Studies in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians
by Bob Burridge ©2017
Lesson 17: Galatians 6:11-18 (video)
A New Creation
There are a lot of problems in the world that come from problems in the fallen human heart. Crimes are committed every day that can’t be blamed on natural disasters. Hard working people have what they worked for stolen. Lives are snuffed out for revenge, jealousy, and to cover up other crimes. Children are aborted, abducted, and abused to satisfy the twisted passions of deranged minds. International aggression and hatred force victim nations to defend themselves in war.
When the fallen heart sees these things it tries to fix the outward results while denying the inward cause. Crime might be controlled, but it wont become extinct by better prisons, education, or the redistribution of wealth. Wars can be delayed, but never eliminated by negotiated agreements, technology, or superior weapons. None of these solutions treat the cause of the problem.
When a disease attacks the body we need to attack the germs. Our English word “germ” comes from the Latin word “germen” which means “a beginning of life, a sprout, a bud, or embryo”. The proper biological word for germ is pathogen. They are the organisms that cause our diseases, the origin of sicknesses.
When someone’s sick it will not help to simply make the patient comfortable. Cosmetics can make a pale person look healthy, but they don’t fix what’s making them pale. Pain can be dulled with medication or by severing the nerves, but that will not fix what’s causing the pain to begin with.
We need to attack the disease itself. The patient needs nutrition, rest, and sometimes medication to strengthen and help the body’s immune system so it can kill off the disease. Just making the sick person feel well only allows the disease to advance. You have to go after the germs.
The same is true about the moral and spiritual problems that infect our world. Jesus didn’t come to make us feel better while we linger in our sins. He came to give us new life, to make us into new creatures, alive forever in him. The soul doesn’t need a new attitude, it needs a new beginning.
Paul begins this last section of Galatians with a comment about his writing of the words here.
11. See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand!
Paul draws attention to the fact that he was writing this with his own hand. The word “own” isn’t in the original but it is probably what he meant. Either he wrote this whole letter without his usual secretary, or just this last section. He points this out so they would understand his personal concern for them, and the importance of what he was telling them.
The words translated “what large letters” is a big more difficult to understand. There are different views about exactly what Paul meant here. Some say it means he wrote this last part of the letter with larger characters for emphasis. Some think it means that he took over the writing from his helper here, and had a larger style of writing. Some say it means the length and depth of the epistle he was writing. Some even suggest he had an eye problem going back to that reference in 4:15, but as we examined that section we saw that there are problems with that theory.
There are interesting evidences, and problems in supporting each view. We don’t have enough information to decide for sure, but it doesn’t effect the message.
Then Paul gets back to the main issue he’s dealing with in this letter.
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.
Paul’s concern was the influence of the Judaizers who had come to Galatia. They claimed to be Christians but were holding on to the rituals of old Judaism. By requiring all believers to be circumcised and follow the ceremonial laws, they were denying the sufficiency of the finished work of Jesus Christ as our Redeemer.
They said they were demanding this because of their deep concern for the law of God. But that wasn’t the real reason for all who insisted that circumcision was necessary. Paul said they had fallen into their beliefs to avoid being persecuted for confessing the work of Christ on the cross.
Christians were being persecuted by the powerful Jewish leaders. They hated the idea that God’s Messiah would come to die to pay for sin. They came to believe that the sacrifices of animals and other rituals of the Temple actually removed sin. That’s not what God’s law taught.
But the lost deny the real problem. They wanted some outward solution they could control themselves. They were treating the disease outwardly and missing the real inward cause. They imagined that fallen humans could do something to turn away God’s wrath.
They rejected what God said in his word about the deadness of the fallen heart. Man can’t fix his own soul. Even his efforts are misdirected. They were trusting in dead souls to make themselves alive. The law if understood properly pointed toward the coming Christ, God in human form, who would cure the disease. The corrupted leaders of Judaism rejected that, and persecuted those who believed it. The Judaizers claimed to believe in Jesus, but insisted on the old rituals, some of them did this to avoid tension.
But those insisting on circumcision weren’t really keeping God’s law. Circumcision was the sign and seal of the old form of God’s Covenant. It obligated them by covenant to the whole of God’s message in the law. Part of that message was that they should expect the Messiah as promised. He’s what the sacrifices and the words of the Prophets were all about.
God’s law brought warnings to those who heard it that they should love mercy and walk humbly in all God’s ways. But the Jewish leaders didn’t see the Messiah in the sacrifices and in the words of the prophets. They didn’t love mercy. They were cruel, exclusive, and domineering. They were not humble. Like the Pharisees, these Judaizers became arrogant and proud.
Their motive was to be able to boast in the flesh of the Galatians. They wanted to brag about how many followers they attracted. They hoped the Jewish persecutors would be impressed by their large numbers of converts and leave them alone. But they missed the heart of the law. They overlooked the real change Christ makes, replacing it with outward compliance to ceremony. In contrast, Paul could only boast in the cross of Christ
It was by Christ that Paul says the world is crucified to him, and he was crucified to the world. We have to remember that the word “crucify” had a different meaning then than it has now. It was the ordinary way the Romans executed criminals. It had no “religious” implications in the general culture of the day. To the Apostle Paul the tempting outward forms of this world were put to death. As far as the worldly things were concerned Paul was considered executed to them too, because Jesus was executed, crucified on the cross, in his place.
We all need to keep this relationship in mind while we live out every moment of our lives. Our Savior is our only real hope and remedy against the disease of our souls. He’s our only boast, our only cure, He alone is our life and hope.
The cross of Jesus is offensive to the world. To the superficially religious, the Crucified Savior is just a symbol of martyrdom. To the corrupted Jewish leaders at that time, Jesus was a threat to all they taught and believed. The whole idea of an executed Messiah was horrible. To the Judaizers, the cross if honored, threatened persecution from the Rabbinic Jews. So they wanted to brag about how many Christians they got to follow them back into Judaism.
But to us who are regenerated, Jesus is our Redeemer who was executed in our place. Our boast is in that offensive Cross of Christ. It’s our hope and salvation. The days of circumcision and all the old rituals were gone. Jesus fulfilled all they represented and taught about. Since the crucifixion of Christ God sees no distinction between those circumcised and those not. What matters is the change the Redeemer makes in the heart to make believers from every nationality.
Paul says we are new creatures in Christ, a new creation. In Christ we are not as we would be without him. We become new people, but in the sense that the old master is gone, the old priorities are changed. We still have the same DNA, memories, talents, favorite foods, and so on. But we have new desires, new affections, new values, and a restored joy.
All the religions of the fallen soul deny that an inside change is even needed. They reject the biblical fact of our depravity that infected all of us in Eden. They try to make changes on the outside to make things better. But they only dress up the corpse. They put makeup on the pale skin. They sever the nerves so we don’t feel the pain while the disease eats away at its victims. They make the lost feel as if they’re doing good things, while they run toward the gates of Hell. They clean up the ghettos, but ignore how they got that way to begin with. They feel holy, special, and safe in their superficial worship services, but fail to see the offense to God of their self-centered self-serving hearts.
Our Loving Lord Jesus Christ came to change us inside. He replaces the outward appearance of charity with true compassion. He replaces outward rituals and shallow entertainment with humble worship.
The dead soul is made alive to live for it’s Savior 24/7. He doesn’t just improve us, or make us feel better. He heals the disease and gives us life where there was death. He restores us to real fellowship with God. Our old affections and ways are not changed by outward acts, but by inward transformation.
Paul ends his letter to the Galatians with a clear focus on the benefits of God’s Covenant.
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.
Today we aren’t tempted to go back into circumcision. It’s not Judaizers that threaten us with Jewish ritual ideas about how we’re made right with God. But we are surrounded by those who try to lead God’s people into a superficial Christianity. We are influenced every day by the secular beliefs and values of a lost world.
The complete sufficiency of the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross is our strength. It’s what offers real inward peace for the troubled soul, and makes us partakers of God’s gracious mercy.
But God calls us to live as those who are alive in him. We need to recognize the superficial counterfeits that only make things look better. We need to replace them with the ways that show our trust in God’s promises and provisions. When you react to problems with anger, lies, violence and outward cosmetics you abandon what God says is right and good.
His peace and mercy are promised to those who walk by this rule. Paul didn’t compromise to avoid offending the legalists to avoid persecution. He still had scars on his body that proved that. He had shown his faithfulness to the truth, even when it wasn’t convenient.
Do we at times avoid talking about God’s truth just so we won’t be embarrassed? Is the cross of Christ something we try to hide in certain situations? Are we ashamed of our trust in the cross? Do we try to hide our frustrations or challenges by covering them up or avoiding them? Or to we trust what God says about the power of the Risen Christ? Do we count on him to enable us to handle things responsibly and in the right way? This is how we ought to live. It’s what we ought to do.
Then Paul pronounced God’s grace upon the Galatians and all of us who read his letter. He doesn’t just wish us some outward benefits, but the best comfort and peace deep in the soul, the source of our thoughts, attitudes, words, and actions. We have the remedy that kills the spiritual germs. It doesn’t just cover up the symptoms. It pays for the sin that causes our spiritual struggles, and gives life to dead hearts.
(The Bible quotations are from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.)