“It wasn’t long before some Jews showed up from Judea insisting that everyone be circumcised. ’If you’re not circumcised in the Mosaic fashion, you can’t be saved.’ Paul and Barnabas were up on their feet at once in fierce protest. The church decided to resolve the matter by sending Paul and Barnabas, and a few others to put it before the apostles and leaders in Jerusalem.” Acts 15:1-2 (The Message).

Why the fuss? Such an insignificant matter! Who cares whether men are circumcised or not? What difference does a small surgical procedure make to their salvation?

A small matter but a very a big issue! It was big enough for Paul to write a letter to the Galatian believers to deliver a heated protest against a teaching which would undermine the very foundation of their salvation. It was serious enough for the church leaders to take action immediately, to nip in the bud a practice that would undo the finished work of Jesus for those who submitted to circumcision, and take them back into self-effort, slavery and failure.

A whole world of meaning was packed into Jesus’ final words on the cross: ‘It is finished.’ His death and resurrection put an end to all the demands of the Law as a way of being acceptable to God. Even if we obeyed God perfectly in every detail of what He expects of us from now on, (which is impossible anyway), we still have the problem of our past and the guilt we have incurred by disobeying God.

Jesus offered Himself up to God as an atoning sacrifice and His offering was accepted as the morally perfect Lamb who took our place because He had no sin of His own to die for. What He did was enough and complete, and we cannot and must not try to improve on it by adding anything to what He has done.

These Jews, who were insisting that Gentiles adopt the old covenant given to His people at Mount Sinai by being circumcised, were saying, in effect, that the sacrifice of Jesus was insufficient to satisfy God’s justice. To make His work effective, we have to add to what Jesus did by trying to keep the Law.

Whatever we add to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross nullifies His work and puts us back under obligation to fulfil all the requirements of the old covenant. We cannot pick and choose what we will do and what we won’t do. The agreement God entered into with His people at Mount Sinai was a package deal and demands perfect obedience to every detail.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who has let himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.” Galatians 5:1-3 (NIV).

What is your “circumcision” that you have added to Jesus’ complete work on the cross, to make His salvation effective for you? Do you have to carry out rituals, obey dietary laws, observe special days or seasons, “work for Jesus”, or do anything to get God’s attention or to win His approval instead of just being His son or daughter?

If you do, you are outside the reach of God’s grace. “You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” Galatians 5:4 (NIV).

What is the real issue here? It’s the attitude of our hearts. Are we slaves or sons? Slaves have to work hard to please their master. Sons are free just to be sons. “Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father’. So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” Galatians 4:6-7 (NIV).

Luella Campbell

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