Summary: Without attention and energy, we humans will default back to our flesh pleasing ways even after coming to Jesus. That's where the lie of legalism is so pervasive. Paul begins his battle against legalism by contrasting human achievement with grace.
We humans love to accomplish things. It’s so we can tell whether we are a success or not. This is also true when it comes to pleasing God. “Lord, I prayed and read your Word for an hour today.” “Father, I refrained from clobbering that guy who cut in front of me.” We also like to look righteous so we make sure to wear the right clothes and carry the right Bible in the right case and have the right expressions that we say. The problem with this is that it’s just what got the Galatian church in trouble. It’s called “legalism”. Legalism is the application of an external set of principals or goals to your life in order to feel better about yourself or your relationship with God rather than letting God transform your life from the inside out. Legalism is death and it’s rampant in the church today.
During the next weeks we will explore The Lies of Legalism as we study the Apostle Paul’s response to it as he wrote to the churches in Galatia (central Turkey).
Legalism involves how you behave, how you appear, and the existence of a pedigree. The Galatians, like the Corinthians, had a group of men come into their fellowships and spread a really good sounding doctrine that if applied will lead someone away from salvation and certainly will not contribute to true growth in the life of a Christian.
Galatians was written about 49 A.D. at the conclusion of Paul’s first missionary journey. On that trip he’d seen incredible responses to the gospel, both positive and negative as the Jews caught wind of the gospel and saw people fleeing from Judaism. Their jealousy led to persecution (an external pressure against the gospel) and the infiltration of a law-based system within the church (an internal pressure). The idea that Gentiles could also be “saved” particularly upset the Jews who saw themselves as an exclusive club. This led some Jews to so vehemently oppose Paul that they went to the Galatian churches and tried to poison them against Paul and point them to a hybrid faith that included Jesus, but put them back under the Law of Moses. To become a Christian and get to God you had to become a Jew first.
Just after writing this letter, Paul travelled to Jerusalem, where a special council decided in his favor (Acts 15).
1 – 2
I like how Paul begins the letter. First he declares his apostleship (his authority to speak for Jesus) and notes the source: it wasn’t human based authority, nor was it conferred upon him by a man (he gets more into that later). It came straight from Jesus—and Paul reminds them that the Father, the same one who gave the Law, raised Jesus from the dead, effectively doing away with the external obedience of the Law as a source of life, but now life comes from relationship with the One who fulfilled all of the Law.
And Paul could speak authoritatively to Jew and Gentile. He was born of a Jewish family from the tribe of Benjamin (known for their scrappiness). He was educated by the premier teacher of the day (Gamaliel) and was a Pharisee (the most strict and most popular group of Jewish leaders). It was this man, who actively fought against the church, who is now its chief advocate, all because of meeting Yeshua (Jesus) face to face.
3 – 5
Notice Paul beginning his arguments before beginning them! “Grace” is the opposite “law”—unmerited favor, a gift you don’t deserve. Grace alone leads to peace with God.
Romans 5:1-3 Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Also through Him, we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
We are not saved by our efforts but by the gift of Jesus, giving Himself, though blameless, to become a curse for us in order to “rescue us from this present evil age.” The Jews would probably not consider this age to be “evil” as long as they considered themselves “good Jews”. But mankind has messed up so badly that there is no rescue outside of God Himself.
Notice too that it was “the will of God.” God planned it this way all along. The Scriptures (the Old Testament) is full of hints and downright prophecies about this if you “have an ear to hear.” The coming of Jesus should not have been a surprise to the Jews (and it wasn’t to those like Anna in the temple).
Finally, notice that all of this is to bring glory God. The problem with legalism is that it brings credit to us—and we don’t deserve it!