The Way of the Cross - A Study in the Book of Galatians
This letter was written to the churches of modern day Turkey. The church at that time was made up of Jews and Gentiles with a significant number of Jews. Some of these Jewish Christians (the Judaizers) were teaching that certain works of the Law were necessary for Christians to follow, that Paul's gospel was not correct, and that he was not a genuine apostle. Paul's response was to proclaim the doctrine of justification by faith plus nothing, and the doctrine of sanctification by the Holy Spirit not the Mosaic Law.
The Mosaic Law can be considered under several categories.
The Moral Law of the 10 commandments (Exodus 20) was to give the knowledge of what was considered sin to the Old Covenant Jew who was under the Law (Romans 3:19,20). No man can be justified by keeping the Law (Galatians 2:16; 3:11). Neither can the Christian be sanctified by keeping the Law (Galatians 3:2, 3). The New Testament Christian is not under this law and is in fact dead to it (Romans 7:4; Galatians 2:20). To place oneself under the Law is to place oneself under the curse (Galatians 3:10, 13).
The Civil Law, including rules and regulations dealing with the community life and health matters (Exodus 21-23; Leviticus 11-15; 18-20), was meant for ancient Jewish community life and has no relevance to the New Testament Christian.
The Sacrificial Law, relating to the tabernacle, the priesthood, and the sacrifices (Exodus 25-30; 35-40; Leviticus 1-7), was completely fulfilled by Christ and does not apply today.
The Ceremonial Law, dealing with the Sabbath and the various feasts and festivals which the Old Testament Jews were required to attend (Leviticus 23), also has no relevance today as these observances pointed forward to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
As to the matter of making circumcision a test of faith, the argument was that this practice was a mark of those who were under the Law. The New Testament believer is not under the Law and thus this is an invalid test (Galatians 2:3, 12; 5:2-4). These legalistic matters are of no importance to those who are in Christ Jesus - we are to live by the power and direction of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:6, 16).
These spiritual attacks (then and now) were (are) aimed at both the entrance into the faith (justification) and continuance in the faith (sanctification). Many mistakenly conclude that only the doctrine of justification was under attack. The gospel is concisely summarized in Galatians 1:4 as Christ "gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age". Both aspects are clearly in view in this verse.
That corruption of the doctrine of sanctification (Christian growth/deliverance from sin's power) was an issue in Galatia (and today's church) is evidenced by what Paul says in 3:2-3. The letter to the churches of Galatia is most relevant for today's churches as many who are justified attempt to be perfected (attain to Christ-likeness) by the works of the flesh (and are taught to do so). Christ is both our justification and our sanctification.
Sanctification comes wholly by grace through faith in Christ. All believers have been positioned in Christ by our co-crucifixion with Christ where our fleshly sin nature was deactivated and where our new spiritual nature has been activated (resurrected) so we are enabled to live the new life by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Romans 6). The rule of life for the Christian is not the Law and the perfection of the flesh but the life of the Lord Jesus Christ living within. One of the most well known verses in the New Testament is Galatians 2:20 which is precisely this truth. Unfortunately many quote this verse without realizing the real impact of its truth.
Sadly, today, many only understand and believe in the justifying aspect of the cross, and do not believe in the sanctifying power of the cross of Christ.
The central message to believers from this letter is the cross of Jesus Christ. We have been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20), the passions of our old fleshly nature have been crucified (Galatians 5:24), and we have been crucified to the world and the world to us (Galatians 6:14). Notice that these three works of the cross are all past completed actions for the born again believer.
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