This is a peculiar few verses in the book of Galatians. To me, it seems as though Paul is directing his arguments against circumcision directly to Peter and the Jewish leaders who are calling for the Gentile believers to take upon themselves this act. Paul writes, “Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law” (5: 2-3). There is apart of me that truly wonder why Paul is making such a big deal about this whole circumcision deal. Does it really matter that a bunch of Gentile believers are circumcised? What harm is it to be circumcised anyway? And, what about today? Is it wrong to circumcise young children when they are eight days old? Does that mean that they are bound to the law even though they were circumcised before they were of age to make the decision to be circumcised? Does Paul really have reason at all in writing this? As students of the Bible, we must engage these questions as we read the text.
From what I have read, I believe Paul has a very important reason for focusing on the issue of circumcision. It is not simply the act that is offensive to the Spirit; it is the motives and heart behind the action that Paul is attacking. Lightfoot in his commentary writes, “The argument is this; ‘Circumcision is the seal of the law. He, who willingly and deliberately undergoes circumcision, enters upon a compact to fulfill the law. To fulfill it therefore he is bound, and he cannot plead the grace of Christ; for he has entered into another mode of justification’” (Lightfoot 203). As Paul continues in his letter, he says, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (Gal. 5: 4). So it has nothing to do with the health factor of being circumcised. It has nothing to do with it being ‘wrong’ in the sense of there being a ‘right’ alternative. This is a direct heart issue. In this sense, circumcision is a seal – an approval of the Law upon one’s life in deliberate defiance to the grace of God – Paul warns and admonishes both the Gentile and Jewish believers in Christ. A contemporary way of saying the same thing would be to say, “Instead of taking a step forward brothers, you are taking two steps back. Instead of living, you are actually dying. Instead of being free in Christ, you are a slave to the Law. Run while there is still time.” Perhaps that is more of a crass understanding of Paul’s message. For whatever it is worth though, Paul’s message is clear: Circumcision brings with it a chain of slavery in which, through Christ, we have already been freed from. It is that freedom that brings joy to the words of Paul as he writes, “For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Gal. 5: 5-6). In all of this we must ask ourselves, “Do we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness? Does my faith show through love to others?” These are more questions in which we must continually ask ourselves.
Paul was excited about this freedom in Christ we have through His Spirit. I do not think we as the Church get excited enough about this freedom we have in Christ in our own lives. We definitely need to change this. It starts when we make a decision to put God in the forefront of our lives and continually live in thankfulness for all Christ has done for us always bearing in mind that without His Spirit, we would still be captive to the Law that binds us to a yoke of slavery. Our freedom exists solely because of the work of Christ on the cross in which we are forgiven and free from not just the law of sin and death but the Law of Moses. We are no longer ‘children of the slave woman’ but we are ‘children of the promise’ God bestowed upon Abraham and his wife years ago. I hope you will agree that is something worth being excited about each and every day.