In Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas are in the cities of Iconium and Lystra, which are part of the Galatian providence. The churches left in these cities were the recipients of this letter. Paul wrote it in Antioch, shortly after, surprised at how quickly everyone had bought in to a “works based salvation gospel”.
The group sugggesting this notion were called Judaizers. They viewed Christianity as a gracious off shoot inclusion of Gentiles version of Judism, and figured these guys needed to be caught up on Jewish law to really be acceptable to their God.
“Look, if you’re claiming to be some child of Abraham, you’ve got to be circumcised. Judism 101, folks, we’ve been doing this since Day One! Plus, we’ve got a ton of other laws that you should pay attention to. We ignored them, once upon a time… did not end well for us.”
It follows. Except for the part where Jesus fulfilled all the requirements of the law, which were impossible for us to uphold, and gave us His perfect record. THAT is the Gospel.
Paul, who used to be a Pharisee, extremely zealous for the law, understood no one could be made right before God by partially upholding some aspects of the Law. He wanted to shut down this nonsense ASAP.
You’re either saved by grace through faith in Christ, or dead in your sins as pointed out by the Law. There is no both and.
“We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” (2:16)
How quickly we also convince each other to tact on works to our salvation. This is not freedom, but slavery to that which we were freed.
Now, there are principles in the Law that still are wise to observe in our cultural context, because God has always given His people wise instructions (I.e. How to wash your hands, not having idols, not murdering, etc). If we think those things are the brownie points getting us a ticket to heaven, however, we are sorely mistaken.
Putting the weight of our Salvation on our own shoulders only breeds bad things: pride or arrogance under the impression of success, or shame spiral insecurities under the impression of failure. Neither are God’s lifestyle designs for His children. Christ’s death and resurrection was to bring us abundant life!
It’s easy to see why Paul is taking this issue so seriously. “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
Where do you see yourself on this issue? Is there a work you expect of yourself and others to prove Salvation? Is there something you’ve done, which has become a point of pride or a twinge of shame? Submit all these things to the blood of Christ!
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”