It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:1-6)
At the beginning of our study I said I would try to avoid making this study all about the Old Testament Law and the subject of circumcision. However, today’s passage makes this rather difficult. I sincerely believe Paul’s line of reasoning so far has led to this one point:
“Don’t do it!”
A ritual like circumcision, especially for a grown man, was a serious matter. And it was irreversible. So once a Gentile submitted to the act of circumcision to prove his righteousness, he would have a permanent reminder of the day he “caved-in” to legalism.
To restate the theological point Paul has been making: Followers of Jesus are made righteous by faith. They are the true children of Abraham, having received his promise. As a result, those who are of Abraham and recipients of the promise are free. They are not oppressed by a Law they can’t keep, but have been washed clean.
So how do those who have received the promise in this way express their faith? If they don’t do it through circumcision, how do they do it? Paul says, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” We are saved through faith, and we show our faith by loving.
Every now and then a news story will appear about some insane act of violence committed in the name of love. A boyfriend is jilted by his girlfriend, so he shows her how much he loved her by taking an overdose of drugs, or going on a rampage. A fan wants to gain the admiration of a celebrity, so she stalks him or breaks into his home.
Does this sound strange? Of course it does. How could any of these acts prove someone’s love for another?
These examples might sound a little extreme as parallels to circumcision…but not really. In fact, in Philippians 3:2, Paul called the people who pushed the Old Covenant on followers of Jesus “mutilators of the flesh.” Circumcision was an important sign under the Law, but as a righteous act under Christ it was barbaric…insane…unnecessary.
I also realize there is a debate on the medical advantages and disadvantages of this procedure as a modern-day practice. But that’s another story. This is all about righteousness before God. And when it comes to righteousness, circumcision is irrelevant. When it comes to the New Covenant in Christ, it just does make the cut (sorry).
Dear God, help me learn to express my faith in the right ways. In Jesus’ name, Amen.