When the gospel-diluting Judaizers arrived in Galatia, they found that the Christians there believed that salvation was simply by God’s grace through faith. In their own minds, this was too simple. To the Judaizers, believing that God, the Holy Judge of all sinfulness, would grant forgiveness of sins and acceptance to those who simply placed their faith in the saving work of Jesus was a dangerous and confused way of teaching the gospel. In their estimation, God had seemed to require so much of His people in the Old Testament Mosaic Law (Law that was given to Moses) that for anyone to say He offered forgiveness and peace apart from doing good works was inconsistent with the character and nature of the God they had come to know and defend.
In an attempt to preserve the character of God, they sought to smear the character of Paul. Their first attack was at his authority. If Paul was truly an Apostle, he could speak and teach with inherited authority from Jesus Himself. If Paul was not an Apostle appointed by Jesus and just another preacher, then Paul’s teaching and instruction were prey to error, rendering his position on the exclusive gospel of faith alone vulnerable and unauthoritative. Paul answered this false charge at the outset of his epistle explaining that he had been called to faith and service as an Apostle by the glorified Christ.
Turning from his credentials, the Judaizers chose to attack Paul’s intentions. Perhaps from a knowledge of Paul’s evangelism method of “becoming all things to all people,” these trumpeters of malignity claimed that when Paul was with the Gentiles in Galatia, he was changing his gospel to match the audience. Their claim was that when Paul was with Jewish believers the gospel he preached was probably a law-based, works-based gospel, but when Paul was with the wild-lifestyle, licentious Gentiles, his gospel changed to be a lot less about having a right life and instead be simply about faith. Paul responded to the charges of impure motive with a simple statement, “The gospel I preached…I neither received it of man, neither was taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” In effect, he was saying, “You can judge motives, but when it comes down to the facts of the gospel message that I preach, that gospel message is the one I received directly from Jesus.”
Paul was not changing his message from place to place, rather, Paul was preaching the same message he had always preached. “Becoming all things to all people” was not ever at the expense of the true gospel, it was only always for the furtherance of the true gospel. Paul further explained his motive in declaring the gospel was not to impress people. Instead, he preached the gospel faithfully because he wanted to live in a way that was obediently pleasing to God. In arguing this very point of obedience to God, Paul was teaching that the gospel does not negate personal obedience and holiness. Paul was bound as a Christian to obey the things that God commanded. Similarly, all who come in faith and receive God’s grace for salvation are then called to live in holy obedience to God. In Paul’s teaching, obedience was a fruit of conversion, not a cause.
The view that works or obedience to the laws of God are a prerequisite to justification is known as legalism. In this system, the work of Christ is not enough to save a person from their sins, there is something else that must be done. Paul taught the church at Galatia that there is not only nothing that you must do, but that in all reality there is nothing that you are able to do to earn the grace of God.
Food For Thought: Where does Paul say that he received the gospel message that he preached? How should this silence any opposition once and for all?