The Apostle Paul had proclaimed the Gospel amongst the Galatians in an area that today we would call central Turkey. He had taught them that there was one way that they could be saved from the coming judgment and wrath of God: They must put their faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Messiah who had come into the world. They must trust in his sacrifice to be their sacrifice, and only through believing in that sacrifice can they be declared righteous before God. Only in this way can they be justified. Only in this way can they be saved.

The Background

Where did Paul get all of these ideas? Let’s take a look:

First, Jesus told his disciples that he is the ONLY way to come to God:

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6

And Jesus also explained to Nicodemus:

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

John 3:14

God has always gone about saving his people by giving them promises that they must believe. For example, if we look back several thousand years to Abraham, God gave Abraham a promise that he would be a blessing to all nations. But Abraham was childless and he and his wife were both very old. How could it be possible that he could have a child and thus have an heir who would carry the blessing of God on to the rest of the nations?

But in Genesis 15, it says that Abraham believed God despite the odds, and God rewarded him:

But Abram said, “Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus? ” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir. ” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars —if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Genesis 15:2-6

So the important point here is that it is God who gives the promises. God is the one who acts, and our role is to believe in Him, to depend upon Him in faith.

Doing it ourselves

But the problem is that we often think that we can do it ourselves, that somehow we can save ourselves. We think that, if we just can be good enough, then God will be happy with us. We might even say that we think that God will owe us, and then we will be able to go to heaven. Instead of having faith and depending on God, we seem to think that we can earn our way into heaven.

This is seemingly what had happened with the Galatian churches. After Paul had left the churches to continue on their own, he learned that some people called “Judaizers” had come to tell the Galatians that they must follow the law that God had given to Moses to truly be saved. So, they taught, they must believe in Jesus as the Messiah, but the people must also essentially become Jewish and follow all of the laws that the Jews follow.

All or nothing

But Paul says that Christ came to set us free from the law! We no longer need to attempt to adhere to every jot and tittle of the law of Moses. Instead, we need to fulfill the law by living a life guided by the Holy Spirit. If we believe in the sacrifice of Christ, we will be declared righteous, just like Abraham. In fact, even more than this, Jesus said that if we love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbor in the same way, we will fulfill all of the laws that God gave to Moses.

On the other hand, if we decide to try to declare ourselves righteous, we have to do it all of the way. In the case of the Galatians, the Judaizers told them that they must be circumcised (ouch!). But Paul said that, if they do this, and they trust in this way to come to God, just as the Jews had done for centuries, they have to go all of the way. It isn’t just the one law that they have to obey. It is all of them. All 613. Keep everyone of them. Obey them perfectly. For your entire life. Or you cannot be saved and you will receive wrath and punishment from God for eternity.

Of course, no one can bear that burden. We are all tempted and we all fall to sin. Every one of us is a sinner, so it isn’t possible to observe and obey all of the laws. So there is only one way to God. Just as Jesus said, we must come to God through him, through Jesus Christ the One and Only Mediator that allows us to come to God through faith in him.

Don’t fall into the trap

So let’s not fall into the trap of believing that we have to be good enough to come to God. We can’t be good enough – it isn’t possible!

Let’s not fall into the trap of thinking that we need to do a lot of religious rituals and then God will accept you. You cannot do enough good things to overcome your sins!

No, there is only one way that we can be saved. We must put our faith in Jesus. We must put our faith in his death and resurrection, believing that his death and resurrection will take the place of our spiritual death. We must believe that he took God’s wrath and punishment for our sin, and we must believe that just as Jesus was raised to life, so also will we be raised to life. Only then can we be declared righteous before God.

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