How Jewish non-Jewish Christians should become is a question that pervades much of the letters in the New Testament. What should a Christian do regarding the Law of Moses? Galatians is a book almost solely devoted to this question. The question naturally leads to others: how is a Christian converted in the first place? How does a Christian live if it’s not directly by the Law of Moses?
On Paul’s second missionary journey in Acts 16 he was delayed in Galatia by a sickness. He kept preaching the gospel of Christ crucified to the largely rural folk in the province of Galatia. Many churches were founded and sprung up as people believed his message. In Paul’s preaching he mentioned nothing of the Jewish Law to the Galatians. Chapter 3 tells us that they experienced great freedom and power as they responded to Paul’s message.
After he left, other teachers came through Galatia. They taught that it was right to observe special days and ceremonies in the Mosaic Law. They said it was because Paul wasn’t a true apostle that he didn’t teach them the right message. The Galatian churches seemed to warm to these false teachers. Paul immediately writes this letter out of great concern for them.
The letter comes to life once you understand this background. Paul greets his friends (1:1-3). He tells them plainly there is only one gospel – and that being the one he told them (1:6-10). Paul next defends his story and testimony of his apostleship. He tells them that Peter and the other apostles agree with his message (1:11-14). Paul reminds them of the gospel he taught and provides proof and argument for it (1:15-4:31). In this passage he explains how a person is saved and what a Christian’s relation to the Jewish Law is now. Chapter 5 and 6 are taken up with Paul explaining how the Christian life is to be lived by the Holy Spirit and doesn’t need ceremony and ritual days to complete it.
His writing is filled with fatherly correction and care. Paul is arguably at his strongest with the Galatians and the false teaching they are considering. He takes his message – Christ’s message – very seriously. He implores them to liberty and freedom in Christ and to freedom from unnecessary Jewish ceremony.
We may read Galatians thinking it’s not all that relevant for us because we are not tempted to bring in Mosaic ritual. Not so. It is very easy to bring in little rules and ceremonies and legalisms that we can easily rely on more than Christ and the Holy Spirit. There is nothing wrong with disciplines and regular behaviours and habits, but we must not trust anything other than Christ and the Holy Spirit for our salvation and godliness. Nothing else, ever. If the Mosaic Law was not enough to bring about righteousness of life, how much less our little rituals and legalisms?
Let Paul’s Galatians correct your compass and set you up for freedom. Not freedom to do as you please, but freedom to be all you were made to be for God.
Pic: Moses With the Tables of the Law RENI (c. 1624)