NOTE WELL: Due to the OKC Memorial Marathon, worship will be at 5:00pm, Saturday, April 28.
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. –Galatians 5:1-6
For over a thousand years there was a great teacher who served as the way to God. This teacher taught and enforced rules, punished rule-breakers, and kept the students clean and safe. You could go against the great teacher, but that’s when you found out your life under this teacher wasn’t really voluntary. The consequences could get severe quickly and included death. This teacher was benevolent overall, but nonetheless, a slave master. That was the way to relate well to God; and, there was no other way.
Paul has been teaching the Galatian Christians through his letter that this great slave master/teacher was the Law and was intended for a time of waiting. The slave master/teacher regime would not last. But 1,000+ years is a long time, which allowed the students to get sophisticated with it and become savvy at navigating it. As with most anyone who has been emancipated from slavery, new freedom is sometimes frightening and uncertain. That anxiety has brought many an ex-slave to wonder if the well-known life back in slavery weren’t better.
Paul’s opponents (opponents of the gospel!) were eager to insist that everyone should still defer to the slave master/teacher. One thing that wasn’t optional was circumcision. You were completely out-of-bounds until you were circumcised. It was the chief thing for those starting their journey under the slave master/teacher.
“Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.” Paul’s whole point was that the era under the slave master/teacher was no longer necessary with the coming of Jesus Messiah, and that you couldn’t do both. You can’t be both set free and under the yoke of slavery of the teacher. “I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.” Circumcision isn’t just a minor ritual which can then go comfortably alongside allegiance to the Messiah. This is apparently what the Judaizers were suggesting, but Paul’s Pharisaic training knew that circumcision really means you’re submitting to the entire discipline of the Jewish synagogue.
The alternative is found in two wonderful sentences: “For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” In the first sentence, the “hope of righteousness” is about longing for the time when God’s vindication and justification of all His faithful people will be made manifest. This is New Creation in all its fullness. It’s not by the flesh (circumcision) but by the Spirit. The Spirit guarantees us a place in that great time. In the second sentence, it’s not about physical marks of membership, but about faith.
This faith is not merely abstract agreement in one’s heart either. It is a faith that works, except not with the “works of the law.” It is a faith that works in love. Love is precisely the motivating force through which God Himself welcomes all believers into His family.
Come hear it preached and enacted in the Supper this SATURDAY.