Many consider Paul's letter to the Galatians to be solid proof that believers in Christ are under no obligation to keep the Mosaic Law (Torah). In fact, some go so far as to say that believers should not obey the law, for if they do, they are enslaving themselves. However, upon closer examination of this book, we see that is not the case. Paul does not encourage lawlessness. He does not advocate freedom to disobey God's instructions. His focus is on something all together different. Let's consider where we have been.
In chapters one and two, Paul emphasizes that his message is from God and contrasts the teachings of God with the teachings of man. The gospel Paul preaches is from God and brings freedom, whereas the message of the Judaizers has its origin in man and therefore enslaves. Paul addresses some of these teachings of man. Specifically, he focuses on the man-made teaching that requires circumcision as a prerequisite to salvation. The essence of such a teaching is that works are required for justification. It says one must first be circumcised and then can inherit salvation. This is contrary to the entirety of God's Word, beginning with the institution of circumcision with Abraham and continuing throughout the scriptures. Salvation is and always has been through faith, not by works.
In chapter three, Paul expounds on the same theme. He argues that all who seek to be justified by their own works are found to be under the curse of the law because, by trusting in their own works to save them, they have broken the Torah. We discuss this curse in detail, showing that the law is not the curse, but rather, the curse is the consequence for disobeying the law, as detailed in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 27-30. Paul shows that God's instructions for his people (the law, or Torah) are being misapplied when used for justification when this was never their purpose. He then discusses the purpose of the law, showing that it does not save, but rather creates a standard of righteousness by which we can be held accountable for our sins. Paul returns to the curses of the law, saying they are a disciplinarian, whose job is to lead us to Christ. Now that Christ has come, we are no longer under the curse, for he has taken the curse upon himself and brought to us the blessing promised to Abraham.
In chapter four, Paul addresses two often misunderstood ideas. First, he discusses the elementary principles of the world, which many think refer to the law. However, we argue based on the context that these elementary principles refer to teachings which come from man and not God. It is these teachings that enslave, just as Paul argues in chapters one and two. The specific man-made teaching that Paul addresses is that of justification by works of the law. This teaching enslaves. Second, in chapter four we consider the allegory of Hagar and Sarah. Hagar represents trying to attain the promise of God through our own works, whereas Sarah represents relying on and trusting in God to bring about his promise.
Finally, in chapters five and six, Paul again returns to the issue of circumcision. Circumcision is supposed to be an external sign that represents an internal circumcision of the heart. Herein lies the irony: the Judaizers were forcing circumcision (contrary to the Torah), and were thereby showing the uncircumcision of their own hearts. Paul argues that what matters is a demonstration of love for one's brothers. If a person has a circumcised heart, love will be the result. He is made into a new creation. The Judaizers thought they were saved because of their outward circumcision, yet by forcing this, they demonstrated the uncircumcision of their hearts. Paul seeks to redirect the Galatians' focus to the internal matters, which are of utmost importance.
Throughout Paul's letter to the Galatians, Paul argues against following the teaching of man that says we are justified by our works. He shows that when we actually listen to what the law says, we see that justification is by the grace of God. Therefore, justification by works (a teaching of man) stands contrary to justification by God's grace (what God teaches in his Word). Paul does not encourage disobedience to the Torah, but rather encourages us to listen to the Torah. What Paul speaks against is using our own works, even our acts of obedience to God's law, to seek our justification. He rightly takes a strong stance against this teaching of man, for it opposes what the Torah teaches.
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