Marketing consultants tell companies that they must “brand” their products. Otherwise they won’t stand out from the other businesses around them. Branding employs external markers to distinguish a product from its competitors.
During the Babylonian Exile, Judean refugees, surrounded by Mesopotamian religions, struggled to maintain their identity as God’s people. One solution came in reemphasizing external boundary markers that had earlier allowed their ancestors to maintain an identity distinct from the Canaanites around them: purity codes, sabbath keeping, and circumcision.
Although Christians labeled these external markers as “works of the law,” first-century Jews did not typically experience these external markers as ways to win God’s approval. Because they were God’s people, God’s love was already theirs.
External markers can lead to an attitude of exclusivity or become a substitute for the inner reality of faith, however. This is the crux of Paul’s confrontation with Peter at Antioch, which he summarizes here. Peter has set aside purity codes in order to eat with Gentile Christians. But then he breaks table fellowship when Jewish Christians arrive. For Paul, these Jewish-Christian purity codes no longer establish the identity of God’s people. Internal, ethical markers such as the fruit of the Spirit now define a person as Christian.
We Christians have sometimes reverted to our own “works of the law” and used external markers such as not dancing or going to movies as ways to define who is Christian. Paul challenges us to let a self based on external markers of religious identity be crucified with Christ so that Christ, who embodies self-sacrificing love, may live within us.

Lord, may I be crucified with Christ so that Christ may live in me and so that my life will bear the fruit of love. Amen.

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