“I, Paul, can guarantee that if you allow yourselves to be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Again, I insist that everyone who allows himself to be circumcised must realize that he obligates himself to do everything Moses’ Teachings demand” (Galatians 5:2-3 GW).
In one sense, the act of circumcision was little more than a peripheral concern for Paul the Apostle. The larger issue involved this question: how are people made right with God? Was it possible for the Galatians to secure God’s acceptance through some external act or through faith in Christ alone? The answer to that question had far-ranging implications for the members of the Galatian church as well as those who read this passage today.
You see, the false teachers of Galatia had already persuaded the members of the church to follow the ritual observances contained within the Jewish religious calendar. Now they were pressing the Galatians to undergo the rite of circumcision. If they were successful in that regard, then it seems reasonable to ask what else they might require. This serves to illustrate the progressive nature of salvation by works; no matter how much someone does, there is always something left to do.
Beyond that, Paul emphasized the fact that the Mosaic Law was not like a smorgasbord or buffet table where one could pick and choose from among the available offerings. Instead, Paul reminded the Galatians what it really meant to seek favor with God through the works of the Law: “…If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses” (NLT).
This principle is affirmed in the New Testament epistle of James where we read, “For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all” (James 2:10 HCSB). One source offers the following observation on what it meant to selectively follow the works of the Mosaic Law in this manner…
“The legalists appear to have been claiming that circumcision was a necessary step in the process by which people become acceptable to God. These steps, from their viewpoint, were: faith in Christ, reception of the Spirit, and circumcision of the flesh. Paul argued that anyone who submits to circumcision to gain acceptance with God really believes in salvation by law-keeping.
If one believes in law-keeping for salvation, he must keep ‘the whole Law,’ not just the requirement of circumcision. That is impossible for sinners to do. Rather than gaining acceptance with God, circumcision would be the very thing that would separate them from Christ.” (1)
(1) Constable, Thomas. DD. Notes on Galatians 2017 Edition (5:3-4) Copyright © 2017 Thomas L. Constable https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/galatians/galatians.htm