Some people in matters of faith initially seem to receive the Gospel message of salvation, but are subsequently seduced into placing themselves back under the law. That is to say, they fall under the spell of legalism as they revert to the old pattern of trying to be made right with God by their works rather than by grace.
The book of Galatians was written by the apostle Paul to address this very issue. It is a New Testament epistle that is greatly needed today by Catholics, Protestants and every Christian. Paul wrote this letter of reprimand “to the churches in Galatia.” (1:2) And the apostle wasted no time in getting straight to the point: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the Gospel of Christ.” (1: 6,7)
You see, Paul had already been dealing with the problem of legalism in the early church for some time. He described how during his ministry in Jerusalem “some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.” (2:4) The term “false brothers,” like “false prophets,” refers to people who are not connected to Christ. These pretenders were teaching “a different gospel.” (1:6) They were trying to “force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs,” (2:14) and especially the custom of circumcision. These “Judaizers” were promoting legalism by adding a requirement to the Gospel. They were teaching salvation by works rather than salvation by grace, “which is really no Gospel at all.” (1:7)
Paul reminded those in Galatia “that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.” (2:16) Paul always stressed this crucial point that the law is unable to make anyone righteous in God’s eyes. And a deep love for Christ and the Gospel led Paul to make this profound statement: “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (2:21)
Do you see why Paul was so concerned? He knew that anyone stung by the viper of the Judaizers was in danger of forsaking Christ. How so? Well, when you rely upon circumcision or any other religious custom in order to be saved, you are relying upon the law rather than Christ alone. As Paul put it, “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” (5:9) And the yeast of “the circumcision group” (2:12) was completely disrupting the faith of folks in Galatia, just like this false teaching had been doing elsewhere to those poisoned by its legalistic toxins.
This sobering realization led Paul to be very blunt in this letter, just like parents sometimes have to be with their children. Paul wrote, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” (3:1) “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.” (5:7,8) Make no mistake about it. Legalism casts a spell over a person because it is rooted in doctrinal error. And it is a direct attack on the Gospel.
Paul even had to rebuke Peter “because he was in the wrong….and was afraid of those in the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy.” (2:11-13) As he had done on the night our Lord was betrayed, Peter once again gave into peer pressure and the fear of man. It was not one of Peter’s finer moments.
Paul then wrote, “Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (3:1-3)
Since the Holy Spirit enters a person at the moment of conversion, Paul wanted them to reflect upon what it was that brought about their new life in Christ. Was it relying upon the law, or relying upon Christ? Was it trusting in their works for salvation, or trusting in Christ’s death on the cross as the payment for their sins? It is utterly foolish to fall back under legalism after coming into a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse.” (3:10) And “clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, ‘The righteous will live by faith.'” (3:11) So what are you relying upon for salvation my friend: the law, or the Gospel? Your works of obedience, or Christ’s perfect sacrifice on the cross?
The law certainly has its place in the grand scheme of things. For one thing, it acts as a mirror that reflects the sin in our soul. Paul explained it this way: “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.” (3:14) The law shows us our sin, and Christ provides us with the solution. Christians are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. This means that on the front end of our relationship with God, we are justified, forgiven, born again, saved and redeemed. God credits salvation to our account through faith in Jesus as we rely upon what Christ did for us on the cross. Likewise, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (3:6) “So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” (3:9)
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Dan Delzell