By Brooke Holt
“But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” (Galatians 5:11-15)
Once again, Paul addresses circumcision and the Judaizers’ insistence upon these Galatian men being circumcised as an outward sign of their conversion. Paul states if that truly demonstrates conversion, why stop with circumcision and just a cutting of the foreskin? I will stop there (though Paul does not). Paul’s point is Christ is the great equalizer and unifier. Where circumcision was used to differentiate between people—men and women as well as Jews and Gentiles, the cross of Christ united people: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
In Christ, every man and every woman found freedom. They were united under the Lordship of Christ; those earthly distinctions were gone as God’s people found their value in being God’s children and heirs of his kingdom. What would be the logical next step? To love God and to love one’s brothers and sisters in Christ. Loving God means loving his word, his commands, and all things about his character. And the Holy Spirit has been poured into the heart of God’s people to make that possible.
This command to love is not a new one. We can find it throughout the Old Testament writings. What is new is the fulfillment of the prophetic words of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, in which God foretold the day when his people would be given a new heart (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ezekiel 36:24-28). This new heart would come through the Spirit when the Word of God was then written not on tablets of stone but on the hearts of God’s people.
These Galatians were full recipients of this new covenant fulfillment. They had been given new hearts through the Holy Spirit, and Paul calls them to live into that new and stop looking back to the old. Where once the law was there to help people turn from the ways of the flesh to choose the way of the Lord, now God’s Spirit was the one that made that empowered those choices. That Old Testament law was fulfilled as God’s people loved God and one another.
This was no easy calling. Paul knew that. More importantly, God knew that. But the Spirit is greater and stronger than an earthly challenge. If God’s people would look to him and surrender to that Holy Spirit within them, they would be equipped for every good work, even the work of loving their neighbors. And not just their nice neighbors but the neighbors who disagree with them on everything, the selfish neighbors, the whiny neighbors, etc. As God’s children, they could have eyes to see every person as God sees—children of the King and worthy of God’s love and grace.
You are now the full recipient of this new covenant of grace. What neighbor is God calling you to love today? Spend time asking the Lord to transform your heart again by his Holy Spirit. Read the prophetic words of Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 again today, then bask in the promise he gave you a new heart. We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Let's face it, the Christian life is hard. Relationships take work. Christians forget. Sometimes it is tempting to go back to the days when God was not the center of our lives - to backslide. We are all faced with tremendous pressures to drift away from intimacy with Jesus and the community of the Church. However, the Lord invites us to pay attention, to move forward, to draw near, and to live lives of worship. Draw Near: Hebrews on Christian Worship is a small group Bible study on the Book of Hebrews intended to lead participants into a deeper intimacy with the living God in the context of New Testament worship. Draw nearer to God in authentic worship today!
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