“Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing” (Galatians 5:2 NKJV).
These are very strong words. Did Paul mean them literally? For Christ to profit me nothing means that I am outside the pale of salvation! Why did the inspired author take such a hard line on circumcision? In a rare flash of anger, he even said of its promoters:
“I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!”
I think I know why.
What Paul feared was the human tendency to place faith in anything other than God for our good and acceptableness. If churches continued to insist on circumcision, Paul knew that people would put their faith in it as a saving rite. Even if you told them a hundred times that Jesus, not circumcision, saves, and even if they said a hundred times “Amen” to your statement, they would unconsciously place some of their trust for salvation in circumcision.
It is a psychological commonplace: The baseball player goes to bat wearing his lucky blue socks. If you asked him, he would tell you his confidence is in his hitting talent, not in his socks. Nevertheless, he does not take a chance of going to bat without them. To at least some degree, the slugger’s confidence is in his footwear.
It is the same with the Christian life. You will think you are putting 100 percent of your faith and trust in Christ and His love and His Word and His promises. But just a teeny-weeny 5 percent of your faith is in your other rites or rituals—circumcision, or blue socks. You will find out the truth of this on the day someone strips your little rite away.
Americans have no truck with circumcision as a religious entrance rite. So at first it seems this verse in Galatians is irrelevant to us. But as a general policy it is always best to ask ourselves how a verse may be speaking to us in our time. That is, what is Paul’s driving concern for you here? What is he so exercised about?
I believe Paul was telling us to watch out for harmless seeming religious traditions. Anything we put up as a “de rigueur” convention soon takes on the force of obligatory rule. Formal church membership in a local congregation is desirable, but Paul foresaw in the Spirit a danger in confusing belonging to a church with belonging to Christ. Weekly Sunday morning attendance at church may seem like a command right out of the Bible, but it is not, and it too is a human convention that may give some false confidence we are saved. What comes out of the Bible is: Believe in Jesus and follow Him.
And so Paul said with dead earnestness, just before his warning about circumcision:
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm, therefore. …”
Whatever it is you may have in your life that you think makes you a good Christian and a shoe-in for heaven, be careful. For if you insist on that little biblically extra religious rite, where your rite is there will your heart be. And Christ will profit you nothing. Let us examine ourselves to see where our real hope lies.