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The Theme of the Book of Galatians
The theme of the book of Galatians is righteousness by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is shown in contrast with the Jewish teaching of righteousness by “works” through the Jewish ceremonial system. The epistle to the Galatians praises what God has done through Christ for the redemption of mankind and annuls the teaching that man can be justified by his own deeds. It honors the free gift of God in contrast with man’s efforts to redeem himself.
The main question between Paul and the false teachers in Galatia was, does obedience to the requirements of Judaism earns a man God’s acceptance? The clear answer was No, “a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2:16). The believer who tries to earn salvation by the “works of the law” loses the grace of Christ (Gal. 2:21; 5:4).
As “the children of promise” (Gal. 4:28), Christians are “heirs” of God’s kingdom (Gal. 3:6, 7, 14, 29). They are new creatures in His kingdom (Gal. 4:7; 6:15), “led of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:18). And with Christ living in them by faith, and God’s moral law written in their hearts (Gal. 2:20; Heb. 8:10), they are no longer in need of a “schoolmaster” to lead them (Gal. 3:23–26; 4:1–7).
Whereas the Jews boasted of righteousness they supposed they earned by their own works of keeping God’s laws (Rom. 2:17; 9:4), the believers proclaim that they have nothing to boast except the power of “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14).
The term “law” in Galatians stands for the moral laws, civil statutes, and ceremonial rituals that were given in Sinai. To these laws, the Jews later added their own man-made laws. They mistakenly thought that by their own power they could obey these laws, and that by such obedience they could gain salvation.
Paul explains that the gospel promises were confirmed to Abraham in the covenant, and that the revelation of God’s law 430 years later did not change that covenant (Gal. 3:6–9, 14–18). “The law” was not designed to replace the covenant or to provide another means of salvation, but to help people use the covenant’s provisions for divine grace.
“The law” was not intended to be an end in itself, as the Jews thought but a means—a “schoolmaster”—to lead men to salvation in Christ according to the promises of the covenant. The purpose of “the law,” its “end,” or goal, was to lead men to Christ (Rom. 10:4), not to open for them another road to salvation.
Paul teaches further that the covenant with Abraham provided for the salvation of the Gentiles. But the false teaching of the Judaizers was to impose on the Gentile converts the ceremonial services, such as circumcision and the ritual observance of “days, and months, and times, and years” (Gal. 4:10; 5:2).
God’s Moral Law Still Binding
The word “law” in the book of Galatians includes both the moral and the ceremonial law; in fact, the ceremonial law would have been meaningless without the moral law (Gal. 2:16). The ceremonial law was abolished at the cross because it pointed to the ministry of Christ (Col. 2:14–17), but the moral law—the Ten Commandments—remains binding on the Christians (Matt. 5:17, 18).
Believers should not keep the “letter” of the Ten Commandments without entering into its spirit (Matt. 19:16–22; Gal. 5:17–22). Some try to keep the Ten Commandments to be saved. These fall from grace and become “entangled” in “the yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1, 4). A Christian should obey the Ten Commandments not to be saved, but because he is saved.
Otherwise, he would be making the same mistake as the Jews of Christ’s day (Rom. 14:17; Mark 7:1–14), who kept the law superficially thinking they earned the favor of God. A genuine Christian will keep God’s law by His grace not to earn salvation but because it is his joy to please God (Matt. 7:21–27).
The Message of the Book of Galatians
The main lesson of the book of Galatians for the church today is the same as it was in the days of Paul—that salvation can be gained by simple faith in blood of Christ (Gal. 2:16; 3:2; 5:1), and that nothing a man may do can earn him favor before God. This is Paul’s “gospel,” in contrast with the false “gospel” of the Judaizers (Gal. 1:6–12; 2:2, 5, 7, 14).
The book of Galatians ends with a call to not misuse the liberty of the gospel, but to live a godly and moral life (Gal. 6). Christian love should lead the Galatians to guard against a self-righteous spirit, and to be loving to God and man. The church should be known for its righteous deeds—the fruit of the Spirit—but should not attempt to make good deeds a substitute for faith in the redeeming merits of Christ.
In His service,
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