I mentioned not too long ago that many people find Christianity narrow-minded. They take offense at the idea that it is only through Christ’s work on the cross that we can be saved. Paul calls this, “the offense of the cross.”
And it was this offense of the cross that the Judaizers were trying to abolish, though perhaps for different reasons than the people who try to do so today.
It seems the Judaizers were most concerned with how the other Jews perceived them. And the other Jews were offended by the message of the cross because it welcomed anyone into God’s kingdom who came to Jesus by faith. No longer was circumcision or rigid obedience to the law required.
These Jews were probably offended for a couple of reasons. First, they took the Mosaic covenant and all its laws very seriously. It set them apart as God’s people. But now, Paul was saying that through faith in Christ, and totally apart from trying to keep the law,
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (3:28)
In short, the law they took such great pride in no longer set them apart as God’s special people. Rather anyone who came to God through Christ would now be declared as God’s people.
This was something the Jews simply could not accept, particularly because of their pride. And that was the second reason they took offense at the cross. The Jews took pride in their identity as God’s chosen people. And they were proud of how much more “righteous” they were in the eyes of God than the other nations because of the law God had given to them. This despite the fact that they never could keep it perfectly.
In the same way, pride is the great barrier to people coming to Christ today. Pride in their own religion. Pride in their own “righteousness” before God. And so for Christians to say, “Your religion is not sufficient. Your ‘righteousness’ is not sufficient” is offensive to them.
But by clinging to these things, they don’t draw closer to God, they actually cut themselves off from God. Paul said of those who taught the need for circumcision,
The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be...As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! (10,12)
Paul had said earlier that those who taught a false gospel were under God’s divine curse (1:8-9). Here he repeats that, and then he gets very sarcastic and says, “If you’re going to get circumcised, you might as well go all the way and castrate yourself.”
That would have been shocking to the Judaizers because getting castrated would get them cut off from the Jewish congregation (Deuteronomy 23:1). But Paul was saying, that’s exactly what you’re doing if you let yourself be circumcised, you’re cutting yourself from God’s people.
That’s true of anyone that rejects the cross of Christ and tries to obtain salvation through their own religion and own righteousness. You’re cutting yourself off from God and his people. And if you dilute the cross of Christ to please them as the Judaizers did, you risk cutting yourself off as well.
The cross is offensive to many people. But we cannot be concerned about trying to please them. We need to preach the gospel, no matter what flack we catch from people because of it. The question you need to ask is, “Who am I trying to please? God or people?”
Remember the words of Paul who said,
Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. (1:10)