Galatians 5:1 – Why Legalism?

Galatians 5:1 is a transition from the scriptural argument in Galatians 3-4 to the final section. In Galatians 5-6 Paul deals with the consequences of legalism. This is a real problem for Paul’s view of the Law. If the believer is free from the Law, what God does require? Is there another law or set of instructions the Gentile believer in Christ must now follow? There appear to be some Christians who want to mark out a series of “dos and dont’s” in order to keep believers from doing things they consider to be sin. Or is it the case that the Christian completely free from all laws and rules? Since Paul says in Romans 6 the Christian cannot “sin that grace may abound,” it seems like there were people who thought they could indulge in all kinds of behavior and still be right with God.

This is a difficult passage because Paul is very personal and emotional. Paul drives his point home using language which is jarring and unexpected. If the Galatians return to the old covenant, Paul says :Christ will be of no advantage to them” and they will put themselves in very real spiritual danger. Paul’s use of shocking language in these verses is calculated and intentional – he is demanding that his readers make a decision to stand firm in the gospel now, before they accept the Law. It will take a conscious decision on the part of the Galatian believers to be “in Christ,” to live in the freedom of their adoption as children of God rather than to return to the now out-dated and obsolete covenant of the Law.

What would be the motivation for Gentile members of the Galatian churches to adopt Jewish Law? Ben Witherington suggests that by accepting Jesus as messiah and Savior, they have also turned their backs on the traditional gods of the Greco-Roman world as well as ritual observances associated with the gods. To accept Jesus as Savior is to reject pagan gods.  By rejecting pagan gods, the Gentile converts severed many social ties and joined a religious movement unlike the rest of the ancient world. There are virtually no rituals in the Christian church other than an initiation ritual and a shared meal. There are no sacrifices or liturgy to follow, no festivals, feast days, temple or central gathering places.The Jewish Law, in Witherington’s view, provided an opportunity for Gentile believers to concretely express their Christian identity. Since Judaism was an ancient religion, Gentile converts could avoid the charge that they were accepting a new religion, a “superstition” which was suspect in the Roman world.

Here we see one of the greatest applications of Galatians to a modern church setting. What is it that motivates people to be “legalists” in contemporary Christianity? Very few people would argue that Christians ought to be keeping the whole law (although there are a few). More likely is the claim that one must do a series of rituals in order to be right with God, or that one must subscribe to a particular doctrinal formulation, or that one must avoid certain lifestyles or behaviors. Paul never says that one must act like a Christian in order to be right with God – one is right with God because they have been adopted into God’s family and they are his children.

Paul is not talking about a religion in Galatians, but rather a relationship with God.  We are not slaves, but rather his dearly loved children.

28 thoughts on “Galatians 5:1 – Why Legalism?

  1. I have never put too much thought into why we often hold onto elements of legalism. The Law is comforting because it gives a specifics as to how to follow God (what God wants and does not want). It gives us a clear picture of how one can “move up the ladder” and be closer to God. It gives us a tool to measure our thoughts and actions by. It gives definition to “our part” in salvation, atonement, and the church. We like definition and we like rules because they give us a measuring/grading scale. As results driven and success measuring people, we find rules are often more appealing than freedoms.

    Shackles are sometimes more comforting than freedom.
    Abuse sometimes seems safer than freedom.
    Law often seems more liveable than freedom.

    We cannot often imagine life beyond the circumstances (lenses) we have grown up in or the ideals we quickly adopted as young people. I think this is why legalism is so appealing. It gives words to what faith look like (practicalities). Ten easy steps, three simple rules, seven ways to do this or that. We like practicalities but Paul speaks of God being more than that (Galatians 5:1-2).

    What does “faith expressing itself through love” really look like (Galatians 5:6)? What does it look like to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14)? I wonder all the time about these questions. Freedom does not have a specific look as much as the Law does. Even though Paul stood “as a model of freedom and urged the Galatians to follow his example” I still find it hard to know what it all looks like today (Polhill 146).

  2. The problem that Paul faces is in the early years of the church is that the community wants to accept the full abundance of the Law. Where is says in Galatians 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free, stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

    Paul makes the notation that if “we” submit ourselves to the law; rather than to Chris; then Jesus has no value or purpose to us. The reason that Law was made was for our transgressions as human. But for Jesus, He gives us a guideline on how to live the best life possible; but the rest is up to use.

  3. I have a lot of the same struggles with legalism that Anna was pointing out. I think that one reason people are drawn to legalism so much is because of the ease of putting very applicable steps to our Christianity. There is obviously debate among Christians about much of the application of scripture, freedom versus legalism, etc. Legalism gives us a straightforward answer to how to approach scripture, how to apply the teachings of the NT, and the ability to point out exactly how the Christian should live their lives. It gives us the ability to have an easier form of Christianity and a list of tasks to accomplish. If we can keep the entirity of the list, then we’ve been a “good Christian” and are making God happy. We don’t have to put all of the effort into disciplining our hearts and minds, pursuing the love of Christ, and actually living out the meaning of Christ’s teachings. We can categorize, make lists, and accomplish goals with legalism. We don’t have to really think, be challanged, or change. The part of legalism that is so envigorating is in the unthinking, and unengaged heartset.
    “Paul had been converted on the Damascus road to a gospel of freedom, and he had never turned back to the old enslavement.” (Polhill 146) This is what legalism offers, and we need to be wary not to fall into it. It is appealing, but it is not what the Gospel is about. Christ preached freedom for all, and this doesn’t exist in legalism.

  4. The problem of legalism is one that most people in the church has some identification with in some fashion. It is all too easy to slip into a routine that replaces our relationship with God. For the early church it came in the form of turning to the law as seen specifically in Galatians. For today’s church it comes in the form of doing what we as Christians are supposed to do such as going to church, reading the Bible, tithing, etc., etc. These things are not wrong, in fact much the opposite. They are very good for a healthy relationship with God. However, if we do them because we have then we have fallen into the trap of legalism. None of those things puts into a right relationship with God.

    Paul addresses the Galatian legalism by telling them very clearly that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation,” (6:15). There is nothing left in the law. It has already been fulfilled in Christ. There is no use in trying to keep it. The fulfillment of the law enabled heartfelt relationship with Christ to be entered into.

    But it can be so easy to give our actions thinking that it will make us right. From the time we’re children we are taught to follow rules, from parents, from the Bible (specifically the ten commandments), from school’s. But there is never any time in which we are taught to leave them behind and to live by the guidance of the Spirit. So, we try and then end up falling back into our old ways. Its like people who get out of prison or the military and have a hard time readjusting to society because it is more freeing than their previous lifestyle.

  5. Legalism is a huge reason that non-believers don’t want anything with the church, and even why many Christians are simply fed up with church themselves. Legalism often brings judgement, condemnation and intolerance to the table with it. A huge problem with legalism in the church today isn’t even the legalism that comes from the Ten Commandments. It’s the other “commandments” that the church has misinterpreted, or made up for themselves. The kind of legalism that turns away homosexuals, and has every “good” Christian never taking a single drink of alcohol because it is simply evil in itself. This is very much like the Pharisees building up their set of hundreds of commandments surrounding the Law.

    Why is Legalism so attractive to some members of the church today. One reason is that it that for us as humans it is so easy to judge others. It’s easy to look at others and say, “they are so much worse sinners than I am.” Christ knew this about human nature. “Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). When I think of the most legalistic Christians I have know, I really can say, they resonated in judgement, far more than love.

    Paul saw this hypocrisy in the Judaizers in Galatia. They were forcing Gentiles to follow the Law, when as Christians we are free from the hold of the Law. He also understood that with the Law, it was All or Nothing (Polhill 151). All or Nothing, which was and is an impossible task. The perfection of the Law makes it so that we all fall short no matter how hard we try to follow it.

  6. “…the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Gal. 5:6) But how does one express that love? Anything is much simpler with a guide or a set of standards to base ones performance off of. Consider the way our schools, workplaces, and even relationships function. So much of it is performance based. I don’t think our culture and society is much different as that of the Greco-Roman world or Judaism in which Paul was addressing, in the sense that the law is a concrete way to express ones faith. As PLong noted, “The Jewish Law, in Witherington’s view, provided an opportunity for Gentile believers to concretely express their Christian identity.” The Law is merely chains of bondage thinly veiled as a safety net and guide.

    Note that the fruit of the Spirit in 5:22-23 is not something that one can measure. You can’t say “I will show kindness 3 times today”, or “have joy for 20 minutes tomorrow“. It doesn’t work like that. Paul say’s “we live by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25, emphasis added). In regards to these fruit, “They are not ‘works’ pursued but gifts granted by God’s Spirit… the law is not effective in creating such qualities. It takes the Spirit.” (Polhill, 152). Wouldn’t it be a beautiful thing to be defined by a lifestyle that doesn’t reflect our works (whether spiritual or material) but by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and faith?

  7. I agree with Anna and David when they commented that we as Christians are drawn to legalism. But why is that? Is it because we don’t like being free? Is it because we actually think that God wants us to follow the law? Or could it be, that we are still stuck in our “old self” mind set thinking that we have to do something (or not do something) to secure our salvation? Through legalism, are we trying to earn salvation through our works? Are we through legalism subsequently “alienating [ourselves] from Christ, falling away from the way of grace and into the ways of the law” (Polhill 139)?

    God’s word says, “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse” (Galatians 3:10). Works cannot but us our salvation, sometimes we fall back into our “old self” mindset and think that we have to earn it. Romans 6:23 says that salvation is a gift, in Acts 16:31, Paul says, “believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved”. So, if we believe in Christ, we are given a gift – the gift of salvation and the gift of eternal life with God. The bible does not say that Christians must abstain from drinking, or wear long skirts, or doilies on their heads, or appear in church every morning and evening. The Word says “Christ set us free” (Gal 5:1). It is that simple.

    I think that today people are drawn to legalism because they are trying to earn salvation – I think this is very evident in that if you chose to go against their set of “Christian guidelines” you are instantly looked down upon, your salvation is questioned, and your are sometimes even removed from the church. These beliefs have become laws to them, and they cling to those laws like the Galatians clung to the Jewish laws, “abandoning Spirit for the flesh (Polhill 139).

  8. “You my brothers have been called to be free…” (Galatians 5:13a). Freedom. It sounds like the best thing ever. You hear that word ring out everywhere. Teens wants to be free to do what they want, “Let freedom ring” from the famous song My Country Tis Of Thee, in Francesca Battistelli’s song “Free to be me. Everyone everywhere wants to be free…or do they? That is the million dollar question. It seems to me that everyone desires to be free until they are actually free. Then they haven’t the slightest idea of what to do with it. Because of that, they retreat back into the one thing they know, the enslavement of something (i.e. the Law, a king, parents, school, ect). I really enjoyed reading this blog. I have always wondered why us Christians hold onto parts of legalism when we are, according to Paul “called to be free”. Why do we feel this need to be tied down to rules and regulations when Christ died for our freedom? Or the question posed by Plong “What is it that motivates people to be “legalists” in contemporary Christianity?” I believer the answer lies deep within our human nature. As human beings we ultimately desire two things: to succeed and to not be alone or cast out. No one wants to be mediocre or second best. Book upon book has been written with outlines and steps to succeed at one thing or another, there are conferences held that give rules or ‘laws’ to follow so one can advance in the workplace, there are even classes that are taught in order that we succeed in the outside world. Because of all of this, It would be rather hard to succeed at something if we were not given the details,rules or elements in which we are told how to succeed, right? How would we know how to get to the next step? The answer is simply that we wouldn’t know how. This is what i believe happened with the Christians in Paul’s day. They converted to Christianity but after that it was like, what next? How do I grow? How do I advance? They loved the idea of being free but in that I don’t think they understood exactly what they were free to do. I really like what Anna said “The Law is comforting because it gives a specifics as to how to follow God (what God wants and does not want). It gives us a clear picture of how one can “move up the ladder” and be closer to God. It gives us a tool to measure our thoughts and actions by.” Another reason I believe that people tend to be “legalists” in contemporary Christianity is because they fear being cast out or being outside the norms of society. Ben Witherington (discussed in the blog) makes a great assumption on why the early Christians(and I believe the same is true for today’s Christians as well) wanted to convert to Judaism (or in today’s society, become more legalistic). Just like “The Jewish Law, in Witherington’s view, provided an opportunity for Gentile believers to concretely express their Christian identity” I believe that today, Christians want to become more legalistic because they want to have an identity. They desire to be apart of a group rather than a single person going against what the norm is. That is why I believe that people feel the need to adopt a certain doctrinal formulation , take a stance on things such as baptism, eschatology, and the like.

  9. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. (Galatians 5: 1-2)” Paul says these words in Galatians because Paul believes that Christ is the cornerstone upon which Christianity should stand. Paul continues later in the chapter to say, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another with love. (Galatians 5: 13)” We are called not to the Laws of the Old Testament, but rather to the relationship with Jesus Christ that the new covenant demands. It is amazing how freeing this new law is. We don’t have hundreds of laws that we have to memorize and follow in order to inherit the kingdom of heaven. Instead, we just have to accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and out of love for Him, we follow the life He calls us to. However, with this new law, we have forgiveness through Christ.

  10. I think that legalism can stem from apathy towards our brothers and sisters in Christ along with pride. When you truly care about someone, you take time to help them with their problems. It is much easier to simply scold and shake our fingers than to take time and gently help them back on the right track, which takes patience and understanding. Galatians 6: 1-2 says, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

    Christians can also be tempted to be legalistic because it makes them feel better about themselves and look better to others. Pride builds up when you compare yourself to other Christians who are caught in a certain sin that is easy to see. It is easy to think that you are better than that person. Helping them to leave their sinful way would leave less people to make you appear more ‘godly’.

  11. Fear.

    What would our relationship with God look like if we didn’t have fear? I’m not speaking of the fear of God (which leads to all wisdom,Proverbs 9:10), but of the fear of the world. The fear of rejection. Of persecution.

    The fear of true honesty.

    It is so easy to live our lives behind our walls of fear and to forget what we are really here for. God didn’t create the Body so we could be in church every Sunday and maybe prayer meetings on Wednesdays. We are put here to be Christ to a broken world. We find safety in our pieces of legalism, and it’s a great facade that we keep up. We all look so perfect because we do what ‘every good Christian’ does.
    Like Cody said, these things are not bad in and of themselves. They are amazing ways to remain in communion with God, but when we start to abuse them and use them as a cover for our imperfections or weaknesses then they become a stumbling block. Legalism is just another form of idolatry. We forget about what our hearts are really capable of.
    Paul calls us on many occasions to cast off the bonds of the law but 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 speaks very strongly of this. It’s my prayer that we’ll make Romans 8:15 our anthem, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!””

  12. “Paul never says that one must act like a Christian in order to be right with God – one is right with God because they have been adopted into God’s family and they are his children.” (reading acts)

    This is a beautiful statement in the discussion about legalism vs living by grace. In Galatians 5:1-6 Paul gives us the appeal to walk by the Spirit. He proclaims that Christ has set us free (v1). Christ is no benefit if you receive circumcision as a means to follow the law (v2). Anyone who follows one aspect of the law must obey it all (v3). If a believer seeks to be justified by the law than the believer has fallen from grace (v4). I believe this verse helps us understand the difference in following the law vs walking in the Spirit and following after the grace of God.

    “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.” (5:6)

    In verse 13 Paul makes another appeal about our Freedom. He mentions that you were called to freedom, however we are not to turn our freedom into an opportunity to serve the flesh. We are not to walk according to our sinful desires because we are new creations, empowered by the Spirit of Christ, to be like Jesus to the glory of God the Father. Within us we have the same power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead. We do not serve the Lord as a means to be right before Him, but we serve Him in an attitude of worship. We serve Him on a basis of what He has done for us.

  13. Why do people in the current church stick to legalism? To expand this even more, why do people become legalistic in their faith at all? After some thought on this, I think it is because people want to in some sense earn their salvation. Sometimes when people feel so overcome by sin that they begin to follow specific rules in order to feel better about themselves. Perhaps it is a lack of trust in the grace of God that leads people to take upon themselves a way to redeem themselves. Galatians 5:4 says, “You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” This rings true in the present day as much as it did back then when Paul was writing to the Galatians. If anyone could have felt overwhelmed by sin, it was Paul and his past. However, Paul made that all the more reason to trust in God’s grace. When Paul was writing to Timothy, he shared with him how God’s grace was given to him. He says, “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1:14). He was a great example of one who trusted in God’s grace in his life.

  14. Paul struggled with legalism just as the church today struggles with legalism. It was a problem then, it’s a problem now, and it will be a problem in the future. In Paul’s day it was dealing with the problem of the Judaizers saying that circumcision and food laws were not being done right. Today it is about keeping the organ in the church or whether or not someone is to be baptized. Both are trivial things looking back. But at the time they are not trivial at all they both are issues that need to be worked out.

    “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! (Galatians 5:12)”. That is Paul referring to the Judaizers and their zeal for having circumcision done in order to be a believer. I can only imagine what Paul would say if he saw the things that we argue over today.

  15. One of the best motivators for legalism today is self-esteem and feeling good about ones’ accomplishments. Christians want there to exist a mark that makes us “better” than others. Paul writes, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from the grace,” (Gal 5:4). If they are not gossiping like their sister in Christ, then they must be closer to God. If they show up to church early, then they must be more spiritual than the mother who comes late with a screaming baby. We want the Church environment to be perfect: quiet, no babies screaming, hands up in the air, or people praying on their knees. Just like Paul explained, we become slaves to the law. The truth is that we want salvation to be about us. We want to think about it as the “American Dream” that if you work hard, you will get to the top. It does not help if you cry in church with your hands up in the air and always pray on your knees if you do not have a relationship with God. It is all just a show. The ESV commentary describes this justification of works as a rejection of the grace that was freely given by God. We get to choose the one we want, but only Christ can set us free from ceremonial laws and regulations.
    When one has a relationship with God, the Holy Spirit will convict us of what we are doing wrong, (John 16:8). Sometimes, these “wrongs” can be what others think is a good thing. Sometimes the Holy Spirit asks a person to rest while He tells another person to work hard. The personal relationship portion means that the “laws” that we are following are personal. God is working in our lives individually before the whole of the church because the church is composed of individuals.
    The Gentiles suffered persecution for not adopting Jewish laws. Paul tells them that they are adopting by Christ, not by the Jews, and they must follow God. Sometimes, we forget that we are not supposed to be following our pastors or our leaders but Christ.
    “Since Judaism was an ancient religion, Gentile converts could avoid the charge that they were accepting a new religion, a ‘superstition’ which was suspect in the Roman world,” (Long). Paul is stern in his words in that the Gentiles would lose everything they had gained if they go backward and follow the law, (Wright Video). When the Gentiles follow Christ, they are free and they wait for God to complete righteousness for them as they are led by the Holy Spirit who is active in them (ESV Commentary).

  16. Throughout reading this blog, the greatest take away we can have is how free a relationship with Jesus Christ is. We get God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit; three in one. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14). Paul expresses this in 2 Corinthians as his final greeting to those in Corinth. It is so encouraging that being a Christian is not a mindset of what do I have to do to earn God’s love. He loves us no matter what and just asks for us to surrender our whole selves to Him and follow in His leading. A relationship with Christ is not law over gospel but God’s word overall.
    Galatians 5:1 encourages us that there is freedom in Christ, and we do not have to submit to slavery. We do not have to serve the laws of this world but in moderation. In moderation means respecting them and our leaders, but at the end of the day we serve Jesus and answer to Him. All of mankind will bow down to the one true King in His timing. We must remember that scripture says do not conform to the patterns of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds in Christ Jesus. All Paul wanted was for those in Galatia to open their minds and hearts to the life they can have in Christ, so pure and holy. God loves us so much and we are His children. We are reminded that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Cor. 3:17). To follow how free we are in Christ, having been broken from the chains that once held us, Paul introduces us to the Fruit of the Spirt. After he lists the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 he says, “… against such things there is no law”. The Spirit has spoken through Paul to remind those in Galatia and now because the word of God is alive and well even now, that no law can come against these. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. How amazing that we can have all these in Christ and if we crave more of them, God says ask and you shall receive. Paul knew the power of God’s word and I want to think he had such a hunger for it. He just wanted others to know that their ways of darkness can be taken away and they can be brought into the light of Jesus Christ.

  17. Paul is addressing the age-old question in Galatians. This is the holy version of “Which came first? The Chicken or the egg?”. Since the time of the resurrection of Jesus until now and until the Lord comes again, this question will be asked, “Is there faith without works? Is there works without faith?”. Since Christ has come, he has set man free and has given them freedom from the law. However, this does not mean man is justified to do as he wishes (please do not go on a purge right after your conversion, that is messed up and a no-no!). Paul discusses how Christ bought man out of slavery and now he is no longer bound to be “fulfilling” the entirety of the law (Longenecker). Paul is stating that now Jesus has come, fulfilled the law and shown the law’s true purpose, to show man how sinful he is, there is no longer a requirement for people to follow parts of the law that were considered mandatory (food laws and circumcision). There are others who have strongly disagreed with Paul, stating you cannot have faith in God without following the law. Paul is not saying that Christians should now live as they please (this would be a terrible thing, the Purge is real, too real). Rather, Paul is stating that now everyone can be saved, Jew and Gentile alike. This means that large stumbling blocks of the law no longer have to be followed, but Christians should still live in a way that is pleasing to God. Paul feels so strongly about this that he replies to those far-right wing circumcision conservatives that if they are so passionate about keeping that part of the law that they should just go ahead and go to the nine yards and make themselves eunuchs (Galatians 5:12). Paul’s feistiness shows the deep conviction of the message God gave Paul to share. This news is great, Christians are no longer bound to the law, but rather they get to keep the law to glorify God and show the world his goodness.

  18. I find it interesting that the church of Galatia was confused with what Paul was trying to communicate that if we are in Christ, we don’t have to keep the whole law.. Today we clearly see that we must have a relationship with Christ, instead of being a “slave” to the law.
    P long said in class that the one who tries to keep the law, must keep the whole law. If people are circumcising themselves under old covenant law, but this has already expired and does not apply anymore. By trying to keep the law, they are trusting something else other than Jesus Christ.
    We see that Paul wanted them have a relationship first through is what TTP says, “the only thing of importance is putting one’s faith into practice through concrete forms of leaving service (pg. 102).” what he is saying is that the relationship is what matters first. That isn’t the whole point of believing in Jesus. We don’t have to have all these dos and don’ts to follow in order to be saved. We are adopted and apart of his family.
    Paul used metaphors for explaining how we must do something. In this case, Paul uses slavery as a metaphor for how we were slaves to the law, and were trapped.

  19. It is unfortunate that there are still people out there who claim that you must follow the law or a version of the law in order to be saved or to be made “right” with God. In Galatians 3:23-25 Paul writes about how we were once slaves to the law, but because of Christ we are now free and do not have to be slaves to it anymore. Some Christians today still act as though they are slaves to the law and judge those who do not practice it as well. If we were still slaves to the law, then that means Christ died on the cross for nothing (Galatians 2:21)! In Paul’s letter the Galatians he writes about people who are trying to almost convince the Galatian Jesus-followers to stray from the narrow path of their faith. Longenecker writes “In his view, they were intruders threatening the salvific well-being of the Galatians by peddling a gospel that runs contrary to the authentic gospel” (Longenecker, 90). Paul referred to these people as the “agitators” and they were sharing a gospel with the Galatians that Paul would not even consider the Gospel. It was so far from the truth that they could not claim it to be the Gospel! This is a problem in today’s age because there are Christians who are promoting the law and making non-believers and even current believers (more frequently those who are new in their faith) think that this is the truth of the Gospel. Paul writes about how if these people are going to be practicing circumcision then they should be practicing every single detail of the Law and I could say that same thing about “Christians” today who believe that you must follow the law to be saved. Most of the time, they are promoting something specific from the law, which would make them hypocritical, not practicing it in full. When we share the Gospel, it is crucial that we emphasize our freedom from the law through Jesus Christ and his death on the cross!

  20. Galatians 5:1 stated, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” This verse is about submitting to sin and having a bondage to sin. It is easy to fall into legalism and live a life in bondage, but we are free in Christ Jesus. Jesus died on the cross for our sin so that we are free from sin. This is a concept that can be hard for Christians to understand. “Paul is not talking about a religion in Galatians, but rather a relationship with God. We are not slaves, but rather his dearly loved children,” (Long, 2019). John 15:15 states, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my father I have made known to you.” Because of His death on the cross, we are able to have a personal relationship with God. When Jesus died on the cross, He become the perfect sacrifice and torn the curtain between man and God. The Law was abolished and followers of Jesus did not have to make animal sacrifices and they did not have to avoid certain foods anymore. As followers of Jesus, we are able to have a friendship and deeper personal relationship with God. We are set free by God and we can have a personal relationship with Him. Legalism is when we try to earn the grace of God and when we try to save ourselves through our own works. This cannot be done, the only way to the Father is through the Son, (John 14:6).

  21. Some people believe that they can do whatever they want in the world and get away with it because, “God will forgive them”. Yes, this is true in that he will forgive you, but I do not believe this is not what Paul is trying to convey to his audience. There are rules that even followers of Christ must listen to even if it isn’t exactly what you believe to be true. In the blog post it talks about how when someone accepts Christ, they are rejecting all fellow gods and idols that are put before you by the law. In this instance I believe this is what Paul is trying to prove by saying that it is okay to not follow the traditional law which is placed before you as it is not in line with what God is allows in his family. The Apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2, the purpose of submitting to authority. God has allowed the people in authority to rule over us and has a purpose for them being there. He goes on to say that if the authority that is put in place rejects the teachings of God and prohibits you from growing in your faith you are to reject the Law and follow what God says. With all these rules and laws that we must follow it can be hard to know which ones to follow in order to be right with God as we will feel like someone is always watching what we do, making sure we make the right decision. This is what Paul wants us to strive away from and look to grow a profound relationship with God instead of going by the book with everything that we do. He doesn’t want us to be slaves to what is put before us but have us make our own choices within the law to show that we are His beloved children.

  22. In my opinion, I believe people tend to fall more into contemporary Christianity because it is easier for them. I am not saying that this is a good or a bad reason, just stating an opinion based on what I have seen. Some rules in traditional churches may very easily be too far and unreasonable, and others may just want to leave because they want to do what they want without feeling a large amount of pressure. Some Christians just enjoy the comfort of being in a traditional church because they are always feeling like they are doing the right thing. The issue with that is when traditional Christians start to judge those who do not follow the same traditions that they do. I believe that Christians should not have to follow the entire old law, but I do believe we should look at the law for a guide to our life. There are some rules that feel very easy to no do such as “do not murder” and “do not steal.” They seem very easy and like common sense, but it is pretty easy to tell that humans very often lack in the common sense department. I think the great part of being a Christian is that we do not have to do good works to be in a good spot with God. We know that we are sinners no matter what we do, the only things that we can do are to try to live our life best without sinning and just asking for forgiveness. It is great that God loves us no matter what we do, because if it was based on our actions we would never have the ability to joining God in Heaven because we are all sinners by nature.

  23. The idea of following traditions and performing rituals seems very foreign to 21st century American protestants, but for most of the world throughout history, having lots of religious rituals and practices is very normal. Perhaps the early Christians found it difficult to really connect with Yhwh since they would have been used to performing sacrifices and participating in cultic rituals for the Pagan gods they worshipped before. This is perhaps similar to when we are “just not in the Christmas spirit” when there’s no snow on the ground or when we haven’t heard our favorite Christmas songs yet. We know that we do not need to do those things in order for Christmas to come around, but we connect more with the holiday spirit and are more emotionally invested in the holiday when we can engross our bodies in tradition and our normal habits.

    If this is the case, then it would explain the draw to following Jewish tradition that the early Gentile converts experienced. However, Longenecker implies that it could also be the case that “following the Law” was a way of saying that they wanted to be circumcised (90). This seems unlikely to be the case as the issue of circumcision was actually an issue that turned Gentiles away from full conversion in the past. Why would they suddenly change their mind now? And of all the traditions to follow, why would they choose that one? It seems more likely that the Gentiles wanted to follow the ritualistic parts of the Law because they wanted to feel close to God through habits that were familiar to them, and perhaps because they also wanted to participate in table fellowship with the Jews, and just be a part of the larger community in general. Community, after all, is very important for religion.

  24. I have heard that is stated we still have to keep food laws and sabbath and all these as someone not long come to Church this really upset me and unsettled me i try to understand better as it is grace that saves us not works or the law

  25. While uncommon within the 21st-century American church, ritualism was once incredibly frequent within Greco-Roman society. Thus, Gentiles desiring a tradition-filled religion would relate to their previous paganistic tendencies of cultic rituals and sacrifices for the gods. Gentiles, according to Dr. Long (2019), could additionally avoid the proposition of a “superstitious religion,” suspect of any new religion in the Roman world. Paul contends against rampant legalism by agitators, perhaps Jewish people, who cited a passage that was “explicit in its requirement to observe unfalteringly everything written in the Mosaic Law” (Longenecker & Still, 2014, pp. 90-91). Today, the mere idea appears foolish; even those who subscribe to Judaism have altered their adopted customs and rites because of the impossibility of observing every single requirement as stipulated in the Mosaic Law (Longenecker & Still, 2014, p. 91)! Emily Renberg above me regards the Mosaic Law as “merely chains of bondage thinly veiled as a safety net and guide.” However, Paul himself notes a functioning law-making body as integral to society, requesting Christians to submit to its authority (Romans 13:1). Thus, the dialectic surrounding the archaic Mosaic Law must be understood differently, invoked through rather emotional and evocative language on Paul’s part. Dr. Long (2019) dialogues, “Paul’s use of shocking language in these verses is calculated and intentional – he is demanding that his readers make a decision to stand firm in the gospel now, before they accept the Law.” Acceptance of Christ is a conscious, radical alteration in a believer’s life that must be fully embraced by the Gentiles.

    Some Christians purport themselves as “legalists” in today’s age, yet commit hypocrisy by still picking and choosing which pertinent laws are to be followed. One need not align with a specific ritualistic demeanor or spiritual denomination. In connection with Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (ESV), salvation is bestowed by God, not earned. One is right with God because they have been adopted into the body of Christ as His beloved children, not out of any personal obligation. In a human society engrossed by schemes and implied stipulations in the margins, Paul seems to offer a view of Christianity that might, unironically, leave most believers confused. Yet, the decree to love others and attempt to repent and depart from sin presents an incredibly tougher challenge than any law-centric system. A motion to place God within a metaphorical box mounts when we attempt to surmise what He desires for us instead of relying solely on His word. Humans naturally prefer conformity and order, and imagining life beyond our worldview’s lenses persists as unattainable. Humans enjoy practicalities, evidenced by books that inscribe success within easily-repeatable steps executed day by day. Conclusively, “no one can observe the law worthily enough” (Longenecker & Still, 2014, p. 99).

  26. Following traditions and sacrificial rituals is a strange idea to most modern Christians (the normal ones anyway). However, it would have been very normal for early Christians to devote their lives to cultic sacrifices and rituals in order to please pagan deities that they used to worship. In contrast, hearing that they are free in Christ would sound radically odd. As a result, it would be tempting to follow Jewish tradition if it weren’t for that pesky circumcision issue (and I don’t blame them for struggling with this one!). So in this sense, they were being hypocrites and choosing to follow what laws they wanted to. Paul sharply disagrees. Longenecker and Still note that “the only thing of import is putting one’s faith into practice through concrete forms of loving service (5:6)” (pg. 102).

    The context of Galatians 5 is quite interesting when applied to Christianity today. There certainly are those who put stock in keeping a form of the law as a way to reach God just as these early Christians did. I have experienced this firsthand in a church that I used to attend. This works-based theology is deeply rooted in a false sense of identity. Legalists today are too focused on their standing in the church, and as a result of this, they do more harm than good. They suppose themselves to being perfect followers of the law, but they indeed are hypocritical by choosing what laws they should follow and ignoring the rest. This, as Paul clearly states in 5:5 is terribly wrong. “For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness” (ESV). This is how Christians should be living, not as hypocritical cherry pickers of the law, but as faithful, loving, and free followers of Jesus Christ.

  27. What first comes to mind when I think of legalism within Christianity, I think of the expectation people must have to dress formally for church. I remember having to wear my tights for church every Sunday. They were itchy, thick, and uncomfortable; not that my parents were legalists by any means, and maybe this is a bit of a stretch when we compare this legalistic mindset to the example of circumcision as a part of the Law. Regardless, the expectation that one “must” dress a certain way to be presentable to worship misses the point of why we worship completely.
    This is what Paul was getting at in his revelation of the mystery in Ephesians 3, as well as further discussed in Galatians 5. It is by grace that we have been saved, and what a wonderful message that is! Paul reminds the church in Gal. 5 that full submission to the Mosaic Law is no longer what is asked of for Christ followers. Within the name, Christ followers are called to follow Christ. He reminds the confused Gentiles that taking steps backward into a legalistic lifestyle is dangerous. Paul uses passionate language and I feel that Paul was pouring out his bleeding heart diligently to the church with heavy concern. Within this intense language, he notes that Christ’s sacrifice is irrelevant if we are only called to follow the law rather than accept the gift that Jesus Christ so lovingly gave us. With this mindset, Christ is viewed incorrectly. The Galatians needed this language to grab their attention.
    The acceptance of this gift is, as stated within the blog, is a big relief to the Gentiles. Not only was the commitment less of a ritual process, but it also was assurance that one had eternity with God in heaven. Risky business was always the theme of ancient gods such as the Greco-Roman gods. A peaceful afterlife always depended on works. The new law, as the class notes discuss, is the Law of Christ, which is “…a law of love, a law that is guided by the Holy Spirit” (Long, p. 65). This law, as believers know, leads to a joyous life of devotion and relationship with the heavenly Father. No other joy can top this! The message of the mystery, and the deliverance from Jesus Christ is all the motivation that the God-fearing Gentiles in Galatia need, yet they struggled to understand.

  28. The message in Galatians 5:1 and the following chapters is talking about how as believers in Christ, we are free from the legalistic requirements of the Jewish Law. The way Paul talks with his emotion shows the importance of this kind of freedom. He urged all the Galatians to stand strong in the gospel, and nit having it return to the outdated covenant. When talking about the Galatian churches, some Gentile believers may have been tempted to adopt the Jewish Law as a way to express their Christian identity and keep themselves away from the pagan gods and rituals of what was the Greco-Roman world. Today I think Galatians defiantly still matters. Some Christians might get stuck on rules like rituals, strict beliefs, or how they live, thinking it’s the only way to be good with God. But what Paul says is, it’s really about having faith in Christ and being part of God’s family. It’s not about rules it’s about being close to God as His loved kids. In modern times, as in Paul’s era, the core message remains: freedom in Christ from legalism, embracing a personal relationship with God, and understanding that we are His cherished children, not slaves to religious rules. In today’s world, like back in Paul’s time the main point is still the same, We’re free in Christ, not tied up in religious rules. It’s about being close to God as His cherished children not following strict religious laws.

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