i.e., paganism). But the coming of Christ has changed everything—he is what makes the people of God distinct from those who don’t know God. If the Galatians accept circumcision, they will become like those who don’t know God again.

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?—Galatians 4:8–9

Paul has to give the same warning about the false teachers in Philippians who are insisting upon Gentile Christians becoming circumcised:

Look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.—Philippians 3:2–3 

He has a gruesome play on words: Circumcision is the word peritome. They think they are doing peritome (circumcision), but they are actually doing katatome (mutilation). It is a pagan cutting that mutilates the body. Don’t go down this path of accepting circumcision unless you want to lose Christ altogether and fall from grace. Cutting off the foreskin means being cut off from Christ. 

Here is an example of pagan religion—the battle between a true prophet and false prophets.

And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men.  Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.” Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”  And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.—1 Kings 18:21–29

Circumcision on this side of the gospel has become a pagan cutting to get God’s attention. There is no need like the prophets of Baal to cut ourselves until the blood gushes out to get God’s attention. Why? The Son of God has come and shed his blood. Paul says that he made the gospel crystal clear to them. Listen to Galatians 3:1. 

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.

“Publicly portrayed” is the word for “placarded.” I preached Christ crucified so vividly and clearly it was like I made a high-resolution billboard for you. It is like these false teachers put you under a spell—some hellish hocus-pocus. 

Now I need to spell it out for you all over again. What is the only thing that can save you? Let me spell it out for you as clearly as possible: The cross of Christ. What he did! Not what you do! Nothing but the blood of Jesus! Do you feel the ferociousness of faith in Christ alone?

My grandma was a very gentle soul. When someone came over, she loved to serve them. She would ask if they wanted some “nice” milk or she would ask if she could make you a “nice” hamburger. Even the food she made was “nice.” So one encounter I witnessed stood out all the more.

One day, my cousin and I were over at her house. An older gentlemen had come to the door while we were there and introduced himself to her. My cousin started to tease her a little bit. “Maybe he is coming over to introduce himself to you because he is interested in you. What do you think? Could you see yourself with him some day?” Something in her snapped.

She got this fierce look in her eyes and said, “I was married to your grandpa for five decades, and he was such a great man that I don’t ever need another man to replace him. If you think I do, then you just need to get out of here!” And she literally followed him out the door, continuing to yell about Grandpa to him until my cousin got in his car.

This is what happens in the heart of every true Christian. We know and love the truth that Christ saves alone or he does not save at all. He is all we need. Don’t you dare come around here with your claim to add something to Christ. If you are saying that, then you need to go. Get out!

Conclusion: The Missions Call

This is the truth of the gospel. It is for you right now if you are not following Christ. What hope do you have to be saved on your own? We can’t even live up to our own standards, let alone sinlessly live up to God’s standards. Trust in the One who obeyed perfectly and fully paid the price for your failure to not obey perfectly.

I want to remind you of what we said last year at this time from Ephesians 2:10, “We are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared in advance that we should walk in them.” We are not saved by good works, but we are saved for good works—God has planned them for us.

If you are a Christian, God has written you into his plan and purpose to bring all things under one head—namely Christ. He is to have the preeminence. He has the Name above every name. There is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved than the name of Jesus. He will call his sheep by name and gather them and there will be one flock and one Shepherd.

We are all part of that—either as goers or senders (or we are disobedient and should repent). You are part of God’s plan, and we are asking you to pray about what part you are to play in that plan. We are not competing for parts in a play or saying that some paths are second class or sub-par. This is God’s plan. He has planned for some of you to go and for most of you to stay. There is not first class or second class—there is only obedient or disobedient.

Some of you will hear about the need of the nations right now—unengaged and unreached people groups—and God will confirm his plan for you, that the works prepared for you in advance will involve another people group.

It will absolutely break your heart to hear that unengaged people groups are the most lost, the most out-of-reach of salvation, because they have the least access to knowing the name of Jesus. They have an equal need for salvation along with everyone else, but they do not have equal access to the salvation—the name of the Savior. They have zero chance to know the Name because they have zero access to the Name.

The tragedy intensifies at this point because the people who know the name, in fact the people that are called by his name (Christians), are not telling them. No, even worse—they are not even targeting them so that they can eventually tell them.

Put this tragedy into specific perspective in terms of missionary workforce. One would think (hope) that the most lost places on earth would be the largest targets for missionaries. But 90 percent of all foreign missionaries work among already-reached people groups (Winter and Koch, Perspectives, p. 543). The places that need workers most are receiving the fewest.

So here is the call. Right now we are asking the Lord to help you discern if the path that he has laid out for you will mean going to the nations. I am going to call three groups forward: (1) current global partners (already sent), (2) those currently in the Nurture Program (preparing to be sent), and (3) those feeling a fresh stirring to pray about being sent. The good news is that you don’t have to figure it all out on your own. We have many people here that believe part of the good works God has ordained for them are helping others discern their sense of calling to missions! 

Sermon Discussion Questions


  1. Christ will be of no advantage to you (if you accept circumcision) – Galatians 5:2
  2. You are obligated to keep the whole law (if you accept circumcision) – Galatians 5:3
  3. You are severed from Christ and have fallen from grace (if you attempt to be justified by law) – Galatians 5:4

Main Point: Adding something to Christ means being severed from Christ.

Discussion Questions

  • What were the false teachers telling the Galatians about why they needed to be circumcised?
  • What does Paul say will happen if the Galatians get circumcised?
  • Why does syncretism (like mixing together Jewish religion and the gospel) turn the message of salvation from salvation by grace to salvation by law or works?
  • Why does Paul have Timothy circumcised in Acts 16, but refuse to have Titus circumcised in Galatians 2?

Application Questions

  • Do you ever struggle to keep the message of the gospel pure? In your life, what types of “law” have the potential to contaminate the gospel?
  • What things from American culture sometimes get mixed in with the gospel?
  • How does the holy ambition to know Christ fit with the holy ambition to make him known? Do you have these two ambitions in your life? What part is Christ calling you to play in God’s global mission?

Prayer Focus
Pray for a grace to hold fast to the ferocious trust we have in Jesus alone to save us. Pray for a grace to avoid adding things to Christ and thus becoming severed from Christ. Pray for a grace to know what part we are to play in God’s plan to redeem a people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

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