The Gospel in Galatians
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
No one in this whole wide world hates the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ more than Satan. This is because it is the only thing that has defeated him and deprived him of his citizens, the human race that he took over at the Fall. Notice how Paul points out Satan’s attempt to prevent many from accepting the gospel. This is recorded in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4:
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age [or of this world, which is Satan] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
Then, in chapter 11, Paul expresses his deep concern for these believers in Corinth. In 2 Corinthians 11:2-4 we read:
I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.
It is so easy for Satan to sidetrack human beings from the gospel.
The book of Galatians deals with a major problem that took place in Galatia. The members of the Galatian churches had sidetracked from the gospel to a subtle form of legalism. As we bring this series of studies to an end, we will conclude by showing the two major counterfeits that Satan has prepared for the Christian. In order to counteract the power of the gospel in the lives of believers, Satan has prepared two counterfeits. Both, to some degree, resemble the gospel but, in actual fact, they are the enemies of the gospel. They are the greatest danger to the gospel and it is Satan’s purpose to get Christians to fall into one of these two counterfeits. He will try everything to cause us to fall into those ditches.
The two counterfeits, the two ditches, are legalism and antinomianism. In order to recognize these two counterfeits, we will take each one of them separately and look at them in detail.
Legalism is an English term. The Greek language, which was used to write the New Testament, did not have a word equivalent to our English word, “Legalism.” The expression we will find in the New Testament, synonymous with our English “legalism” is “works of the law” or “deeds of the law.” This term means salvation by works or salvation by keeping the law. Legalism means that we use the law of God as a method or as a means of salvation. It is the foundation of all non-Christian religions. Every pagan religion is based on “dos” and “don’ts.”
In its Christian form, salvation by works is disguised so that one easily confuses it with salvation by grace. The Galatians fell into this trap. So did the Jews who were given the gospel through the Old Testament Sanctuary service, but who sidetracked from it and were trapped into legalism. Paul, himself, was a legalist at one time. When we read Philippians 3, we will discover this. Paul tells us about his preconverted condition but, first, he makes a statement in verse 3 which is the basis of every genuine, Christian experience:
For it is we who are the circumcision [the “we” referring to believers], we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh....
A true Christian stands on the platform of “Not I, but Christ.”
In Philippians 3:4b-6, Paul explains how, in his preconverted condition, he had obtained a human righteousness par excellence:
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
In other words, there was nobody in the Philippia church who could equal him. He was circumcised the eighth day. He was a Hebrew of the Hebrews, regarding the zeal for God, he persecuted the Christian church, regarding the righteousness of the law, he was blameless. In other words, he was the best. But, thank God, for what he says in verses 7-9:
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.
Paul realized it is either all of Christ or all of him. When he realized that his righteousness, which he thought would take him to heaven, qualify him for heaven, make him accepted before God, was nothing but filthy rags, he was willing to give all of it up for the righteousness of Christ that becomes ours through faith alone.
Legalism is man trying to attain a ticket to heaven by his own performance.
Galatianism is a subtle form of legalism. In Galatianism, a person says, “I accept Jesus Christ as my Savior” and then adds something else to it. In the case of the Galatian Christians, they accepted the Judaizers teaching that we are saved by grace plus being circumcised and keeping the law of Moses.
It must become absolutely clear to each one of us that any subjective experience that we have as Christians, whether we talk of good works or holy living or law obedience, even though it may be produced in us through the working of the Holy Spirit, in no way contributes towards the righteousness that justifies us before God. It is of utmost importance that all Christians understand the difference between works of the law, which is legalism, and the fruits of the gospel or the fruits of faith, if we are to avoid falling into the trap, or ditch, of legalism.
Luther failed to understand the distinction between James and Paul because he did not clearly, in the beginning of his Reformation ministry, see the difference between works of the law and works of faith. James is upholding works of faith in James 2, especially verses 14 to the end of the chapter (verse 26):
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder.
You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
He says, genuine justification by faith always produces works. Not that those works contribute towards our justification, but the works are evidence of our justification. Whereas, Paul, in his epistles, primarily deals with works of the law. When we look at what Paul says about works of faith, we will discover that Paul upholds works of faith.
An example is found in Romans 9:30-32:
What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone.
This makes it clear that our works of the law do not contribute towards our salvation. He also says in Romans 12:13-14 that genuine justification by faith does transform our lives, does produce a people who go about doing good:
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
Now what is the difference between works of the law which is legalism and works of faith? There are two major differences.
...And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.
“My own righteousness” is works of the law. The origin of works of the law is self. It is referred to as self-righteousness. We read in Isaiah 64:6 that God declares that all our righteousness is filthy rags, worthless:
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
In contrast, the origin of works of faith is the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. It is not works but fruits that we bear. The fruit of the Spirit, is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, and so on, says Paul in Galatians 5:22-23:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
The major difference between works of the law, which is legalism, and works of faith is the origin. One originates from self, the other from the indwelling of Christ, the Holy Spirit.
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
All that the law can do for us is to show us that we are sinners. It is true, once we become Christians, God writes, in our hearts, the principle of that law which is love, and the fruits of the Spirit become the fulfillment of the law. In Galatians 5:23b, Paul says against such there is no law because the fruit of the Spirit is in harmony with the law:
Against such things there is no law.
The motivation of works of the law is always self, whereas works of faith are motivated by the agape love of God. For example, in 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, Paul commends the Thessalonians for their gift of love to the believers in Jerusalem:
We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
He calls it their works of faith which are always motivated by love. When the Holy Spirit produces His fruit or His work in us which to us is fruit bearing, it is always motivated by the love of God. Paul says in Galatians 5:14:
For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Love is the fulfillment of the law. He tells us in Romans 13:10:
Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
All the law is fulfilled when we love our neighbors in the same way that we love ourselves.
Paul is in full agreement with James. They are talking about two different things and we must not confuse works of the law with works of faith. Please remember, when we were unbelievers, the law was given to us not to save us but to show us that we were sinners in need of grace. But when we become Christians, when we are justified by faith alone, the law becomes a standard of Christian living. That’s the difference between works of the law and works of faith.
One certain way to prevent legalism and to recognize it, is for us to realize and to submit to the fact that we are totally sinful. Paul tells us in Romans 3:9-12:
What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
There are none good, there are none righteous.
Jesus, speaking to Nicodemus, said, “That which is born of the flesh, is flesh.” It is unchangeable. It is unredeemable. It is you and I who are redeemed in Jesus Christ. The flesh will not go to heaven. This corruption cannot inherit incorruption. For this reason we look forward to glorification which is the redemption of the body.
Having clearly defined the greatest enemy of the gospel, legalism, we will turn now to the second problem, the second counterfeit which is the greatest danger of the gospel, antinomianism. The word “antinomianism” comes from two Greek words put together. “Anti” means against. “Nomianism” comes from the Greek word “nomas,” the law. In trying to deliver the Galatians from legalism, Paul was fully aware that they could swing the pendulum from legalism, from one ditch, to antinomianism, the other ditch.
The devil doesn’t care which ditch you fall into. Both of them are originated by Satan. They both resemble the gospel. This is why they are counterfeits. Antinomianism is saying “since I am saved by grace alone, since I am saved by the doing and the dying of Christ, since my works make no contribution towards my salvation, then I can live as I please.”
Here is an example of what is meant by antinomianism. While a missionary in Uganda, a young Ugandan came up to me. Now, I am of Indian origin and he thought I was a Hindu. Bless his heart, he wanted to witness the gospel to me. So he came up to me and asked, “Are you saved?” My response was, “Saved from what?” He replied, “Are you saved from sin?” I said to him “Can you be more specific? Are you talking of the guilt and punishment of sin, the power and slavery to sin, or the nature and presence of sin? Which one are you referring to?” He looked at me and said, “You sound like a pastor.”
I said to him, “Yes, you are right. Can I ask you the same question? Are you saved?” He raised his arms and he almost shouted and with great enthusiasm said to me, “Praise the Lord. I was saved three months ago.” I said to him, “How come?” And he said, “I believed in Jesus Christ three months ago.” I said, “Young man, can I correct you? You were not saved three months ago. You were saved two thousand years ago. You accepted salvation three months ago. We are not saved because of our faith. Nowhere in the Bible will you find that. We are saved through faith. Faith is only an instrument or a channel by which we receive Jesus Christ and His righteousness. In other words, it is the object of faith which is Jesus Christ, that saves us. Faith is only making Christ’s righteousness effective.”
But I added, “If you are justified by faith, if heaven is already yours, why do I smell beer on your breath?” And he said, “Pastor, you know we are saved by grace and not by what we do.” “Really,” I said. “Can you explain to me what you mean by salvation by grace alone?” His response was, “Very simple. Jesus did it all.” He was absolutely right. We are saved by what Jesus did. But he had taken this wonderful good news of salvation and perverted it into cheap grace. And so I had to correct him.
The way I did it was by asking him questions just as Jesus did. I said to him, “You mean to say that I am saved because Jesus obeyed the law perfectly for me?” He said, “That’s it.” I said, “And He died in my place instead of me?” And the young man said to me, “You’ve have it, now.” I said, “No. I would like to take you one step further.” He said, “What step?” I said, “According to your argument, He also went to heaven instead of you.” The young man didn’t like that. He said, “No, no. I’m going to heaven.” I said, “If you are going to heaven, then you need to know the full message of grace.”
He had a little New Testament in his pocket so I asked him to turn to 2 Timothy 2:11. I could have given many other texts but I chose that passage that Paul gave to a young man like this young man. This text says:
Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him....
If we are to live with Christ, we must first die with Christ.
There are too many Christians who want to live with Christ without first dying with Christ. But that is not how grace works.
You and I are sinners. Die we must. We have no choice here, otherwise the gospel becomes unethical. But the difference is, if we accept our death in Christ, there is a resurrection and, therefore, there is a hope. If we choose to die out of Christ, that is the end of us. The difference between being born in this world and born in the kingdom of God is this. When we were born in this world we were born sinners because of the Fall. We were born condemned to death. We came to this world with life. We began in this world with life and we end up with death. But when we enter the kingdom of God, it is the very reverse. We begin with death and we end up with life. Unless we realize this, we are perverting grace.
Paul made a wonderful statement in Romans 5:20. He said:
The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more....
What did he mean? He meant it doesn’t matter how deep in the pit sin has taken us, grace is able to save the worst of sinners. Grace is able to save Hitler who was responsible for the Holocaust. Grace is able to save Idi Amin, who was responsible for the greatest atrocities that took place in Uganda. But Paul realized that people could take this statement and pervert it. The Christian could take this statement and say to him, “Paul, you are saying that the more I sin, the more grace will cover my sins. Praise the Lord. Let us keep on sinning that grace may increase.” Paul deals with this problem in Romans 6. Verse 1:
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?
“Can we keep on sinning that grace may increase? Is this what I am teaching?” The answer is in verse 2:
By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
The phrase “dead to sin” occurs three times in Romans 6, twice it applies to the believer but once to Christ. In verse 2, it applies to the believer who has been baptized into Christ. Then in verse 10, Paul uses the same phrase referring to Christ:
The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
He got rid of sin by His death. And now that he lives, he lives to God.
In verse 11, Paul says to the believer:
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Salvation by grace is identifying ourselves with the birth, life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is publicly confessed by baptism.
As mentioned before, Christianity is not simply a set of rules. Christianity is not simply joining a denomination. Christianity, at its very foundation, is participating in Jesus Christ. Therefore, we must be very careful that we do not take the gospel of grace and use it as an excuse to enjoy sin. Grace does not give any believer license to sin.
In Ephesians 2:8-10, we have in a nutshell, what grace is. Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:8:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — ...
In verse 9, he adds:
...not by works, so that no one can boast.
We are saved by grace alone and that grace is entirely the gift of God. We have made no contribution towards our salvation.
In verse 10, Paul adds:
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
In Colossians 2:10, Paul tells the believers in Collosae that they are perfect in Christ:
...And in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.
They are complete in Christ. But in verse 6, he says:
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him....
Genuine justification by faith, genuine salvation by grace, does not give us license to sin. It transforms our lives. It puts new desires in our minds so that we want to walk a life that is pleasing to God.
Genuine justification is made clear in Galatians 2:20:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
This is justification by faith. This is salvation by grace.
As we conclude this series of studies, it is my sincere prayer that God, on the one hand, will protect you from legalism in all its forms and, on the other hand, from cheap grace or antinomianism, which also belongs to the camp of Satan. It is my prayer that you will learn to walk that narrow way called the gospel avoiding the ditch of legalism on the one side and antinomianism on the other side, so that you can say, “For me to live, is Christ and if I have to die in the process, it is profit.” May this be your experience now and forevermore is my prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen.