Galatians. The Holy Bible. New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1982.
The church at Galatia was another founded among the Gentiles by Paul. The apostle kept up with the churches, revisiting and corresponding with them, and sent to them letters, like the one we call Galatians, to encourage and correct his fellow believers.
As with his other letters, Paul encouraged the church to stay true to the Gospel as they were taught by faithful messengers, firstly himself. There were people and sects who were trying to reshape Christianity in their own fashion. The same is true today. Paul defended the received faith.
The particular group active in Galatia are called Judaizers. They sought to institute Mosaic Law in the church, especially amongst the new Gentile believers. This included all manner of laws, ceremonies and traditions. The primary practice, symbolic of them all, was circumcision.
To strengthen their case, the Judaizers attempted to undermine Paul. Paul devoted part of his letter to defending his authority and teachings. The main point is this: Paul taught the same Gospel that the other apostles taught and he taught with the approval of the other apostles, though he did not necessarily need it. In addition, the point on circumcision in particular was long settled among the apostles.
As far as I know, advocates of circumcision for religious purpose aren’t active in or around the church today. There are major religions that have borrowed superficially from Christianity to build religions of laws that depart from the Gospel of grace. The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Latter Day Saints come to mind, though they both depart from orthodox Christianity on almost every major point. Even working within the church are those who teach some kind of law or ethic that binds men with hardly a meaningful mention of the liberating grace of God.
Paul sets up this contrast in his letter: law or grace. It depends on us or it depends on God. God’s law is perfect, as is His justice. Imperfect and sinful Christians can’t keep even a portion of the law and can’t compare to the spotless character of God. A person who looks to the law will only find himself condemned by it. The purpose of the law is to push us to the grace and mercy of God, which is revealed in full in Jesus Christ.
The hymn “Jesus Paid it All” sums up the idea of grace. Jesus fulfilled the law, so in Him, the faithful are no longer condemned by the law, but they are made righteous in God’s sight. In Jesus, we are remade as children of God and given God’s Spirit. As children and heirs of God’s, we are not bound, constrained, and coerced by laws. Instead, we are free to live a new life, quickened by a new Spirit, and having faith in the unshakable work of God and not our flimsy works under the law.
Though the Judaizers attempted to undermine Paul’s teaching as aberrant, he shows himself to be both true to the Gospel and a master of scripture. His arguments are substantially founded on exposition of the Old Testament.
Paul presents the question to the church. If we can trust God, having faith in Christ that He has worked out everything to save us from the destruction of sin and gave us a new life of liberty, why on Earth would we trust ourselves to somehow earn God’s approval by submitting ourselves to laws we don’t keep except though self-delusion? If we truly believe the Gospel, how could anything else turn our heads?
Paul also wrote
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