Freedom in Messiah
By David M Rogers
For freedom Messiah has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery. Listen! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Messiah will be of no benefit to you at all! And I testify again to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be declared righteous by the law have been alienated from Messiah; you have fallen away from grace! For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait expectantly for the hope of righteousness. For in Messiah Yahusha neither circumcision nor uncircumcision carries any weight--the only thing that matters is faith working through love. You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth? This persuasion does not come from the one who calls you! A little yeast makes the whole batch of dough rise! I am confident in Yahuwah that you will accept no other view. But the one who is confusing you will pay the penalty, whoever he may be. Now, brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the stake has been removed. I wish those agitators would go so far as to castrate themselves! For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment, namely, "You must love your neighbor as yourself." However, if you continually bite and devour one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another.
When we come to Paul's discussion of the freedom we have in Messiah, we find a message that is consistent with all that we have learned throughout the rest of Scripture, including what Messiah taught and modeled, regarding the freedom Elohim provides to those who trust in him. Paul talks about this freedom:
It is for freedom that Messiah has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)
Now, let's get understanding about what this freedom entails. Certainly, this freedom is a release from the bondage of sin. Sin no longer has control over those who are in Messiah. But what else are we set free from?
Christians have been preaching for a very long time that this freedom Paul speaks of is freedom from Mosaic Law. The reason for this is because of what follows this statement by Paul in verse 1. He goes on to have a discussion of circumcision and "the law" which he says is contrary to faith. Is this really what Paul is referring to here?
I am convinced that this passage has been grossly misunderstood and misinterpreted by Christian ministers, pastors and theologians. I would contend that Paul is NOT talking about freedom from Mosaic Law, but rather, he is discussing the freedom we have from man made religious systems and laws. He uses circumcision as his example of the bondage from made up religious dogmas Messiah has released us from. He writes:
Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Messiah will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Messiah; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Messiah Yahusha neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:2-6)
In order to understand exactly what Paul is talking about, we need to have an understanding of the circumcision controversy in those times. We can ascertain this by looking at other places in the New Testament Scriptures where circumcision is explored.
Earlier in this very letter Paul wrote to the Galatians, he talks about the source of the controversy of circumcision:
Now this matter arose because of the false brothers with false pretenses who slipped in unnoticed to spy on our freedom that we have in Messiah Yahusha, to make us slaves. But we did not surrender to them even for a moment, in order that the truth of the gospel would remain with you. But from those who were influential (whatever they were makes no difference to me; Elohim shows no favoritism between people)--those influential leaders added nothing to my message. (Galatians 2:4-6)
There are some clues in this text about the source of the teaching about this circumcision which Paul rejects. He says that "false brothers with false pretenses" are responsible. And later he calls them "influential leaders." Who are these "false brothers" who were "influential leaders"? Of course, we know who these were. Paul speaks of them several times. They are the "Judaizers"- the Jewish religious leaders who always found themselves in conflict and disagreement with Messiah.
The key to uncovering the mysteries which revolve around this circumcision may be found in the discussion in the book of Acts about the circumcision controversy. Luke explains it thus:
Now some men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Mosheh, you cannot be saved." (Acts 15:1)
This same circumcision controversy kept popping up for the Messianic believers. Paul deals with this topic several times in his letters. So, what is this all about?
According to Acts 15:1 this circumcision was to be done "according the the custom of Mosheh." But when we read the biblical accounts of circumcision, we never read of any such "custom of Mosheh"! Circumcision was a covenant sign which Elohim gave to Abraham, not Mosheh. Indeed Mosheh received instructions regarding circumcision which Elohim spoke to him. But there was no "custom of Mosheh" ever mentioned regarding circumcision.
However, the Pharisees acknowledged such a "custom of Mosheh." In fact, the concept of circumcision as a "custom of Mosheh" is well known in Rabbinic literature. The Pharisees produced this "custom of Mosheh" and it has been an integral part of Rabbinic Judaism since the times of the Pharisees. The Hebrew word usually translated custom is ghnm (pronounced min-hag). These minhagim (plural for minhag) were traditions which became law in Israel.
If a Rabbi makes a habit of doing something, it becomes a minhag, which in turn becomes binding of all Israel. The Rabbis have a saying which says, "minhag Yisrael torah hi" which translated means "a custom of Israel, this is law." A minhag becomes law in Israel by the sheer fact that the community accepts it as a regular way of life. Another example of this is the yarmulke (kippah). There is nothing in the written Torah about the kippah, but you will not find a religious conservative Jew without one.
The big problem with these customs that become law is that the written Torah strictly forbids adding to or taking from the Torah that Elohim gave to Mosheh for all Israel.
Now, Yisrael, pay attention to the rules and right-rulings I am about to teach you, so that you might live and go on to enter and take possession of the land that Yahuwah, the Elohim of your ancestors, is giving you. Do not add a thing to what I command you nor subtract from it, so that you may keep the commandments of Yahuwah your Elohim that I am delivering to you. (Devarim 4:1-2)
You must be careful to do everything I am commanding you. Do not add to it or subtract from it! (Devarim 12:32)
The Proverbs repeat the same:
Every word of Elohim is purified; he is like a shield for those take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he reprove you, and prove you a liar. (Mishlei 30:5-6)
The normal way these minhagim became attributed to Mosheh is like this: Pharisees took customs that had become law, and in order to give these customs greater weight of authority, they attributed these customs to a famous rabbi. Since Mosheh was the greatest of the "Rabbis" it would be even better to attribute the custom to Mosheh, thus giving it the greatest amount of authority.
So, their particular ritual of circumcision was pawned off as a "custom of Mosheh." And, the rabbinical "procedure" for circumcising a Gentile was credited to Mosheh: "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Mosheh, you cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1)
The Pharisaic (and later Rabbinical) rite of circumcision was to be performed exactly according to their specific procedure, without fail, which included certain prayers and blessings and the sucking of the wound! In most worlds, this sucking of the wound would be considered aberrant and deviate behavior, but the Rabbis required it in their circumcision. No wonder Paul so adamantly opposed their circumcision!
Paul will have none of that Pharisaic circumcision. Pharisaical circumcision is opposed to Messiah, because in doing this, one is submitting to the authority of men rather than to the authority of Yahuwah. When submitting to men (Pharisees, Rabbis, Church leaders) one must abide by all the teachings or find oneself outside of the favor.
Paul goes on:
You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. "A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough." I am confident in Yahuwah that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be. Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! (Galatians 5:7-12)
This play on ideas places the Pharisees, who are so interested in "cutting" their Gentile converts with their own brand of circumcision, in a place where they are "cutting" themselves off by adding to and taking away from the authority of the written Scriptures. When they put their own customs and commandments above the commandments of the Almighty, they are essentially cutting themselves off from the commonwealth of Israel.
But for those who are in Messiah, we are free from the manipulations and coercions of men.
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. The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. (Galatians 5:13-15)
The freedom we have in Messiah is not freedom from the Torah of Mosheh. This freedom does not allow us to "indulge the sinful nature," which is to say, it is not freedom which allows us to break or ignore the commandments of the Almighty. This freedom is liberty to ignore the traditions and religious dogmas of men so that we may freely serve our Elohim by faithfully keeping his laws, right rulings and commandments.
In the freedom with which Messiah has made us free, stand firm, then, and do not again be held with a yoke of slavery.
Mattityahu 11:29 Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry."
Yeshayahu 58:6 No, this is the kind of fast I want. I want you to remove the sinful chains, to tear away the ropes of the burdensome yoke, to set free the oppressed, and to break every burdensome yoke.
7 I want you to share your food with the hungry and to provide shelter for homeless, oppressed people. When you see someone naked, clothe him! Don't turn your back on your own flesh and blood!
8 Then your light will shine like the sunrise; your restoration will quickly arrive; your righteous behavior will go before you, and Yahuwah's splendor will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call out, and Yahuwah will respond; you will cry out, and he will reply, 'Here I am.' You must remove the burdensome yoke from among you and stop pointing fingers and speaking sinfully.
Law and Liberty
KJV - Psalm 119:44 So shall I keep thy law continually for ever and ever. 45 And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts.
DRV - Tehillah 119:44 Then I will keep your Torah continually and on into the future. 45 I will walk about in spacious places, for I seek your procedures.
Torah provides boundaries inside of which we are free to walk about. There is no danger to us when we stay inbounds.
1 Yochanan 5
1 Everyone who believes that Yahusha is the Messiah has been fathered by Elohim, and everyone who loves the father loves the child fathered by him.
2 By this we know that we love the children of Elohim: whenever we love Elohim and obey his commandments.
3 For this is the love of Elohim: that we keep his commandments. And his commandments do not weigh us down (i.e. are not burdensome)
What is Our Freedom in Messiah?
Gal 2:4 Now this matter arose because of the false brothers with false pretenses who slipped in unnoticed to spy on our freedom that we have in Messiah Yahusha, to make us slaves.
5 But we did not surrender to them even for a moment, in order that the truth of the gospel would remain with you.
6 But from those who were influential (whatever they were makes no difference to me; Elohim shows no favoritism between people)--those influential leaders added nothing to my message.
2 See, I, Sha’ul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Messiah shall be of no use to you.
3 And I witness again to every man being circumcised that he is a debtor to do the entire Torah.
In chapter 2 Shaul was referring specifically to the events of Acts 15 – The Jerusalem Council
1 Now some men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moshe, you cannot be saved."
2 When Paul and Barnabas had a major argument and debate with them, the congregation appointed Paul and Barnabas and some others from among them to go up to meet with the apostles and elders in Yerushalayim about this point of disagreement.
Hebrew ghnm – "minhag" – custom
Customs (minhagim) are traditions which become law – if a rabbi makes a habit of doing something, it becomes a minhag, which in turn becomes binding on all Yisrael
Minhag Yisrael torah hi – "a custom of Israel, this is law"
A minhag becomes law in Israel by the sheer fact that the community accepts it as a regular way of life, e.g. yarmulke (kippah)
Minhag Contradicts Torah
Mishlei 30:5,6 Every word of Elohim is purified; he is like a shield for those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he reprove you, and prove you a liar.
Devarim 4:1,2 Now, Yisrael, pay attention to the rules and right-rulings I am about to teach you, so that you might live and go on to enter and take possession of the land that Yahuwah, the Elohim of your ancestors, is giving you. Do not add a thing to what I command you nor subtract from it, so that you may keep the commandments of Yahuwah your Elohim that I am delivering to you.
Devarim 12:32 You must be careful to do everything I am commanding you. Do not add to it or subtract from it!
Doing the Entire Torah
Devarim 4:7 In fact, what other great nation has an elohim so near to them like Yahuwah our Elohim whenever we call on him?
8 And what other great nation has rules and right-rulings as pure as this entire Torah that I am about to share with you today?
9 Again, however, pay very careful attention, lest you forget the things you have seen and disregard them for the rest of your life; instead teach them to your children and grandchildren.
Whatever Torah you subscribe to, you must do "the whole thing."
The Gift Given
Acts 5: 29 But Peter and the apostles replied, "We must obey Elohim rather than people.
30 The Elohim of our forefathers raised up Yahusha, whom you seized and killed by hanging him on a tree.
31 Elohim exalted him to his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Yisrael and forgiveness of sins.
32 And we are witnesses of these events, and so is the Set-apart Spirit whom Elohim has given to those who obey him."
Lift the Face \ Favor
aF'ÛyIh] taZOë ht'y>h"å ‘~k,d>Y<mi WnnE+x'ywI) laeÞ-ynEp. an"ï-WLx; hT'²[;w>
`tAa)b'c. hw"ïhy> rm:ßa' ~ynIëP' ‘~K,mi
And now plead the face of El and he will favor us. This thing being from your hand, will he lift, on account of you, the face? says Yahuwah of armies.
5 For we, in Spirit, by fidelity, eagerly wait for the expectation of righteousness.
6 For in Messiah Yahusha’ neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any strength, but fidelity working through love.
In contrast to verse 4 - those who fall from favor (through disobedience) - Shaul says that it is by fidelity to Him (faithfulness to his Covenant and His commandments) that we wait for the consummation (the return of Messiah). Our "walk" then should be one of obedience to his commands.
Scriptural circumcision is an act by which one announces his fidelity with Messiah.
Pharisaic circumcision is an act by which one announces fidelity with Pharisees and their teachings.
"Circumcision" according to Pharisaic definition is that procedure by which one has come under the authority of the teachings of the Pharisees.
Yirmyahu 9:24 If people want to boast, they should boast about this: They should boast that they understand and know me. They should boast that they know and understand that I, Yahuwah, act out of faithfulness, fairness, and justice in the earth and that I desire people to do these things," says Yahuwah.
25 Yahuwah says, "Watch out! The time is soon coming when I will punish all those who are circumcised only in the flesh.
26 That is, I will punish the Egyptians, the Judeans, the Edomi, the Ammoni, the Moabi, and all the desert people who cut their hair short at the temples. I will do so because none of the people of those nations are really circumcised in Yahuwah's sight. Moreover, none of the people of Yisrael are circumcised when it comes to their hearts, either."
1 Cor 7:18
18 Was anyone called after he had been circumcised? He should not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called who is uncircumcised? He should not get circumcised.
"not become uncircumcised" = follow the oral torah, thus breaking written Torah and being regarded as uncircumcised.
"not get circumcised" = don’t undergo the Pharisaic circumcision
Why are These "Nothing"?
1 Cor 7:19 Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Instead, keeping Elohim's commandments is what counts.
Circumcision is nothing – obedience to Pharisaic circumcision is against the written Scriptures and is an act of rebellion against Yahuwah
Uncircumcision is nothing – to be merely cut in the foreskin, but neglecting obedience to the rest of Scripture is also rebellion against Yahuwah
Both of these courses of action lead to the curses as set forth in Devarim 27-30
7 You were running well, who held you back from obeying the truth?
8 That persuasion does not come from Him who calls you.
9 A little leaven ferments the whole lump.
Cf. Matt 16:5,6, 11,12
The Pharisees has cut in on them to persuade them to obey Pharisaic legislation. But following even a little bit of man-made law "ferments" the spiritual life. It leads to disobedience to the Scriptures and thus to the curses of Torah.
10 I am persuaded concerning you, in the Master, that you shall have no other mind. And he who is troubling you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is.
11 And I, brothers, if I still proclaim circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling-block of the stake has been set aside.
Yeshayahu 8:12 "Do not say, 'Conspiracy,' every time these people say the word. Don't be afraid of what scares them; don't be terrified.
13 You must recognize the authority of Yahuwah who leads armies. He is the one you must respect; he is the one you must fear.
14 He will become a sanctuary, but a stone that makes a person trip, and a rock that makes one stumble-- to the two houses of Yisrael. He will become a trap and a snare to the residents of Yerushalayim.
15 Many will stumble over the stone and the rock, and will fall and be seriously injured, and be ensnared and captured."
12 O that those who disturb you would even cut themselves off!
This play on ideas places the Pharisees, who are so interested in "cutting" their Gentile converts, in a place where they are "cutting" themselves off by adding to and taking away from the authority of the written Scriptures.
13 For you, brothers, have been called to freedom, only do not use freedom as an occasion for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
14 For the entire Torah is completed in one word, in this, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself."
"an occasion for the flesh" = opportunity to sin, break commandment
Freedom in Messiah is not license to break the chukim and mishpatim.
15 And if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!
Vayiqra 19:16 You must not walk about as a slanderer among your people. You must not stand idly by when your neighbor's life is at stake. I am Yahuwah. 17 You must not hate your brother in your heart. You must surely reprove your fellow citizen so that you do not incur sin on account of him. 18 You must not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the children of your people, but you must love your neighbor as yourself. I am Yahuwah.