Galatians is a fascinating little letter. Since it appears to be Paul’s earliest epistle, written, perhaps, just before the Jerusalem Council in A.D. 50, it provides us with an interesting window into the earliest days of the church when Gentiles were first starting to respond to the gospel in large numbers. While a growing church sounds good to us, not everyone was happy. Some in the church were convinced Gentile believers had to become Jews before becoming Christians—meaning Gentile men had to be circumcised (cf. Acts 15:1).
While Paul was certainly not opposed to obedience, he realized this sort of theology was actually undermining the very foundation of the gospel—the all-sufficiency of Christ for salvation. By insisting on circumcision, these individuals within the church were inadvertently making human behavior a prerequisite for salvation, which is legalism. Galatians is Paul’s passionate appeal to the new Gentile believers to stay true to the gospel.
As part of his opening greeting, Paul reminds us that salvation is rooted in what Jesus has already done for the human race in laying down His life as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins—a sacrifice that brings with it not only the forgiveness of sin, but also freedom from its enslaving power (v. 4). This gospel message was not something Paul invented himself. He had received it directly from the Risen Christ when He appeared to him on the Damascus Road, turning him from a persecutor to a follower of Christ himself (vv. 11-24).
How about us? Through our actions and words are we inadvertently replacing the all-sufficiency of Christ for salvation with some form of human behavior? May our time spent in Paul’s letter remind us that the gospel is forever and always about what Christ has done, not about what we must do.
Carl P. Cosaert
Walla Walla University