It is nothing quite like an item or person that is dependable. The young girl is impressed by the young man who shows up on time and shows up period to take her to the movies. The employer is impressed by the employee who shows up for work on a regular basis and who comes in on time. It is nice to have trustworthy employees to do their jobs whether the boss is around or not. The parent enjoys the child who comes home on time, who is as good as their word and who is obedient. Banks depend on those who borrow money from them to pay it back. Otherwise, the health of the bank is at stake. We would much rather have a vehicle that starts on a regular basis rather than one that starts intermittantly. The principal wants teachers who show up in the classroom. The pastor is impressed with church members who show up on most Sundays to worship. Churches depend on the people to give so that they might pay their bills. We depend on our paychecks to meet our financial obligations. Being dependable says a lot.
So it is with salvation. We want a dependable way so that we might be sure of our salvation. We do not want to trust in something that might not bring forgiveness or guarantee a place in heaven. We do not want to live our life in some vain pursuit that does not reward us. If the Bible says this is the way of salvation, we want to be able to depend on that being the truth.
Paul addresses this matter in these verses. In this chapter, he begins to apply previously taught doctrine to practical Christian living. He emphasizes that right doctrine must result in right living, otherwise it is of no value. The life of faith is more than just believing some truth stated in God's Word. The life of faith involves bearing divine fruit. It is the Spirit of God that makes the spiritual life work. Through his working in our lives, he molds us into the people he wants us to be. These final two chapters will deal with the Spirit-filled life.
I. DEPEND ON THE ESSENTIALS FOR SALVATION
The basic tenet of Judaism was that a person must add their good works to the process of salvation. Paul preached that we must experience God's grace by accepting the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. At that point, salvation took place. One could add nothing to this. The Judaizers were trying to change this message, and in the process attempting to get the Galatians to trust a nonessential for salvation.
Circumcision was a distinctive outward mark that Jews took pride in. In fact, sometime they were known as the “circumcision.” Not only did they have great pride in this mark but they also placed great confidence in it. Many Jews looked at it as having some special spiritual value. It was a part of their convenant relationship with God and a reminder to them that God wanted to cut away evil from their hearts.
Paul's warning was not against circumcision itself. It was against trusting in that practice to gain one favor with God. One should not trust in the practice for spiritual benefit or merit. Paul himself was circumcised as an infant just as all Jewish boys were. He did not even object to Christians being circumcised if it would open doors for ministry. He had Timothy circumcised for this very reason.
Again, Paul confronted the Judaizers in this teaching. They proclaimed that faith in Jesus was not sufficient for salvation. What Moses began in the Old Covenant and what Jesus added in the New Covenant had to be finished by one's own effort. The centerpiece of this effort was circumcision.
Paul said that receiving circumcision to gain merit with God was to make Christ of no benefit. We can trust in nothing else other than the atoning sacrifice of Jesus made on Calvary's cross. We can add nothing. We cannot add circumcision, as the Galatians tried to do, or anything else. No human act or effort can come between us and Christ. To those not saved, Paul was saying that they could not attain it by trusting in this practice. To those truly saved but who were still trusting in circumcision for some merit, he warned of inconsistency. Circumcision would bring no benefit to them.
Paul says the person who received circumcision thinking it will bring some merit from God places himself under obligation to keep the whole law of God. He has previously said that this places one under a curse: having to obey the whole law completely and perfectly for God's acceptance. James writes; “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” (2:10) God's standard is perfect obedience and nothing else. This perfect obedience must be as long as we live. We might imagine the person who somehow would keep God's law all their life but disobey at their last minute on earth. All would be forfeited.
No practice, whether it is circumcision or anything else, can cause God to accept us. It is faith and nothing more. There is nothing we can add to this. Trusting in some works on our part places a barrier between us and Christ that results in him not accepting us. Paul in writing to the Romans said; “Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works.” (9:30)
In verse four, Paul says that to trust in something else other than the grace of God severs us from Christ. It means that we cannot live by law and grace. They are mutually exclusive. We either try to earn our salvation or God gives it to us out of his love. We cannot mix them for they are totally incompatible. They could not do what the Judaizers encouraged them to try. Circumcision did not raise their spiritual level but lowered it. It has to do with outward and inward obedience. We can obey all the outward rules we want, but if the heart is not right we fail.
The security of salvation is not found in something we do but in God's ability to keep his children from falling from grace. Baptists adhere to the doctrine of eternal security. Once we accept Christ as our Savior, we cannot lose that salvation. We do not keep ourselves saved; rather the security is guaranteed by God. We cannot live by the flesh, that is trusting in works for salvation, we must live by the Spirit.
Paul reminds them that in Christ neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything. The practice has no saving merit. It was a sign for the Jewish people that God gave in his covenant with them. All this was over because of the work of Christ. Circumcision never brought salvation in the Old Covenant and it certainly does not bring it in the New. We cannot complete the perfect work of Christ by adding any of our good works. We are righteous because of the imputed work of Christ. We place our faith in him, and God imputes or gives his righteousness to us. From that point, we enter into the sanctification and glorification process. Each day, we do those things that make us more like him as we await that future day of glorification; that is, when we live in heaven with him.
We must depend on the essential for salvation. God's grace as shown through Christ and our faith in him is all that is necessary for salvation. We cannot add anything to this nor trust in anything besides this. That is the bottom line of salvation. We do not find people trusting in circumcision today, but we do find that some trust in church membership, baptism, good works, charitable giving and a host of other things for their salvation. The means of salvation or our security in it has not changed.
The story is told of an aspiring artist. He was commissioned to do a large sculpture for a famous museum. Now he had the opportunity to do what he had long dreamed of. After laboring over the work for many years, he saw it grow in shape and beauty. When finished, he discovered to his horror that it was too large to be taken out the window or door. In addition, the cost for tearing down part of the building to remove it was prohibitive. His masterpiece was captive to the room of creation. This is the fate of all efforts to gain salvation. Those efforts can never leave the room on earth in which they were created.
II. INVOLVES LOVE
Paul instructs them to rely on faith for salvation. This faith will work through love. The Spirit-filled life is not static or inactive. It works through love not self-effort. The Bible says we are created in Christ Jesus for good works. These good works result from our faith relationship with him. Our working is not the means of our salvation but the result of it. Love is the force that fuels our desire to serve him and others. We do not work for righteousness but out of it.
The very nature of love leads one to obedience to Christ. We do not steal from or lie to someone we love. We do not kill someone we love. True love would lead to an absence of the many ills of our society and world. True faith produces love for others.
III. LEADS US TO PURSUE SANCTIFICATION
Paul reminds them that they were running well. What was now hindering them from continuing on that course. He knew. It was the Judaizers who were persuading some to change their perspective concerning their salvation. He exposes the wicked character of those who were hindering their spiritual journey.
Like Jesus, Paul was patient with those involved in sin. Jesus uttered very gentle rebukes to those entrapped in sin but who had the desire to change. It was the self-righteous religious leaders whom Jesus reserved his severest rebukes for. It was the Judaizers who tried to lead the Galatians astray that Paul was most harsh with. It was those who refused to see their spiritual need and who corrupted God's people who received Paul and Jesus' rebuke.
The Judaizers hindered the Galatians from obeying the truth. They distracted them in their race for sanctification. The Galatians had no apparent trouble living for Christ while Paul was with them. After he left, these savage wolves came in. They attempted to lead them away from grace back to the way of law and works. This hindered their sanctification process. They were preventing the unsaved from coming to Christ and hindering the saved from following the truth. They contaminated the church. Their little bit of leaven was affecting the whole lump.
We too must avoid all things and people who would hinder our sanctification process. We are on the road to spiritual maturity. We attain this by living for Christ and doing the things he calls us to do. We must avoid anything that gets in the way of that. A single cell of cancer can metastasize and spread through the whole physical body. A forest fire can be started with one spark. Benjamin Franklin wrote; “For want of a nail the show was lost, for want of a shoe the horse was lost; for want of a horse the rider was lost; and for want of a rider the battle was lost.” We must fight anything that keeps us off the spiritual path.
IV. RECOGNIZES THE JUDGMENT OF GOD
The destiny of those who were leading the Galatians astray was judgment. While the destiny of the believers is secure, so is that of the unbelievers. Jesus said; “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Mark 9:42) Those who stand against the word of God can expect his judgment.
Our salvation is dependable. We cannot depend on any nonessentials for it, we must exercise love as the counterpart of our faith, we must pursue sanctification and we must remember that God's judgment is a reality for those who ignore his salvation.