The Completeness of the Gospel of Grace

Galatians 6:11-18

In the climax of this epistle Paul asserts the completeness of the gospel of grace in the "finished work" of Jesus Christ.

©1999 by James A. Fowler. All rights reserved.

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 Galatians Series

   As Paul began to conclude this pyrographic epistle to the Christians in the churches of Galatia, he took the stylus from the scribe who had been writing what he had been dictating, and penned the final words in his own handwriting. In a summarizing postscript the apostle recaps the central features of the gospel of grace that had been revealed to Him by Jesus Christ Himself. Though the concluding statements of some letters may be filled with a few pleasantries whereby the author "signs off" without any substantial content conveyed, such is not the case with this straightforward epistle of Paul. These words should not be disregarded as but closing courtesies. Rather they are gorged with theological content as Paul provides a synopsis and recapitulation of the Christocentric gospel that had become the essence of his life, and which he wanted to preserve in its dynamic manifestation among the Galatians. H.D. Betz indicates that this autographic postscript is "most important for the interpretation of Galatians," for "it contains the interpretive clues to the understanding of Paul's major concerns in the letter as a whole and should be employed as the hermeneutical key to the intentions of the Apostle."1 As a summarizing synopsis it certainly draws together several of the major themes of the epistle to affirm that the only gospel (cf. 1:6-9) is the vital indwelling dynamic of the life of the risen Lord Jesus Christ by His Spirit enacted by God's grace, serving as the complete realization and fulfillment of God's intent for mankind.

   But this concluding paragraph of the letter to the Galatians is more than just a recap of the themes previously addressed. It is at the same time the culminating climax of Paul's argument which serves as a capstone, the final thrust and finishing touch of his thesis of the completeness of God's work in the "finished work" of Jesus Christ. This paragraph, written in Paul's own hand, delivers the knock-out punch to the arguments of the intrusive Judaizers.

   The tone of this concluding unstylistic postscript is still somewhat terse and pointed. Written with the recognition of the dire consequences of allowing the living gospel of Jesus Christ to be constrained in the legalistic restrictions of religion, Paul's comments are curt, crisp and clipped. There are no personal greetings to or from individuals. There are no prayer requests. There is no doxological paean of praise. The severity of the situation in Galatia demands a straightforward concluding salvo.

6:11 ­ Drawing attention to the graphic change in handwriting, Paul writes, "See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand." Apparently the remainder of the letter (6:11-18) was written in Paul's own handwriting, whereas the preceding portion was inscribed by an amanuensis, a practice often employed by Paul (cf. I Cor. 16:21; II Cor. 10:1; II Thess. 3:17; Col. 4:18). The interpretive question has always been whether the secretarial scribe had any latitude in drafting the wording of the letter, or whether it was a process of direct dictation of the words of Paul.

   The enlarged size of the text in this autographic summary has received various explanations. While some have speculated that Paul had an inability for small detail creating an illegibility in his writing, perhaps caused by physical deformities or injuries resulting from his persecutions, the predominate speculation has been that Paul wrote in "large letters" due to faulty eyesight (cf. 4:13-15). It may simply be that Paul's personal inscription of these final words was to provide attestation of the genuineness of this letter, and invest it with the personal impact of his apostolic authority. The textual enlargement could have been utilized to emphasize and underscore the importance of Paul's conclusions, in like manner as we might employ block capital letters or bold print in our typographic printing today.

6:12 ­ In a final exposure of the Judaizers' methods and motives, Paul indicates that "those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised..." In this obvious allusion to the legalistic infiltrators of the "circumcision party" (2:12), Paul reveals the compulsive pressure (cf. 2:3,14) of intimidating and threatening manipulation that the intruding religionists in Galatia were employing on the young Christians there. Their demand for physical male circumcision was based on a faulty theology that maintained that such action had essential saving significance in identifying Gentile Christians with ethnic Jews and their Judaic religion as the "People of God." Paul exposes their self-serving "desire to make a good showing in the flesh," perhaps employing a double entendre that referred to how the circumcision of the foreskin of the male flesh as a distinctive mark of identifying Gentile Christians with Jews served as an external criteria of performance whereby the Judaizers could "look good" and make a self-seeking "good impression" in the sight of their racially biased kin.

   Paul proceeds to indicate that the self-serving motivations of the Judaizers' circumcision compulsion was "simply that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ." These ethnic Jews who claimed to accept Jesus as the promised Messiah still had an undue allegiance to their racial ancestry and religion. Paul's understanding of the "cross of Christ" demanded that the death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus serve as the singular basis of God's remedial and restorative action in mankind. When Jesus declared from the cross, "It is finished!" (John 19:30), it was a triumphant proclamation of the completed accomplishment of everything necessary to restore man to God's functional intent. There was nothing more that man needed to perform or accomplish, for Jesus Christ had accomplished everything required in the performance of His death and resurrection, allowing His saving life (Rom. 5:10) and righteousness (Rom. 5:16-21) to be appropriated by the reception of faith. The "cross of Christ" thus served as a denial of all Jewish privilege of race and religion, all efficacy of the old covenant, and all benefit of keeping the Law with its ritual requirements and works of performance for righteousness. Such an understanding of the "cross of Christ" was repudiated by the Judaizers as they sought to preserve their racial and religious affinities with the Jewish peoples who regarded themselves as especially chosen by God for superior privileges.

   In the particular context of the Judaizers' proselytizing promulgation of circumcision of Gentile believers in Galatia, the advocacy of the identifying mark of the flesh in male circumcision as a necessary performance of righteousness served as a mitigating factor whereby they could avoid the persecution that would necessarily result from regarding the "cross of Christ" as the sole basis of righteousness and the rejection of all Jewish privilege. Where would such persecution come from? Some have suggested that the Roman government was the persecuting agency, allowing a protective acceptance of the Jewish religion in the empire, but intolerant of new religions (especially Christians who adamantly claimed allegiance to one Lord and King, Jesus Christ). By identifying with the religion of Judaism in their identifying mark of circumcision, the Judaizers could thus avoid Roman persecution, giving the impression that Christianity was but a new sect of Judaism. The more probable source of persecution was from the Jewish religionists themselves. It was the Jews, for example, who had physically persecuted Paul during his ministry in Galatia (cf. Acts 13:50; 14:19). Paul had referred to Jewish persecution of Christians earlier in the epistle (4:29), indicating that his continued persecution was a result of "the stumbling block of the cross" (5:11), i.e. his insistence that the "cross of Christ" was the sole basis of righteousness before God (cf. 2:21), which both Jews and Judaizers felt compelled to resist. Though the Jews of Galatia were not in agreement with the Judaizers acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah, their persecutive actions were mollified by the fact that the Judaizers were compelling Gentile converts to be circumcised with the identifying mark of Judaism, which Paul regarded as a repudiation of the significance of the "cross of Christ." So Paul implies that the Judaizers were "saving their own skins" by demanding the cutting off of Gentile foreskins in circumcision.

6:13 ­ In continued assault upon the inconsistency of the opportunistic Judaizers, Paul alleges that "those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves,..." The advocates of circumcision who demand this particular performance of the Law know very well that they are unable to perform every detail of the Law's demands. The cursedness of inability (3:10), inadequacy, and insufficiency (cf. II Cor. 3:5), renders every person guilty (James 2:10) of violating the Law's commands. Legalistic inculcations will never overcome the fleshly, self-seeking desires of man (Col. 2:23), and man does not have within himself the ability to generate or produce divine character as demanded by the Law. Religion inevitably settles for the inconsistent and insincere pretensions of hypocrisy (2:13) wherein they "pick and choose" the rules and regulations they will espouse, making token efforts to abide by such in their public performance when others are observing (cf. Matt. 23:2-5). Such a religious system of behavioral compromise was being promulgated by the Judaizers, based on their eclectic attempt to espouse both the "finished work" of the "cross of Christ" (6:12) in conjunction with the performance of Law, which Paul denies is a viable combination.

   Further expanding the Judaizers' "desire to make a good showing in the flesh" (6:12), Paul notes that "they desire to have you circumcised, that they may boast in your flesh." The objectives of the Judaizers were not seeking the highest good and welfare of the Galatian Christians, i.e. loving concern; but were instead the self-serving motivations of proud self-aggrandizement (cf. 4:17), whereby they could claim "bragging rights" for having "won over" Gentile Christians by imposing upon them the physical, visible, external mark of Jewish religious identification. Religion, throughout the history of man, has focused on the externalities of visible, physical marks of identification, adjudging the success of their propagandizing endeavors by the statistical analysis of the number of converts and adherents they could persuade to conform to their patterns of behavior. People have been used as pawns and trophies in the religious process of allowing the "end" of proud, boastful evaluation of physical and statistical success to justify the pragmatic "means" of accumulating adherents.

   Scot McKnight identifies four problems with the Judaizers: (1) their method is force - they "compel you to be circumcised," (2) their motive is fear - "that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ," (3) their consistency is flawed - "they do not keep the Law themselves," and (4) their goal is to flaunt - "that they may boast in your flesh."2

6:14 ­ In contrast to such religious methodology and motivation, Paul exclaims, "But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,..." He adamantly and decisively rejects the proud, self-serving tactics and objectives of the Judaizing religionists. Paul would no longer boast in racial superiority, ritual enactment or religious performance (cf. Phil. 3:4-7), but only in the sufficiency of Jesus Christ as set in motion in His finished work on the cross. All boasting of racial and religious superiority is excluded, Paul would later write to the Romans, because all that we have and do as Christians is only received by faith, our receptivity of His activity, and not by any Law performance on our part (Rom. 3:27,28). So, "let him who boasts, boast in the Lord" (I Cor. 1:31; II Cor. 10:17), for "Christ has become to us righteousness and sanctification" (I Cor. 1:30).

   To "boast in the cross" is not to take gory delight in an execution instrument, which is what the cross was. Nor is it an exalted remembrance of the historical event when Jesus was crucified on such a torturous execution instrument, dying a martyr's death.3 Even the theological implications of the remedial work of Jesus Christ in taking the punitive consequences of death on a cross on behalf of mankind in order to redeem man are insufficient to explain Paul's boast. When Paul boasts "in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ," he recognizes the "finished work" (Jn. 19:30) of Christ, complete and unrepeatable (contra circumcision), whereby Jesus Christ triumphantly and victoriously set in motion the resurrection power (cf. Rom. 1:4) and the Pentecostal outpouring of His Spirit (cf. Acts 2:4), allowing humanity to be restored to God's creational intent by the reinvestiture of God's life and character in man by the Spirit of Christ. This cosmically decisive action of vicariously taking humanity's death in order to restore the presence and function of divine life to man by the Spirit of the living Lord Jesus Himself was the basis of an entirely "new creation" (6:15) of a "new humanity" (Eph. 2:15) in the "kingdom of God" (Rom. 14:17), distinct and mutually antithetical to the fallen world-order of evil. In Paul's mind the cross became representative of the entirety of the personal, divine action of God in Christ which became the crux of the demarcation of mankind polarized in the world-system of evil and the kingdom of Christ, and Paul could revel that he was a personal participant in Christ's life in the newly created kingdom.

   Paul continues to explain, then, that "through" this completed reality of the recreation of God's order represented by the cross, "the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." Consistent with his statement at the beginning of the letter when he affirmed that "the Lord Jesus Christ gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us out of this present evil age" (1:3,4), Paul explains again that Christ's completed action effects a severance and disconnection between himself and the world-order of evil. Christ has triumphed over the world-powers (cf. Col. 2:15), and Paul, in identification with Christ, has been "delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God's beloved Son" (Col. 1:13). Metaphorically, Paul links the salvific action of Christ's crucifixion, resurrection and Pentecostal outpouring (all signified by "the cross") with the terminal cessation of his identification and enslavement by the "god of this world" (II Cor. 4:4) who "works in the sons of disobedience" (Eph. 2:2). The diabolic order wherein Satan is the spirit (I Cor. 2:12) that rules over the world of fallen mankind (Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) is no longer the context which Paul is identified with or controlled by. In his receptivity of "the Lord Jesus Christ," Paul has died to the ruling authority and jurisdiction of the world-system; and the "powers that be" in that self-oriented, sinful system recognize that Paul is "as good as dead" to the serving of their purposes. His reception of the Lordship of Jesus Christ renders Paul outside of the rightful control and claims of the world-order, as he is no longer "in bondage under the elemental things of the world" (4:3,9; Col. 2:8). In connection with his co-crucifixion with Christ (2:20) and crucifixion of the flesh (5:24), along with his having "died to the Law" (2:19), Paul could affirm a crucified relationship to the world-order that stands in opposition to the kingdom of Christ, recognizing it to be powerless, impotent and sterile, with no right or jurisdiction to rule over him. Paul could affirm, as John did later, that "greater is He who is in me, than he who is in the world" (I Jn. 4:4), and glory in the functional Lordship of the living Spirit of Christ in the newly created order of the Kingdom.

6:15 ­ In light of the new spiritual realities in Christ Jesus, Paul goes on to explain that "neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision." Such physical externalities are totally irrelevant to God's order and the expression of God's character of righteousness. Circumcising the male penis does not make one a "new man" spiritually, but only the presence and dynamic of Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). For the factious false teachers in Galatia, physical male circumcision was the primary focus, serving as the supreme mark of identification with God's people, and therefore as an essential basis of righteous behavior. They failed to recognize that the purpose of the cutting off of the male foreskin in the old covenant was only for the prefiguring of God's intent to cut away sin from the heart of man in Jesus Christ (Rom. 2:29; Phil. 3:3). Paul had previously explained that "in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love" (5:6). The receptivity of God's activity whereby we derive righteous character from Jesus Christ, the Righteous One (Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14; I Jn. 2:1), is the essence of the kingdom of Christ (Rom. 14:17).

   "If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come" (II Cor. 5:17). "There is no distinction...between circumcised and uncircumcised, ...but Christ is all, and in all" (Col. 3:11). Therefore, the physical issue of circumcision is not an issue, for the "finished work" of Christ signified by the "cross" has established "a new creation," a newly created spiritual order wherein the living Lord Jesus reigns as King in His kingdom. Jesus Himself, by His Spirit, is the beginning and essence of this "new creation of God" (Rev. 3:14). The completed performance of Christ in His "finished work" of the "cross," whereby He has done everything necessary and continues to accomplish all as the dynamic of His own demands, is the basis of an entirely new order of functionally restored humanity. The old created order fell into the world-order of evil, but God in Christ has re-created the viability of His original intent by regenerating man (re-Genesis), re-breathing the life of God into man (cf. Gen. 2:7) by the "wind of the Spirit" (Acts 2:2). The "new creation" is comprised of "new men" (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10) who have become "new creatures" (II Cor. 5:17) by receiving "new life" (Rom. 6:4) by the "renewing of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5), that within the "new way" (Heb. 10:20) of a "new covenant" (Heb. 8:8,13; 12:24) whereby they function in the collective community of a "new humanity" (Eph. 2:15) unto the objective that Christ "makes all things new" (Rev. 21:5) in Himself. Within the kingdom of Christ and within the Church, Christians comprise and function as the "People of God" (Titus 2:14; I Pet. 2:9), in fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises, by the dynamic of the presence of the Christic Creator (Jn. 1:3,10; I Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16), and not by submitting to a ritualistic act of physical circumcision.

6:16 ­ Reaching the crescendo of his composition, Paul issues a conditioned invitation to "those who will walk by this rule." To all Christians living in the new created order of the kingdom of Christ, Paul encourages them to conduct their lives in the context of Christ and by the criteria of Christ. This seems to be the intent of Paul's phrase, "walk by this rule." Paul is not laying down some new rule or regulation that must be performed behaviorally by Christians, for this would be contrary to the entire argument of this epistle. The verb "walk" is the same verb used earlier when he admonished the Galatians to "walk by the Spirit" (5:25), which means to "line up, keep in step, and walk in sequence, corresponding to the other in a disciplined order." The word translated "rule" is the word from which we transliterate the word "canon," originally referring to a cane reed used as a measuring stick, but employed in Christian theology to refer to the acceptable and normative collection of Scriptures regarded as authentic by measuring up to certain criterion of revelation and inspiration. But Paul is not encouraging Christians to conduct themselves by the Book, by the canonical Bible, nor by authoritative ecclesiastical maxims, moral standards or rules. Contextually we must conclude that Paul is encouraging the Galatians to conduct themselves in accordance with the reality of "the cross of Christ" (6:12,14), i.e. walking in the context of His "finished work" by the all-sufficient dynamic of the Spirit, corresponding to the normative criteria of His character by the enabling power of God's grace.

   The result of such a "walk" will be God's "peace and mercy upon them." Drawing from his Hebrew heritage, Paul employs the traditional Hebraic benedictory blessing of God's peace and mercy upon Israel in the old covenant (cf. Ps. 125:5; 145:8). Paul transfers that blessing from the Judaic peoples of the old covenant to the "new creation" of the new covenant "People of God" who "have received mercy" in Christ (I Pet. 2:10) and know the "peace of Christ ruling in their hearts" (Col. 3:15).

   By this transference of blessing, Paul proceeds to climax his argument by identifying Christian people as the new and genuine "Israel of God." Throughout this epistle Paul had challenged the Judaizers and their retention of old covenant concepts, indicating that he had "died to the Law" (2:19), been "redeemed from the curse of the Law" (3:13), and repudiated the distinguishing mark of Jewish circumcision (5:6; 6:15). He explicitly noted that the "sons of Abraham" (3:7,29) and "children of Sarah" (4:31) were those who were receptive of Jesus Christ in faith, thereby receiving the promises (3:29) and blessing (3:9,14) of Abraham to become residents of the heavenly Jerusalem (4:26) in the "household of faith" (6:10). The capstone of Paul's argument, rejecting the Judaizers' argument of racial and religious privilege, is the re-identification of "the Israel of God," establishing Christians as God's chosen People. Though Gentiles were "once excluded from Israel" (Eph. 2:12), they are now included in the spiritual Israel of God's people in whom "God rules" by the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The derivation of the Hebrew word "Israel" is usually understood to be from the two root words, yisra (meaning "to rule") and El (meaning God), thus referring to "God rules." "Israel" was not meant to be just a physical, national, racial and religious designation, but the Hebrew peoples were to be the physical prefiguring of a spiritual people amongst whom and in whom "God rules." This is the basis of Paul's later assertion that "they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel" (Rom. 9:6), meaning that Gentiles are now spiritually included in "the People in whom God rules" by having received Jesus Christ, "the hope of Israel" (Acts 28:20), the basis by which all Christians, "all Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:26).

6:17 ­ Having set the capstone of his argument, transferring all God's blessings to those in Christ as "the Israel of God," Paul writes, "From now on let no one cause trouble for me,..." Paul's desire was that this correspondence would suffice to overcome the troubling problem in Galatia. He could hope that his clear explanation of the completeness of God's action in Christ would be the end of the matter. The last thing Paul sought was additional confrontational conflict. He was not out to pick a fight! But since religionists will fight to the death for their ideological agendas, it is doubtful that the Judaizers would give up the fight, and it is unclear whether the Galatian Christians were sufficiently convinced of the singularity of Jesus Christ to stand up and oust the intruders from their churches.

   "I've been beaten up enough, both physically and emotionally," Paul seems to say. "For I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus." Paul bore the scars of persecutive beatings and stonings (cf. II Cor. 11:23-28), some of them perhaps inflicted during his ministry in Galatia (Acts 13:50: 14:19). Later, to the Corinthians, he would write that he was "afflicted, persecuted, struck down; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus" (II Cor. 4:8-10), for the purpose that "the life of Jesus might be manifested." Paul was not complaining about such mistreatment, for he could rejoice (Col. 1:24) in "the fellowship of His sufferings" (Phil. 3:10) with Christ. Nor was he ashamed of such physical marks, for he viewed them as "brand-marks" identifying him as a slave of Christ. The Greek word for "brand-marks" was later transliterated in the word "stigmata," which was used to refer to the crucifixion marks of nail-pierced hands and pierced abdomens which allegedly appeared in certain devout followers of Christ, though regarded by others as nothing more than a strange phenomena of neuropathic bleedings. Some Roman Catholic commentators have speculated that Paul was referring to such stigmatic marks on his own body, but it is more likely that he was referring to the physical marks of persecution. It is possible that Paul was taking a parting shot at the Judaizers by telling the Galatian Christians that if they were seeking physical "brand-marks," let them be the marks of persecution for having defended the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ alone, rather than physical "brand-marks" of circumcision.

6:18 ­ Paul's final statement of instruction to the Galatians is, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren." Concluding where he began, with a reference to God's grace (1:3,6), as he did in all of his letters, Paul directs them to the divine dynamic of Christ which is the essence of Christianity. Far more than just the "threshold factor" of the Christian life that "gets one in the door to participate in the redemptive benefits of Christ," grace is the essential and comprehensive action of God in Jesus Christ that becomes the entire modus operandi of the Christian life. This has been Paul's argument throughout the epistle ­ that the gospel is the good news of the indwelling action of the living Lord Jesus, rather than legalistic, performance-oriented religion, as advocated by the Judaizers. The Christocentric reality of the risen "Lord Jesus Christ" functioning within our spirit (individually and collectively), manifesting His divine life and character in our behavior, to the glory of God ­ that, my brothers in Christ, is what it means to be a Christian. "Amen." So be it! Let it become the reality in our lives!

   In this final paragraph of this "explosive epistle," Paul explodes the last underlying premise of the Judaizers, the proud positing of their privilege as "God's chosen people," identified as "Israel" by racial, national and religious heritage. Paul performs the coup de grace to such thinking by declaring that the completed work of God in the "finished work" of Christ on the cross (6:12,14) makes all things new, the formation of a spiritual "new creation" (6:15) wherein Christians comprise the real community of "Israel" (6:16) allowing God to rule in the Lord Jesus Christ. External ritualistic performances of religion will never make us "God's People," nor effect God's righteousness, for this is only accomplished by the grace (6:18) of God in the "Lord Jesus Christ" (6:14,18).

   It is not difficult to see why this epistle has had such an impact throughout Christian history. Properly understood, this epistle will always serve to subvert the inevitable tendency of man to allow the Christian gospel of grace to lapse into legalistic religious performance. The letter to the Galatians is a constant summons to recognize the complete realization and fulfillment of God's intent in Jesus Christ, allowing no supplements or additional requirements. Without a doubt, legalistic, performance-oriented Judaizing elements will always dog the Church of Jesus Christ, but this letter remains a clarion call to the singularity of Jesus Christ as the essence of the gospel. If, as we have conjectured, this is the earliest of the extant letters of the apostle Paul, then the revolutionary reinterpretations that Paul makes in this letter must be regarded as foundational to the interpretations of the remainder of the Pauline writings.


1    Betz, Hans Dieter, Galatians: A Commentary on Paul's letter to the Churches of Galatia. Hermeneia ­ A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible. Philadelphia: Fortress Press. 1979. pg. 313.
2    McKnight, Scot, Galatians. The NIV Application Commentary series. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House. 1995. pgs. 299-301.
3    Fowler, James A., The Cross of Christ. Fallbrook: CIY Publishing. 1992.



 Galatians Series