This week and next, our guest preacher, Pastor James Korthals, will focus on two texts from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Like Paul’s letter to the Romans, Galatians deals with the chief article of the Christian faith – justification by faith in Christ alone.
But the tone of Galatians is far different than that of Romans. The smoke of battle and the clatter of weaponry rise from the page. Unlike Paul’s calmer and more studied approach in his letter to the Romans, there is a burning passion to cut to the chase.
That is because a crisis arose among the Galatian churches soon after Paul’s second missionary tour among them.
Some false brothers, men who came to be called “Judaizers,” infiltrated the hearts and minds of the Galatian believers. These were men from the Jerusalem church who certainly claimed to be followers of Jesus, but they insisted that a person must also keep the ceremonial laws of Moses in order to be saved. In short, they would tell a Gentile (non-Jewish) person that he must first become Jewish before he could become Christian. They told these new converts to Christ: “Unless you are circumcised according to the law of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).
Like many churches throughout history and in our own day also, they did not deny that people should believe that Jesus died for our sins and rose again. But they did maintain that faith in Christ was not enough. They preached that the works of the law, specifically in their case, the ceremonial laws of Moses, were part of one’s salvation. Instead of proclaiming salvation by faith in Christ alone, they said that salvation came by faith AND works.
In this letter, Paul drives a wooden stake through the heart of this false teaching. Galatians has been called the Magna Carta of Christian liberty. It has been labeled the hammer, the sword, and the battle-cry of the Lutheran Reformation. Martin Luther’s most famous Bible commentary, even more famous than his many volumes on Genesis, is his commentary on Galatians. He said: “The epistle to the Galatians is my epistle. To it I am, as it were, in wedlock. It is my Katherine” (a reference to Luther’s beloved wife, Katie).
Let us, like Luther, betroth the truths of Galatians to our hearts, fight once more the good fight of faith, and lay hold of eternal life in Christ.