The gospel preaching of the apostle Paul is credited with catalyzing the church in Galatia, but after he left the young community, things certainly went haywire. The church of mostly new believers, mostly Gentiles to boot, became infiltrated by group of false teachers called “Judaizers.” The Judaizers apparently wanted to earn religious extra credit by piggybacking Jewish legalism onto the free grace of the true gospel, which manifested itself primarily in the insistence that Christian converts become circumcised.
Paul’s response to this is vociferous, and this letter contains some of the angriest and most passionate writing of all his letters. We see in the letter to the Galatians what is at stake between law and gospel; Paul wants us to know it is imperative that we sort those two out lest we stake our hope on something hopeless. We also see Paul’s pastoral heart in the letter, his deep love for the Galatian believers and for real gospel-driven discipleship. The “astonishment” of 1:6, the mentoring of Titus mentioned in chapter 2, the pastoral anguish and anxiety in 4:18-20, and the steps to gentle restoration outlined in chapter 6 stand out against the backdrop of curses, vehemence, and condemnations throughout the book aimed at the Judaizes and their damnable heresy.
The letter to the Galatians reminds us that the faith that saved us is the faith we still walk by and the Spirit that regenerated us is the Spirit that grows holiness within us. If salvation is by the law, we will always be under the curse of sin. But Christ has set us free for freedom’s sake (5:1), and the promise of the gospel is the abundant Spiritual life that looks like freedom. And in that sense, to trust circumcision for approval with God is just as abhorrent as licentious sins listed in 5:19-21, because it is a work of the flesh.
As Paul begins to list the fruit of real salvation (5:22-25), he’s not just giving us a picture of a faithful Christian life, but a picture of a world where Jesus is king. In the new heavens and new earth, the law will pass away because sin will be no more and the fruit of the Spirit will blossom on every tree. That is what Christ has purchased in the gospel.