Bearing the Marks of Jesus

“From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers.  Amen” (vv. 17–18)  

- Galatians 6:17–18

Far from a dispassionate treatise on justification, Paul’s epistle to the Galatians is among his most personal letters, his deep concern for his audience evident throughout. At many points the apostle’s dismay that the Galatians would foolishly abandon his message is clear, revealing that he saw their flirtation with legalism as an affront to him and a danger to their souls (1:6–9; 3:1–3). Moreover, Paul describes the Galatians’ affection for him in their willingness to look past his ailments and love him when he first came to them (4:8–20).

In today’s passage we find one final confirmation of the apostle’s close relationship to the Galatians. Aside from his reference to his readers as his “brothers” in 6:18, Paul also remarks in verse 17 that no one should cause him trouble any longer. This is most likely a reference to the personal vexation that he felt as the Galatians were taking steps away from the gospel of grace to the false promises of the Judaizers, a gospel that was in fact no good news at all (1:8–9).

The “marks of Jesus” in Paul’s body are the basis for the Galatians to stop heeding the false teachers and thereby cause him trouble no longer (6:17). Remember that the Judaizers’ insistence that the mark of circumcision proves a person’s loyalty to the Jewish Messiah motivated Paul to write Galatians in the first place. Here in verse 17 the apostle employs irony, granting in a sense his enemies’ point that bodily marks can show forth true discipleship. Yet circumcision is not the sign of commitment to Jesus but the scars of persecution for the cross of Christ. Paul does not invest these marks with absolute significance for salvation; unlike the Judaizers, he does not say that one must be physically marred to be justified. But he is pointing out that true disciples show forth their love for the Master in their willingness to suffer all manner of hardships for the truth of gospel (see also 2 Cor. 11:16–12:10). They do not substitute human effort for God’s grace and then claim to be Christians while following a false gospel.

Divine grace is the note that closes this epistle (Gal. 6:18). May we never compromise this grace, which declares there is but one God (3:20), one gospel (1:6–7), one holy people (3:29; 6:16), and one new creation in Christ (v. 15).

Coram Deo

Not all of us live in cultures or societies where physical harm is an inevitable part of faithfulness to Christ Jesus. Yet all of us should bear some kind of marks that testifies to our faithfulness to the Lord, whether they are insults from coworkers or professors, loss of a job, the sacrifice of worldly goods for the sake of gospel ministry, or other such things. What are the marks you bear that testify to your faithfulness to our Lord and Savior?

Passages for Further Study

Genesis 39
Mark 13:9–13
2 Cor. 4:17–18
Colossians 1:24–29

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