Stand Firm: You Cannot Mix the Old with the New
Christ set us free (Galatians 5:1)
Christ set us free from the bondage of the Old Law for the purpose of remaining free (John 8:32,36). But in order to remain free, Christians must stand firm and not submit to the burdens of slavery under the Old Law (I Corinthians 15:58; 16:13; Acts 15:10). The religion of Christ is not constantly changing (Ephesians 4:14).
You cannot keep only a part of the Law (Galatians 5:2-4)
Paul solemnly tells the Galatian brethren, with his full authority as an apostle, that if they allow themselves to be circumcised because they think it is required to please God, then they are essentially saying that Christ’s sacrifice served no purpose. Paul is only discussing circumcision in the light of a religious requirement (Galatians 5:4; Acts 15:1) and not for other reasons since Paul had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3). If you can be saved by the blood of Christ, then you can be saved without circumcision. If you think you have to be circumcised, then you also think that Christ’s sacrifice is not enough to save a person (Galatians 2:21). In other words, trying to be justified through circumcision declares a lack of faith in Christ.
The second consequence of circumcision is that you can’t simply select portions of the law to keep. If circumcision is required, then why aren’t the laws about diet, holidays, or sacrifices? If an argument can be made for one law, then the same argument applies to every other law. But Paul had already argued that the Law cannot justify a person (Galatians 3:10; Romans 8:3; James 2:10).
If the Law is required, then Christ does not give a person an advantage. His work would have been useless. A person seeking justification by an Old Law requirement has rejected Christ and left the offered gift of salvation. In other words, by seeking justification through additional burdens they ended up failing to retain the justification they had.
As a side-note, we need to recognize that you cannot fall from something you never had. Followers of Calvin’s teachings believe that once a person is saved, they can never be lost. However, here is a group of Christians that Paul is warning could fall from the grace they had received by seeking justification through circumcision (Romans 5:2; II Peter 3:17).
- Did the Galatian brethren intend to leave Christianity by getting circumcised?
- Did the Galatian brethren intend to keep the entire Old Law?
We are waiting for righteousness (Galatians 5:5)
Paul reminds the Galatians that it is through the Spirit – that is through faith – that we have a hope of being justified. Paul is not talking about the Spirit choosing people to have faith, but rather that it is through the Spirit’s work (the Bible) that faith is produced (Romans 10:17; Philippians 3:9). This righteousness is described as hope because though we are made righteous by God, we could lose it; thus, we do not fully obtain it until the end (Titus 2:11-13).
Circumcision has no meaning (Galatians 5:6)
Under Christianity, circumcision carries no meaning because circumcision was a sign of the Old Covenant (Genesis 17:11). The Old Covenant came to an end with the death of Christ (Romans 10:4; Colossians 2:13-14). Thus, the sign of that covenant is no longer needed. Whether a person is or is not circumcised doesn’t make any difference (Colossians 3:11).
What does have meaning is “faith working.” In other words, a faith that is actively obeying (Romans 16:25-26; I Corinthians 7:19; James 2:18). And the motivation for this effort is love (II Corinthians 5:14; I Thessalonians 1:3; I Peter 1:6-9). The Greek word energeken, translated as “working,” is a verb in the middle voice. It is an action done by a person that also impacts the person. In other words, because of faith, a Christian obeys but those deeds also increase his faith. This happens because the reason for obedience is his love for the Lord and his fellow Christians.
Thus, circumcision was merely an outward sign. It did not change the inward man. But when faith works through love, we both see the result of faith (James 2:18) and that faith inwardly changes the man (James 2:22).