Galatians

The Right Way to Think About the Law (Galatians 3:7-14)

This is part of a commentary series through the Book of Galatians. It began with Galatians 3:1-6. This series will progress until the book is finished, then circle back and cover ch. 1-2.

Here, we begin the most difficult portion of Paul’s letter—the relationship of the Mosaic Law to saving faith. Before we begin, I’ll restate some principles from the first article that will help you understand the position this commentary takes. Here they are:

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Bewitched?

About once per month, I’m going to slowly write my way through a short commentary on the Letter to the Galatians. I’ll deliberately skip the usual analysis typical of this genre—no “scholarly” questions, text-critical issues, and minimal formal interaction with opposing viewpoints. I’ve taught through the book four times now, and feel I’m in a position to have something competent to say on the matter. My aim is to write for normal Christians who just want to know what the text means. So, here I stand.

For reasons that aren’t important, I’m publishing this series beginning with Galatians 3:1-6. That is this article. The real fun stuff, of course, comes in Galatians 3:7ff. You’ll have to wait for next time for that!

First things first …

Here are some conclusions of mine, up front, so the reader can know the lay of the land:

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Legalism & Galatians Part 3: Adoption

Portions of the epistle to the Galatians have been used in a manner that breeds confusion and misunderstanding regarding legalism, grace, sanctification, and Christian living. It’s a pity, because the epistle speaks powerfully and clearly on all of these topics. The book’s teaching on adoption is an especially potent message for our times, carving a clear, joyful—yet responsible—path between the opposite errors of justification by works (legalism) and sanctification without works (antinomianism).

But that’s not all. The reality of believers’ adoption as God’s children not only answers the extremes of legalism and antinomianism, but also counters other common errors. Here, we’ll consider two additional errors as well as the two opposite extremes.

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Legalism & Galatians Part 2: Law, Liberty & The Flesh

In a previous post, I asserted that popular confusion about law, grace, and the Christian life is often partly due to misunderstanding what was happening in the Galatian churches and what Paul taught to correct it. I argued that the Galatian trouble centered on their understanding of justification and its relationship to Mosaic Law, and that they were led astray by unbelievers who, in reality, cared as little for the Law of Moses as they did for the gospel.

Seen in this light, the epistle does not encourage sweeping rejections of effort and struggle in the Christian life, nor does it provide a basis for excluding firm boundaries against sin (often termed “man-made rules”) in Christian living.

But loose ends remain. Further study of the letter not only resolves the remaining issues but also clarifies common points of confusion such as the distinction between conscious self-discipline vs. “the flesh” (or the non-biblical term, “self-effort”) and the difference between slavery to the Law vs. obedience to Christ.

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Legalism & Galatians: What Was Going on in Galatia?

Loathing toward legalism (and perceived legalism) is commonplace in today’s evangelical ministries, including those of fundamentalist heritage, and Galatians often plays a prominent role in how we think about legalism and Christian liberty.

But liberty is often misunderstood, and overreactions—as well as under-developed reactions—to legalism seem to be a growing problem. It’s no coincidence that the Galatian error, and Paul’s remedial teaching, is also often misunderstood. The result is that a letter that has great potential to help us with our present-day understanding of law, grace and liberty ends up contributing to confusion instead.

So the question in focus here is, to paraphrase the title, what was the Galatian problem?

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