The first verse in Paul’s letter to the Galatians begins with a defense of his ministry. He preached a salvation “apart from the Law” and that greatly enraged the Jew’s. It even enraged the Jewish converts to Christianity because they were insisting that the Gospel included training in righteous living, i.e., living up to the standards of the law.  Believing in who Jesus was and what Jesus did was insufficient for salvation. One must also strive to keep the laws of Moses. If the Jewish converts to Christianity permitted Paul to preach the pure, unadulterated Gospel of salvation by grace through faith alone, apart from the law, then any pagan any gentile any gross sinner could be saved without having to conform to the standards of Jewish righteousness. Therefore the legalists of the day attacked Paul and his message. They argued that Paul taught license to sin. Paul only proclaimed half of the Gospel. It wasn’t enough to believe one must also obey the law.

The conflict wasn’t just between Paul and the legalists.  It wasn’t just a conflict between personalities or preferences. It was a conflict over the heart of the entire Gospel message. It was a conflict that began in the very first generation of Christianity as witnessed in the book of Galatians which is the first letter written chronologically as well as many episodes in the book of Acts.  It is also is a conflict that continued through every generation and brought the church to a radical revolution over the issue in what is known as the Protestant Reformation. The reformers argued for “sola fide” which means one is saved by faith alone. The established church argued that faith is not enough. Good works are essential for salvation.

The conflict continues today. Many sects and denominations still argue that works are essential for salvation, but what is more dangerous to me is the pastoral focus on works. While some preachers and teachers argue for salvation by faith alone their preaching and teaching takes the focus off of what has been done for them on the cross and focuses more attention on what we do. They pay lip service to salvation by grace through faith alone and say that works are not essential yet week after week continue to preach a message of good works and righteousness. This essentially turns Christianity into just another religion. All religions teach ethical and moral standards. All religions have rituals, regulations and resolutions. Paul’s argument is essentially that Christ did not come to set up another religion but to destroy all religion and open the doors of heaven to all people alike based on a finished work that he accomplished for us on the cross of Calvary.  When Jesus said, “it is finished” he meant it.