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.
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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.