We’re continuing our study of Michael J. Gorman’s Inhabiting the Cruciform God. But as noted earlier, I’m improvising on a theme by Gorman. (You musical guys will understand.)
Back in Part 1, I concluded,
Through faith, we are credited both with obedience and with circumcision. And this explains why Paul says we cannot insist on circumcision as a test of salvation in Galatians, but it would also mean that we can’t insist on perfect obedience as a test of salvation. Do you see how it all fits together?
Just so, if we insist on perfect obedience to any law as a requirement to be saved, we also deny that we are saved by faith. If you think about our salvation in terms of God’s covenant with Abraham, it just makes sense.
And now Galatians should make a little better sense. If we were to insist on circumcision as a condition of salvation, we’d be effectively saying that faith isn’t good enough.
The question that inevitably arises is whether we can therefore ignore God’s laws, and the answer is found in Paul’s pithy saying —
(Gal 6:15) Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.
“Creation” in the Bible is always something God does, and he re-creates Christians when he saves them.
(2 Cor 5:17) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
Not only does “creation” refers to God’s work, it also always alludes to Genesis. You see, God created man, male and female, in his image. Man fell. And now God saves man to begin the process of restoring man to his image.
(2 Cor 3:18) And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness [=eikon = image] with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
The point is for us to be more and more like God because that returns us to the purity and beauty of Creation as it existed before sin.
(Eph 4:24) and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
But another aspect of the “new creation” is, of course, the fact that God has given us his Spirit.
(Col 3:9-10) Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
Notice the passive voice — God is renewing us to be restored to his image. It’s God’s work in us. We can’t do it ourselves.
Of course, we are not entirely passive. The same passage urges us to take off our old selves (active voice). We cooperate, but God does the heavy lifting.
We, therefore, remain in God’s grace and saved because God is working in us to change us — and we are submitting to and cooperating with God’s efforts in us. Indeed, we are faithful.
Jesus saves by his faithfulness to the covenant, and we are saved by grace but through (not “by” but “through”) our faith/faithfulness. Our faithfulness is not entirely our own work, because the Spirit works in us to be faithful, but faithfulness remains essential.
The scriptures do not teach that Christians are entirely passive, waiting on Jesus’ return, with nothing to do but go to church. No, we are required to be faithful, because Jesus is faithful, and because Jesus is in us through his Spirit, he helps us be faithful, like him.
And our being faithful means the same thing for us as for him. It means co-crucifixion. And that means serving others, just as Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. “Faithful” isn’t about getting the rituals right or saying the right words in prayer or even daily Bible reading. “Faithful” means being like Jesus.
(Rom 6:13) Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.
(Rom 6:16) Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey–whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?
We are credited with righteousness ( =faithfulness to the covenant), but we must actually pursue righteousness. And if that’s so, why don’t we have to be circumcised, not to be saved but as a matter of obedience? I mean, we don’t have to give up lust perfectly, but we should certainly strive to rid ourselves of lust as a matter of obedience, right? Why doesn’t the same rule apply to circumcision?
Well, there are a couple of ways of looking at this. The first is the way Paul argued the case in Galatians —
(Gal 5:6) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
(Gal 5:14) The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Paul says that the only laws left to be obeyed are faith and love.
(Gal 5:18) But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
This is because, in part, this is the leading of the Spirit.
(Gal 5:22-25) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
And this is, obviously enough, true. But there’s another way to look at it. You see, if faithfulness/faith is defined by the self-emptying of Jesus, and if the goal of the covenant is to restore us to God’s image, and if Jesus’ death tells us who God really is, well, then the goal of it all is for us to be like God, that is, to be like Jesus, that is, to be self-emptied or co-crucified. And that means to love others and so serve them.
(Rom 7:6) But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
(Gal 5:13) You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.
(Eph 4:11-13) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
You see, Jesus is a servant, and so are we. And this is to be like God. And that is enough. There is no need to add circumcision, holy days, or other superficialities that only point to the real thing. The real thing is what God has been after all along.
(Rom 15:8) For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs
(Phil 2:6-7) Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
Do you see the irony and the symmetry? The Son of God became a servant to show us how to truly be images of God.
And so we see in service the definition of loving as Jesus loved us.
(1 John 3:16-17) This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?
Ponder this one carefully.
Why is it that singing only a cappella isn’t really commanded? Because it has nothing to do with being a new creation. Because it has nothing to do emptying self — so long as we use the instruments in service to others and not for ourselves. Because it’s not a fruit of the Spirit. Because it’s not a law written on our hearts by God. Because it’s not a violation of Abraham’s covenant with God. Because it’s not a violation of the image of God.
Why is it that fornication is a sin? Well, because it’s contrary to being a new creation — because we were created like Adam and Eve to be one flesh and to be united with our spouses. Because fornication is selfish, because there’s no commitment in fornication, no true self-emptying. Because fornication does not serve and therefore isn’t really love as Jesus loved. Because fornication isn’t a fruit of the Spirit. Because it violates the image of God — because Adam and Eve were made in God’s image and their sinless, reciprocal, committed relationship is in the image of the relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
It makes sense.
Now, pick up a Pauline epistle and read it front to back with these thoughts in mind. Test the theory. Does this theory make the epistle make even better sense? Does it help the words leap off the pages?