“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” Galatians 1:6-7
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” Galatians 5:6
The church in Galatia had a big problem. The issue confronting it wasn’t entirely unique; in fact, this issue was one that was being debated in numerous Christian assemblies during the first century AD. The issue at hand was this: as the message of Jesus—a message rooted firmly in Judaism—spread to Gentile areas, and Gentiles began to accept Christ as Savior, did those Gentiles have to become Jews to be saved? More specifically, did Gentiles need to be circumcised to be part of the Christian community. Was circumcision necessary for salvation?
A prominent faction within the Galatian church said yes. So Paul, who had preached extensively throughout Galatia, penned his letter to the Galatian churches to set them straight. Paul’s message was clear: there are no other means of salvation other than Christ. Circumcision—though once commanded by God—did not save anyone, only Christ’s atoning death accomplished this. In light of Christ’s death and resurrection, circumcision meant nothing.
It was imperative that Paul—and the church as a whole—nip this problem in the bud because what was being taught in Galatia was undermining the gospel of Christ. The message being spread in Galatia was that believing in Jesus as Messiah and Lord, and believing that He died to save us from our sins was not enough to obtain salvation. The Galatian “theology” was that one needed Christ AND circumcision; that one without the other was insufficient. The Galatian theology said was that Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t enough on its own, that we must do something else in addition to it to obtain salvation.
Any teaching that says that Christ’s death isn’t enough to save us from our sins is heresy, as is any teaching that says humanity can do anything on its own to earn its salvation. Christ’s death is sufficient in and of itself, and salvation is the unmerited gift of God given freely by Him to those incapable of saving themselves—us.
We read the Epistle to the Galatians today, and we scoff at the fact that people were once teaching such a fallacious message. It baffles us to think that people would believe there was anything else that could possibly be needed in addition to Christ’s work for salvation to be obtained. But, when we examine our own hearts and practices, we realize that we often make this same mistake. Our hang-ups today aren’t over the issue of circumcision, but there are many other issues we have replaced it with. Are we following sound theology and believing in the only gospel—the true gospel of Jesus who died to save us—or do we, in our own practices, add things to Christ? Do we truly believe that Christ’s death was sufficient to give us salvation, or do we put faith in our works as well, or in the practices that we develop? Is our theology Christ and Christ alone, or is it Christ and whatever we think we can do to earn God’s favor? If we elevate other things— good works or the “right” theological interpretations or anything else—to the point of being equal with Christ in our theology, those things will very soon replace Christ in our theology.
So, what’s your theology? Is Christ alone sufficient, or are you adding something else to Him?
Artwork: “The Three Crosses,” Rembrandt, 1653.