FOR neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation" (Gal. 6:15, R.S.V.). In this statement the apostle Paul sums up the Christian message in two words—new creation. This teaching is basic in Paul's theology. To have a complete idea of Pauline doctrine, the new creation and its implications must be understood.
This teaching is implicit throughout the apostle's writings, but particularly in his second letter to the Corinthians he writes about it: "Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed awav, behold, the new has come" (2 Cor. 5:17', R.S.V.).
Thus Christianity is the message of the new creation, the new being. This new reality appeared with Jesus, the Messiah. For this reason, and just for this reason, Jesus is called the Christ—the selected and Anointed One, who brought about the new state of things.
Fallen humanity lives in the old state of things. Such is man's natural habitat. The question posed by the Christian message is, Shall we participate in the new state of things made real in Christ? And how?
First of all, what is this new being?
Paul starts the answer by saying what it is not. It is neither circumcision, nor uncircumcision. Now, for Paul and the readers of his letter these terms meant something very definite. It was this: Neither to be a Jew nor to be a pagan is decisive. Only one thing really counts, namely, the union with Him in whom the new reality is present.
Circumcision or uncircumcision, what do they mean for us? That no religion as such produces the new being. Circumcision is a religious rite observed by the Jews. Sacrifices are religious rites observed by the pagans. Christianity has its rites; and they
have their place, as we shall see, in the church program. However, these rites are not of a primary nature. God requires a new creation—that is the one thing irrevocably needful. And the core of the Christian message is that in Christ, God has made this new creation a reality.
The implication here is a subtle distinction in the area of sin and righteousness. What is sin? We sometimes say sin is transgression. The Scriptures stress this thought. But would not our understanding be less partial and more comprehensive were we to say that transgression is the result of sin? When we transgress God's laws sin already has occurred. In transgression, sin simply is bearing fruit. Sin is separation from God, the result of which is transgression.
Righteousness likewise needs clarification. Righteousness is not just the absence of transgression and the observance of laws, rites, and principles. Righteousness is union with God, resulting in this obedience. Such righteousness precedes any observance.
The line of separation, therefore, between sin and righteousness, is not in outward observance or nonobservance, adornment or nonadornment, however important these may be to a proper Christian life. It lies in the vital area of union with, or separation from, God.
A correct understanding of this vital thought will condition our life and ministry. It will clarify our thinking too, as we make ready a people for the coming of the Lord.
First, a clear understanding here will help us to let God be God; to recognize that salvation is His work, and that no matter what we might do through adornment of the Christian way and outflowing love we can add nothing to our salvation. When we have obeyed and observed all things, we still have added nothing to salvation. We only have created the conditions under which this salvation can express itself through us. Of course, we will observe laws, rites, and principles, but this observance is subsequent to our salvation.
A further thought should be stated in connection with our purpose to make ready a people for the day of the Lord. When is the child of God ready for Christ to come? Must he do this and follow that, eliminate this and practice that? He will eliminate and he will practice; however, this may be not prior but subsequential to readiness for the coming of the Lord. When the union takes place with God in Christ, the redeemed one has been made ready for the coming of Christ, for then God, looking down from heaven, sees not us but Jesus standing in our stead. And He is perfect.
Needless to say, as the days of waiting and labor go by, and the work of God is extended to every "nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people," the union with God will adorn itself in the life: right thinking, right doing, and right living. But this will be the fruit of readiness, not readiness.
There is yet a further implication as regards our ministry to the world. There is much circumcision and uncircumcision in the world today. There are many religions —Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and the remnants of the classical Judaism. All have their myths and their rites—their "circumcision," which give them their distinction. Then there are the secular movements—totalitarianism, secular humanism, and ethical idealism. They have purported to avoid myths and rites—they represent, so to speak, uncircumcision. Nevertheless, they also claim truth and set systems and men up in the place of religion and divinity.
How shall the church of God face this array of systems which compete for the allegiance of men? Shall we simply say, "Come to us for we have a better religion. Our kind of circumcision or uncircumcision is higher than yours"? Shall we make the Christian message a success story and tell men like advertisers: "Try it with us, you will see how important Christianity is for everybody."
Some ministers and overseas workers have done just this—and possibly we do it today. We thus show a great misunderstanding of Christianity and how God intends to save men and women everywhere. The core of God's good news is union with God in Christ. This is the new creation. All are called upon to participate in it. Then we must follow through and adorn this new being with the necessary doctrines, rites, systems, and principles of life.
In a sense, therefore, we do not go out to convert men and women to some special brand of Christianity. We are to proclaim God's redemptive message, invite men and women to experience the new creation, and to live with signs following. We must show something we have seen, and tell something we have heard and experienced. Namely, that in the midst of the old creation there is a new creation; that this new creation is manifest in Jesus who is called the Christ; and that today on the eve of the eternal world, all must participate in this union through reconciliation, sanctification, and glorification.
With such a message we can go to the world and smite its darkness. Whether we meet religionists or secularists, collectivists or totalitarians, scientific humanists or ethical idealists, we are not to boast about rites, nor are we to reproach myths and superstitions. Our aim will not be to convert from a secular state to a religious state, from uncircumcision to circumcision, or vice versa. This would be of no avail. We will experience and communicate a new creation manifest in Jesus who is called the Christ. And the power of reconciliation, sanctification, and glorification will achieve in us and in God's church this glorious end.