Galatians is Paul’s letter to several churches in the region of Galatia, a Roman-controlled province in Asia Minor, or modern-day Turkey.
Paul wrote his letter in response to a group of false teachers who were confusing these churches—especially the Gentile believers—into thinking that in order to be saved, they had to obey all the laws of the Torah, including circumcision, eating special foods and celebrating all the Jewish feasts and holidays. These false teachers even began demanding male Gentile Christians to be circumcised.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul rebukes these false teachers and reminds the Galatian churches that, by believing in Jesus and following Him, people are set free from the letter of the law and now live under God’s grace.
In chapters 1 and 2, Paul expresses His broken-heartedness that the Galatian churches have accepted these false teachers, who convinced even the Apostle Peter and Paul’s coworker Barnabas to act in ways contrary to the Gospel (Galatians 3:11-13).
Paul defends his authority as a Gospel messenger, sent by Jesus to share the truth about the Gospel: People are not made right with God by their own efforts, but by faith in Jesus, the risen Messiah (Galatians 2:16). And when people trust in Jesus, what is true of Him becomes true of them.
In chapters 3 and 4, Paul uses the story of Abraham to reinforce the truth that salvation is by faith, not by obeying the Law.
Paul explains that before Jesus came, the Law existed to expose sin and keep people in right relationship with God until the coming of the Messiah. Jesus fulfilled the Law by fully loving God and people, dying on the cross and taking on the sin of all people, Jew and Gentile. Paul argues that forcing Gentile believers to follow Jewish customs makes no sense because it negates Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law.
So, how do Christians grow to become more like Jesus and obey God’s will without the Torah?
Because it is part of Scripture, the Law is good. It was created by God for a good purpose, and its message to love God and your neighbor is a good message.
But Paul explains in chapters 5 and 6 that the Holy Spirit is the key to transformation. When someone believes in Jesus, the Holy Spirit dwells inside that person, making them a new creation.
He explains that all of our old ways—sexual immorality, idolatry, jealousy, selfish ambition and other sinful behaviors—were nailed to the cross with Christ, and because believers have Christ’s Spirit in them, the Spirit produces “fruit” in them that transforms their character into Christ’s character (Galatians 5:22-23).
And those whose character is that of Christ can truly live Godly lives, loving God and their neighbors the way those under the Law never could (Galatians 6:1-10).
Set free to live free: Throughout Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he continually reminds these churches that in Christ, the Law has been fulfilled. Christians are no longer required to keep the letter of the Law, but are now under the authority of Christ’s love and grace—which sets them free from legalism and enables them to truly love God and others.
HOW DOES THIS FIT INTO GOD’S STORY?
Through the book of Galatians, God reminds us that His family is not elitist or prejudiced. He welcomes people of all backgrounds and ethnicities to become His children through faith in His son, Jesus.
Paul’s letter points out the importance of the Jewish laws in the Old Testament, but reminds the church that Christ’s death and resurrection set Christians free from the bondage of sin and the requirements of the Law.
In Christ, people become new creations, empowered by the Spirit to produce fruit, which transforms them more and more into the image of Christ and enables them to glorify God and love others as Christ did.