The following are notes I took while re-reading Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia. It has always been one of my favorite letters from Paul because if its relevance to Christianity today. Like the church of Galatia being infiltrated and deceived by the Judaizers, many churches and Christians today have been led back under the yoke of slavery of works by theologies that add works to faith. Recently in a discussion with a follower of one theology, they told me that their theology saw believing means you are saved and additionally must do visible good works. They used the equation “faith = salvation + works”. On the other end of the theological spectrum you have those who believe that faith plus works equals salvation (faith + works = salvation). Both miss the mark, as scripture teaches that salvation comes through faith (salvation = faith).
The first theology says that if you believe then you are saved, then your faith MUST be shown by your visible good works . They “back-load” the gospel. The second theology says that you must believe and do good works in order to be saved. They “front-load” the gospel. Whichever side you look at, when it all boils down to it, works are a part of salvation. One says if you aren’t doing good works then that proves you were never saved, while the other says if you don’t do good works in addition to your faith, then you aren’t saved. Their emphasis is on works rather than Christ alone. This was the same thing that the Galatians were tricked into believing .
• Paul starts off saying he is astonished that these believers, who he shared the gospel with, have fallen under a false teaching, which is “no gospel at all”. He says that they are “deserting him who called [them] in the grace of Christ.
• He tells the Galatians that even if he, or an angel from heaven, teaches a gospel other than the one he originally taught them, then that person is accursed. He then repeats that sentence to establish its importance.
• We know from all of Paul’s previous teachings in his letters and in the book of Acts that the gospel he taught was of grace (Eph. 2:8-9, Acts 16:31). The eternal salvation he taught was by grace through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, not by works. So, whoever is misleading these believers, is teaching something contrary to this message.
• He then talks about his conversion, his apostleship, and meeting the disciples. He tells of an incident where he had to personally confront Peter because he refused to have the Lord’s Supper with gentiles. Peter more or less segregated those having the meal because he was afraid of “certain men” who came from Jerusalem that were known for combining the Jewish Law with the gospel. Paul points out Peter’s hypocrisy, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
• He goes on to say, “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”
• Paul says “for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”
• Next he contrasts faith and the law. He points out that their salvation and their spiritual gifts were recieved throughout faith and not by works of the law. “Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” — the apostle says that those of faith are sons Abraham. “the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham.”
• The Law came roughly 430 years after Abraham believed. Thus, it was impossible for Abraham to be “saved by works of the Law”.
• “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Paul is saying that anyone who does not abide and live by the Law are cursed, and since it is impossible for us to do that, then we are cursed. He explains that Christ became that curse for us that we might receive the promised Spirit by faith. Those who still rely on the Law, would still be under that curse, essentially nullifying Christ’s sacrifice.
• “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”
• “The Law is not of faith.” — Does this mean that obeying the Law is bad and against God? No, of course not. It just means that it is not of faith, which is how we are justified. “For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.”
• The Law was put in place because of sin, until the promise came through Jesus. It was a temporary guardian. Now that Christ has come, we have no need for a guardian. We are justified by faith, not by works of the Law. We are now “sons” and “heirs” through God because of Christ’s adoption of us.
• To further illustrate his point, Paul switches to make a comparison of Abraham’s sons . One son was born of a slave woman and one was born of a free woman. The son of the slave woman was born of the flesh. He was born because they did not trust God and tried to make their efforts count for God’s promise. The son born of the free woman was born of God’s promise. Paul says that the two women represent two covenants. The slave woman is the covenant at Mount Sinai, the works of the Law. Those who follow that covenant are likened to slaves. The second woman represents the covenant of faith and God’s promise. He says those who believe, as Abraham did, are like Isaac (the son of the free woman) in that we are free.
• Paul declares that it was “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. ”
• He says that if they accept circumcision (works of the Law) then Christ is of no advantage to them. If people accept that one part of the Law, then they are obligated to keep the whole Law. “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” — If you try to make what is of faith about works, Christ’s sacrifice is useless and you are rejecting grace (his undeserved gift). It is looking a gift horse in the mouth. It is like trying to pay a person for a gift they gave you. It is insulting because Christ gave the ultimate gift.
• In Jesus neither good works nor lack of good works mean anything (for salvation). But only faith, working through love.
• The teaching that the Galatians fell into was not from God, and whoever taught them that will pay the price. Paul says that he wishes those who confused them would “cut themselves off” — since he has been talking about circumcision, this is often translated as emasculate or castrate, as in cut off their reproductive body parts! Yikes! He uses this as both a shock factor and as a way to make the point that those teachers should not reproduce their teaching anymore.
• Even though we are called to live in freedom, we should not use that freedom to give into the flesh, but to do good to each other.
In his commentary on Galatians, Dr. Bob Wilkin’s remarks on verse 11 serve as a good summary of what was going on and compares it to the current state of the church.
“Paul was once a legalistic par excellence, but not any longer. Hence he can ask ‘if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution?’ Paul was being persecuted by Jews because he did not preach the need for circumcision and for keeping the law to gain entrance into the kingdom and to live a life that is pleasing to God. ‘The offense of the cross’ is the ‘offensive’ doctrine of justification and sanctification by faith in Christ apart from the law. Most Jews were deceived into thinking that justification and sanctification are inseparably linked and that they are conditioned on a high level of performance of the law. (They did not demand absolute protection. That is why Paul’s point in 3:10 is so powerful). Thus they were offended by the message of justification by faith alone. This is often seen in Christendom today. Charges of antinomianism and cheap grace are hurled at those who proclaim the biblical gospel.”
As I have previously written, I have seen this attack of the gospel of grace in full force with many professing christians today. It is very sad, and it is the reason why we must continue to speak of the free gift of God’s grace and the freedom that comes with it. Believers are not called to live under a strict code of law and guilt, but to live in freedom and show God’s love.