What to Say About False Teachers (Galatians 5:7-12) 

What to Say About False Teachers

Hindering the Truth Galatians 5 to 6—5:7-12

Did you hear about the survey of evangelicals done by RC Sproul’s ministry, Ligonier? They defined evangelicals using four criteria. An evangelical is one who 1) believes the Bible, 2) believes in Jesus, 3) believes the Gospel, and 4) believes they are responsible to share the Gospel with others. Those four facts made you an evangelical for this survey. What they discovered is, those who believe the Bible, Jesus, the Gospel and evangelism have no idea what they believe.

Here are some questions they were asked–how would you answer these? Everyone is born innocent, agree or disagree–65% of them agreed everyone is born innocent. A second question, the Bible is not literally true, agree or disagree–55% agreed, the Bible is not literally true. Another one, God accepts worship from all religions, 56% of evangelicals agreed. And maybe the most telling question, Jesus was a good teacher but not God–43% of evangelicals agree.

Honestly, my beloved congregation–these answers are dystopian. Forget the Hunger Games, we have arrived at the end. It feels like the Rapture is days away. The evangelical church has been so busy over the last thirty years trying to find ways to not offend the non-Christian, trying to find ways to take the offense out of the Gospel, and designing approaches so non-believers don’t get mad and reject Christ, that now we have an evangelical movement that is void of the truth.

Why do they do this? Because the Gospel, in truth, is so offensive–it is offensive. In fact, strange as it may seem, the good news is hated by non-believers. And today, the Gospel is under attack–not by those who hate it, but by those who say they love it. The biggest current attack is the social gospel. What is that?

Several movies are classics to me—meaning, the most quotable, containing classic lines which relate to life and are fun. One of those movies is “The Princess Bride”. Vizzini continues to repeat the word, “Inconceivable!” Finally, Inigo Montoya replies, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” And that’s the key to understanding social justice–it is not social, nor justice.

Justice is an attribute of God–justice and righteousness are almost used interchangeably in Scripture. So justice is God is doing what is right. It is God doing what is consistent with all His character–always doing what is best and right. Remember, it is God’s justice that sends those who reject Christ to Hell forever. Justice does not mean fair, most loving, most merciful–but what is right-eous. True social justice would be the Church doing what is biblical, what is right towards people in society–not what feels right, not what others think, not that which is only compassionate, but what the Word of God teaches and God’s character demands.

But Inigo would say, “That is not how social justice is being used today.” Social justice today is being thrown at Christians and at the Church to mean something totally different than true biblical justice. Today, the definition of social justice is (get this down) doing what others say is deserved toward pre-chosen groups. Pick that apart for a moment–doing what others say. Who are the others?

The media, politicians, social media gurus, and left-thinking extremists–what they say. Then who are the pre-chosen groups–those who are most deserving? Anyone who is not a white male. All minorities, all women, all races except Caucasian, all countries except the USA, all prisoners, all homosexuals, all transgender, all confused, all child abusers, anyone who feels marginalized–except for white males. And one more thing–who are those who deserve the most? Anyone who fits multiple categories, like a Hispanic lesbian considering a gender change deserves far more than a white Christian female, when they are both applying to UCLA.

As skewed as all this is, there is something far worse now in the Church–those who have bought into the world’s view of social justice have made God’s Gospel of grace conditioned upon whether you genuinely bleed for the pre-chosen groups. So if you don’t seek to make reparations to the black community, if you don’t accept the homosexual as a Christian, if you don’t embrace women preachers, if you don’t make a place for the transgender in the Church–then you can’t be a Christian. They have added the world’s social issues as a condition to salvation by faith. They would teach you can’t really be saved by grace through faith in Christ alone, unless you embrace what others say towards all those pre-chosen groups.

And just to be clear, my friends–we hate what society did in the past to blacks, Chinese, and American Indians. True Christians love the homosexual, the woman preacher, and the confused transgender–we love them. But their greatest need is not unconditional acceptance–and never to embrace their sin as an alternative lifestyle. No, their greatest need is to turn from their sin in repentance and follow Christ by faith.

God’s Word is eternal. God’s Word shows us God’s character and teaches us what is sin. God’s Word alone shows us what God wants. God’s Word teaches us what is right–obedience to God’s Word is what glorifies Him and God’s Word alone shows us what’s truly just. We reject any addition to the Gospel of grace–any condition apart from true faith, any salvation found by affirming, keeping or following any and all man-made rules or ideas.

The social gospel is not social and it is not just–it is rebellion to God and His Word. It is a rejection of God’s character and God’s Law. It is making evil into good and good into evil–and it is suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. And the same could be said to the Galatians, to whom Paul writes. Open to Galatians 5. Paul evangelized the Galatian region of modern day Turkey–returned home, and within weeks false teachers called Judaizers swooped in and taught they needed to become Jews first in order to become Christians. Plus they needed to keep the Old Testament Law, and especially be circumcised. Paul writes this letter to say, “No, salvation is by grace through faith in Christ alone.”

As we study through this letter verse by verse, we’re now in chapter 5 where Paul teaches us why Christianity is so offensive and what we need to say to false teachers and how to identify them. And he exhorts us to be graciously direct with them. Turn to Galatians 5. Today in chapter 5 verses 7 to 12, Paul is about as pointed, bold, and cutting as he has ever been anywhere in the New Testament. You will hear some strong words from God through Paul to those who teach a false gospel—why? Because what they teach is eternal.

If you embrace what they say, you don’t end up in Heaven, but in Hell. Yet what they teach will make you think you are going to Heaven, but you won’t get there. And because Paul is fighting for eternal souls, you will find him almost harsh today. This is why truth matters. And a correct interpretation of the Scripture is essential. There is only one correct meaning of every verse in the Bible, and your goal is to discover the author’s intended meaning by following solid rules of interpretation.

Even though it’s not politically correct, overtly gentle, not polite, and not trendy, what do you say about those who teach eternal error in the name of Christ? Read with me verses 7 to 12, but do not miss Paul’s just anger at those who have cut in, hindered, and disturbed the Galatians. These false teachers have messed with God’s sheep–verse 7.

You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you. 9A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. 10I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is. 11But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished. 12I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves.”

These are not nice men, they’re not spiritual leaders, they are not doing God’s will–they are false teachers who are harming Christ’s bride. Husbands, how do you feel about that specific person who is trying to poison your wife?  These men are poisoning the Bride of Christ with eternal error. What do you say to them?

#1  Tell them they HINDER the Truth  Verse 7

Verse 7, “You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?” We know the apostle Paul was a big sports fan, because he often illustrated biblical truth using boxing, wrestling, and especially track and field. Who ran track? The Christian life is often compared to a footrace that Paul hoped to finish, and finish strong. At the end of his life, Paul declared in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have finished the course.” Typically, when Paul describes our life in Christ, it is not a sprint but a marathon, or 26.2188 miles–the longer the race, the more that can go wrong. Not only will you face dehydration, cramps and mental walls, but you can be hindered by other runners.

Earlier in Galatians, as Paul describes the seriousness of the false teachers adding the Law to the Gospel, Paul was concerned in chapter 2 verse 2 that he’d been “running in vain.” And here Paul describes the same fear for these precious saints–even though they had entered the race correctly, they were not enduring in their race. From the moment the gun sounded, the Galatians began their race well. They ran secure in their belief in Christ, His death on the cross taking the punishment for their sins, and His resurrection from the dead, securing their future.

But suddenly they were in danger of being disqualified–verse 7, “You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?” They were running straight—literally, “running well” means running correctly, commendably. But then they were knocked off course and fell out of the running. Paul uses the term “hindered”–preventing their progress. The term is cutting in. It may be a rhetorical hint toward the cutting of circumcision, but it definitely means another runner came and messed you up in your race.

I learned in Greece that races were not held on oval tracks in those days, but to a post and back. There were rules against tripping, but sometimes it was possible to get away with a fair amount of interference, especially near the post, where runners had to switch directions. One unsportsmanlike strategy was to impede the progress of opponents by cutting in on them. It still happens today in famous track match-ups and Olympic competitions, sometimes costing the better runner a gold metal, such as Zola Budd and Mary Decker.

The Galatians weren’t going for the gold, but they were running for eternal life. Verse 7 is pointed—notice, they were “hindered . . . from obeying the truth” (verse 7). Because Paul already used the phrase “obeying the truth” to describe the Gospel twice in chapter 2, Paul means the Galatians were hindered from obeying the truth of the Gospel. The Gospel is the good news of salvation, by grace through faith in Christ alone, trusting in Christ’s death for sin and resurrection for new life.

This truth is to be obeyed (verse 7b). Running a good race is much more than knowing the truth–it is practicing the truth. Again, coming to Christ in salvation is by faith alone–but becoming like Christ in sanctification is by dependently obeying the truth. When it comes to living for Christ, we must first obey the Gospel truth. As John Stott says, “Our creed is expressed in our conduct, Christianity is not simply something we know; when genuine, it will be progressively something we do.” Tell these false teachers they hinder the truth—also . . .

#2  Tell them they are NOT of God  Verse 8

Verse 8, “This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you.” When Paul asks who cut in on the Galatians while they are running, he already knew. The teachers who showed such bad sportsmanship toward the Galatian runners were the Judaizers, who wanted to add the Law of Moses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But their “persuasion”, describing their confidence, their certainty, and their convictions, did not come from God. No, their teaching, even though confident, is not from God.

Never forget, friends–false teachers are sincere, convinced, and confident in their false beliefs. They’ll tell you keeping the Law is godly. Getting circumcised is spiritual. They were sincere in their beliefs, but they were sincerely wrong. Paul insists their teaching did not come from God–the God who actually saves, the God who graciously calls believers to Himself so they can be saved. Paul uniquely identifies God here as the sovereign who has effectually called all who believe. God calls each person who is saved–it is repeatedly clear in Scripture.

Romans 8:30, “These whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” John 6:44a, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” The work of salvation is entirely God’s doing and not your doing. God is completely sovereign, calling you to Himself in order to be saved. Any teaching that proclaims the gracious work of God in saving men is insufficient, is false.

Yet the New Testament also clearly teaches, you and I must believe in Christ. In the same context, John 6:47, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.” God must call you, but you must believe–true salvation is of God and you believe. But there is no work, no religious act, no circumcision, no law keeping–but all grace.

So here in Galatians 5:8, Paul is being pointed–the false teacher legalism, adding ceremony or conduct or circumcision to salvation did not come from God. No, Paul already said in Galatians 1:6 they were saved by the grace of Christ. Ryken writes, “Grace is something you do not deserve. It is unmerited favor. Grace is the gift of God’s forgiveness for those who trust in Jesus Christ. And since grace involves forgiveness, the free gift of divine grace is only for sinners. The one who calls is God; the ones he calls are sinners; and the way he calls them is by his grace.”

The Judaizers taught people they had to be circumcised to be saved–so salvation came by human works, not by divine grace. But this was hindering the Galatians. Their works salvation was not from God, but from the Father of lies, the Devil himself. The devil knows you can’t work your way into Heaven or ever be good enough. Any time you’re persuaded to trust yourself rather than trust Christ–that confidence, that persuasion is demonic, not divine. Any addition to salvation by grace is of the devil. Tell them they are not from God.

#3  Tell them they CONTAMINATE the Church  Verse 9

What effect did their errant persuasion have on the Church? Paul quotes a well-known Proverb in Verse 9, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.” Their impact was lethal. This truth comes from the bakery. Bread does not rise unless the dough contains an active culture of yeast. But all it takes is a pinch of yeast. Like the NIV translates, “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” Friends, just a pinch of Law thoroughly contaminates the whole Gospel of grace.

One of yeast’s most basic properties is that it spreads throughout the dough. Paul is telling the Galatians that the yeast is the teaching of the Judaizers. Their yeast was adding works to faith as essential for salvation. And in particular, these false teachers wanted the Galatians to get circumcised. Paul recognized that all the trouble in the Galatian churches came from one single error. If the Judaizers could persuade the Galatians to get circumcised, then they would have to keep the rest of the Law, overturning the Gospel of grace.

Now even today, though ignored by most churches, theological error is deadly. Like yeast in a loaf of bread, heresy has a way of spreading until it works its way through the entire Church. Each fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith is interconnected to all the others. To get even one of them wrong is to threaten the whole system of doctrine. Are you hearing me? Just a little error messes up your entire belief system.

You say, “Chris, you are overreacting–you are being extreme.” No, I am not. Circumcision may not seem like a big deal, but if the Galatians allowed themselves to be circumcised, they’d end up denying two central doctrines of the Christian faith–the doctrine of the atonement and the doctrine of justification. They’d be saying Christ’s death on the cross was not enough–you need something more to atone for your sins, thus denying the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement. And they’d be saying you could not be justified by faith alone, but only by faith plus works–and thus they’d deny the biblical doctrine of justification. Truth matters–sound doctrine matters. Tell them they contaminate the Church.

#4  Tell them they will be JUDGED by God  Verse 10

What will happen in Galatia? Paul was confident that the Galatian churches would eventually come to their senses, return to the truth, and reject the legalism of the Judaizers. So he says in verse 10a, “I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view.” The apostle’s confidence was not so much in the Galatians themselves, but in their Lord, who’d bring them back to the one true Gospel of free grace. But Paul was also confident that whoever was preaching a false gospel would come to an unhappy end. Verse 10b, “but the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is.”

This statement in verse 10b gives the impression that the Judaizers had a ringleader. Paul didn’t name him, so Paul may or may not have known who the man was. But Paul knew with certainty that one day that man would have to answer to God for causing trouble in the Church. A universal principle–never mess with God’s sheep. That men and those men are disturbing, unsettling, throwing into disorder God’s people.

And the judgment in verse 10 is not a speeding ticket—it’s final, eternal judgment at the Great White Throne. The day will come when every error will be exposed and God’s truth will reign supreme. Do not be discouraged by the unbelief of errant theologians. Don’t despair by the spread of cults, and don’t be disheartened by the slow decline of sound doctrine. The day will come when every false teacher will be judged for every false word–tell them.

#5  Tell them to stop PERSECUTING those who are TRUE  Verse 11

Verse 11, “But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished.” False teachers persecute true teachers. False religion will continue to be the most aggressive persecutor of the Church. Satan fights God, and satanic religion fights the true faith.

Along with all their other deceptions and lies, the Judaizers claimed that Paul preached circumcision just as they did. They started this false rumor because, 1) Paul always sought to reach his Jewish brethren first, 2) he maintained much of his Jewish culture when he was with them, and 3) he even had Timothy circumcised in order to minister to the Jews.

But Paul asks in verse 11, “If I still preach circumcision [like I did when I was a Pharisee], why am I still persecuted [by the Judaizers]?” That’s a great question. As long as Paul preached circumcision, he was safe. As long as he maintained the religious barrier between Jew and Gentile, the Jews have no reason to persecute him. Yet Paul was persecuted up and down Asia Minor, because the Jews hated his Law-free Gospel. Persecution was Paul’s proof he did not preach circumcision. Paul had been beaten, arrested, imprisoned, stoned, and left for dead–because Paul taught salvation by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ–no Law, no traditions, no customs, no festivals, no social issues and no circumcision.

Paul already explained in this letter, he could never advocate circumcision as part of the Gospel, because to do so would be to 2:21, “nullify the grace of God”. If he taught circumcision, Paul affirmed in 2:21, “then Christ died needlessly.” But Christ didn’t die for nothing. Look at what Paul adds in verse 11b here, “Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished.” The cross was a stumbling block to the Jewish people, partly because they could not accept the idea of a suffering, or crucified, Messiah.

But what was even more offensive to them was the true Gospel robbed them of their most distinctive outward signs of Jewishness—1) the Mosaic Law, and 2) circumcision. If the cross obliterated the true Judaism of the Old Testament, how much more did the Law obliterate the false, man-made Judaism of the scribes, Pharisees, and Judaizers? The Jews stumbled over the cross of Christ because it nullified not only the true Mosaic Law, but also their false, highly revered rabbinic traditions.

The cross still offends your lost relatives for the same reason. Whether Jew or Gentile, all people are prone to trust what they can do for themselves, and are offended when they are told they can do nothing at all to make themselves right before God. To preach the cross invites persecution, because it is the supreme offense to works righteousness and to pride. But as Peter boldly proclaimed before the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem in Acts 4:12, “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.” Remind them why they hate the truth–their pride.

#6  Tell them they should be CUT off from God’s people  Verse 12

Paul closes his case against the false teachers with his harshest statement ever. Paul was so passionate in his opposition to the heresy of the Judaizers, that he wished they would mutilate themselves. Verse 12, “I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves.” Mutilate” literally means to cut off–especially a member of the body. The word was often used of castration, and that is certainly what Paul means here. If the Judaizers were pressing the Galatian Christians to get circumcised, Paul almost wished that the knife would slip and they’d end up castrating themselves. Talk about a cutting remark. His comments have a real edge–these words slice!

Most likely, Paul is referring to the cult of Cybele, a popular pagan nature goddess in the Galatia region during Paul’s day. Many devout male worshipers in the cult castrated themselves, and all its priests were self-made eunuchs. Paul was not expressing a crude and cruel desire for the Judaizers’ punishment. Paul already reminded us that God would take care of their judgement in verse 10.

Rather, notice in verse 12 Paul spoke of them mutilating themselves. His point was, if the Judaizers are so insistent on circumcision as a means of pleasing God, why don’t they go all the way and castrate themselves as the supreme act of religious devotion, just like the pagans do in the cult of Cybele? If, like the cult of Cybele, they believe human achievement can earn divine favor, why don’t they go to the pagan extremes of self-mutilation, like the Cybelene priests?

Paul reminds his readers that these Judaizers were troubling the Galatians. Look at verse 12, “I wish that those who are troubling you”–the word for “troubling” also means unsettle you, or disturb you, or to throw you off balance. “Troubling” is used elsewhere to describe political subversives–the kind of troublemakers who provoke rebellion by causing an uprising. All of this helps you grasp God’s hatred for theological error which effects eternity and God’s hatred towards those who foster disunity in the midst of the local church.

Underneath Paul’s words of cutting off and “troubling” may be an encouragement for the Galatians to remove these false teachers from their midst–cut them out. Like Titus 3:10, “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning.” Like Romans 16:17, “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.”

God does not allow those who teach error or create disunity to remain in His Church. To add any human effort or any action necessary to God’s gracious salvation through the death of His Son, is to exchange the gracious, by faith, Gospel of Christ for a damning, falsehood, works salvation of paganism—ultimately sending you to Hell. Cut the false teachers out of the Church.


A  Become a BEREAN

You remember them in Acts 17:11, “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”

Can you biblically explain why women aren’t to be pastors? Tongues are not a prayer language? Evolution is a lie? The Church is shepherded by elders? God is sovereign in salvation, but you must believe to be saved? Marriage is God’s design? There are only two genders? And practicing homosexuals cannot be Christians?

Parents, this is your assignment as your children grow older–you must know God’s Word. Then even tougher, explain God’s Word to your children. We have sermon series which deal with these issues. We offer classes, discipleship, and training–but you have to want to be taught. You must want to become a Berean. Whatever is keeping you from learning God’s Word is not of God.

B  Strive to live by GRACE and TRUTH

In John 1:29, the apostle affirms Christ was “full of grace and truth.” Christ never compromised the truth, and was always full of grace. His truth cleaned out the Temple, His grace turned water into wine–full of grace and truth. Some of you are more gracious than truthful, others of you are more truthful than gracious. But all of us need to strive to be full of both–do not be content to remain one or the other.

You are saved by truth, you are sanctified by truth–but you only glorify God when you are gracious while speaking truth. Listen to Jude’s gracious heart, even as he confronts false teachers. Jude 22 and 23, “And have mercy on some, who are doubting; 23save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.” Strive to become full of grace and truth as you deal with lost friends and family–as you deal with errant teachers and misled Christians.

C  Embrace the OFFENSE of the Cross

When Paul calls the cross a stumbling block in verse 11, that’s the Greek word for scandal. Paul uses the same word in 1 Corinthians 1:23-24, “We preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

Like in a race, the cross is an obstacle which many trip over. The cross is the biggest offense, the worst scandal and a difficult stumbling block that keeps family, friends, even enemies from Christ and salvation. To the Romans, the cross was a gruesome means of execution–they wouldn’t allow their own citizens to be crucified. The Latin word cruz later became a swear word.

To the Jews, the cross was accursed–they couldn’t even consider their Messiah as one who would be hung on an accursed tree. To you or your friends, the cross is hated–why? Christ suffered and died on a cross because all people are so sinful. Christ died for your sin. People do not like to be told they are corrupt in nature and horribly sinful. Then add to our sin, the cross is offensive because you and I can’t save ourselves. True salvation only comes to those who admit they need Christ to save them–which is a clear attack against your pride and destroys your belief in self-help.

Many today think well of Christ and Christians until you declare Christ is the only way to be saved, and Christ’s death on the cross is the only way to be right with God. Anyone here without Christ must humble yourself before God and cry out for salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone. The only medicine that will save your life is held by another–but it is available just for the asking. You don’t have to do anything but believe He can give you the medicine. Christ alone is the medicine you need to live abundantly now and forever in bliss. Today—will you ask for His help? Let’s pray.

About Chris Mueller

Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church - Murrieta.

Leave a Comment