Galatians 6:15-16, “15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.”
Living in a culture that the gospel has impacted significantly, we can easily forget how the message of the cross goes against everything fallen humanity embraces. But the scandal of Jesus’ crucifixion comes into full view when we consider the culture in which it occurred. Crucifixion was so awful that first-century Roman citizens would not even utter the word cross in polite company. Boasting in the cross (Gal. 6:14) in that culture was an utterly foreign concept, and no one of his own accord would proudly serve someone who had suffered the humiliation and degradation of the cross. The gospel of a crucified Messiah was the least “seeker-friendly” message that could have been preached. That any first-century person believed without seeing is evidence of divine grace, the creation of a new heart by the power of the Spirit (John 3:1–15).
What matters is this new creation — a new nature with new affections, desires, and habits worked within us by the Spirit (Gal. 6:15). To be circumcised in the flesh is ultimately an indifferent matter as long as it is not invested with salvific significance. With this rather remarkable statement, all but unthinkable to Jews raised to honor the traditions of their elders, Paul decisively asserts one last time in Galatians that the Mosaic law was not the climax of God’s plan of salvation. It had a role in redemptive history, but the cross of Christ has transformed its purpose, rendering it obsolete as that which defines His people.
With the transformation of the Law comes the transformation of the believing community. Those who walk by “this rule,” those who walk by the truth of the new creation, receive the peace and mercy of the Lord (v. 16). This peace and mercy is also for “the Israel of God,” which in the original Greek refers to the same group that walks by the rule of the new creation. Calvin explains that Israel here refers to all Christians, whether Jew or Gentile. Paul “gives the appellation of the Israel of God to those who he formerly denominated the children of Abraham by faith, (Gal. 3:29) which includes all believers, whether Jews or Gentiles.” The church, made up of Jew and Gentile, will inherit all the promises made to Israel, for the church fulfills God’s purpose for Israel.
Martin Luther writes, “They are the Israel of God who with faithful Abraham believe the promises of God offered already in Christ, whether they are Jews or Gentiles.” God’s people Israel are not defined by ethnicity but by faith and trust in His covenant promises kept in Jesus the Savior and Messiah. Do you define your hope by these promises? Do you show the same peace and mercy to others that the Lord has shown to you?