The real danger in Galatia was the mindset of salvation by one’s own effort.

CRITICISM

Excerpt: The Galatian Christians were at risk of losing their eternal salvation. People compelled them to be circumcised, but that was not the real danger, for circumcision means nothing. The real danger was that they would start to live like Jews, seeking to be put right with God through their own effort.  This will cause Christians to be “severed from Christ” because they will become unloving and critical of others.

TO LIVE LIKE JEWS

Paul was concerned that the Galatian Christians suffered so many things in vain (3:4; 4:10).  This implies that these Christians were at risk of losing their eternal inheritance.  One can be a Christian and still suffer eternal loss if one does what the Galatians did.  We must understand what they did wrong so that we can plead with God to protect us from that error.

5:2-4 explains the error in clear language:

if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.  … You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace”.

The danger, therefore, arises when Christians receive circumcision, but circumcision, as such, is not the real danger.  “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything” (5:6; 6:15).  But if that is true, why are people severed from Christ” if they “receive circumcision” (5:3)?

The danger of circumcision lies in what it leads to.  Circumcision is only the door into something much greater, namely to live like Jews.  The “circumcision party” not only compelled Gentiles Christians to be circumcised, but also to live like Jews (2:14). This means to live according to the Law, which in Galatians is specifically the Law of Moses (3:17; 4:24-25).

SELF-JUSTIFICATION

But to live according to the Law of Moses is also not, in itself, the real danger.  The real danger rather lies in the thinking behind observing those laws, namely to seek to be justified by law” (5:4), which means to be put right with God by one’s own efforts (3:3).

CONSEQUENCES

If I think I can save myself, by complying with some rules, then I think that I don’t need God’s grace, as manifested in Christ.  Then I myself have become the basis for my hope of eternal life.  It is this thinking that causes people to be “severed from Christ”.

People that believe that one has to put right with God by your own works will always create a large number demanding rules and regulations as a barrier against sin because they will soon realize that they are not able to keep God’s law.  They will invent rules and regulations to force themselves to obey God’s law. Such a system of human laws, founded on the principle that one must earn your own salvation, will:

    • Turn the mind away from God.  It turns the mind to self, and we are filled with sins of every kind.
    • Depicts God as merciless and disinterested in human suffering, and therefore leads people to treat their fellow human beings without mercy; disinterested in their suffering.
    • Kills the love for God, and, consequently, love for fellow beings.
    • Lead to selfish and narrow-minded criticism of all people who fail to comply.  Criticism kills compassion. Men become self-centered judges, spying on one another.

JUDAISM

The Judaism of Paul’s day is a good illustration of the consequence of such a system of human laws. They observed a myriad of traditions (1:14) which the rabbis accumulated around the Law of Moses over hundreds of years until only the most intelligent were able to learn all these laws in a single lifetime.

The purpose of the traditions was to act as a fence to safeguard the Jews from breaking the Law of Moses, but the end result was the opposite.  Their religious services did not humble the attendees with a sense of their own weakness. They were not filled with gratitude for the great privileges that God had given them, but with spiritual pride. Their minds were set on the self; myself, my feelings, my knowledge, my ways. They intruded into things where a person’s conscience should be his guide, judging one another in matters that lay between the individual and God. They made their opinions and views and interpretations of Scripture the criterion for others and in their hearts condemned one another for failing to come up to their ideals, assuming that they knew what other people’s motives are.

It was from this danger from which Paul was anxious to protect the Gentile Christians. He warned them against the first step towards this system, which is circumcision. 

This is also the danger that we still face today.

TO: Galatians Table of Contents

Justified by grace through faith and the forensic view of the atonement

SUMMARY

To be “justified” means to be accepted by God as just.

How sinners are justified was the great controversy in the Church in Paul’s day.:

Some Jewish Christians maintained that Christians are saved “by the works of the Law.” This does not mean to try to be good. It means to rely on the observance of the rituals and ceremonies of the Law of Moses to become acceptable to God. 

Paul opposed this view and taught a different law (the Law of Christ) and a different means of justification (By Grace through Faith).

Today we agree that sinners are justified by grace through faith but we still disagree about how sinners are made just.

The forensic view emphasizes the legal undertones of the word “justified” to explain HOW people are put right with God. They understand justification as a technical legal process whereby Christ’s righteousness is imputed to sinners.

One objection to this forensic view is that “justified” is only one of several Metaphors of Salvation that Paul used. We should, therefore, not interpret the word ‘justify’ literally. Nor should we emphasize it over the other metaphors.

A second objection to the forensic view is that several alternative atonement theories have been proposed over the past 2000 years. All of them should be evaluated to determine which fit the Scripture data best.

DEFINITION OF JUSTIFIED

Strong’s concordance defines the Greek word, which is translated as “justified,” as to show or regard as just or innocent.  “Justified,” therefore, means that sinners are accepted and regarded by God as just. Justified people:

Are “Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:29; cf. 3:7, 9, 14; 4:7)

Are “sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (3:26; cf. 4:5); and

Have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).

JUSTIFICATION IN GALATIANS

In Paul’s day, the great controversy in the Church was about how sinners are justified. This controversy is particularly seen in Galatians. In this letter, Paul used the words “justified” and “justify” several times, for instance in 2:16-17, 3:8, 11, 24 and 5:4.

Some Jewish Christians maintained that Christians are saved “by the works of the Law”.  This does not mean to try to be good. It means to rely on the observance of the rituals and ceremonies of the Law of Moses to become acceptable to God.  Justification is then a mechanical process. All that is required is that you perform certain rituals.

Paul opposed this view and argued that God justifies sinners “through faith in Christ Jesus” (2:16). The word “faith” can also be translated as “trust.”  To be justified by faith means to accepted by God simply because you trust Him, as opposed to trusting in what you can do for yourself.  While justification by the Works of the Law is something which the person does, to be justified by faith is something which God does:

God … will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith” (Rom. 3:30).
God would justify the Gentiles by faith” (Gal. 3:8).

The article By Grace through Faith discusses the Galatian controversy in much more detail. While Jewish Christians were adamant that man is “justified by the works of the Law,” Paul taught:

A different law (the Law of Christ versus the Jewish Law of Moses) and
A different means of justification (by grace through faith versus the Jewish “works of the Law”).

FORENSIC VIEW OF JUSTIFICATION

JustifiedWe agree today that sinners are justified by grace through faith but we still disagree about how sinners are made just.

The word “justified” seems to imply some kind of legal process in the courtrooms of heaven. Some theologians emphasize the legal undertones of the word and use it to explain HOW people are put right with God. Consequently, they understand justification as a technical legal process whereby Christ’s righteousness is imputed to sinners.  In this view, God has no option but the punish sin but Christ took our punishment so that we do not have to be punished.

This view is somewhat similar to the Jewish view of 2000 years ago, where they relied on mechanical rituals and ceremonies to be justified. 

METAPHORS OF SALVATION

One objection to the forensic view is that “justified” is only one of several Metaphors of Salvation which the New Testament uses to express the thought that sinners are put right with God.  Another metaphor explains justification as reconciliation:

Were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Rom. 5:10; cf. 2 Cor. 5:18, 20; Col. 1:20, 22). 

Paul drew these metaphors from different spheres of human experience. While “justified” is a term used in a courtroom setting, Paul derived other metaphors from other dimensions of human life:

Ransomed” implies that the sinner was held as a hostage.
Redeemed” is used when the sinner was bound by debt.
Reconciled” suggests that the sinner was estranged from God.
Propitiation” implies that God was angry with the sinner.

These terms are simply different ways of saying the same thing. Because of the many metaphors of salvation that Paul used, and because it is difficult to determine which of these are literal and which are figurative, we cannot determine with certainty, simply on the basis of these words, how Christ atones for the sins of God’s people. When we attempt to explain how a person is put right with God, we should not interpret the word ‘justify’ literally. Nor should we emphasize it over the other metaphors. See the article Metaphors of Salvation for a discussion of these metaphors.

THEORIES OF THE ATONEMENT

A second objection to the forensic view is that several alternative atonement theories have been proposed over the centuries. The idea that people are justified by imputing Jesus’ righteousness to them is only one of these.  The article Atonement Theories provides an overview of these theories and also suggests further arguments against the forensic view of the atonement. See the articles Christ’s death proved that God judges rightly or Why Jesus had to die for the explanation of atonement which, in my view, best fits the data from the Bible.

 

Paul’s Letter to the Galatians – Table of Contents

This is the Table of Contents for the Section by Section discussion of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  

GALATIANS 1

1:1-5
According to the will of our God and Father, Jesus gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age.

1:6-9
The Galatians accepting a very dangerous distortion of the gospel. If they continue on their path, “Christ will be of no benefit to you” (5:2).

1:10-12
Paul did not receive his message second-hand from the apostles, but directly from Jesus Christ through a revelation.

1:13-14
The Traditions of the Elders were supposed to ensure that people obey God’s Law but the emphasis on outward behavior shifts the focus away from God to self.

1:15-24
Paul defends his authority. God appointed him as the apostle to the Gentiles. He was not sent from men but through Jesus Christ.

GALATIANS 2

2:1-10
As an example of his message, Paul took an uncircumcised Gentile Christian with him when he visited the church leaders in Jerusalem. The church leaders accepted Titus, and, by implication, Paul’s message.

2:11-14
God gave Peter a vision to say that the church must accept Gentiles without them converting to Judaism. But Peter submitted to the Circumcision Party which demanded the circumcision of Gentile Christians.

2:15-16
The Acts 15 Church Council agreed with Paul and decided that Gentile Christians do not have to convert to Judaism to be saved.

2:17-18
Through his teachings, Paul destroyed the Law of commandments contained in ordinances which formed a dividing wall that separates Jewish and Gentile Christians.

2:19-20
“Released from the Law,” Paul has “died to the Law,” serves “not in oldness of the letter” but has “destroyed” “the Law of commandments.”

2:21
The Galatians attempted to earn “righteousnessthrough the Law. Thereby they nullified “the grace of God,” for, since they trust in the rituals and ceremonies of the Law, they do not trust the grace of God.

OVERVIEW GALATIANS 1 & 2
Jewish Christians took a distortion of the gospel to Galatia. Their goal was to convert these Gentile Christians into Judaism. To support this, they argued that man is justified by the works of the Law.

GALATIANS 3

3:1-5
The Galatians did not need the works of the Law to receive the Spirit and miracles. But now they want to continue in their own power. That is not logical. They are at risk of eternal loss. If you receive circumcision, if you seek to be justified by law, you have fallen from grace (Gal 5:2-4).

3:6-9
Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Therefore, it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. This means that non-believing Jews are no longer regarded as Abraham’s children.

3:10-14
No one is justified before God by the Law because no one is able to fully comply with the law. People that seek to be justified by obeying the Law remain under the curse. The only way in which God redeems us is by faith through Jesus Christ.  Through Christ’s sacrifice, God reconciled us to Himself.  

3:15-18
Jesus Christ is Abraham’s true Seed. As such, He inherited the Covenant promises. God’s covenant with Abraham was never conditional on the Law of Moses. The Law was for Israel; the Covenant for all of God’s people.

3:19-25
God gave the Law to Israel to serve as their guardian to keep them on the right path. The Law was never able to impart eternal life: Eternal life is granted those who believe. This was true before Christ came and is still true today. When Christ came, He became our Tutor, and we no longer need the Law to keep us on the right path. 
Law and Promises have different functions. Man is not justified by the Law.  Christians are not subject to the Law of Moses, but to the Law of Christ.

3:26-29
There is no difference between circumcised and uncircumcised Christians. There is no need to circumcise Gentile Christians.  Physical Israel no longer has a separate role in God’s plan.

Overview of Galatians chapter 1 to 3
The danger of and arguments against compelling Gentile Christians to be circumcised

CHAPTER 4

  • Building …

TRANSVERSAL TOPICS

WHEN WAS GALATIANS WRITTEN?
Galatians was written before the Church Council in Jerusalem in Acts 15; therefore somewhere in AD48-50. It represents Paul’s arguments before the council.

THE REAL DANGER
The Galatians were at risk of losing their eternal inheritance. Jewish Christians
compelled them to be circumcised, but the real danger was that they would convert to Judaism, seeking to earn salvation.

JUSTIFICATION TOPICS

BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH
Jewish Christians argued that man is “justified by the works of the Law.” In contrast, Paul argued for advocated teach taught a different law (the Law of Christ) and a different means of justification (by grace through faith).

JUSTIFIED
How sinners are justified was the great controversy in the Church in Paul’s day. Today we agree that sinners are justified by grace through faith but we still disagree about HOW sinners are made just.

IN CHRIST
Christ is the Vehicle through which we are rescued from this present evil age;

LIVE BY
Moses taught that Jews will “live by” obedience to the Law, but Paul was fond of Habakkuk, who said that Jews will live by faith.

 

GALATIANS 1&2 The distorted gospel converted Gentile Christians into Judaism.

This is an overview of chapters 1 and 2 of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  Paul himself founded the churches in Galatia (1:8), but after he left, some people, probably Jewish Christians from Jerusalem (2:17), took a dangerously distorted gospel to those churches (1:6-9). Their intention was to compel Gentile Christians to be circumcised (2:3, 12) and to live like Jews (2:14). They argued that man is “justified by the works of the Law” (2:16) and said:

“Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).

PAUL’S CREDENTIALS

To oppose this distorted gospel, Paul wrote this letter.  In the first two chapters he provides his credentials:

He is “an apostle” (1:1), which means to be sent by God.

God has set him apart even from his mother’s womb and called him to preach among the Gentiles (1:15-16; 2:7-8).

Paul received his message directly from God, not through other men (1:1, 11-12, 16-19; 2:6).

The church leaders in Jerusalem accepted his message as from God (2:9).

He took Titus, an uncircumcised Gentile, along with him on his visit to the church headquarters in Jerusalem, and Titus was not compelled to be circumcised (2:3, 9). This also confirms that the church leaders accepted Paul’s gospel.

CHRISTIANS ARE NOT SUBJECT TO THE LAW.

In 2:16, Paul attacks the foundation of the demand that Gentile Christians be circumcised. He wrote:

Man is not justified by the works of the Law
but through faith in Christ Jesus
.”

Many people understand this as the main message of the letter to the Galatians but his real message is that Christians are not subject to the Law of Moses:

(1) Paul’s entire purpose is to prevent the circumcision of Gentiles. (Circumcision was the door into Judaism.)

(2) The question “is Christ then a minister of sin?” (2:17) seems to be an argument used by Paul’s opponents.  Paul taught that Gentiles should not be circumcised and should not “live like Jews” (2:14).  Paul’s enemies argued that this teaching makes of Christ is “a minister of sin”.

(3) Through his teaching, Paul has destroyed” (2:18) “the barrier of the dividing wall” between Jew and Gentile which is “the Law of commandments contained in ordinances” (Eph. 2:14-15).

(4) Paul wrote, “I died to the Law.”  This means that Jewish Christians are “released from the Law” and now no longer have to serve “in oldness of the letter” (Rom. 7:6).

Statements like these mean that Christians are released from serving by the letter the Law.  This is Paul’s real main message against the distorted gospel which attempted to convert Gentile Christians into Judaism. 

JUSTIFIED THROUGH FAITH

Paul not only explains that “man is not justified by the works of the Law” (2:16) but also provides the correct method of justification, namely “through faith in Christ Jesus” (2:16).  He, therefore, contrasts “faith” with “the works of the Law” (2:16; 3:10):

Works” are the rituals and ceremonies required by the Law. The Jews, including some early Jewish Christians, thought that they become acceptable to God through these works.

Faith” is the internal mindset that trusts God and relies on His grace (merciful-kindness).  Romans 7 explains what faith is.

ACTS 15 CHURCH COUNCIL

The issue on the table at the Acts 15 Chruch Council exactly was whether Gentiles must be circumcised (Acts 15:1, 3, 5). The church council agreed with Paul (Acts 15:19-20).  It is rather strange that Paul does not use the church council’s decision to support his position. Perhaps the church council took place only after Galatians was written.  And perhaps the “great dissension and debate” (Acts 15:2), which preceded that meeting, included the letter to the Galatians.

SUMMARY

Paul himself founded the churches in Galatia, but, after he left, Jewish Christians from Jerusalem arrived and told the Gentile Christians to be circumcised and to live like Jews. In the first years after Jesus died, the church existed as a sect of Judaism and their real intention was to convert these Gentile Christians into Judaism. They justified their demands by claiming that “man is justified by the words of the law.” These “works” are not works of love but referred to the rituals and ceremonies required by the Law of Moses.

God called Paul and gave to Paul, via revelation, the message he had to preach among the Gentiles. Paul, by implication, was given the task to remove the church out from Judaism. He, therefore, wrote this letter to oppose the Jewish distortion.  He wrote that “man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus.” Faith is an internal mindset that trusts God. But Paul’s main message was that Christians are not subject to the Law of Moses.

TO: Galatians Table of Contents
TO: Summary of Galatians chapters 1 to 3
NEXT: Galatians 3:1-5