Of the 27 books in the New Testament, over half were written by one man: Paul. But for the letters of Paul, we would be in darkness concerning the truth of the Church as the Body of Christ and its function, activity, and destiny. (17 of 28 chapters in Acts deal with Paul; from Acts 15 onwards, the other apostles are not even mentioned.)
The Epistle to the Galatians is regarded as one of Paul's greatest and most important letters. It has been characterized as a "short Romans"; the Epistle to the Romans can be viewed as an expansion of Galatians.
Galatians, more than any other single book, became the manifesto of freedom and revival of Biblical truth in the Reformation Era: "the Magna Carta of spiritual emancipation."
It has been called "a small pebble with which the Reformers smote the papal giant of the Middle Ages."
William Ramsay has called it "a unique and marvelous letter, which embraces in its six short chapters such a variety of vehement and intense emotion as could probably not be paralleled in any other work."
Merrill Tenney has pointed out:
Few books have had a more profound influence on the history of mankind than has this small tract, for such it should be called. Christianity might have been just one more Jewish sect, and the thought of the Western world might have been entirely pagan had it never been written. Galatians embodies the germinal teaching on Christian freedom which separated Christianity from Judaism, and which launched it upon a career of missionary conquest. It was the cornerstone of the Protestant Reformation, because its teaching of salvation by grace alone became the dominant theme of the preaching of the Reformers.1
Luther's Commentary on Galatians was one of the key books of the Reformation. Martin Luther called it "my own little epistle. I have betrothed myself to it; it is my Katie von Vora (his wife)."
Luther's entire life was changed by the impact on him of Habakkuk 2:4: "The just shall live by faith."
It is interesting that three of the epistles appear to be a trilogy on this very verse:
The Just shall live by Faith. Who are "the
just"? The Epistle to the Romans is the definitive answer to that dilemma
(Cf. Romans 1:17).
The Just shall live by Faith. How should they live? Galatians is the guide; a release from the bondage of religious externalism (Cf. Galatians 3:11).
The Just shall live by Faith. By what "faith"? Hebrews elaborates this head on (Cf. Hebrews 10:38).
Paul's purpose was to keep the new kingdom from being another Jewish sect, instead proclaiming a Gospel of grace to all men (Galatians 3:26). His letter to the Galatians has blocked the path of many who would change Christianity into a new paganism or another sect of Judaism.
It stands as a challenge to all who would take away the grace of God, the truth of the Gospel, and the joy and freedom that goes with it.
The Threat of Legalism
Legalism had its beginning in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve attempted to reconcile themselves to God with aprons of fig leaves.2 God taught them that by the shedding of innocent blood they would be covered.3 Man is always trying to add "his something" to what God has already provided.
Grace is God's answer to man's pride. The heart of Christianity is God's free grace in Jesus Christ.
Legalism always seems to take the heart out of Christianity and replace it with a heart of stone. Let the law do the honorable work of showing a man his sin, but remember that it can't save the man from sin.
There is a persistent false teaching: substituting Law for Grace. Legalism is not restricted to the "Judaizers" of the New Testament period; it is the most persistent form of derailment in our churches today. There is something about error when it once grips the mind that makes it assume an importance that the truth itself never had. And the compliance to rules, style, or other practices still threatens our sincere fellowship in the Spirit now as it did then.
Prayerfully re-read this short little book and watch what happens.
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