The apostle Paul was bummed out.
Here, he had proclaimed the gospel of grace – the good news of Jesus Christ – among the Gentiles of Galatia, and many received the truth gladly.
Formerly outsiders, now invited into the family of God? Previously excluded from the nation of Israel, but now given free access to God through the Messiah – the Savior not only of the Jews, but of the whole world? What a marvel!
They received the gift of God. Emmanuel – God with us – anywhere, everywhere, no longer just among people of a physical nation.
But there was a problem.
Some misguided Jewish believers came in and taught that these Gentiles needed Jesus Plus. Specifically, they needed to become Jews also.
You know, circumcision and all that. Ouch. “Jesus is just all right with me,” sang the Doobie Brothers. These folks had a similar approach. Jesus is great, but…not enough.
Substitutionary atonement and gracious forgiveness and divine adoption – the gospel isn’t enough. We need more than Jesus to make us whole before God! We need external rituals and signs. It’s not sufficient to be grafted spiritually into the trunk of Abraham – the price of admission was also a foreskin and a litany of legacy Jewishness that had already been fulfilled in Christ.
Going backward, in this case, was not going forward. It was apostasy to embrace any form of a Jesus Plus gospel. That’s because any plus is a huge minus, detracting from an all-sufficient Savior whose free, complete, and unfettered grace needs no addition of human efforts and forms.
Paul’s language was unsparing. He wished that those who taught the necessity of a physical circumcision would – gulp! – just go ahead and castrate themselves.
He knew that any form of Jesus Plus = a fall from grace (Galatians 5:3-12).
In our day and age, many Christians won’t be subjected to the Judaizing form of Jesus Plus. But there are many other shape-shifting forms this error takes.
What’s the one that afflicts me most? Jesus Plus Steve-has-to-get-his-act-completely-together-with-all-the-right-beliefs-and-behaviors-right-now-or-else. Jesus plus fear-driven perfectionism. It’s the insidious mingling of justification and sanctification.
In theory, and theologically, I fully understand the distinction between the one-time and permanent pronouncement of a right standing before God based on faith alone (justification), and the gradual process of conformity to His image (sanctification). But in my heart, I still have this default setting that irrationally looks to Jesus Plus how-I’m-measuring-up-right-now for my comfort and peace.
Decades after turning to Him, I still need the gospel of grace. You?