• Does a Christian need to “keep” the Ten Commandments?
• Does a Christian need to “keep the Sabbath”?
• Does a Christian need to “keep the Torah”?
These are easy questions only to those who have not studied them seriously! The Epistle to the Galatians is regarded as the supreme rebuttal to legalism of any kind.
The Pauline Epistles
Of the 27 books in the New Testament, over half were written by one man: Paul. Seventeen of 28 chapters of the Book of Acts deal with Paul (from Acts 15 on, the other apostles are never even mentioned). The apostle Peter endorses Paul’s letters as “Scripture.”1 But for the letters of Paul, we would be in darkness concerning the truth of the Church as the Body of Christ—its function, activity, and destiny.
The Epistle to the Galatians is considered to be 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 a systematic expansion of Galatians.
The Epistle to the Galatians is also one of Paul’s trilogy on Habakkuk 2:4, which became the Magna Carta of the Reformation.
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.
It is 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.
There were Jews in the early church who tried to mix the simple message of grace with the Law, blending improperly the kingdom message and the church message. They taught that a person was saved by faith and by keeping the Law. They wanted the believers to follow the Jewish laws and customs. These teachers were upsetting the people in Galatia.2
This can also be a risky pitfall for many Christians who, attracted to the riches of our Jewish heritage, find themselves seduced into a contemporary form of Judaizing in attempting to “keep the Torah,” etc.
In this pivotal epistle, the Mosaic Law is neither discredited, despised, nor disregarded. Its majesty, perfection, demands, fullness, and purpose are maintained. Yet these very qualities make it utterly impossible for man to come to God by this route. Another way has been opened for man to be justified before God, a way which entirely bypasses the Mosaic Law. The new route is by faith: Justification by Faith is the theme, with the emphasis upon faith.
The only Gospel that God approves and blesses is the Gospel of the grace of God, justification by faith in Christ Jesus alone. We are not saved by making promises to God but by believing His promises.
If you compare this epistle with the other Pauline epistles, you will see that it is different: It is a stern, severe, and solemn message.3 The Galatian believers were in grave peril because the foundations of their faith were being attacked. The epistle contains no word of commendation, praise, or thanksgiving. There is no request for prayer, and there is no mention of their standing in Christ. No one with him is mentioned by name.
In this epistle the heart of Paul the apostle is laid bare, and there is deep emotion and strong feeling. This is his fighting epistle: Paul has no toleration for legalism. The Epistle to the Romans comes from the head of Paul; the Epistle to the Galatians comes from the heart of Paul. Galatians takes up controversially what Romans puts systematically.
This epistle is the manifesto of Christian liberty, the impregnable citadel, and a veritable Gibraltar against any attack on the heart of the gospel: “Immortal victory is set upon its brow.” It is the strongest declaration and defense of the doctrine of justification by faith in or out of Scripture. It is God’s polemic on behalf of the most vital truth of the Christian faith against any attack. Not only is a sinner saved by grace through faith plus nothing, but the saved sinner lives by grace.
The flesh loves to do things religious—celebrate holy days, practice rituals, attempt to do good works for God.
Many religious systems today mix law and grace and present a garbled, confused way of salvation that is actually a way of bondage.4 Keeping the Sabbath, dietary laws, an earthly priesthood, holy days, obeying rules—all of these are swept away in the Epistle to the Galatians, and are replaced by the glorious liberty which the believer has through faith in Christ! This is fabulous epistle, and is a tonic for those who find them-selves fettered into the bondage of legalism in any of its forms!
A critical blessing for all of us, indeed! Our study on the Epistle to the Galatians has been recently updated and is now available on audio tape, audio CD, MP3 CD-ROM, and download.