In his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul sought to correct a church that had lost the heart of the gospel. Dr. Grant Osborne calls this letter “the first great theological battle in the history of the church.” At the core of the disagreement was the place of traditional Jewish religious practices for Gentle converts to Christianity. The Jewish Christians of the Galatian churches believed that Gentles had to become Jews—be circumcised and submit to the Mosaic law—before they could be saved. These Judaizers were convinced that the law was still the heart of the gospel, rather than Jesus’ actions on the cross.
The modern church continues to struggle with the temptation of works-based salvation. Osborne recognizes this challenge facing Christians today and addresses it directly in Galatians Verse by Verse. In this excerpt, Osborne reveals core theme of Galatians and applies it to our lives today.
The core of this letter is the stability of the true Christian gospel. In fact, Paul defines the gospel in Galatians 3:1–4:11. Paul proves that the Judaizers’ attempt to replace the cross with circumcision and the law constitutes heresy. It is anathema to the gospel, which centers on salvation by grace through faith. When salvation in Christ is claimed to be attainable by works rather than by faith, the gospel is not merely threatened but destroyed. Jesus brought about a fundamental change in God’s economy of salvation by inaugurating the switch from the old covenant age of the law to the new covenant age of salvation in Christ. On the basis of Jesus’ willingly allowing himself to be placed on the cross and bearing our sins as our substitute, God declares us innocent, forgiven, and righteous in his sight. If we could earn this right standing with God by keeping the law or doing good works, Jesus’ death would be worth nothing (Gal 2:21).
Works righteousness keeps sneaking to the forefront in too many churches, leading them to replace the gospel with good works and do away with evangelism in favor of social concern and fellowship. These external issues must never be allowed to supplant the internal reality of faith in Christ as the core of everything we are and do. The unequivocal and unmistakable message of Galatians lies at the epicenter of the Christian faith: We are all sinners saved only by faith in the Christ who became the substitute for us and bore our sins on the cross. The works-oriented salvation of Paul’s Judaizer opponents was heresy, and to follow it constituted apostasy. In our day, we must be carefully attuned to so-called Christian movements that in reality depart from the clear gospel message and deeply endanger the church.
Our purpose is simple yet profound: We are to keep the cross central and maintain a lifestyle that is “crucified to the world”—that considers itself dead to the world’s values and goals. We are part of a “new creation,” no longer pursuing self-centered goals and sacrificing eternal realities for the fleeting pleasures of this life. We also seek a balanced life, enjoying the world in which God has placed us while centering on God, the Giver. Our goal must be to live for God’s mercy and within God’s peace.
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