Have you ever felt that no matter what you did it was not good enough? I have had times in my life where I have felt that way. Whether it’s your parents, your friends, or your spouse it seems that everyone has their own expectations for you, and you cannot live up to them. Expectations are not bad until they become weights from which you cannot escape. The problem with other people’s expectations is that they don’t always reflect God’s expectations for you.
There are few things in the church that are worse than legalism. The problem with legalism is that it sets the bar so high that no one can possibly reach it. No matter what you do it is not good enough, and the legalists are constantly there to remind you of that. Jesus battled legalism with the Pharisees, and Paul battled it relentlessly throughout his ministry as well. Unfortunately, legalism is not a thing of the past, but it is still very present in today’s church.
Galatians was written to a church in Asia Minor in the province of Galatia. If it seems that Paul’s tone is harsh that’s because this church was founded by him on one of his missionary journeys. The Galatians were not just random converts to Paul. They were his own personal disciples, and if you ever had a disciple you know the pain that comes along with realizing that they are going down the wrong path. The Galatians are heading in the wrong direction, and Paul is determined to not allow that to happen.
It seems as if a religious group called “Judaizers” had recently introduced themselves to the relatively new church at Galatia. These Judaizers were legalists who held the belief that non-Jews had to be circumcised in order to be saved. The crazy thing is that they were actually calling themselves Christians. They believed that Jesus was the Messiah, and yet they held to archaic views that had no power to save.
Sound familiar? No doubt you have run into people who seek to make a relationship with Jesus more about rules and regulations than love and grace. Don’t misunderstand me. There are certain things that God expects out of us as Christians. There is still a cross that all of us must carry, and a plan of salvation that must be followed. However, there is a HUGE difference between carrying a cross while following Jesus, and carrying a cross that some religious legalist has thrown on you.
Paul goes to extreme lengths to battle these legalists because they are a poison to any church. Don’t the Galatians understand? They were saved by grace, not by some religious ritual. Do they really think that the grace of God is not enough? They seemed content to trade the freedom that they had in Christ for the bondage of the law, and Paul cannot bear to just stand by and watch. If they are going to turn to the legalism found in the Mosaic Law they are going to have to do so with his finger pointed in their faces.
Paul pleads with them to return to the right path. “Who has bewitched you, O Galatians?” he says. You can almost hear the pain in his voice at the thought of their betrayal. He wants them to understand that this is not some innocent doctrine. The desire to turn to the Mosaic Law and circumcision is a slap in the face of their teacher and their Messiah. Jesus died to get rid of such rituals! Faith in him and obedience to his word is sufficient. They don’t need anything else added on top of it.
I am a firm believer in setting standards. I believe that they can help us in our walk with God. A problem with standards is created when we take the standards that God has given us and seek to apply them to someone else. That is exactly what was happening to the Galatians. It was not wrong for the Judaizers to be circumcised. It became wrong when they started teaching circumcision as a mode of salvation for everyone. This is exactly where standards become a slippery slope.
The letter to the Galatians is important because it reminds us of the dangers of legalism. We must remember that it is not our obligation to live up to the standards of other people, but rather to follow the standards that Jesus Christ has given us. Faith in Jesus Christ is still enough, and if we allow it to it will carry us through any situation that we face. Legalism and dogmas may seem like the “religious” way to go, but in the end they do nothing for us spiritually.