The Judaizers in Paul’s day brought false charges against him much like the Judaizers of this century. Because he taught that people are saved by grace, not through observing the law, the Judaizers accused him of teaching lawlessness. Paul wrote the epistle of Galatians to deal with the deceptive effects of the Judaizers bewitching the Galatians with their distorted gospel.
Salvation is only through faith in Christ, not religious works. Paul points to Abraham as an example. Romans 4:3 quotes Genesis 15:6, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness.” In Galatians 3:17, Paul writes, “the law, which was 430 years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ.” Clearly Abraham was not saved by keeping the law or by circumcision. Passover, the feasts, and the sacrifices did not come until after the 400 years of slavery in Egypt.
The Life Application Study Bible lists three distortions of Christianity: Judaized Christianity, Legalistic Christianity, and Lawless Christianity. Judaized Christianity’s definition of a Christian is: “Christians are Jews who have recognized Jesus as the promised Savior. Therefore, any Gentile desiring to become a Christian must first become a Jew.” This is what the Hebrew Roots movement wants to do today. They say that Christians must observe the same rituals and festivals that Jesus and the apostles did. The New Testament never teaches that Gentiles must become Jews first, in fact, it teaches quite the opposite.
Legalistic Christianity defines Christianity this way: “Christians are those who live by a long list of don’ts.” Good behavior earns God’s favor. Lawless Christianity says, “Christians live above the law. They need no guideline. God’s word is not as important as our personal sense of God’s guidance.” True Christianity teaches, “Christians are those who believe inwardly and outwardly that Jesus’s death has allowed God to offer them forgiveness and eternal life as a gift. They have accepted that gift through faith and are seeking to live a life of obedient gratitude for what God has done for them” (Page 2149).
The Judaizers’ claim that true Christianity leads to lawlessness shows that they did not understand the basis of salvation. Paul summed it up well: “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). You received the Holy Spirit when you accepted Christ. The Holy Spirit will not guide you into lawless activities. In Galatians 5:18 Paul wrote, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” Later he enumerated the fruit of the spirit in verses 22 and 23. The Holy Spirit will not guide you into the works of the flesh mentioned in verses 19-21.
Accepting Christ means that we have a new master. We are no longer slaves to sin. We no longer live lives of lawlessness. Accepting Christ means that we have repented from our old way of life and have been raised with Christ to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).
2 Timothy 2:19 says, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” True Christians must turn away from sin and let the Spirit produce fruit in our lives. So what law do Christians follow? In the Old Testament we find three categories of laws: Ceremonial law, Civil law, and Moral law. As Christians we are certainly to keep moral law. Being free from the law does not mean that we are free to murder, steal, or commit adultery. Laws against those things still apply to Christians today, but the Jewish Ceremonial law no longer applies to Christians. Its purpose was to point toward Christ. These laws are no longer necessary after Christ’s death and resurrection. Although not binding upon us, they teach us a great deal about a holy God. We can learn from their principles, but we do not have to become Jews first.
The Judaizers in Galatia had convinced the Christians to return to the “weak and beggarly elements to which [they] desire again to be in bondage. [They] observe days and months and season and years” (see Galatians 4:9-11) like the Jews had. Paul felt as though he labored in vain since they were returning with the Judaizers to the Jewish ceremonial law which Christ had fulfilled.
Walking with the Spirit is more difficult than being able to check off a list of religious activities. Walking with Spirit requires a relationship, not merely external behaviors.