Don’t misread this title. It doesn’t mean what it seems. It comes from the apostle Paul’s declaration in Galatians 5:6 . . .
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything,
but faith working through love.
Paul doesn’t suggest nothing else matters, but faith working through love. He means rather in the context of being in right standing with God, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything. The only thing that counts in being right with God is faith in Jesus Christ—faith that shows itself through acts of love.
I wrote about this in a previous blog (http://theoldpreacher.com/christ-set-free/). But I’ve since realized how important this text is for what follows (5:16-26). I’ve come across three important observations by Dr. Gordon Fee in his book, God’s Powerful Presence. Before passing them along, just a word about circumcision.
A non-issue for us. However, in our context it represents both our futile attempts to be right with God by trying to keep his Law (centered in the Ten Commandments) and our attempts to be right with God by constructing our own rules and regulations. “Real Christians don’t drink, smoke or chew or hang around with girls who do!” Not sure I got that old slogan right. But you know what I mean, right? Legalism. Extra-biblical rules and regulations we make necessary for being righteous before God.
It’s in that context that Paul writes, “In union with Christ Jesus keeping God’s laws or your self-created rules counts for nothing. The only thing that counts for being right with God is faith in Christ Jesus that shows itself in acts of love” (my paraphrase).
Here, now, is Galatians 5:13-15 from which Fee identifies three important points we should note before moving on . . .
You, my brothers, were called to be free.
But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature;
rather, serve one another in love.
The entire law is summed up in a single command:
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
If you keep on biting and devouring each other,
watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
One: “Freedom from enslavement to Torah (Law) paradoxically means to take on a new form of “slavery”—that of loving servanthood to one another.”
In Paul’s allegory (4:21-31) he refers to Jews under the law as the daughter of Abraham’s wife’s maid servant (Hagar) who “bears children who are to be slaves [to Law] (4:25). Earlier he wrote, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law . . . ” (3:13). And later, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (5:1).
Then he warns, “But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather serve one another in love” (5:13). A reminder, as someone wisely noted, Christ freed us not so we can do what we want, but what we should.
Also a reminder that God designed the Christian life to be lived in community with one another. Therefore, we don’t speak of attending church, but being the church. Therefore, Jesus gave us a new commandment: “Love one another . . . By this all people will know you are my disciples” (John 13:34,35).
Two: “Love of this kind is the way the whole of Torah (Law) is ‘fulfilled’.”
“The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Fee explains: “The aim of Torah . . . was to create a loving community in which God’s own character and purposes are fulfilled . . . as God’s people love one another as he loves them.” The Law, of course, is powerless to do this. But the Spirit is, in the title of Fee’s book, God’s Powerful Presence”. Thus he empowers believers to live toward fulfilling the Law, which is the Law of love.
Here, too, we find the focus for the Christian life: as part of the Christian community, the church. As we, empowered by the Spirit, love one another as members of the church, the whole of Law is fulfilled in our relationships with one another.
Three: “Freedom from Torah (Law) does not mean ‘lawlessness’.”
This was the Jews greatest objection to the absence of Torah. If we don’t let it fence us in any longer, do we have license to gratify ourselves however we wish? As we’ll see in the coming paragraphs, the Gospel provides a new fence.
As long as we’re in these bodies, sin is in our nature. And typically, we view sins as personal, not as relational. That is, wrong before God and hurtful to us, but not to the church. I would suggest that every personal sin “bad marks” the whole Christian community. And some, of course, like gossip, directly harms the Body. Such “lawlessness” corrupts us all.
But the Gospel of Christ, the Gospel Paul preached, is not lawlessness. It is Spirit-saturated.
With this preface in mind, next time we’ll finally reach the summit of Paul’s letter: the exciting, transforming, powerful presence of God the Holy Spirit.