Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love. -Galatians 5:3-6 (NRSV, emphasis mine)
A simple, practical pondering for today:
What law is your circumcision?
The text above is relatively clear cut as Paul writes the letter to the church in Galatians. There are those who have been requiring Gentiles to fulfill the letter of the Jewish Torah, as Christianity grows out of Judaism at the time. It's likely well meaning piety, a way forward in the faith of following Jesus. Those Jews who have the history of being separate from Gentiles are holding to rules of purification and obedience in their continued practice of faith, now found in Jesus.
Yet Paul seems to be striking right at the heart of reducing Jesus into obedience to the Law. The entire book leads to removing the boundaries of Jews and Gentiles, pious and sinner. Paul in no way suggests that one way is wrong and the other is right, but that such a reduction in and of itself is a false worldview. It is a transcendence, not a shifting to a new set of laws, no matter how much they may seem to be in line with the historical law of Jesus. Such a reliance upon obedience to the law (no matter what the subject matter of the law is) is a step away from grace.
Grace that resides without condition.
Having faith is not believing specific laws or adhering to particular ways of life. The only thing that counts is faith working through love.
Stop for just one minute and take this to heart. Don't look at any other person, but just reflect internally. What law, what mandate, have you made circumcision? Do you have conditions you place upon others receiving grace that is more than having faith in Christ Jesus? It could be anything...literally any law from the Old Testament. A law that has been fulfilled in Jesus and which gives freedom, but as Paul states is not for "self-indulgence." The freedom we find in Christ is not to judge others and hold them to a standard we already feel we have obtained. It is to eagerly await the hope of righteousness that comes through grace, not law.
Our hope is not in obeying the law.
Our hope is found in grace. A faith that frees us from condemnation & judgment to a faith that works through love.
There is no law that can be placed as a condition of following Jesus.
Instead, we are to live love out faithfully. Love in the fact that grace makes us righteous. Live not for our own rights, our own flesh, but for the Spirit.
Exactly as Paul leads the readers of his letter to follow not the way of the flesh, but the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. A kind of responsibility to self, God, and others to bear with them, not weigh them down with laws.
If our witness to the world is a law - a vocal and often violent measure of some level of piety that measures ones obedience to God, it is misplaced and actually unfaithful.
We are to love. We are to bear with each other, guiding and loving in all gentleness our transgressions which are relational and convenantal, not contractual and law-based.
Any concrete law is a stumbling block that is misguided. Yes, that means most of what we fight over in culture wars in this country is misguided.
If your answer to following Jesus obediently is to create a law, then something is wrong.
The answer to following Jesus faithfully is to love. To test ourselves that we are acting faithfully in love.
Paul makes that pretty clear. And truth be told we all want to reduce the complexities of the fruit of the Spirit into some sort of law. Some sort of step-by-step guide that tells us how far we should go in any given situation rather than discerning how to relate with the gentleness. After all, we all are in the same boat. All of us are reliant upon grace. Without condition.
So ask yourself, as I ask myself:
What law is your circumcision?
How can you change this law into faith working through love?