You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!
~ Galatians 5:7-12
The Christians in the region of Galatia were living obedient and fruitful lives when Paul last left them. Just like in the lives of every Christian, there were stumbles and mistakes, but all in all they were doing well. Paul recognizes this and asks them who it was who stopped them in their path. This is, of course, rhetorical, but he is making an important point here – anyone who dissuades you from following Christ or who offers a different path outside of what the Bible teaches, is of the devil.
Paul now uses Jesus’ example (Mark 16:6, 11-12; Mark 8:15; Luke 12:1) with “leaven” (yeast) and bread. In this day and age, everyone made their own food. While there were some shops around, it wasn’t like today where you could head down to the Claudius-Mart and pick up a loaf of bread. Most people used a local oven that everyone shared and made their bread daily. This description was not lost on them – when you add yeast to dough, you only need to add a little bit and it will expand and permeate the whole loaf, changing its shape, elasticity, smell, everything. In the same way, a little sin or a little compromise will slowly work their way in and drastically transform your theology.
Is there cause to be worried? Paul doesn’t think so – he states that he is confident that God will only allow this distraction to stick around for a little time, but that the one who caused them to go astray will not go unpunished. He then reveals to them the problem with that “little compromise” of combining the free grace of God through Christ with the works of the Mosaic law in that he is willing to suffer, even to death to defend their separation. The gospel swings on Christ’s sacrifice for our sake being the only thing necessary for our salvation because if we were able to redeem ourselves, then there is no reason that Jesus should have to die in our place. Paul feels so strongly that he pushes it even more by stating that he wished that those who sought to have the Gentile Christians would do the same to themselves, but go all the way. He clearly has strong feelings about this subject.