Dependability is honorable. Young girls are impressed by young men who show up on time for a date. Employers are impressed by employees who show up for work on time and regularly. Parents enjoy children who come home on time, who are as good as their word, and who are obedient. Banks depend on those who borrow money from them to pay it back. Vehicles that start consistently are better than ones that start intermittently. Principals want teachers who show up in the classroom. Pastors are impressed with church members who show up on most Sundays to worship. Churches depend on people giving so they can pay the bills. We depend on our paychecks to meet our financial obligations. Being dependable says a lot.
So it is with salvation. We want a dependable way so that we might be sure of our salvation. We do not want to trust in something that might not bring forgiveness or guarantee a place in heaven. We do not want to live our life in a vain pursuit that does not reward us. If the Bible names a certain way for salvation, we want to depend on that being the truth.
Paul addresses this matter in this chapter as he begins to apply previously taught doctrine to practical Christian living. He emphasizes that right doctrine must result in right living; otherwise it is of no value. The life of faith is more than just believing truths stated in God’s Word. The life of faith involves bearing divine fruit. God’s Spirit makes the spiritual life work. Through his working in our lives, he molds us into the people he wants us to be.
DEPENDABLE SALVATION HAS CERTAIN ESSENTIALS
The basic tenet of Judaism taught a person must add good works to the process of salvation. Paul preached that we must experience God’s grace by accepting the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. At that point, salvation took place. Nothing can be added to this. The Judaizers tried to change this message and in the process attempted to persuade the Galatians to trust a nonessential for salvation.
Circumcision was a distinctive outward mark that Jews took pride in. In fact, sometime they were known as the “circumcision.” Not only did they have great pride in this mark but they also placed great confidence in it. Many Jews looked at it as having special spiritual value. It was a part of their convenant relationship with God and a reminder that God wanted to cut away evil from their hearts.
Paul’s warning was not against circumcision itself but against trusting in the practice to gain favor with God or to realize some spiritual benefit or merit. Paul himself was circumcised as an infant, just as all Jewish boys were. He did not object to Christians being circumcised if it would open doors for ministry. He had Timothy circumcised for this very reason.
Judaizers, however, took the practice too far. They proclaimed faith in Jesus was not sufficient for salvation. What Moses began in the Old Covenant and what Jesus added in the New Covenant had to be finished by one’s own effort. The centerpiece of this effort was circumcision.
Paul said receiving circumcision to gain merit with God was to make Christ of no benefit. We can’t trust in anything but the atoning sacrifice of Jesus made on Calvary’s cross. We cannot add circumcision or anything else. No human act or effort can come between us and Christ. To those not saved, Paul was saying they could not attain it by trusting in this practice. To those truly saved but who were still trusting in circumcision for some merit, he warned of inconsistency. Circumcision would bring no benefit to them.
Paul says the person who received circumcision thinking it would bring some merit from God placed themselves under obligation to keep the whole law of God. He has previously said that this places a person under a curse: having to obey the whole law completely and perfectly for God’s acceptance.
James writes; “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (2:10). God’s standard is perfect obedience for a lifetime. We might imagine the person who somehow would keep God’s law all their life but disobey at their last minute on earth. All would be forfeited.
No practice can cause God to accept us except his love and our acceptance of his provision through Christ for us. We can’t add anything to what he has done. Trusting in some work on our part places a barrier between us and Christ that results in him not accepting us.
Paul in writing to the Romans said, “Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works” (9:30).
Paul says trusting in something else other than the grace of God severs us from Christ. We cannot live by law and grace, for they are mutually exclusive. We either try to earn our salvation or God gives it to us. What the Judaizers were encouraging the Galatians to do was impossible. Circumcision would not raise their spiritual level but lower it. We can obey all the outward rules we want, but if the heart is not right we fail.
In Christ, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything. This was over because of the work of Christ. Circumcision never brought salvation in the Old Covenant, and it certainly does not bring it in the New. We cannot complete the perfect work of Christ by adding any of our good works. We are righteous because of the imputed work of Christ. We place our faith in him, and God gives his righteousness to us. From that point, we enter the sanctification process by doing those things that make us more like him.
We must depend on the essential for salvation: God’s grace and our faith. We do not find people trusting in circumcision today, but we do find some trusting in church membership, good works, charitable giving, and a host of other things for their salvation.
The story is told of an aspiring artist who was commissioned to do a large sculpture for a famous museum. After laboring over the work for many years, he saw it grow in shape and beauty. When finished, he discovered to his horror that it was too large to be taken out the window or door. In addition, the cost for tearing down part of the building to remove it was prohibitive. His masterpiece was captive to the room of creation. This is the fate of all efforts to gain salvation. Those efforts can never leave the room on earth in which they were created.
DEPENDABLE SALVATION INVOLVES LOVE
Paul instructs them to rely on faith for salvation. This faith works through love. The Spirit-filled life is not static or inactive. It works through love, not self-effort. The Bible says we are created in Christ Jesus for good works. These good works result from our faith relationship with him. Our working is not the means of our salvation but the result of it. Love is the force that fuels our desire to serve him and others. We do not work for righteousness but out of it.
The very nature of love leads one to obedience to Christ. We do not steal from or lie to someone we love. We do not kill someone we love. True love would lead to an absence of the many ills of our society and world. True faith produces love for others.
DEPENDABLE SALVATION PURSUES SANCTIFICATION
Paul reminds them that they were running well. What was now hindering them from continuing on that course. He knew. It was the Judaizers who persuaded some to change their perspective concerning salvation. He exposes the wicked character of those who hindered the Galatian’s spiritual journey.
Like Jesus, Paul was patient with those involved in sin. Jesus uttered gentle rebukes to those trapped in sin but who had the desire to change. It was the self-righteous religious leaders whom Jesus reserved his severest rebukes for. And Paul was most harsh with the Judaizers who tried to lead the Galatians astray. It was those who refused to see their spiritual need and who corrupted God’s people who received Paul and Jesus’ rebuke.
The Judaizers hindered the Galatians from obeying the truth. They distracted them in their race for sanctification. The Galatians had no apparent trouble living for Christ while Paul was with them. After he left, these savage wolves came in. They attempted to lead them away from grace back to the way of law and works. This hindered their sanctification process. They were preventing the unsaved from coming to Christ and hindering the saved from following the truth. They contaminated the church. Their little bit of leaven was affecting the whole lump.
We too must avoid all things and people who hinder our sanctification process. We are on the road to spiritual maturity. We attain this by living for Christ, doing the things he calls us to do, and avoiding anything that gets in the way.
A single cell of cancer can metastasize and spread through the whole physical body. A forest fire can be started with one spark. Benjamin Franklin wrote; “For want of a nail the show was lost, for want of a shoe the horse was lost; for want of a horse the rider was lost; and for want of a rider the battle was lost.” We must fight anything that keeps us off the spiritual path.
DEPENDABLE SALVATION RECOGNIZES THE JUDGMENT OF GOD
The destiny of those who were leading the Galatians astray was judgment. While the destiny of the believers is secure, so is that of the unbelievers. Jesus said; “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Mark 9:42). Those who stand against the word of God can expect his judgment.
We can depend on what God gives us in salvation.