Our acceptance by others seems important to our emotional well-being. We bounce between mimicking those we’re with to being extravagantly different to garner attention. The goal of acceptance is the same in both cases. That need for acceptance is core to many of the hot-button issues of the day.
Even the church wrestles with this desire for acceptance. How do we interact with the issues of the day? Whose side do we take in various heated and divisive issues? In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, the divisive issue of the day was circumcision and keeping the Jewish law. His concern was so immediate and strong that he wrote the letter himself instead of going through a scribe. “See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.” (Galatians 6:11, NASB95)
The closing portions of Galatians are far different from his other letters. There are no personal greetings or words of encouragement. He instead sums up his argument and turns the decision about what comes next over to his readers.
To sum up, Paul identifies what is motivating those preaching Law. “Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh.” (Galatians 6:12–13, NASB95) These two motivators still tempt those striving to follow Christ – avoidance of persecution and boasting of achievement.
How much do we sway to the winds of culture? How deeply do we boast about our crowds, our buildings, our programs, our holiness? How does any of those make us right with God? The answer to the last is obvious – they don’t. Paul said instead, “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” (Galatians 6:14–15, NASB95) Our need for acceptance is fulfilled in Christ. A truth that was revealed as we struggled to find our spiritual legs during a church-closing pandemic.
Our greatest boast and our core truth are in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. At the cross, we receive God’s love, mercy, and grace. At the cross, our sins are forgiven, and healing happens. At the cross, we encounter God and begin a life-changing relationship and adventure. This is so life-changing that it is described as new, and the old life has died, been cut off, and crucified. Our need for acceptance is fulfilled at the cross and there alone.
That’s the truth of it. All the markers of what we think it means to be a “good Christian” or a “good human” mean nothing. We may gain a temporary reprieve from persecution or find a fleeting acceptance by acting a certain way or holding a certain dogma. But, in so doing, we miss the true acceptance and eternal freedom that is found in Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection.
Paul closes his letter by placing the decision in their hands. “And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren. Amen.” (Galatians 6:16–18, NASB95) History doesn’t tell us what comes next. That’s the beauty of the Bible; so much is unwritten. In that void, we can ask the same questions, challenge our own way even though the hot-button issues of our day are vastly different than the folks of Galatia.
Which path will you choose? The path of freedom in Christ founded at the cross or the path of slavery to law-keeping driven acceptance by others. The choice is now in your hands.
The need for Galatians is ever-present and always challenges our core assumptions. I hope that you have found this journey through Paul’s letter insightful but also a little upsetting and challenging. We are all tempted to judge ourselves (and others) by some law or list, but in truth, that is meaningless since what really matters is Jesus and the cross. This doesn’t give us a license to indulge the flesh but a pure motivation to exceed the law through love, joy, peace, and the rest of the Spirit’s fruit in us.