God has graciously given Christ and his death as the fully adequate means of dealing with sin and of including human beings of all types within his people (Galatians 1:4; Galatians 3:13–14; Galatians 4:5). To accept this gift but to insist on conversion to Judaism in addition to it is to examine God’s gift and judge it inadequate to the task God claimed it would accomplish.
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.4You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.5For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
The Spirit Testifies
The importance of Paul’s warning in these two verses is clear from the expression “Look” followed by an emphatic reference to Paul himself (cf. 2 Cor. 10:1) and the repetition of the warning in a second, explanatory sentence (cf. Gal. 1:9). A Gentile’s acceptance of circumcision was a sign of full conversion to Judaism and of a willingness to submit to the Jewish law as a way of life (e.g., Josephus, Jewish War 2.454; Jewish Antiquities 20.36–48). From Paul’s perspective, such a step would signal a lack of confidence in the effectiveness of Christ’s death to redeem the believer from the law’s curse and a vote of confidence in one’s own ability to keep the law and receive life by that means.
Paul has already argued at length, however, that the law requires total obedience from those who want to receive life by keeping it (Gal. 3:10, 12). This is something not only that no human being can do (Gal. 2:16; 3:11) but also that God did not intend when he gave the law (Gal. 2:21; Gal. 3:21). God gave the law to reveal the depth of human sinfulness and to prepare for the fulfillment of his promises to Abraham through the faith of both Jews and Gentiles in the gospel (Gal. 3:22).
In Romans 7:2, 6, Paul uses the Greek construction here translated “you are severed from” (katērgēthēte apo) to speak of believers’ freedom from or release from the law. The expression communicates that the object of the preposition has no impact, for good or ill, on the subject of the verb. Here, then, Paul uses the phrase to underline what he has just said about the person who adopts the Mosaic law in Galatians 5:2–3: that person has opted for the law over Christ, and this is the same as rejecting Christ altogether.
Paul explains why this is true in the verse’s final clause, “You have fallen away from grace.” God has graciously given Christ and his death as the fully adequate means of dealing with sin and of including human beings of all types within his people (Gal. 1:4; Gal. 3:13–14; Gal. 4:5). To accept this gift but to insist on conversion to Judaism in addition to it is to examine God’s gift and judge it inadequate to the task God claimed it would accomplish. It is to give God’s gift of Christ’s atoning death a lukewarm reception and thus express distrust in God.