Galatians – Faith and Works

August 16, 2008

The issue of Galatians has always been stark: either the Judaizers are correct and Paul is a gross heretic, or Paul’s gospel is from God and the Judaizing legalists are confusing the Galatian converts. Yet, Christians since the Protestant Reformation have used Paul’s argument in this epistle to understand to the relationship of faith and works. One would have to bend Paul’s logic and terminology to argue that living the essential gospel does not entail any form of religious action. Certainly he sees baptism, the laying on of hands, conduct-changing repentance, and other vital acts as key to living a Christian life.

Christians should rightly be weary of both legalistic additions to the gospel and an attitude of antinomianism, a philosophy of lawlessness. The correct understanding of the nature of saving faith and Christian liberty is at stake in Chapter 3. An upset Paul asks who has tricked the Galatians into questioning the clear gospel in which he instructed them. He also asks whether or not the supernatural life, Spirit and miracles he offered them are more convincing than the new philosophy of the Judaizers.

The phrase "the works of the law" does not mean obedience to the law (cf. 3:5). A negative term in this context, Paul instead rebukes a reliance on self-justification through good works to gain access to salvation and absolve sins. The true child of God admits his weaknesses and wholeheartedly trusts in Jesus Christ despite his faults rather than try to manipulate a legal system in order to gain eternal life by his own actions. More important than the acts themselves are one’s motives and intent.

Hebrews 12 shows examples of obedient acts of faith, for "by faith Abraham obeyed," persistently migrated West, and even tied his son Isaac on an altar for sacrifice. These wise actions exhibit a total reliance on God. The Book of Hebrews, John 8, Romans, Galatians, James and others show the necessity for the Christian not only to believe, but also to work in accord with God’s will through his actions. Paul always sought to bring about obedience to God through faith among the Gentiles. One finds the phrase "the obedience of faith" throughout the Epistle to the Romans, notably at the beginning and the end.

The relationship of faith and works bears significance to all Christians, but in a special way to Mass-attending Catholics. The difference between clocking in and out of Mass and offering one’s total self in faith and humility with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and receiving His body and blood is the difference between an act of legalism and an act of faith.

Music: Beethoven’s Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor performed by Paul Pitman. www.musopen.com

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