Who, or what, is a Christian’s worst enemy?

“You were running a good race,” Paul writes in Galatians 5:7. And why were they running so well? Because, verse 16, they were trusting the Spirit to replace their sinful nature with Christ’s nature. But then Paul writes in verse 8, “Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?”

The Galatians had been running well but people were trying to cut in on them, slow them down, knock them off track, and if possible even stop them “obeying the truth” all together. What truth? The truth that Christ had died to free them from ever again having to make themselves into righteous, loving people by human effort or obedience to the Law.

But some people didn’t like this truth at all. Why not? Because they wanted “to make a good impression outwardly,” Galatians 6:12. They much preferred the old way of doing things, of making oneself into an upstanding person by self-discipline, strength of will and obeying all the Old Testament laws perfectly, including circumcision, because it made them look good. It was impressive. And if they could persuade others to follow them, they could boast about that too, that the old way was right.

But, Paul writes, “The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ,” verse 12. The cross wasn’t popular because it didn’t allow for any human boasting or pride. It was offensive (5:11) because it took away the chance to show off how obedient and strong you were. It was humbling having to accept that it’s only “by the Spirit” that we “will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” People didn’t like being told that. They got angry. They liked being able to boast about how righteous they were.

Paul was the absolute opposite. “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world,” Galatians 6:14. It was only by Christ’s death that he’d managed to throw off the shackles of his sinful nature. So, having already experienced what Christ’s death had done for him, he wasn’t going to let anyone knock him off track. Nothing would persuade Paul to go back to depending on himself.

There are persuasive voices out there, though, who would rather “righteousness be gained through the law,” Galatians 2:21. And why is that? Because the cross doesn’t give them anything to boast about, where keeping the law does. What knocks people off track, then, is pride. It is those motivated by pride, therefore, who are identified in Scripture as a Christian’s worst enemy. 

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