While God certainly demands obedience, living the life of a true Christian is about freedom. Freedom from guilt and shame. Freedom from the pain of damaged relationships. While we will still have pain in this life, by obeying Christ we will avoid a lot of pain caused by our own sin.
Paul is not saying that if we are circumcised we lose our forgiveness and will go to hell. Paul is speaking to grown men who willingly have themselves circumcised as adults in an effort to earn God's favor. (v.4) Circumcision was never meant to "earn" us anything. It was instituted as a sign of the agreement between God and his people. (Genesis 17:9-11)
In the NASB translation, verse 4 reads: "You who have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law, you have fallen from grace."
This verse is not directed at genuine believers in Christ, but at people who, although they may think of themselves as "Christians", are actually not. The phrase "fallen from grace", in the original language, does not specifically mean that they had God's grace (undeserved favor, often referring to salvation from hell) and then lost it. Rather, these people who have not yet trusted in Christ, but have access to his grace like anyone else, have put themselves on a path that drastically takes them away from the grace of God.
After this life, those who have been saved by Jesus will be made completely righteous(meeting God's standard of perfection) in every sense. (Romans 5:19)
To be "in Christ Jesus" means(in the original Greek) to be before him, with him or in very close proximity to him. When we choose to put our trust in Jesus, circumcision doesn't mean anything to God one way or the other. God wants inward reality over outward symbol. And the kind of faith he wants inside of us will result in loving behavior toward others. (This is one sobering way we can monitor whether our faith is growing or not.) Faith is more than a hidden, personal belief. If we honestly believe that God is real and that Jesus is who the Bible says he is, it will change our priorities and behavior toward others.
The Bible continually upholds truth as one of the highest values and presents God as synonymous with truth. Alternatives to the Bible, as the legalists here represent just one of many, are not simply another valid option. The legalistic alternative is implied to be against the truth and not from God.
The yeast metaphor refers to evil's ability to start small or localized and then spread and corrupt.
Paul clearly separated himself from legalistic(over-emphasis on the law) teaching, pointing out that if he was teaching that anything was required in addition to Jesus, his message of Christ's sacrifice on the cross would not be so offensive to people.
Paul's frustration is expressed through sarcasm when he suggests that the legalists go beyond circumcision and cut off their genitals.
As Christians, completely forgiven and guaranteed eternity in heaven no matter what, it can be easy to take advantage of our freedom by ignoring our sinful habits and not making genuine efforts to avoid sin. But God commands us, through Paul, to avoid "indulging" our sinful desires, instead focusing outside of ourselves by loving those around us.
Although technically "love your neighbor as yourself" does not include laws related to loving and worshiping God, classic Bible scholar Matthew Henry notes that:
Love is the sum of the whole law; as love to God comprises the duties of the first table, so love to our neighbour those of the second. The apostle takes notice of the latter here, because he is speaking of their behaviour towards one another; and, when he makes use of this as an argument to persuade them to mutual love, he intimates both that this would be a good evidence of their sincerity in religion and also the most likely means of rooting out those dissensions and divisions that were among them. It will appear that we are the disciples of Christ indeed when we have love one to another. (John 13:35)
Loving others as much as we love ourselves is counter to our nature. But if everyone constantly serves their own desires more than anything else, we will destroy each other.
Coffee House Question
In what ways do we see media (music, film, television, books etc.) influencing us to think of our own desires instead of loving and helping others first?
Bring your shovel, we're diggin' deep!
Bring your shovel, we're diggin' deep!