Paul was so strong in his conviction thatrighteousness relied solely on having faith in Jesus and trust in God, he hadthe confidence to reprimand Peter when they were both in Antioch.
Peter hadimplicitly agreed with the position of the Judaizers on circumcision to the harmof Gentile converts. For Peter’s hypocrisy, Paul rebuked him. In essence, thebasis of the rebuke is that adding law to grace is to destroy grace and to makea mockery of Jesus’ life and death on the cross. Paul’s argument of justification wasthat holiness was received by faith, not by works of the law. The example ofAbraham illustrates this point exactly. And thirdly, the law, which came 430years after God’s covenant with Abraham, cannot invalidate the promise. Jesuswas not concerned with circumcision in the slightest.
This is the heart of this epistle because Paul clearlysets forth what justification by faith really meant and why it was true. Such vindication ofjustification by faith raises a problem. “Why then was the law given at all?”If the same God gave the promise, why would he add the law? Paul answers thisquestion by rationalizing that the law had a purpose to point out to the nationof Israel its need for Christ. It was put into place to aid the people toreceive the Spirit of God when they were struggling to do so. One cannot bespiritual by means of circumcision or just by observing the law, first of all becauseno one follows the law in its entirety, and secondly because God’s blessingcannot be earned, it is a gift. The law would not exist without the promise. Paulgoes on to validate that all believers in Christ are descendants of Abraham andequal in the eyes of God; there are no categories for discrimination. He pitiesthose who observe the Sabbath and Day of Atonement before putting their trustin Jesus, because these acts alone will never be a means of sanctification.
Paul then ponders why people agreed with him when he preached the gospel, butnot when he speaks truths about the gospel. After demonstrating thatthe law enslaved, he points out that the Galatians, too, had experiencedslavery as pagans worshipping false gods. By accepting the Judaizers’ message,they would simply be replacing one kind of slavery with another. Not only this,but the outcome that the Judaizers’ message would have on the Galatians was notonly alienating them from Paul, but also robbing them of their joy in Christ. Paulactually finds circumcision a hindrance to people’s believing in Christ.
Paulconcludes his appeal employing Hagar and Sarah as an allegory for slavery andfreedom, respectively. Paul then delves into how faithshould manifest in life. At stake especially is Christian liberty. Pauladdresses how enslavement of the law is detrimental to liberty. He asserts thatit enslaves the believer, turns the believer into a debtor, alienates thebeliever from Christ causing him to fall from grace, hinders the progressivesanctification of the Christian, and removes the stigma of the cross,suggesting that Christ died for nothing. Paul explains that obsession with thelaw and circumcision spread due to corrupted teaching with incorrectinformation, just like a bad rumor. Onthe other hand, Christian liberty does not give one license to do whatever hewants.
Paul wishes that believers would respect the law by keeping with thecommand that sums up its purpose, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” One cannotattain salvation if he harms other people. Bottom line is the liberty ofjustification is the liberty to live for God, not the liberty to sin.