Message: only grace is needed, not circumcision or any other symbols, based on Galatians 6:1-18.
Thinking about circumcision made me think of the symbols we all carry around:
- Signet ring – bears my initials, given to me by my parents.
- Wedding ring – bears both our initials and wedding date (c.f. ‘lady in the lake’ murder story – google it).
- Help for Heroes band – anyone can wear (for only £2!), but I used to be in the RAF.
- My Watch – not really symbolic, but indicates responsibilities.
- My cross – I wear it because I belong to Jesus Christ (not as a good-luck charm).
Exegesis: Galatians 6
This is the final chapter of the letter that is all about GRACE:
- Bear each other’s burdens to obey the law (vv1-2).
- Judge yourself – beware prideful comparisons (vv3-5).
- Support Christian teachers (missionaries & minsters) – in the UK! (v6).
- God can’t be fooled, you reap what you sow (vv7-8).
- Do good to all, all your life, for God’s reward! (v9).
- Especially do this for you Brothers & Sisters in the faith (v10).
- This is personal! Personal faith is a recurrent theme for Paul (c.f. his Jewishness). (V11).
- The circumcisers focus on outward things so they can fit in; even they don’t obey the law they say they are promoting! (vv12-13).
- Paul’s focus is the cross of Christ that killed the old person of sin and enables the inner transformation to the new person (vv14-15).
- Paul is circumcised and he also has other scars to prove his loyalty to Christ! (v17).
- In the end it’s all about Grace – that’s the best Paul can wish them (v18).
I think that there are two key verses here.
- “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he
sows.” (NIV, v7).
- This is a warning to those in Christ who might abuse God’s grace.
- We can’t ignore God’s instructions or neglect his Word and expect to profit.
- In God’s universe there are consequences for every action.
- “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.” (NIV, v15).
- I don’t think that Paul is deriding his circumcision (although it’s just one of many scars on his body).
- But it only an outer symbol of an inner conviction – a new relationship with God that produces a new lifestyle in response.
- Similarly, there is nothing wrong with wedding rings, but imagine that I was a lousy, abusive or unfaithful husband; then the ring would just be a reminder of my failure.
- Worse, for those who know the truth – and God knows everything – the ring is then a mockery of everything it is supposed to be.
- Grace is the key to this change – we call it ‘salvation’ – that unlocks the new person.
- Even now that we are saved, we need Grace to keep us going without backsliding or going stale, or becoming smug and satisfied
Therefore I hope that we will never point to mere symbols to justify ourselves.