Remember, Galatians is a letter, written in a particular time to particular people with particular problem. In this case, the Jewish Christians, who before they knew Christ, took pride in the fact that they were God's chosen people, set apart from the rest of the world. Much of their Jewish identity came from their religious rituals, ceremonial washings, and dietary restrictions which were instructed by God through Moses.
These were the same covenant rituals in ceremonies we just read about in Hebrews that were fulfilled and set aside by Jesus' one, final, completed sacrifice on the cross.
But put yourself in the sandals of one of these early Jewish Christians. All of the sudden you're surrounded by lots of different people who are now also claiming to be God's children, but who are not adopting any of the ritualistic identity markers that you've associated with Godly people for as long as you can remember. That's a pretty tough pill to swallow. For better or worse, the Jews attempted to get their new Gentile brethren to look like what the Jews thought a good, Godly person ought to look like: one who keeps all the laws of Moses, but who also trusts in Christ. The problem is that the more a person strives to keep those old laws, the less he will trust in Christ.
Even though you have very little in common with any of these situations, this letter to the Galatians has huge application for your life. In your own situation, do you do things like go to church or read the Bible because you're trying to earn points with God, or because you eagerly desire to experience the peace that those practices deliver?
This is exactly what was going on in the churches of Galatia. The Jews there were slowly dragging the church back into law keeping as a necessary component of their salvation, which in fact was dragging the entire church back into a slavery to sin (v16).
In today's chapter, Paul recounts how difficult it is to remain committed to the idea that you are save by grace alone because of Christ alone. So many of Paul's fellow believers we're clinging to both their own religious efforts and Christ. Paul was able to persuade them to cling completely to Christ alone, but he had to be quite confrontational at times to do so.
The religious activities you do - going to church, reading the Bible, taking time for silence and reflection, and other similar Spiritual Disciplines are massively important to build up your faith, but let the book of Galatians remind you that these are not the things that make you right with God. Remember the line from the old gospel hymn: What can save me from my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
Use the comment box below to discuss one or more of these questions:
EYE FOR DETAIL—From what you recall seeing in this chapter, try answering the following question without looking at your Bible: In the following list of names, which one is not someone mentioned by Paul in this chapter? Barnabas, Titus, Timothy, Peter, James, or John? (See verses 1 and 7–9.)
The older you get, in what ways does it get easier to live out what Paul teaches by example and word in verse 20? In what ways does it get harder?
Questions taken from The Complete Bible Discussion Guide: New Testament.
Follow the AAA Prayer Pattern:
ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: God was at work in the early apostles and who is at work in you (v8).
ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Pray that you may no longer live to yourself, but that Christ will live in you (v20).
ASK GOD FOR WHAT YOU NEED: