Summary: God’s Promise is primary. Works won’t help becuase salvatin is by faith alone.
So, what’s wrong with rules? Life couldn’t continue if we didn’t have rules to govern it. It’s good to teach your children to always say please and thank you. To knock before entering a room, to clean up after themselves. It’s important to know that blue and green should never be seen; that white wine is drunk with fish or white meat and red wine with red meat. That coffee will keep you awake, but milk will help you sleep. That when you get a cold taking vitamin C will help, if it doesn’t give you cancer in the process. There’s nothing wrong with knowing those sorts of rules is there?
But what about when the rules get more serious? What about when the rules begin to be promoted as the passport to life? That’s what was happening in the churches of Galatia. There was this small group of Jewish Christians, you see, who were trying to convince people that the Jewish rules were essential for salvation. "Unless you are circumcised according to the customs taught by Moses, you cannot be saved", was what they were teaching. For them rules weren’t just there to give guidance in living. They were there for absolute obedience. And so Paul spends a large part of this letter dealing with this question of rules. You’ll remember if you were here last week, that the way we understand this issue will affect how we think about ourselves, how we think about others and even how we think about God. So it’s a big issue. And so he goes on in today’s passage to deal at some length with this matter of legalism. He raises 5 main arguments to convince the Galatians that the key to a relationship with God is not rules, but faith.
1 Their Conversion (1-5)
The first thing he points to is their conversion. He says, "Think back to when you first heard the gospel. Were you first instructed about the rules that needed to be followed or were you simply told about what Jesus Christ had done for you? When you received the Spirit, was it the result of your obedience to a set of rules or simply because you believed the promise?" "You idiots!" He says, "How could you be so stupid as to be led astray by this new teaching."
You see when Paul first preached the gospel to them he told them of Jesus’ promise that they’d receive the Holy Spirit and when they accepted what he said that’s just what happened. The Holy Spirit was given to them as a gift, as the evidence of their conversion. So why would they now think of reverting to rules, if the gift of the Spirit is still theirs. Do they really think that God’s waiting for them to obey these rules before he’ll bless them some more? No, he blesses them because he promised to and they’ve believed the promise and the evidence of that is right before their eyes, in the miracles he works in their midst every day.
We talked a bit about this last week. The source of our ongoing life in Christ is the same as the source of our initial conversion. It comes from faith in Christ alone. It comes from the indwelling presence if the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. Why would you want to introduce obedience to a set of external laws into that equation? As we’ll se in a moment that will only lead to frustration and in the end to a quenching of God’s Spirit.
2 The example of Abraham (6-9)
But what about the idea that Christianity is really the fulfillment of Judaism so those rules that separated the Jew from the rest of the world might still be relevant to the Christian? That was where these Judaizers were coming from, after all. Well, he says, think about where the identity of the Jewish people comes from. It doesn’t start with Moses and the law does it? No, it begins with Abraham. So where does Abraham fit into this whole argument?
How did Abraham achieve righteousness? Well, he says, it’s simple. Abraham "believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness." (v6) What was it that Abraham did that made him righteous in God’s eyes? Well, nothing. All he did was believe what God had told him and that belief was enough for God to credit him with righteousness, as a gift. God promised that he’d have more descendants than he could count, that he’d take him to a land that he was going to show him and that he’d be blessed, along with all the nations on earth. And what did Abraham have to do for all that to take place? Nothing. All he had to do was believe God. Well, he had to pack his camels and follow where God would lead him, but he didn’t have to achieve any of it by himself. Think about it. How was he going to have a son? What could he do about that part of the promise. He’d been trying for the best part of 60 years to have a son without success. He tried for another 25 years before God came to him again and told him he’d have a son. By then it was humanly impossible. Only God could bring about such a miracle.