The letter to the Galatians may be the trickiest of Paul's letters - both for the background and the content - but it is packed with insight into the law, the work of the Spirit, and the freedom of the Christian life. In this episode, Cole and Terry discuss Paul's letter to the Galatians and the application for today.
Author EP Sanders presents what theologians call the “New Perspective” on Paul’s writings. Sanders argues that Judaism is not legalistic and espouses the idea that a Jew was in the covenant by simply being a Jew. However, a Jew stayed within the covenant by obeying certain Jewish customs such as keeping the Sabbath, circumcision, and dietary laws. In this perspective, Sanders draws a clear distinction between the laws found within the Pentateuch as a whole (the first five books of Scripture) and the laws specific to the life of a Jew (example: Acts 15 and the Jerusalem Council).
The key question to address when interpreting Galatians is this: Is Paul talking about the whole law or Jewish identity markers?
We know that Paul wrote Galatians to the church at Galatia. This issue increases in complexity when we realize that, in the world of the New Testament, there were two areas known as “Galatia.” One area called “Galatia” is north and is commonly considered a “region.” The second option for Galatia is a province and was located in the south. The province of Galatia (the south) corresponds to Paul’s missionary journeys (Acts 15-17). This makes the most sense in terms of the rest of Scripture and would make Galatians one of the first books in the New Testament.
As we discover in Chapter One, the Galatians believed a false gospel. Paul’s language is filled with concern and anger over the foolishness of this church for being so easily swayed.
The Galatians were believing a false gospel – a church on the verge of being compromised.
Galatians 1:11-2:14 is the only autobiographical section in this book and reminds the church that Paul and the other Apostles were believing and teaching the exact same gospel. This gospel is that of being saved by grace through faith and there is nothing anyone can do to earn salvation. Paul views this gospel issue in the church of Galatia as a life-or-death issue. This same should be said for our churches.
Law or No Law?
As Christians, we know salvation does not come from the Law. Paul discusses how Abraham existed before the Law was given, and this faith was credited to him as righteousness. Salvation was not based on the Law because Abraham was described as righteous and a friend of God even before the Law was given. If we follow this logic of Paul, the only conclusion is that if Abraham was counted righteous before the Law was given, then there is a righteousness apart from the Law. “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the Law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22).
What, then, is the proper use of the Law?
According to Scripture, the Law has three main purposes in the life of a Christian:
Restrain sin (sanctification)
Accuse and show us sin (the Law as a mirror)
Show Christians what does and does not please God (walking by the Spirit)
The purpose of Christ’s incarnation was to fulfill the covenant of Abraham. The Mosaic covenant was “inside” the Abrahamic covenant, and we are members of that Abrahamic covenant in Christ and blessed along with Abraham.
We are now free in Christ. Because of this freedom, a true believer will live according to the Spirit. The Christian can now obey the Law by the indwelling Spirit of God and say “no” to sin and “yes” to the things of God.