In this short letter written around A.D. 49, Paul deals with the issue of the relationship between the believer and the law.
The Epistle to the Galatians is addressed to a group of churches in Galatia, which was located in the center of what is now known as Asia Minor. At the time Paul was writing, Paul and Barnabas have finished their successful first missionary journey, which established many new churches in Asia and Galatia. When the missionaries returned to Antioch they found out that certain individuals had come into the area who would “distort the gospel of Christ” (1:7, 5:10). They insisted that, while salvation was of Christ, works were also necessary for salvation. The Galatians were already beginning to yield to this Judaizing, i.e. legalistic error (1:6, 3:1).
These men were converted Pharisees from Judea and wanted to impose more than circumcision: they actually insisted that Gentile Christians must be required to obey the law of Moses, and insisted that the gospel was a message of grace and law; of salvation by faith and works.
Paul and Barnabas realized this was a critical distortion of the gospel, which brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them (15:2).
Paul overwhelmingly destroys all arguments in favor of mixing the law with faith by pointing out that Abraham was justified by faith alone 430 years before the giving of the Mosaic law. The apostle answers the complementary error – that a believer is made spiritually mature by keeping the law – by setting forth the truth of the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, and the richness of life available when He rules the Christian whom He indwells.
No Other Gospel
Gospel, the Greek word means “good news.” The earliest presentation of the gospel, found in Acts 2 and 3, emphasizes the historical life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It shows that all this happened in accordance with OT prophecy and proclaims forgiveness of sin for all who believe in Jesus. This is the unmixed “gospel of grace” which Paul preached in Galatia.
The “other gospel” is a mixture of faith and works, of grace and law, taught by Judaizers who insisted that faith in Christ is not sufficient for salvation. They also taught that faith does not provide sufficient guidance for holy living, and that OT law must be added to Paul’s teaching to complete it. This issue is not a minor one. It is so vital to true Christianity that Paul pronounces anathema on those who teach it.
if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed. Galatians 1:9
So as imperfect as I am, I can call myself a Christian. That doesn’t make me a hypocrite. We Christians are not perfect beings nor have the “believe in myself” attitude. Rather, we are believers in our weakness and our need for God. In His ability to meet all our needs.
But, we humans tend to apply our own theories even to our faith. Rather than seeking His guidance, we try to figure things out on our own. Paul warns against it.
The gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 1:12
Paul uses himself as an example of this fallacy.
For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure, and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. 1:13, 14
God forgave him and deleted all his past sins. But, people still remembered and challenged his apostolic ministry. They kept complaining, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.” 1:23
His grace sets us free. We are beloved children who can feel safe and confident. We can play, learn and grow in the knowledge that we are covered by His big umbrella over our heads. We are children, not employees who would be fired if we do not perform.