“The only reason they want to do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.” (Galatians 6:12b)
The circumcision faction was afraid. This group of Christian believers were actively trying to force Gentile converts to be circumcised and follow the law of Moses. They claimed it was essential for salvation and obedience to Christ. Paul has spent the majority of this letter to the church in Galatia refuting the arguments of this group in favor of the one, true gospel. Salvation is not by works or outward signs, but by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. However, as he closes the letter, Paul declares that at the heart of the circumcision faction is a mixture of vanity and fear.
They “want to impress people by means of the flesh” (v.12). They wanted to boast about the number of circumcisions they had facilitated. The circumcision of the Gentiles was not primarily about their obedience to Christ, but about the glory it would bring to those who could take credit for their conversion.
However, hidden in this vanity was fear. “The only reason they want to do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.” Ultimately, they were afraid. They were afraid that claiming Christ’s cross, trusting in the grace found there, trusting in God alone apart from any external work and obedience, would lead them to ostracism, pain, and death. They wanted the salvation, wanted the eternal life, wanted the benefits, but were unwilling to pay the cost. They were unwilling to take up their cross and follow Jesus when it meant suffering like Jesus. So they took an easier way. They left following Christ crucified and settled for Christ the lawgiver.
How are we tempted to leave following Christ? The cost of following Jesus looks different for each of us, but it is there. When pain and suffering come for sticking close to Jesus, will we try and find an easier way? Will we go looking for a way that we can have Jesus and acceptance by the world too?
Or will we boast in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, no matter what comes?