SPIRITUAL NOURISHMENT FOR TODAY (December 21, 2013)
“12 As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these would compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. 13 For not even those who are circumcised keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. 14 But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. “ Galatians 6:12-15
“MAY I NEVER BOAST EXCEPT IN THE CROSS OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST THROUGH WHOM THE WORLD HAS BEEN CRUCIFIED TO ME, AND I TO THE WORLD” Galatians 6:14 (NIV).
Those of us who started exploring Paul’s epistle to the Galatians right from day one would recall that Paul wrote this letter for several reasons. Among the most important reasons was to correct the impression among the Galatian believers that they could only become Christians by becoming Jews. Becoming Jews meant submitting to all the Jewish proselyte rights such as circumcision. This negative impression had been created by certain Jewish Christians who told the Galatians that they could not be saved through faith in Christ alone; they needed to be circumcised before they could be saved. As Paul drew the curtain down on his epistle, he re-echoed the message he had sought to put across to the believers, including us. The message is that circumcision is not what we need to be saved. What we need is a change in heart. In other words, it is not the circumcision of the body that saves, but the circumcision of the heart. Paul made this bold statement to emphasize his main concern.
“NEITHER CIRCUMCISION NOR UNCIRCUMCISION MEANS ANYTHING; WHAT COUNTS IS A NEW CREATION” Galatians 6:15.
This was as important for the Galatians at the time just as it is for us today. They had been made to believe that the outward circumcision was very important for Gentiles because without that their salvation was not complete. Many of them had become confused and some had even subjected themselves to be circumcision to sort of consolidate their salvation in Christ. Paul was unhappy about this because it was making circumcision a requirement for salvation whereas salvation comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. As a father to the Galatian believers, Paul was at this point reminding them that whether they had received physical salvation or not was not an important aspect of their salvation. They needed a change of heart.
What Paul said in Galatians 6:15 is supported by what he said in 2 Corinthians 5:17 as follows:
“THEREFORE, IF ANYONE IS IN CHRIST, HE IS A NEW CREATION ; THE OLD HAS GONE, THE NEW HAS COME!”
Both the New and Old Testaments give evidence that God requires us to we live with purified or circumcised hearts as believers. It is not the outward things that matter so much but the change in our hearts. That is why David prayed to God as follows:
“CREATE IN ME A CLEAN HEART, O GOD, AND RENEW A RIGHT SPIRIT WITHIN ME” Psalm 51:10.
“AND I WILL GIVE THEM ONE HEART, AND A NEW SPIRIT I WILL PUT WITHIN THEM. I WILL REMOVE THE HEART OF STONE FROM THEIR FLESH AND GIVE THEM A HEART OF FLESH” Ezekiel 11:19.
“CAST AWAY FROM YOU ALL THE TRANSGRESSIONS THAT YOU HAVE COMMITTED, AND MAKE YOURSELVES A NEW HEART AND A NEW SPIRIT! WHY WILL YOU DIE, O HOUSE OF ISRAEL?” Ezekiel 18:32.
“TO PUT OFF YOUR OLD SELF, WHICH BELONGS TO YOUR FORMER MANNER OF LIFE AND IS CORRUPT THROUGH DECEITFUL DESIRES, AND TO BE RENEWED IN THE SPIRIT OF YOUR MINDS, AND TO PUT ON THE NEW SELF, CREATED AFTER THE LIKENESS OF GOD IN TRUE RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HOLINESS” Ephesians 4:22-23.
It is clear from the above Scriptures that God requires us to be renewed in our hearts and minds as believers. This should be our pre-occupation – to allow God to change our hearts. We should not be too concerned on outwards things and ceremonies as well as church doctrines, some of which are in contrast to what scripture teaches. In fact, some of the doctrines we are made to believe are unscriptural. Unfortunately many believers are not concerned enough about biblically-based issues which affect our relationship with Christ. Many Christian leaders of today are much more concerned about what they think is right for believers to do. They work hard to ensure that what they believe is accepted by all. Those who refuse to accept what they teach are regarded as heretics. Well, it is not wrong to teach God’s word and expect your hearers to abide by them. That is what God requires of us. There is nothing wrong with being zealous about the truth.
What is wrong however is when we want to make ‘laws’ based on what we think is right and expect all others to follow instead of insisting on what scripture clearly teaches!
We all need therefore to critically examine our churches’ doctrine to know whether or not they are well-founded on scripture. But we cannot do that if we do not study God’s word. The Jewish believers made many of Galatians believe what they were teaching them even though that was unscriptural. If you do not study God’s word as a believer, pastors, teachers and prophets can easily deceive you. Even though they may be judged for their false teachings, you may also be judged for your lack of diligence. That is why we need to study God’s word to be able to understand, practice and teach. It doesn’t matter how zealous we may be for the gospel; everyone who wants to teach others need to study well.
Those who told the Galatians to be circumcised as a means of salvation were teaching what they knew and believed and not what Jesus taught. The doctrines we teach must be Christ-centered and Christ-focused. We should not shift the post in order to satisfy our own thoughts and beliefs. We should ensure that what we teach and expect others to abide by are in line with what Jesus taught.
If we do not ensure that what we believe and teach are firmly rooted in Scripture, we shall become like the Jewish Christians who were only seeking approval of men, to show how many converts they had made for Judaism. We shall teach anything that will increase the number of people following us or coming to our church meetings. Many pastors of today focus on and pride themselves with their large congregations. But should that be our goal? Are we expected to fill the buildings with people or we are expected to make them disciples of Christ? Our mission is to make disciples for Christ and not for ourselves. Therefore even as we teach and preach, our focus must be on how the hearers can be transformed into the image of Christ and not to boast about the number of people who follow us. If we are just interested in seeing people in our meetings instead of seeing their hearts and minds changed to become new in Christ, we are only seeking to boast in numbers and not in the cross of Christ. Paul reminds us that the only thing we can boast in as believers is the work of Christ as we find in our memory verse above. Let us all be careful of the things we teach and how we teach them. We should always teach in order to draw people to Christ so that all the glory may go to him. He will bless us if we draw people’s attention to him instead of ourselves.
THE WORD OF THE LORD!
Pastor Nana Kobina Baisie
Teacher/Pastor at Nadrim Mission International School, Busan, Korea.