The Book of Galatians was written to churches established through Paul’s first evangelistic efforts (Acts 13-14). He was writing to them (shortly before AD 50 and the Jerusalem Council, Acts 15) to warn them about false teachers who were encouraging them to live under the Mosaic Law. The repeated downplaying of the Law and contradicting of law-keeping in the book drive home the fact that law-keeping (a checklist of do’s and don’ts) is not for the Christian. For example:
(1) From the very beginning, the Gospel, or Christianity, (1:6-7, 11, 23) is presented as distinct from “the Jews’ religion” (1:13-16). See also 2:16, 21; 3:3, 5, 11-12, et. al. The Jews’ religion involved the Mosaic Law; clearly Christianity was not that.
(2) Paul purposefully distances himself from Jerusalem as it relates to the source of his message (1:17-18, 21-22). This is most likely because the false teachers (telling the Galatians to live under the Law) had come from the region of Jerusalem (see Acts 15:1, 5).
(3) When Paul does get around to detailing a visit to Jerusalem (2:1ff), he stresses that the church at Jerusalem had not “added” (2:6) anything to his message (i.e., they had not told him to teach Gentile converts to keep the Mosaic Law, observe circumcision, etc.).
The example of Titus (2:3) shows this to be true, since he was not compelled to be circumcised. Rather, the church heard Paul’s message and fully approved of the Gospel he preached, which did not require observing the Mosaic Law (2:7-10). All they requested was that Paul and his team be mindful of care for the poor.
NOTE: The word “circumcision” is an example of synecdoche. As a figure of speech, “circumcision” is being used as code for the entire system of ritual and ceremony in Judaism (festivals, sacrifices, etc.); circumcision was how you “got in,” but there was much more to it after that. Paul nowhere contradicts the “moral law” of God (thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not make graven images, etc.), which though it is contained within the Mosaic Law, transcends it.
(4) The confrontation with Peter is included (2:11ff) in order to show that the stipulations of the Law governing Jew-Gentile relations had been nullified in the Gospel (see also Acts 10). Peter’s withdrawal from the Gentiles when the Jews from Jerusalem arrived gave the false impression to the Gentile believers that the Law might still have been in effect (he was being hypocritical).
(5) In chapter 3, Paul begins to move from salvation to sanctification. Should the Christian live under the Law in order to maintain or improve his standing with God? No (3:3). The “Spirit” refers to the work of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel; “flesh” refers to my human efforts at keeping the Law.
(6) The Law could not effectively accomplish anything because of the imperfections of those expected to obey it (Galatians 3:6-13).
(7) Furthermore, the Law cannot supersede faith as a way to God because it came after the covenant God made with Abraham, a covenant of “faith” apart from “works” (Galatians 3:15-18).
(8) The purpose of the Law was temporary (Galatians 3:19-4:7). It was supposed to point out transgressions/sins, and guide us to Christ. “But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster (i.e., the Law).”
(9) Paul’s illustration of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar refute the idea that Christians should be living under the Law: “For this Agar… answereth (or corresponds) to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children” (i.e., in bondage under the Law). Here, he is using these real, historical figures as an analogy to the Law, and grace.
So, what should the Christian’s response to the Mosaic Law be? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son” (4:30). Abandon law-keeping as a system that can maintain, prove, or improve your standing with God.
(10) The whole system of law-keeping under the Mosaic Law was ineffective for either salvation or sanctification (5:2-6). Our standing with God cannot be altered by it.
(11) Paul points out that the Galatians had started well in the Christian faith (5:7a), but that others had turned them in the wrong direction (5:7b-9). Paul also states that he does not “preach circumcision” (5:11) ).
(12) Paul’s entire argument in Galatians directly opposes the path of choosing to live under law-keeping (4:10) in order to maintain, prove, or improve a person’s standing with God. Rather, Christians are to “walk in the Spirit” (5:16ff). Under grace we are free to do what we should without the constraints of a ritualistic, legal code. It is the inward working of the Holy Spirit that bears that out in the Christian’s life (5:22-23).
(13) But in the absence of an external checklist of do’s and don’ts, there is a danger of abuse (5:13, 15). So Paul sums up how the Christian can fulfill the whole Law without needing a checklist of do’s and don’ts: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (5:14). The commands Paul gives are practical examples of this very principle (5:26; 6:1-2, 6, 10).
NOTE: Our standing/acceptance with God cannot be altered by law-keeping or law-breaking. Though we can live in such a way that our enjoyment of God’s blessings is forfeit, that forfeiture is not based upon failing to attend Passover, lack of circumcision, having a fence around our roofs, etc.
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