Paul summarizes the issue he has addressed with the Galatian churches in the last little segment of his letter in Galatians 6:11-18. In the midst of that finale, he writes in verses 12-14:
12 As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. 13 For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh. 14 But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.Paul described men who were pandering to achieve short-term, temporal success. They (1) made "a fair show in the flesh," (2) "lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ," and (3) "desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in the flesh." They didn't constrain others to circumcision because they loved God's law or else they would have kept it all (v. 13). What motivated their push for circumcision?
The message of the cross of Christ brought persecution from fellow Jews and circumcision was a way to avoid that persecution. They weaponized circumcision against potential persecution. They could pull the circumcision card as a sufficient credential of their Jewishness. Support of the cross of Christ brought castigation, the antidote of which was circumcision. See, you weren't giving up Jewishness -- you talk about circumcision all the time.
The circumcision message fit the culture of Galatia. Preaching the cross, you were out. Preaching circumcision and you were in again. You could find acceptance in a wider group with circumcision that would be closed to cross of Christ preaching. Again, it was cultural. The significance was merely cultural. Paul says that in verse 15:
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.In reality, aside from what it meant to a Jewish culture in the world, either circumcision or uncircumcision was nothing. Paul was crucified to the world, so what mattered in the world, he was crucified to (v. 14). Circumcision was just cultural, irrelevant as to eternity, so Paul was crucified to it too. He wasn't preaching something that was of temporal and only cultural significance. It had to mean more, and it didn't.
Because circumcision was acceptable and fashionable in the culture, it was an easy way to "make a fair show in the flesh" (v. 12). You could get some mileage in the Jewish community by parking on circumcision. Let that be the subject matter and you could find short term success. It wasn't doing anything. Earlier in the chapter (v. 8a), Paul said, "he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption." The show had no long term benefit, meaning eternal benefit, like "he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting" (v. 8b). Circumcision was working with something that had no shelf-life, which future was corruption. It would get you a lot in the short term though, which is the nature of pandering -- it sacrifices eternal success for the short term variety.
Glorying in the flesh hawks short term benefits. "Lookee at what you're doing. . . . wow, it's working!" Circumcision at the historical juncture Paul was living in Galatia was targeting racial identity. As a cause, circumcision surpassed the cross of Christ, the latter a non-starter for the Galatian world. Worldly mileage was gained with circumcision as a cause, unlike the cross of Christ. Easily, those mixing the cross with circumcision could view the latter as furthering the former, which was more of a stumbling block. Circumcision was a gospel tool with a particular ethnic group.
As we zoom forward to the late 20th and early 21st centuries across the western world, especially in the United States, "social justice" issues work the same as circumcision in Paul's day. You would do better, the message, at least to mix the two together. Social justice causes elevate personal stature, especially with certain ethnicity. If you've crucified this world, there won't be much hope for you, because this one is where you've got to aim your attention.
Neither Jesus nor the Apostle Paul at all devoted themselves to causes of social justice. Neither attempted to stop Roman slavery or gender inequality. "In Christ Jesus" was none of these, "but a new creature" (v. 15). The Lord and Paul sowed to the Spirit, reaping life eternal and new creatures. Life was too short for temporal preoccupations. They were irrelevant in light of eternity. However, they succeed as pandering.
The spotlight of churches on racial reconciliation, breaking the glass ceiling, orphans, rebuilding Haiti, or community soup kitchens make "a fair show in the flesh" (v. 12). Today it is moving toward the inclusion of gender neutrality and same sex marriage. They neutralize the offense of the cross of Christ and other objectionable aspects of the gospel message. They put the emphasis right where the world wants it -- on its self. You can justify to your worldly friends the latest cause celeb of your church. That makes sense. You'll make sense. You'll feel good about yourself and ward away the disapproval of the world. You're more like them than they even thought.
The gospel will make this world better, but it isn't about making this world better. Even when we pray for those in authority, the point is the gospel, not giving us better living condition (cf. 1 Tim 2:1-2). The gospel is about the next world. The time in this life is so short and the time in the next so long, an emphasis on this world misrepresents what our time in this world is all about. The world needs to know that it will not save the planet, that God is mad at them, and if they don't get right with Him, they're going to be destroyed too, except worse than what will happen to earth.
In 1 Corinthians 7:17-24, Paul argues union with Christ is compatible with any social status: single, married, widowed, divorced, slave, free, Jew, Gentile, man, or woman. Live in any kind of society -- democracy, total anarchy, a dictatorship, anywhere from America to Cuba to Red China -- and actual Christianity works. The gospel is not an immediate revolutionizing, disorganizing element in society. When social changes occur as the result of the gospel, it soaks and penetrates society's roots to modify its trajectory long term, not as a purposeful maneuver.
In one sense, Paul says, don't worry about riding in the back of the bus. You're going to rule with Christ in the kingdom. I know, that's easy for me to say. In reality, it's harder to say something like that than it is to take on social justice advocacy. Actually, living in California, being a Christian singles me out for bad treatment, when I'm living it like I read in scripture. Racial reconciliation is an easy message today. The gospel, the true gospel, is hard. Circumcision was easy in Galatia. The cross of Christ wasn't.
Thirty years ago when I came to California, I spent some time camped out at Golden Gate Seminary library reading the multi-volume complete writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., where by his own testimony, he rejected the fundamentals of the faith, essentials for a true gospel or salvation. As a child, by his own testimony, he went forward at a church invitation after a sermon by his father, later conceding that he just went along with his sister without really believing it. Don't get me wrong, King is a meaningful historical figure in the United States. Evangelical's lying to transmogrify him into a saint is a tool in the social justice pandering toolbox.
Just preaching the gospel will not bring you fame. It does not guarantee worldly success. At least posing for social justice can and does bring both. It doesn't advance the cross of Christ and it won't even result in justice. It grandstands for the purpose of at least perceived benefits that won't last. It appears enlightened to the deceived and wards away accusations of "structural racism" or institutional racism. It doesn't assuage any actual guilt over anything and in addition does not fulfill the scriptural mission of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Judaizers wouldn't let Galatian believers just preach the cross. They had to include circumcision. In particular ethnic communities, you can't just preach the pie in the sky. The gospel alone isn't enough. Every gospel needed a heaping helping of social justice along with it. You will suffer if you exclude it. Your credentials are taken away.
The world has so changed, knit together by a socialized education system and universal social network, that most outside of particular ethnic communities will also benefit from that emphasis. They'll at least find acceptance in very wide circles and be included in many bigger opportunities. Everyone can pander with social justice.
Pandering doesn't glorify Christ. It glories in your flesh. It doesn't even make you smarter. You just look that way. It's actually foolish. This is the paradox of the gospel. The foolishness of preaching glorifies God. Pandering glorifies you through its show of your flesh.