There are three drastic assertions set forth by this group which Paul responds to in his letter to the Galatians. The first is his authority as a minister of the Gospel (chps. 1-2). The second is the truth of the Gospel which Paul preaches in regards to the Law (chps. 3-4), and the third is that without the guidance of the Law, Paul’s Gospel will lead to loose and immoral living (chps. 5-6). Paul refutes the first accusation by sharing his testimony and asserts that any man can be called by another man, but he has received his calling from Christ Himself (Gal. 1:11-24). On the second and third issues, Paul looks at the relationship between the Law and faith. He writes with two things in mind. First, he is disappointed with the Gentile converts for failing to recognize the obvious connection between their faith and Abraham’s, who like them was not a Jew when he entered into a covenant relationship with God (Gal. 3:1-6). With the Judaizers he is angered that they have not looked more thoroughly at the legalism their position has inspired (Gal. 3:15-29). Unlike the other epistles, there are no words of praise or thanksgiving over either of these two groups, thus earning this epistle the designation as Paul’s “angry letter”.
Much has been said about the Judaizers and none of it positive. But what is usually forgotten, even ignored, about them is that they were believers! The Judaizers understood that the Jewish people had a significant relationship with God through His covenants, and particularly through the Mosaic Covenant (a. k. a. The Law). Initially the Gospel stayed within the Jewish community, but when the Gospel expanded into the Gentile community, the question was not so much “Should the Gentiles be included?” but more, “HOW can the Gentiles be included?” In the Judaizers’ eyes, the solution was simple. A Gentile who believed in the Messiah, needed to go through the ritual of becoming a member of the Covenant community (that is become Jewish) much like Ruth’s pledge to Naomi (Rut. 1:16). But their emphasis on circumcision as proof of that covenant relationship (Gen. 17:9-14) became legalistic. The Judaizers placed more emphasis on the outward sign than the inward change of one’s nature. Paul however asserts that faith, not circumcision is proof of one’s relationship with God (Gal. 3:6-9). Using Abraham as an example, Paul reminds them that Abraham believed God’s promise before there was any outward evidence that it would be fulfilled. Abraham’s faith was rewarded through the birth of Isaac. The result of faith now is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who combats the desires of the flesh (and the immorality that comes from it) with the fruit of the Spirit and compels us to live in a manner that glorifies Christ (Gal. 5:16-25).
How do people perceive your relationship with God? Do they see your faith as a dogmatic practice of rituals whose symbolism they may or may not understand? Do you honor Christ by allowing His Spirit to guide the way you live or do you allow earthly desires to dominate your thoughts and behavior? Do you demand that others follow a specific program to determine whether they’re saved or not? Paul reminds us that Christ paid a great price to free us from “the Law” and the sin it temporarily addressed (Gal. 4:3-7). We now have the opportunity to make the most of our freedom in fulfilling the “Law of Christ” in the way we live (Gal. 6:1-10).
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 10/5/2015