Galatians – Faith working through love
Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Galatians 5:1
The area of Galatia, now modern Turkey, was home to several communities of Christians that Paul had established, comprised of both gentile and Jewish converts. As was the case in most of the places he traveled it was just a matter of time before the know-it-all's, called Judaizers, showed up attempting to add to what Paul had taught.
They challenged Paul's credentials, his authority and his message, in many cases attacking him personally as he appeared an easy target. It seems like there are always people who will buy the latest fad and the Judaizers found an audience in Galatia.
Their problem, though, was that Paul hadn't made up his message out of the clear blue sky, it "came through the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1:12). And he was called, personally, to preach the message by "Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead" (1:1). So, guess who is going to win this debate…
The Judaizers wanted to steer the Christian faith, which had necessarily come through the Jewish religion, back to the traditional practices of keeping the Law. It made sense to them that if Christianity was a product of Judaism then the Christians should be first Jewish, then Christian. So the Gentiles would need to be circumcised, keep the commandments, attend synagogue, observe the feasts, and the whole deal – and, of course, the Jewish converts would 'simply' return or remain in legalistic obedience to their tradition. Seemed like a good idea to them…
But it was not a good idea. This wasn't just a stricter version of Christianity, what they were proposing was a different gospel, a false, perverted gospel meant to please men and, ultimately, shift power to themselves. (1:6-10)
So Paul really sees this as a defining moment for the faith and draws a hard line in the sand. He reminds the Galatians that right standing with God and justification comes by faith in Christ Jesus, not by obedience to the Law. (2:16). The Law was our teacher that brought us to Christ so that we could be justified by faith. (3:24)
Christianity was birthed from Judaism, but it is for the whole world, not just one people group. It is a New Covenant based on God's unmerited favor bestowed on all humanity through the victory of God the Son, Jesus Christ, conquering sin, death and the grave. This is where faith has found its resting place.
"Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love." (5:1-6)
Religion can be like a forced, lifeless, bondage – a burden that we carry out of guilt or tradition, trying to measure up to standards that better people than us have failed at living.
We may be free from the Judaizers but how many of us have been told about all the things we do that we shouldn't do, or need to do that we don't do? "God would heal you if you'd stop (fill in the blank). So you try, and you fail, and you feel guilty and worthless, and you're met with a shrug and raised eyebrows because you are hurting and it's your own fault – Bondage!
Doing everything right won't work, not that we could, anyway. If we are in bondage to religious duty, trying to coerce the hand of God, "Christ will profit you nothing, we become estranged from Christ." Why? Because we're trying to be justified by something other than His grace – actually, we fall from grace! Religious activity can't save us – the only thing that matters is faith working through love (5:6), that's it.
In practice, our lives should be full of good deeds, things done to bless and heal others in loving action. Not for our salvation, but because of it. It is faith working through love.
"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." (2:20)