In this chapter, Paul tells the Galatians about an episode in Jerusalem where a group of Jews (claiming to be Christians, though we can't be sure either way) put pressure on Paul to make non-Jews practice the ceremonial laws and rituals of the Old Testament. Although the moral law remained for Christians to obey, the sacrificial and ceremonial law had become obsolete because of Jesus, who gave himself as the perfect and final sacrifice to pay for all sins and render "clean" all who will trust in him.
Today, many who say they are Christians have added rules and expectations to the Christians around them, that either overstep what the Bible says, or directly add to what the Bible says. What probably began as healthy caution eventually became warped into moral law and mandated cultural tradition not found in the Bible, but created by humans.
Simplifying life into a list of do's and don'ts can make us mentally lazy. By contrast, caution and discernment are great skills for every Christian to grow in (see Philippians 1:9-10). Also, by adding rules to the Bible that aren't there, we are calling something "bad" that God calls "good". We are not living with the kind of freedom that God wants us to have. Even worse, we're distorting and misrepresenting God's communication to humanity!
Paul recognized the severe consequences of adding to God's word, and so opposed this kind of teaching to maintain the purity of truth.(verse 5)
In verses 7-9, we're reminded of the unity that all Christians share. Like Paul and Peter, some Christians may be called to impact different social groups, or to emphasize ideas a little differently, but it is the same God empowering everyone who genuinely trusts and believes in Jesus Christ. We can so often focus on our differences that we lose sight of how God is using each of us, despite our areas of conflict, to reach the world we live in.
Starting in verse 11, we unfortunately see one of the first examples of hypocrisy in church leadership. The Apostle Peter himself had been carried away by the influence of legalism (an improper fixation on law or customary conduct). Probably because of the obvious influence Peter had, Paul chose to confront him publically on the issue.
Part of what Paul has to say represents a key concept of the Bible. Look at verse 16. Okay, now here comes this week's "Vocab Round-up":
Righteous- if someone is righteous, they are meeting the standards required by God. (So being called "righteous" is a pretty big deal!)
Justified- to be justified means to be declared righteous (if already righteous) or to be made righteous (if not already righteous).
Faith- This word is used in vague, murky language in American pop-spirituality. In the Bible it has a couple different meanings. Sometimes it refers to a system of belief. "The Christian faith." But most of the time it means having agreement with and trust in Jesus Christ. It is not by definition "blind" or illogical, but is nearly identical to the idea of "confidence" or "trust".
In contrast to the natural thinking of humanity, we cannot meet the standards required by God through "being a good person". Verse 16 makes that pretty clear. God is so far above and beyond our most pristine concepts for "good" that we will never meet his standards and earn the right to be in his presence forever. Faith in Jesus, and in the sacrifice he made, is the only way our record can be made to meet God's requirements.
In verse 18, Paul says that if we once again try to be made right with God through good deeds, after already being saved by God's grace(undeserved favor), we will only show how sinful we are.
Verse 19 might seem a little cryptic at first, but we can make sense of what Paul is saying. Jesus came to fulfill the law on our behalf (Matthew 5:17). We are still ultimately saved through obedience to the Law. But it is Christ's obedience to the law, not ours, that saves us. So in that sense, Paul, through the law fulfilled by Jesus, was able to leave behind(die to) the burden of trying to meet God's requirements by his own effort. Free of that burden, Paul can now really live the way he was meant to live for God.
In verse 20, Paul expands on this idea by saying that he (his old self) has died and now it is Christ that lives in and empowers him. He hammers home the point of this chapter in verse 21. If anybody can spend eternity in heaven with God simply by being "a good person", then Christ died for nothing. If Christ died for nothing, then God is either weak, and unable to save himself from death, or foolish, since dying served no purpose.
So either trust and belief in Jesus is absolutely needed and the only thing needed, or the God of the Bible is not really worth listening to. Not much room for an easy going, all-inclusive middle ground.
Plenty of food for thought, so after you've processed a little, tell us what YOU think!
Coffee House Question:
When you do something good, or make a choice in line with the Bible, what motivates you to do that?
Next Week: If faith is all you need, then why obey the law?