Grabs the stylus from his scribe. No dictation now. With his own hand, he climaxes his letter, even though his eye trouble (Galatians 4:13,15) makes the words ungainly large. See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand! (6:11). Better, perhaps, to rivet home his final message.
Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ (6:12). The Judaizers (professed Christian Jews troubling the Gentile Galatians preaching faith in Christ plus Jewish circumcision for justification to the end) are pressuring them. Paul warns they have impure motives. They want to put the (circumcised) Gentiles on display, so Jewish unbelievers won’t persecute them. Cover up the objectionable cross with honorable circumcision.
A crucified Messiah? Shameful! The gold cross draped about my neck is a badge of faith, a sign of to Whom I belong and how. To the Jew, the cross symbolized utter weakness and criminality and worthless rejection. Like an African-American proudly wearing a noose around his neck. Disallowed!
Circumcision, on the other hand, was a badge of honor. A sign (albeit generally covered!) that this man descended from Abraham, the one through whom Yahweh would make a great nation to bless all the (inferior) nations. Cover the cross with circumcision. Jewish law-devotion would show them superior.
Sadly, we’ve “cleaned up” the cross. Or at least allowed the world to. It’s jewelry or art. To the world at worst it represents execution. But a punishment empty of meaning. “Jesus died for my sins”— a vacuous slogan. But the cross declares, “My Messiah was rejected and executed in utter weakness and abysmal defeat in my place for my sins. He was, in the world’s eyes, an embarrassing loser.”
Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (6:13,14). Prosecuting, Paul points at the circumcised and roars, “Even they don’t obey God’s law. The only reason they want you Gentiles to be circumcised is to proudly carve more notches on their “we got-’em-circumcised-belt.”
Paul’s only boast was that the Lord Jesus Christ outrageously, despicably died on a cross for him. It forever redefined Paul’s estimation of the world. It “has been crucified to me and I to the world.” In other words, “Its values don’t govern me. Its successes don’t beckon me. I don’t evaluate my life by its measure. I don’t care what it thinks of me. Christ’s cross has freed me from the world’s lure. My crucified Messiah is my treasure.”
Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God (6:15,16). The literal Greek here is, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything”; the translator supplies “means.” Again the translator supplies “counts”, because the Greek says, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything . . . ” They’re trying to capture Paul’s intent.
More significant is how Paul defines the nature of the Christian life. It’s not a matter of outward religious symbolism, like forehead-ashes for Lent or Bible-carrying or cross-wearing. The Christian is “a new creation.” Startling statement. Circumcision can’t affect that. Only the gift of the Spirit can. As Paul would later write to the Corinthians . . .
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
(2 Corinthians 5:17)
“And we all with unveiled face,
beholding the glory of the Lord,
are being transformed into the same image
from one degree of glory to another.
For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
(2 Corinthians 3:18).
Far more than mere personal transformation! This means the new eternal, righteous creation has burst back into this present age and has already been birthed in us who believe!
Such Christianity isn’t a meritorious faith. It’s a grace faith by which God the Holy Spirit applies the crucifixion (and resurrection) of Christ in us to create a new righteousness out of our old moral corruption. This, not circumcised Jews naturally descended from Abraham, is “the Israel of God”—Jew and Gentile one new people through faith in Christ, alive with his life by the Spirit.
Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen (6:17,18). Paul wants no more messes from these Judaizers, who may even want to turn Paul to their cross-less ways. He is committed to Jesus. And his body bears the scars (Greek, stigmata) from following his crucified Lord through a proud and hostile world.
* * * * *
The Cross vs. Prosperity. Christianity that draws the crowds plays down the cross’ rejection and shame. It promises “your best life now.” It trumpets how to be a winner. It (subconsciously ?) seeks ways to succeed in the world without being “worldly” (not possible). It’s gloriously true that Christ didn’t remain on the cross. But we don’t get resurrection without the cross–Christ’s and ours. May the world be crucified to us and us to the world!
A New Creation. I look in the mirror and don’t see one. I know my sins; they are ever before me. I look at the church and see no difference from what I see at the office or supermarket or ball game. Where is the power of Christ to transform our lives by means of the Holy Spirit, so people catch glimpses of a new creation in us?
Two responses come to mind. First, the familiar slogan, “Be patient; God’s not finished with me yet!” And, second, “walk by the Spirit, follow the Spirit, keep in step with the Spirit.” Do in living the desires he’s working in us. We’ve got to risk stepping to learn to walk!