When Paul wrote his letters to the churches, he frequently addressed problems they encountered. The urgency of the problem depended on how swift he addressed it. In the Galatians letter, Paul began with the problem immediately. Not long after Christ’s death and resurrection, defection from the gospel began. The influence of Judaism and the Mosaic Law remained strong among the recipients of the gospel.
The Church lived in two worlds: the world of Judaism and the world of Christ’s resurrection. While mass conversions took place to Christ, the thought of leaving Judaism never entered the minds of the Jews. They still had their synagogues, the Temple, sacrifices, ceremonies, and Torah. The newness of the resurrection never led the Jews to believe that they must leave the Jewish religion and all that defined it.
Then came Paul. He discovered or rediscovered the seeds of the gospel in God’s word to the Jews in the Old Testament through his encounter with the living Christ. These seeds came to fruition through Christ. Christ opened his eyes to the grace and peace (Galatians 1:3) from the unchanging covenant given from God of the Jews and the Gentiles. As he received this revelation from Christ, he understood how the Mosaic Law never meant to be the means of redemption or what distinguished the people of God from others. The Gentiles never had the benefits the Jews possessed (Romans 9:4). Yet, God also called them to redemption.
Since Paul ministered the unqualified grace and peace of Christ to the Gentiles, a huge tension arose among the Jews concerning authority. God gave Moses the Law. Must then the Gentiles enter the Christian community of faith through the same authority – Moses? There is precedent for this process – Gentile proselytes through circumcision. If so, they must be circumcised and observe the tenets of the Mosaic Law to receive redemption. Christ was not enough. Grace was not enough. One cannot just kick Moses to the curb just because Paul said so. Who was he to usurp Mosaic authority? What was Paul’s answer? No, no, no! No one could keep the Law. Sinful flesh held sway over us and simply leads to defection. Jewish history gave evidence of Israel continually leaving God.
What then? Paul argues that God the Father and Jesus His Son gave the necessary grace and peace the Law could not provide. This grace and peace came through the cross: Christ becoming sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). With this message, Paul encountered the first heresy of this young Church – the renunciation of Christ’s complete satisfaction for sin. What are the points of this heresy? Christ and His sacrifice were not enough. Grace was not enough. Peace with God was not enough. The Galatians needed to go through the Mosaic Law to get through Christ’s redemption. Therefore, salvation was Christ plus, grace plus, the cross plus. What was the plus? Human effort! The tension was between Christ and human effort.