To impart a functional approach in obtaining eternal salvation through the observation of the Law would be to fundamentally misconstrue the nature and purpose of the Gospel in the work and person of Jesus Christ. The notion that salvation is obtained through personal effort, fortitude, or determination would rub against the teachings of Scripture that has placed God as being the activator of redemption, and mankind as being the passive recipient. The nature of the justifying work of Christ is that “God receives us into His favor as righteous . . . because He remits our sins and imputes Christ’s righteousness to us.”1 The essence of the Gospel, then, is that when we were unable to rescue ourselves from the bondages of sin God initiated the work of redemption in giving forth His Son who would fulfill the requirements of payment upon the cross. The Good News indicates, then, that “no one is so good that they don’t need the grace of the Gospel, nor so bad that they can’t receive the grace of the Gospel.”2 The truth that can not be overlooked is that Christ’s work has fulfilled the debt of sin and has purchased the innocence for those who would believe. Not only that but Christ imputes His righteousness which gives us right standing before a holy and righteous God.
The Judaizers contorted this message and stripped from the Gospel its sufficient power by adding additional procedures to the free gift of grace. No longer was salvation dependent upon the work of Christ but upon the ability of individuals to appease customs, traditions, and rituals. To this end this gospel was no longer Paul’s Gospel, rather a gospel that was a mockery of what Christ accomplished through His death, burial, and resurrection. For this very reason Paul engages the heretical claims by solidifying the Gospel he preached and his apostolic ministry which God commissions him to. In Paul’s defense of his Gospel, which was presented by his personal testimony, he engages in two principles: (1) the Gospel message was given by Jesus Christ and (2) this was done out of the mercy, grace, and goodness of God.
A Christ Established Ministry:
From the onset Paul establishes his authority in possessing an apostolic ministry in preaching and ministering the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He makes a clear case that “the Gospel that was preached by [him] is not man’s gospel” (Galatians 1:11 ESV). His authority to bring forth this message was not undertaken by a commissioning of mere men, but that Christ Himself intervened on the Damascus road and changed the trajectory of Paul’s salvaic understanding and vocation. Paul wants to make it absolutely clear that his Gospel message was “received . . . through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12 ESV). This divine revelation “is why Paul’s Gospel is the standard by which all false human theories of salvation are measured and condemned.”3 This is the reason why Paul has the authority to stand before the churches of Galatia and rebuke their embrace of a false gospel.
Contrary to Paul’s apostolic commission many of the Judaizers were followers of the rabbinic traditions which, by its structure, “looked to human interpretations of Scripture as their religious authority and guide.”4 Though they held a high view of the inerrancy of Scripture, specifically the Torah, they inherently followed men. That is why Paul could say that his Gospel was not given “from any man nor was [he] taught it” (Galatians 1:12 ESV). Much of the religious piety that “they took seriously and attempted to live by were the man-made traditions related to their unique community culture that had accumulated over the previous several hundred years.”5 Paul’s Gospel was divine, the Judaizer’s gospel was man-made.
Galatians 1:13 ESV, “13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.”
The Grace of God:
Yet it was Paul’s personal testimony which witnessed to the infinite grace of God in Christ Jesus. Paul’s radical turn around spoke of God’s infinite mercy to turn a wretch into a saint. The Apostle’s “transformed life, lived to the glory of God, is powerful proof of the truth of the Gospel.”6 How in his former life Paul was extremely zealous “for the traditions of [his] fathers” (Galatians 1:14 ESV), yet through the divine intervention of Christ Paul’s regenerated heart had been turned to Christendom. It must be stated that the Apostle was keenly aware of the false teaching that was being handed over to the churches of Galatia — meaning that Paul was well versed in the doctrines of Jewish customs and rituals. To that end Paul realized, on a personal level, that salvation could not be obtained through the observance of the law.
Two Spectrums of Sin:
In the extent of Christianity much has been made in the comprehension of sin. Many young believers are well versed in understanding that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). Yet sin must be understood within the wide spectrum to which it exists. The most common understanding of sin is rooted in irreligion meaning there is a blatant disobedience to what is right, holy, and pure — the bible says it is sin, the general public classifies it as sin, and yet the individual(s) continue to cross the line of right and wrong. The bible would categorize this as “no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:12 ESV). The irreligious are individual(s) who deliberately practice rebellion against the commands, statutes, and decrees of God.
Additionally there is the other end of the spectrum which would be understood as religion. This perspective has a high view of God but pursues salvation through self-determination, discipline, and self-will. This perspective would conceive of salvation in terms of merit-base rather than the grace, goodness, and mercy of God in Christ Jesus. The sin of religion consist of becoming its own savior while lacking trust in the faithful work of the cross and resurrection. Ultimately self-pride is at the root of the religious. This reliance on the self, “or what Paul calls [as] ‘confidence in the flesh,’ is what blinds men and women to their need for Christ; this is what makes it impossible, humanly speaking, for us to come to Christ.”7 The work of the cross and the power of the resurrection “calls us out of religion as much as it calls us out of irreligion.”8 The religious individual(s) tries to accomplish the commands, statutes, and decrees of God outside the work and person of Christ Jesus.
An Infinite Love:
The climax to Paul’s testimony and Pharisaical experience was the overwhelming reality to God’s infinite grace in Christ Jesus. Through the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit Paul realized God’s work in setting him “apart before [he] was born . . . by His grace, [who] was pleased to reveal His Son to [Paul]” (Galatians 1:15 – 16 ESV). Paul was awakened to the fact that it was not Paul’s religion that warranted him salvation nor was it his irreligious tendencies that denied him access to redemption, but rather his salvation was acquired through God’s infinite grace which was purchased through the blood of Christ. Notice that God’s call upon Paul’s life had nothing to do with what Paul had accomplished but had everything to do with “His grace” (Galatians 1:16 ESV). Salvation “is because God chose us before the foundation of the world that He purchases our redemption at the cross, and then gives us spiritual life through irresistible grace, and brings us to faith.”9 To this end Paul realized that his conversion was “for this reason, that in [him], as the foremost [sinner], Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16 ESV). The Apostle Paul became a poster child for the religious and irreligious in light of the grace of God.
In solidifying Paul’s apostolic ministry his testimony speaks to the reality that the apostle was not commissioned by men nor was his Gospel infused by his creative imagination, rather by a divine intervention on the Damascus road. His transformation from being a staunch resister of the Christian faith to an advocator of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ indicates Paul’s regenerated nature. The ground work of Paul’s divine encounter lays a foundational truth which rests in his argument against the Law’s ability to bring forth salvation. In his own experience he realizes that the Law, though holy and good, was given “in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure” (Romans 7:13 ESV). Paul discovered that the Gospel, not the law, “brings God’s full and complete favor and approval.”10 The Law was merely a diagnosis of sin, but was never meant to be the cure. The Law points to the fact that humanity is in need of a Savior
To this end Paul fights to bring forth the truth which is the means to salvation. The Galatians traded in the remedy for a false hope and a cureless vaccine. Paul’s proclamation of the Gospel News is to bring forth the antidote to a sin stricken world which is in need of redemption, reconciliation, and restoration. The apostles conviction was that “God revealed Christ to Paul so that He could reveal Christ through Paul.”11 The necessity of knowing the Gospel is not weighed by the intellectual capacity rather by the cognitive accuracy of the work and person of Jesus Christ to engage the nature of the heart. The Gospel of Christ “not only appeals to our minds, He fills our hearts”12 and this is expressed through the transformed life.
1 Marcus Peter Johnson. One with Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 89.
2 Timothy Keller. Galatians For You (The Good Book Company, 2013), 28.
3 John MacArthur. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians (Chicago: Moody, 1987), 23.
4 Ibid., 23.
5 Ibid., 23 – 24.
6 Todd Wilson. Galatians: Gospel-Rooted Living (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 49.
7 Ibid., 45.
8 Timothy Keller. Galatians For You (The Good Book Company, 2013), 28.
9 John Piper. Five Points: Towards A Deeper Experience of God’s Grace (Christian Focus, 2013), 53.
10 Timothy Keller. Galatians For You (The Good Book Company, 2013), 34.
11 Ibid., 31.
12 Ibid., 35.