14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
17 From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.
18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.
(Galatians 6:14–18 ESV)
Key Observation: Dying with Christ, we die to the world’s power to order our lives. We are free to become fully God’s new creation.
Paul will not turn other people into his trophies. He makes his boast only in Christ’s cross. Paul had renounced the honor that he enjoyed on the basis of his life “in the world” (see 1:13–14). He seeks honor now only in God’s estimation. That honor is revealed most clearly in the crucified Messiah. The cross shows how upside down the world’s values are. It shows how misplaced its esteem is. It gave the most degrading station to the person most honored in God’s sight, as the resurrection would prove. The cross of Christ reveals what God most values. Serving is the path to distinction. Giving oneself away is the path to securing one’s self for eternity. The cross broke the hold that this world and its values held on Paul and his attraction to the world’s honor. It set him free at last to find true and lasting honor before God.
Paul once again declares circumcision and uncircumcision equally irrelevant on this side of dying with Christ. Circumcision and uncircumcision are a pair of categories promoted by “the elementary principles of the world” (4:3 ESV). It creates the divisive pair of Jew and Gentile, a division of humanity that no longer has value in Christ (see Galatians 3:26–28). Paul’s crucifixion to the world included his death to all the ordering principles of the world.
This is a death in which all disciples must share if they are to be free to follow where the Spirit leads. The only thing that has value now is the new creation. This new creation takes shape as Christ takes shape within the believer. He or she takes on the image of the new Adam, Jesus, in whom God’s image is perfectly borne. The parallelism between this verse and 5:6 suggests that “new creation” is what comes into being as “faith working through love.” Human community is renewed.
The principle Paul lays down in 6:15 becomes a “rule” in the sense of yardstick or measuring rod. He calls his hearers one final time to leave behind the world’s ordering principles. He calls them to march straight toward the truth that the gospel proclaims and calls into being. The ESV and NRSV treat those “who walk by this rule” and “the Israel of God” as two separate bodies (5:16). Is Paul pronouncing this closing blessing on one or two groups? The NIV is probably more correct to identify those “who walk by this rule” as “the Israel of God.” Paul has spent the letter demonstrating that those who are in Christ are the people of promise, the genuine heirs of Abraham. It is highly unlikely that Paul would suddenly make an about-face at the end of his letter to give special mention to ethnic Israel. There is no longer Jew nor Greek.
As proof of his reliability and sincerity, Paul points to the scars on his body. They were inflicted to shame Paul, but he regards them as marks of honor. He has been true to his master, Jesus. He has not altered the gospel to please people and avoid their hostility. We would do well to remember our many sisters and brothers across the globe who bear such marks on their own bodies because of their fidelity toward Christ.
Paul closes his letter with a wish that grace would remain with his sisters and brothers in Galatia. Indeed, grace is at stake in their situation. He dearly hopes that they will continue to show trust in Jesus and sufficiently value his gifts.
Questions for Reflection
- To what extent are you still coloring within the lines that your society has drawn for you?
- What marks on your life, if not your body, are evidence of your sincerity and commitment to follow Christ?
What is the Christian’s relationship to the Old Testament? How does Christ fit in to the larger story of salvation reaching as far back as Abraham? What is the role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian’s life?
These are just some of the principal questions that Paul addressed as he wrote his letter to his converts in the Roman province of Galatia, and they remain as relevant today as they were then. Discover the whole of Paul’s proclamation of the “good news” afresh – the good news that not only delivers us from the consequences of sin, but from its power. Get the Bible study on the Letter to the Galatians by David A. deSilva from our store here.