“Galatians is a dangerous book. It exposes the most popular substitute for spiritual living that we have in our churches today—legalism.”
- Warren Wiersbe, Be Free
Writing to the Galatians, Paul is, in his own words, “astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all” (v 6-7). It’s not a foreign god or idol turning the hearts of these Galatian Gentiles [people who were not Jews]; it’s a bunch of Jewish teachers, who have introduced the rules and regulations of the old covenant to these new believers. They have said, in essense, You have received Jesus, that’s good! Now you need to follow these dietary laws, keep these rules, and also get a special surgery [circumcision] so you can stay right with God. They were persuasive and many of the Galatians followed along.
Legalism is no less a risk to the Christian life in America (and everywhere) today than it was in ancient Galatia. Legalism is a Christianity that is defined and sustained by rules and rituals. It leaves very little room for God’s grace. Many Baptists have defined Christianity as “Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. Don’t chew. And don’t run with those who do.” But I have met many a Baptist who can’t control his temper or his tongue, who treats his wife and children like dirt, and is so filled with pride that no one can stand to be around him. It’s not just Baptists though. I have seen Christians from every kind of denomination who think they are okay if they go to church, take communion, say the Apostles Creed, and follow all the prescribed rituals. They either die thinking they are okay or live in silent agony because their faith is hollow.
The Christian life—the life we live in the grace of Christ—is SO MUCH MORE THAN RITUAL! We are accepted by God’s grace, not by what we do. We are transformed by God’s grace, not by our own works or rituals. We are given a place in God’s kingdom forever by his grace, not because we did anything to deserve it. When we try to “adopt” another gospel, another form of good news, like the Galatians did, we find ourselves striving hard after a gift that already belongs to us. We find ourselves chasing a God we left behind. Remember Paul’s words in verse 6, “you are so quicklydeserting the one who called you…” Harsh, but true.
NO OTHER GOSPEL
Paul’s opening lines to the Galatians establish (again) the one true gospel they are meant to be embracing. “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (vv 3-5). The gospel, simply defined, is Christ giving himself for our sin. Or as Paul describes it in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” He was made a hater, a racist, a liar, a thief, a cheat, an adulterer, a drunkard for us so that we might be forgiven.We will never be good enough to find acceptance with God. The happiness of our own souls must rest on what Christ did for us. That’s good news!
In giving himself for us, Christ “rescues us from the present evil age” (v 4). The present evil age is just a way to describe the world as it exists with all the hatred, greed, fear, pride, fighting, lying, cheating, immorality, stealing, manipulating, insulting, etc. etc. etc. Not only does Christ forgive our sins, he shows us how to live differently in this world. Don’t misunderstand me. When we embrace the gospel and Christ forgives us, there is nothing else we need to do to satisfy God. But HE wants to do more for us. So he draws us out of all the crap the rest of world is living in and shows us how to live differently. We’re going to see some of those changes God wants for us as we get deeper into Galatians.
The ultimate purpose of the gospel is the glory of God. The gospel is for our present and future joy (that’s why God forgives and rescues us), and it is for the eternal glory of God.
“God, in glorifying the saints in heaven with eternal delight, aims to satisfy his infinite grace. And yet there will never come the moment when it can be said that now this infinitely valuable good has been actually bestowed.”
- Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), The End for Which God Created the World
“We need to continue to hear the gospel every day of our Christian lives.”
- Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace