In the last post we noticed that the apostle Paul was determined to not to give in to those who were offended by the simplicity of the gospel. Adding even a little commandment like circumcision could ruin the whole thing.
We started to see that when the apostle uses the word “law” he can have different things in mind. In Galatians 5:14 the word law refers to the moral law that governs our right relationships with one another. We should distinguish between this and the law of ceremony and sacrifices which was intended to teach us about Christ. Sometimes the apostle’s writing moves so easily from discussing one type of law to the other that we miss the transitions.
Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
The law had a job to do and it was to bring us to understand justification by faith. Sadly, because of the deceitfulness of the human heart, we resist the lesson. We want so badly to do something to justify ourselves that we’ll seemingly take any opportunity.
Paul writing in Romans 4 points out that Abraham was justified by faith before being given the commandment of circumcision. Circumcision was to be a sign the of justification he received through faith!
… we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: …
This sign, the cutting off and throwing away of the flesh, somehow became a badge of honor. It got twisted into a glorification of the flesh. It was viewed as a good work necessary for salvation. This is why it was such a dangerous doctrine. It changed the good news from salvation by faith into salvation by faith plus circumcision.
When we say we are saved by faith, we mean that we are saved by believing in and trusting in Jesus. We must abandon all hope of saving ourselves and trust Jesus alone for our justification. If we retain any hope of redeeming ourselves through good works, we may lean on those instead of the sacrifice that God has provided. If we do this, we can not be saved, because we never truly trust in Jesus.
Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.
Salvation by faith means trust without works. But faith plus works means giving lip service to faith and putting trust in the flesh. The whole gospel comes unraveled. This is why the apostle wouldn’t give an inch, even though it was highly offensive to the self-righteous Jews. Faith in Christ was at stake because the false teachers were trying to make justification conditional on the work of circumcision.
And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased.
All he had to do to avoid giving offense was to admit that some kind of good works were needed to bring a person to God. But whatever a man can do for himself, he doesn’t need anyone else to do for him. On the other hand, if a man must totally rely on Jesus, it is because he can not do it himself.
The same truth of salvation by faith in Christ is outrageously offensive to many Americans today. The notion that we are not good people, that we have nothing to offer in exchange for our salvation, that we can’t manufacture our own redemption because our flesh is totally inadequate still leaves people cold. They want to contribute something, they want to earn it. If Jesus offered them a way to earn salvation, they might consider it. But as long the church presents the true gospel they will be offended, unless God brings them to realize the truth of their own helplessness.
Let’s make sure our message stays every bit as offensive as the true gospel of Christ.