This Galatians Study is by Nghi Nguyen –a good friend who recently taught it at his church.
Paul wrote the Galatians epistle to warn Christians in the strongest terms on the danger of going back to the law instead of fully relying on Christ alone for their justification and sanctification. Circumcision is one of the many means apart from Christ for their perceived holiness. But many Christians would immediately protest in one or both of these ways: 1) the law is still needed to keep us on our best behavior, and/or 2) we never do anything like the Galatians in clinging to anything like circumcision. For those that protest according to point #1, it’s fairly easy to point out their errors by simply asking them to read Galatians with utmost sincerity to trust what they read, but for those that protest according to #2, it can be be a daunting task. Let’s call these folks the sub-conscious legalists.
According to Romans 2:14, anything a person feels compelled to perform, due to a moral or religious conviction, is a law to him. And if he believes that Christ died to reconcile him with God, he must believe that God will keep his promise of saving him to the utmost; no extra work needs to be done to make him more acceptable to God.
This is exactly the error that the Galatians fell into when they felt compelled to continue with circumcision, and even to impose it on the Gentile believers. Why might they feel the need to hang on to circumcision? What did it mean to them? It was a sign that they were set apart for God. And if it was so, then why did Paul make a big deal with “Listen! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you at all!” (Galatians 5:2)
The Israelites’ circumcision was a shadow of a real circumcision in their hearts when they accepted Christ. The Old Covenant’s circumcision was of the flesh, while the one afforded them through Christ was of the Spirit. They must let go of the old so they may enter the new.
But the Galatians’ circumcision was just the tip of the iceberg. There were other laws and ordinances Paul had to address for example with the Colossians on the matter of observances of certain days, the washing of hands, the “do not handle, do not touch” rules, etc.
What about modern Christians, we must have all sort of ambiguous rules that have the same effect as those laws of the Galatians and Colossians: they dilute, pervert, the supremacy of the cross of Christ. He will not share glory with anything that attempts to act as saviors of men, no matter what small part they play. Nothing, absolutely nothing.
This is what Paul said. This is what God said. He puts no fine print in His promise of salvation to those that believe on the Son of God.
This is the correct interpretation of work that proves a man’s faith: if you believe Christ died for you, work out your faith by not relying on anything else to make you right with God, or not fearing anything that can separate you from God. Can you live by this faith? If you can, the Bible calls you righteous.
The problem with us, our beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, is not the many manifestations of our sinful nature, but with our lack of growing deep in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. When a ministry focuses entirely on its people, the law will rear its ugly head, but when it heeds the exhortation to “fix your eyes on Christ,” God’s grace will flow like a mighty stream and many will be blessed. Learn from the joy destroying error of the Galatians.
In the writing of my Galatians notes, I used this epistle to explain itself with occasional quoting from very few verses from elsewhere. I occasionally would refer to the Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary only to clarify, or to support my interpretation of the passages. They don’t teach me anything I cannot already get from the epistle itself, except for certain linguistic or historical facts. It’s quite a remarkable thing to see the consistency of God’s salvation plan as it is weaved throughout the entire Scriptures. I have become so bold now, in God’s amazing grace, to dare to question authenticity of certain passages that either do not have enough support from other parts of Scriptures, or even contradictory to them. I believe God leaves stumbling blocks for flesh operators to trip over them, much like the way Jesus used his parables.