Galatians 1:13-14 & Romans 12:1-2
From the Reformer
Speaking now of the Mosaic Law, Paul declares that he was wrapped up in it. To the Philippians he wrote: “As touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” He means to say, “I can compare myself with the best and holiest of all those who are of the circumcision. Let them show me if they can, a more earnest defender of the Mosaic Law than I was at one time. This fact, O Galatians, should have put you on your guard against these deceivers who make so much of the Law. If anybody ever had reason to glory in the righteousness of the Law, it was I.”
I too may say that before I was enlightened by the Gospel, I was as zealous for the papistical laws and traditions of the fathers as ever a man was. I tried hard to live up to every law as best I could. I punished myself with fasting, watching, praying, and other exercises more than all those who today hate and persecute me. I was so much in earnest that I imposed upon my body more than it could stand. I honored the pope as a matter of conscience. Whatever I did, I did with a single heart to the glory of God. But our opponents, well-fed idlers that they are, will not believe what I and many others have endured.
—Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians
Pulling It Together
Who is not wrapped up in something of their old life? The object is to leave it behind for the new life. Some are so unable to do so that they make the old life integral to the new. This will never do; Jesus calls us to follow him, not the old ways, even if the old way is God’s Law. We are not simply called to follow laws; we are called to follow God. Jesus fulfilled the Law and we are only fulfilled by wholly following him.
False teachers would have us be circumcised (or perform some other ritual) as a requirement of salvation. Paul, however, teaches the Roman churches to offer the entire body to God (Rom 12:1). We hold back, giving God little bits of ourselves, here and there, as it suits us. So how does one give the whole person to God? This is best understood by first seeing how we give the bits and pieces.
We give only a part of ourselves to God when we fast, say prayers, or tithe (and the like) as though these were methods of winning God’s favor. The gospel teaches us that we already have God’s favor but that we must believe it to be true. There is nothing to win and no way to win it if there were. We have nothing to offer that would win God’s favor. First of all, we are not good enough for that and second, he already favors us. What’s to win? Yet we can not quite believe this is true, or worse, we think he may favor some more than others. So we insist that others must give bits and pieces too. In this way, perhaps subconsciously, we insure that no one gives any more of himself to God than we do. If everyone simply gives God a tithe then no one has given their all to God and I will look no worse than anyone else. If everyone goes to service and mumbles the same prayers by rote, where is God to find the person who prays without ceasing? (1Th 5:17)
If however, I know I have nothing to offer and really believe God favors me anyway, then I should not want to give him bits but the whole of me. Old life, ritual, muttered prayers, and a tithe are no longer acceptable. The believer offers the whole person: daily, unceasing, 100 percent. One is no longer “wrapped up in” the old, minimal life. Now we do not hold back; we give the maximum because we are wrapped up in God.
© Mark E. Ryman, Daily Reform: Devotions with the Reformers