The priorities of our lives are like a tower of wooden blocks with the highest priorities at the top. But it doesn’t take much more than a rampaging toddler to knock down our tower of priorities. In fact, if you’ve ever built a stack of wooden blocks, you know that toddlers are hardwired to knock them down. Basically, Paul is knocking down the tower of priorities that the Galatians had assumed and is pushing them towards the things that really matter.
Paul continues, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.” (Galatians 5:1–6, NASB95)
All of a sudden in Paul’s letter, circumcision is in the spotlight. Let’s separate the physical from the spiritual a bit. In some areas of the world and in some periods of time, it is accepted practice for male babies to be circumcised. I’m not going to get into all the why’s. But with the exception of those of Jewish parents, the purpose is not for a covenant or spiritually based. So, we must apply Paul’s stern witness about keeping the whole law in context. The Galatians were choosing to undergo circumcision for a spiritual reason, specifically to be acceptable to God.
Over the history and practice of the Christian faith, there have been, and remain, many such “circumcision” practices to determine who is saved and who is not. Many of those have become a kind of idol to be worshipped to prove our worthiness. Some of the more prominent ones involved the way someone accepts Jesus and the words of that first prayer. Baptism is a popular divider with various rules to determine what baptisms count and which ones don’t. In some circles, acceptability by God is determined by whether someone lives a “holy” life according to a checklist of sins. In other circles, it is the exercise (or non-exercise) of spiritual gifts that are a priority. I can cite specific examples for all of these “sacred cows” and more. All of these are like the yoke of slavery.
This passage begins, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” Christ has set us free. That was His mission from the beginning of His ministry (see Luke 4:18-19). Not only are we free from the yoke of slavery to sin, but also the yoke of the Law. One way or another, we’re all guilty of bolting on requirements to the simplicity and freedom of Christ’s good news.
This passage ends with, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.” All those add-ons we think are so important aren’t. With that simple truth, our tottering tower of priorities concerning how to be accepted by God is knocked down. For, in Christ, the only thing that really matters is faith working through love.
And that is the question that should burn all the other stuff from our souls. Is our faith working through love? The tower those four words builds is impossible to knock down. Do we have faith? In what or whom are we placing that faith? Is our faith in certain actions and behaviors or in Jesus Christ and Him alone? Is our faith working or just some dusty dogma we keep on the shelf to justify our existence? How is our faith working or functioning? How does our belief and trust in Christ drive everything else in our life? Is our faith functioning through love, agape love, or with some other motive such as gain, fear, shame, control, or power? All those things we think are so important aren’t, the only thing that matters is faith working and functioning through self-sacrificial agape love.
It is tempting to paint a picture of what faith working through love looks like. The problem is that that picture would become a kind of Law and negate its purpose. Here’s where freedom enters the picture. How my faith is working through love is going to be different than yours. Or you could think of it this way – the “faith working” part of the equation will be unique for each person while the “through love” part will be the same for each person. This is the freedom we have in Christ. We have the freedom to express our faith in various ways in the unity of loving God and loving one another.
If you will, please allow this mash-up from today’s verses. It was for freedom that Christ has set us free so that our faith in Him may truly function through love.