Galatians Part 11: The Scandal of Jesus-Plus-Nothing

Galatians 5:7-12

How anyone can read Galatians 5 and still believe that Jesus-just-Jesus isn’t enough is incomprehensible.  The apostle Paul’s reasoning in this chapter and his defense of the absolutely pure gospel of Jesus-plus-nothing is irrefutable.

Yet this chapter is also Paul’s best response to the age-old question:  If my relationship with God is based on Jesus-plus-nothing, if grace is God’s totally unmerited love and favor from initial salvation to the day I meet my Maker, why should I worry about living right? Why should it matter?

Paul’s simple answer is in verse 13:  “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh,” and in 6:7-8 he declares:  “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.  Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”

Jesus-plus-nothing is never an excuse to sin.  Living in sin limits the blessing of God and puts our future in this life at risk.  Yet living in sin does not end our relationship with God that comes to us in the new birth.  In other words, a prodigal son is no less a son than than one who is obedient.

It’s so clear in Jesus’ story of the two brothers (Luke 15:11-32) that they are loved equally by the father regardless of their behavior.  The lesson is that Father God’s love is unwavering, even when we are unfaithful, even though our unfaithfulness has dreadful temporal consequences.  On the other hand, the lesson we learn from the good brother is that, just as his bad brother’s behavior doesn’t change his father’s love, his own good behavior is not what earns his father’s favor.  Both sons are loved simply because they are sons.

More on this when we come to the end of chapter 5, but first let’s see how Paul identifies six reasons why Jesus-plus-something is ridiculously and perilously wrong.

1

Jesus-plus-something is simply not from God: “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?  That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you (verse 8).”

Already Paul is implying that living by grace isn’t an excuse to sit on the side lines and wait for the Second Coming.  We’re in a race.  We’re also supposed to obey the truth, but “the truth” to which Paul refers, of course, is the truth of the pure gospel.  In other words, obeying the truth isn’t just about doing good works, behaving ourselves righteously.  Instead, we have to give up trusting our efforts to please God.

I am made perfectly righteous before God the day I’m born again because of the righteousness of Jesus in me and on me.  And every new day of the rest of my life I stand perfectly righteous before God because of Jesus in me and on me.  Remember Hebrews 10:14, which tells us that by one sacrifice he made us perfect forever.

2

Jesus-plus-something is dangerous even in small dosages: “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough (verse 9).”
In the Bible, yeast is most often a symbol of sin.  During Passover, for example, the Jewish people had to remove all the yeast from their homes and eat unleavened (unyeasted) bread.  In this case, Paul is using yeast as a symbol God-pleasing through self-effort.  You just can’t minimize the impact of Jesus-plus-something.  Just a pinch of yeast affects the entire batch of dough.

3

Jesus-plus-something is simply not the right view of things: ”  I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view” (verse 10a).

More strong language from Paul:  He’s right and every other view on this is wrong.

4

Jesus-plus-something brings confusion:  “The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be” (verse 10b).

Jesus-plus-nothing is controversial, even offensive, but it’s very simple:  My hope is build on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.  It’s so simple that religious people think it’s too simple.  They just can’t believe that that relationship with God from beginning to end is based solely on Jesus in me.

Jesus-plus-something, on the other hand, is not at all controversial.  It feels comfortable.  It gives God credit, but it also satisfies the my need to feel like I’ve done something good.  In the end, though, Jesus-plus-something is the source of confusion and uncertainty, because everyone seems to have a different idea of the “something” and how much of it we need.  Jesus-plus-something is a black hole, a bottomless pit.

For the ancient Jewish Christians the “something” was circumcision.  For legalistic Christians, it could be any number of things, from smoking a cigarette to premarital sex.  For just plain religious people, it could be how much we read or don’t read the Bible, or pray, or attend church or mass.  Personally, Jesus-plus-something drives me crazy, because everyone I talk to about it has a different answer to the question:  what’s the something?

Go ahead.  Do your own survey.  Ask other Christians, “If salvation is based on Jesus-plus-something, what is it?  How much of it do we need?  And who’s going to decide?  All the answers you get will drive you crazy, too.

5

Jesus-plus-something waters down the power of the cross: “Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished” (verse 11).

This is a remarkable statement.  Paul explains: If you let yourself be circumcised, that is, if you believe that your eternal relationship with God is based on Jesus-plus-circumcision, you eliminate the offense (skandalon in Greek) of the Cross.

What the scandal of the cross?  What offends people?  The cross says that there is absolutely nothing you can do to save yourself.  No human effort can save you or keep you saved.  Even just a little human effort is a problem, that is, Jesus plus just a few little things.  Legalistic leaven that ruins the whole batch of grace dough.

Our utter helplessness in the matter of our own salvation is scandalous. This is the reason that Jesus-plus-something is always offensive to the most religious people and, conversely such good news to people who are struggling.

Jesus has essentially the same scandalous message in Luke 18:

9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Scandalous!

6

Jesus-plus-something makes Paul really angry:  “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! (verse 12)”

Ooh, I wonder if Paul went to heaven.  He’s not very nice.  He’s screaming, “As for those people who want to circumcise the Gentiles because they think that’s what’s going to make them holy, well, those people should just drop their pants and cut their whole thing off.”

So do you still believe in Jesus-plus-something?  What’s your “something”?  And how much of it do I need to insure my salvation?

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