The Apostle Paul had to deal with a challenge to the purity of the gospel, and voiced his surprise and disappointment to the Galatian church. He said, “I am astonished that so many of you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel–which is really no gospel at all” (Galatians 1.6-7a).
Apparently, Paul’s message of God’s graciousness and mercy through Christ had been well-received, but after his departure others came in proclaiming “a different gospel.” Judaizers were insisting that acquiring a right standing before God required some degree of works. Keeping the law and maintaining the practice of circumcision, among other things. This would, in essence, make the gospel message faith in Christ plus ___________ in order to be justified before God. Paul had received criticism for making salvation too simple, for surely some works were necessary in order to be right before God.
It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like for the Jews who were converting to Christianity to deal with the former expectations of their previous religion. They were dealing with the question of whether to remain Jewish in their practice along with being a follower of Christ, or whether their new found faith liberated them from their “bondage to the law.” There were those who were doing their best to impose the requirements of Judaism upon these new converts, which made Paul respond with such passion to their desertion of the faith.
This question of the gospel is still a relevant one. I don’t deal with that many persons coming out of Judaism, but do respond to those who by practice or by expectation think that works are required for salvation. It’s a natural question to ask about individuals who indicate they are Christians but have lives that are not consistent with the teachings of Christ. If works aren’t required, some would say, what relationship do they have with faith? This is an ancient topic, one that Paul dealt with as he instructed those Galatian churches.
I’m so thankful for what Christ has done in my life and in the church body. None of us are good enough on our own, no matter how much we try to appear pious before others.This issue of God’s grace and sufficiency in Christ should remove legalism and pride from our thinking. One reason for keeping legalism in our understanding of salvation is the fact that it leaves room for pride. In this approach, persons can compare themselves to others and feel better about themselves.
On the other hand, this newfound freedom is Christ comes with the responsibility of following Jesus and learning from him on a daily basis. Martin Luther responded this way, “Faith must of course be sincere. It must be a faith that does good works through love. If faith lacks love it is not true faith” (Luther, Galatians commentary).
Salvation by grace through faith has been a signature trait of Baptists through the centuries. I am grateful for this distinctive, and more importantly the dynamic nature of salvation because of what Christ has done. It is his righteousness, not my own, that makes possible a right standing before God. Paul summarized his approach later in his letter: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5.1)