Art Toombs Ministries

Online Bible Commentary

Legalism

 

Galatians 6:15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. 16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. 17 From now on let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. 18 Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. (NKJV)






 

Paul has just completed his first missionary journey in which he and Barnabas planted churches in southern Galatia at Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. This letter is the first of Paul’s letters. 

The new believers in Galatia, influenced by Judaizers, have already turned from Paul’s Gospel to a false gospel of a mix of works and grace instead of grace alone. Judaizers claimed that Christians must also follow the Old Testament law, including circumcision. So Paul is writing to the Galatian believers to direct them back to the true Gospel of salvation by grace and not a combination of grace and works. 

Paul closes his letter to the Galatian churches with this passage. He summarizes his letter in one sentence, verse 15. For believers, those “in Christ Jesus”, the fact that they are circumcised, or not circumcised, means nothing (v. 15a). 

Circumcision was very important to the Jewish faith. It was a ritual, essential to defining their faith. Since it was a ritual, in Christianity it was a form of legalism. Anything that has to do with salvation by works can be defined as legalism. 

Christ is not concerned with our good works. He is only concerned with us becoming “a new creation” (v. 15b). He knows that if we truly become a new creation in Him that good works will follow. 

Paul followed up on this statement in his later letter to the church at Corinth. He wrote: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). As a new creation, a Christian does not hold on to the rituals of old, nor does he adopt new rituals. His loyalties are to Christ, because he is in Christ. He becomes a new creation by allowing the Holy Spirit to live through him. 

So Paul is exhorting the Jewish believers to not hold on to the ritual of circumcision. Circumcision means nothing in the eyes of God. Paul then offers a blessing of “peace and mercy” upon the Jewish believers, “the Israel of God”, who follow this teaching and become new creations, eschewing the rituals of circumcision and the law (v. 16). 

Paul requests of the Galatian believers to “let no one trouble” him with an attempt to place him back under the law (v. 17a). He is no longer under bondage to the law, which is evidenced by the mark of circumcision. He is now a new creation in Christ, which is evidenced by “the marks of the Lord Jesus”, the scars from his persecutions (v. 17b).  

He then closes his letter as he opened it with a prayer for the Galatian believers. He again refers to them as “brethren”, showing confidence in them that they will not be deceived by the false gospel of the Judaizers. Fittingly, he asks for God’s grace, His unmerited and undeserved favor, to be bestowed upon them. 

Just as legalism had no place in the first century church it has no place in the church today. A Christian is saved by the grace of God through his faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. He is saved by grace, not by works, not by the rituals of legalism.