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Not Circumcision but a New Creation March 29, 2013

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Galatians 6:11-18.

Summary: Paul begins by telling the Galatians that the false teachers, by compelling them to be circumcised, are only seeking their own glory; they are actually shunning the cross. Indeed, the false teachers only pretend to keep the law; they want to abuse the Galatians’ flesh for their own glory. On the other hand, he only desires the glory of the cross of Christ, which causes:

  • him to regard unbelievers as damned
  • unbelievers to regard him as damned.

Now neither the acts of the Gentiles nor those of the Jews can help them in terms of justification; only a mind that has been changed by the work of the Holy Spirit can help them in this regard. God’s favor is applied to those whose minds have been genuinely changed by the work of the Holy Spirit – they believe in the promise that God originally gave to Abraham.

Paul then declares that nobody should attempt to hamper his ministry; his external and internal sufferings prove that he is a servant of Christ, and so his listeners must decide how they will respond to his teachings.

Paul concludes by praying that Christ would govern the Galatians with His Holy Spirit forever.

Thoughts: In this passage, Paul strongly asserts the uselessness of circumcision regarding the issue of justification. Luther offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 12:

Circumcision is nothing of itself; but to be compelled to be circumcised, and once a man has been circumcised, to put righteousness and holiness in that rite, and to treat it as a sin if it is not accepted – this is an injury to Christ.

After completing this stroll through the book of Galatians, it is clear that the issue of circumcision pervades the letter. Perhaps an appropriate subtitle for Galatians could be, “Why Circumcision is Useless for Justification.” Now clearly this was a problem that weighed on Paul’s mind to such an extent that he could not help mentioning it again in the closing section of the letter. From Paul’s perspective, this was no trifle that could be easily ignored – it was a matter of (eternal) life and death. One must wonder if the Galatians wearied of Paul’s focus on circumcision throughout the letter, or if they recognized the gravity of the situation and responded appropriately.

Now that I have completed this stroll through Galatians, I must admit that I prefer the more academic flavor of the commentaries of Charles Hodge and J.B. Lightfoot to Luther’s commentary, which is more informal. My love of history spurred me to dissect Lightfoot’s notes on Colosse. I was also enthralled by Hodge’s methodical discussion of Romans which exposed me to a fair bit of New Testament Greek. Yet readers of this blog should not infer that I derived no benefits from Luther’s commentary. On the contrary, I particularly enjoyed his 1) monologues and 2) dialogues between the spiritual and sinful natures. Indeed, all believers – albeit to varying degrees – experience feelings of doubt and confusion regarding their salvation; Luther beautifully illustrates how we can address these feelings and remain in Christ. No matter how we progress in our Christian walk, and no matter how faithfully we serve God in various capacities, we will always need to rely on Christ as the source of our justification – illustrating the timeless excellence of Luther’s commentary.

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