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 the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, we eagerly await by faith 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.
You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!
You, my brothers, and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. (NIV)
Faith, expressing itself through love, is the grace others need from us. I did not grow up committed to learning the Bible or following Christ. I pretty much went my own way throughout childhood, and especially my teenage years. I still remember what it feels like to not be a Christian.
I have found throughout my Christian life that folks with a past in which they did not live by grace, but only looked out for themselves, have a temptation to embrace strict rules when they become Christians. They know what it feels like to not have Jesus in their lives, so they sometimes go beyond Scripture and impose standards on themselves, and then others, to keep on the straight and narrow.
If, and when, that happens, the Apostle Paul has something to say about it. Embracing certain practices to obtain or maintain righteousness mean nothing in God’s kingdom. For the Galatian church who went down the path of strict outward rule-keeping, Paul had strict words. Here is how one version of the New Testament puts it:
“You people who are trying to be made righteous by the Law have been estranged from Christ. You have fallen away from grace! We eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness through the Spirit by faith. Being circumcised or not being circumcised doesn’t matter in Christ Jesus, but faith working through love does matter.” (Galatians 5:4-6, CEB)
Any Christian tradition or individual believer which ignores God’s grace in favor of controlling one’s own faith through certain rules is no Christianity, at all. Paul would have nothing to do with it. His position was clear and pointed. We are called to freedom, and we are to use that freedom to serve others through love. Freedom is not something where we do whatever we want without regard to others. That is selfishness, not freedom.
Freedom is a gift of grace. It is given to us so that we will live freely into who we are meant to be as humanity. In other words, there are to be no obstacles of extra-biblical or unbiblical rules impeding us to realize our full potential as Christians saved by grace through faith. Our possibilities include full unhindered expressions of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control for the benefit of ourselves and the entire community of the redeemed.
Grace is the currency of God’s kingdom, flowing freely through love. God has your back. Grace forgives, and never runs out. Love endures and never withdraws. When we grab hold of this essential and beautiful truth about God with spiritual gusto, then the only rule we want to keep is the continuing debt to love one another.
Are there any practices, rules, beliefs, or doctrines you impose on yourself which are burdensome to you, or others? Why do you do them? Do you expect others to keep them? What would change if you threw grace and love into the mix?
Gracious God, your love has extended so far as to give your one and only Son on our behalf. Through Jesus, I embrace the faith and love gifted to me through his redeeming work. Help me to daily die to myself and my propensity for outward rule-keeping, and to live the gracious life you died to procure for me.