Paul addressed the early Christian communities in Galatia in the ninth book of the New Testament, the Epistle to the Galatian. Composed around 49 AD prior to the Jerusalem Council in 50 AD, some scholars suggest that this may have been Paul’s first letter. The purpose of it was to address the controversy that arose between the Jewish and Gentile Christians as to whether the Mosaic Law was to be observed. While Jewish Galatians strictly observed the Law, Paul argued that Gentile Galatians did not need to adhere to its tenets, particularly circumcision, in light of the New Covenant that was established with Jesus Christ.
Divided into six chapters, Pauls’ letter begins Chapter 1 by delivering a testimony to the Galatians about how he had received the authentic Gospel message from the Holy Spirit who now lives within him. Warning them not to believe false doctrines, Paul states that he is empowered as an Apostle to serve as Christ’s ambassador. In Chapter 2, Paul defends the Gospel, explaining that as a result of the New Covenant with Jesus Christ, there is no longer a need to observe the Mosaic Law.
In Chapters 3 through 5:12, Paul clarifies the New Covenant, declaring that salvation cannot be assured solely by observing the letter of the Law (performing good works). In God’s eyes, salvation is assured by believing in Him, seeking His undeserved grace, and demonstrating through our actions that we are now living a redeemed, righteous life (faith). Rather than abandoning the Law, Paul encourages us to live by the spirit of the Law, using it as a learning tool on how to live a righteous life (Galatians 3:24). Saying we are imperfect, we all have broken many of the laws over time. While we are incapable of strictly obeying all 613 laws, there is still much we can learn from them (Galatians 5:3).
In Chapters 5:13 through 6, Paul continues on this theme, explaining that as a result of the Last Supper and Jesus Christ’s subsequent death, a New Covenant has been established. Whoever believes in Christ and seeks His gift of undeserving grace, the veil separating us from God has been lifted with salvation assured (2 Corinthians 3:16). By having faith in Christ, we are now free from the Law that once enslaved us (Galatians 5:1-4)
Through acceptance of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are rewarded with the incredible gift of the Holy Spirit. Residing within us, the Holy Spirit guides us on our spiritual journey, helping us to follow a righteous path and assuring God’s acceptance (Galatians 5:5-6). As we choose to listen and act on the Holy Spirit’s guidance, we are less apt to give into our selfish desires and are more likely live a loving, peaceful Christ-like life (Galatians 5:16, 22-25). As one of Jesus’ disciple, Paul encourages us to share this gift and our new life, guiding friends, family, and others towards a righteous path, but warns us not to be tempted by ways of the world that may cause us to stay from our own path (Galatians 6:1-2).
In closing the letter, Paul reiterates that it does not matter how strictly we observe the Law. What is important is that we become a new person as a result of having faith in and following God as one of His true people. By following this one rule, God rewards us with undeserved grace and blesses us with peace.
Today as I write this, I realize that we are not unlike the Galatians of long ago with the debate continuing among religious denominations as to what constitutes salvation…faith or good works. Central to this discussion is whether the promised New Covenant as instituted at the Last Supper and subsequent crucifixion of Jesus Christ fulfills Old Testament prophesy (Jeremiah 31:31–34). Its fulfillment is substantiated further in the New Testament’s Book of Hebrews, specifically Chapter 8:6-13, which will be discussed in a future post.
Where do you stand? Do you believe in living by the letter of the Law (good works) or by Spirit of the Law (faith)? Why?