Warning: This Bible> passage may offend those who place America’s Victorian sensibilities above God’s essential truth, but to first-century Jews, circumcision was simply a procedure required to obey God’s Law. Today, law has nothing to do with it, but circumcision is common simply for hygiene’s sake.
Galatians 5: 1For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 2Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.
God’s Law is divided into ceremonial (vertically orientated), and social (horizontally orientated) statutes. Most Christ-followers recognize that Jesus came to fulfill the ceremonial law, but he also came to clarify the social law, by such passages as the Sermon on the Mount(Matthew 5, 6, & 7).
Apostle Paul uses circumcision here to typify the ceremonial, Mosaic Law, because Judaizers (the legalistic, Jewish believers)were disturbing Gentile believers with their insistence that all believers had to be circumcised.
The rest of this passage applies the principle to which Paul alluded in verses one through three:
4You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
Can the role of law in the believer’s life be more clearly expressed? By clinging to any part of the ceremonial law, we reject God’s grace administered to us through Jesus’ blood. In fact, we have a higher standard than Moses’ Law: the law of love.
Apostle John wrote a lot about love’s essential role, and its application, in believers’ lives. Let’s begin with 1 John 2:
3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
Strong words; calling someone a liar can lead to a brawl. Verse three gives us the sure standard for believers, but is keeping Jesus’ commandments essential? Verses four through six answer that unequivocally. Can “aught to walk” be equated with “have to walk?” Does it mean that choosing to walk other than the way Jesus walked is in any way acceptable to God? Let’s let Jesus’ beloved disciple answer that.
1 John 2: 9Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
In case there’s any question, the light spoken of here is not the kind that gives you a good tan. Apostle John defines this light in his gospel, chapter one:
6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 9The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.
The Baptizer came to bear witness to the true light, who sheds light to all that were in darkness. That true light, of course, is Jesus.
1 John 2:15 & 16 tell us what our relationship must be toward the world system and the things of the world, with verse sixteen giving a representative list of what those things are.
15Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.
Must we make a detailed list of worldly things? Many people do, and we call them legalists. And yes, they’re the same kind of people who once insisted that all believers must be circumcised. Rather, we must learn what to do and not do, believe and not believe, love and not love, from the principles that Jesus and his disciples present to us through his Word.
1 John 3 begins with a no holds barred statement of what exactly sin is: sin is lawlessness (vs. 4). Then it says in verse 5: in him there is no sin. Then he reinforces it in verse nine: No one born of God makes a practice of sinning. Verse ten brings love back into the picture:
10By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
In what sense does John use the word brother? Is this a sibling, as from the same mother, or does it mean anyone who is also born of God’s Spirit? Well, that’s pretty obvious, isn’t it. But, what about brothers in the sense of fellow human beings? Jesus himself answered that question:
Matthew 5:43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 4 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
1 John 3 goes on to clarify, in principle, what Godly love means, and what it could cost:
14We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
Apostle James tells us we must prove our faith by how we live it. So I must ask myself in response to that powerful statement from God, “Am I willing to lay down my life, and everything that pertains to it, for my brother?” Are you?