In my Bible, at the end of Galatians, I wrote the following note:
“To walk according to the law is to say that God has given us His ‘manual’ and we only need to live in accordance to it. This is taking the holy things in carnal manner – walking out our faith by our own strength and power – and thus utilizing the wisdom of demons to achieve a preconceived notion of righteousness.”
The entirety of Galatians is dedicated to the discussion of law versus grace. At least, this is what the commentators say. I think we often have a misunderstanding of what Paul means when he says law, and therefore we have a misunderstanding of law and grace. By law, what is meant is the substitute of the eternal covenant for anything less than that eternal covenant. To put it more plainly, it is the embrace of regulation and sacrifice for the sake of not having to know God intimately enough to understand what He approves of. It is the embrace of someone “over” you for the sake of not having to hear God yourself. It is the embrace of a system or institution of religion for the sake of not being inconvenienced or changing your lifestyle.
What makes Galatians such a monumental book is not simply its unrelenting rejection of our own work, but the genius way in which it at the same time declares how to actually walk according to the Spirit. Here is the amazing part. We find on the one hand the exegesis of law, and therefore the understanding of what not to do/be. On the other hand, we find the exegesis of grace (or life by the Spirit), and therefore clear-cut instruction on how we ought to live.
The general flow of the epistle is to introduce the problem, that there is an abundance of people within the Church who have embraced “law” for the sake of righteousness, but in embracing “law”, they have thus rejected life by the Spirit. It moves from this first introduction to Paul uses his own call as an example. Is it by faith that he has been called an apostle, or by his own merit? He even goes into the story of his standing up to Peter, opposing him to his faith, because Peter is acting one way when the Jews from Jerusalem are not around, and a different way when they are around. This, says Paul’s analogy from the story, is the same as “law”.
Therefore, the conclusion is the question of whether it is by observance or by faith that they were saved. If it be by faith, then why would our sanctification be by any other means? It is this point that is the pivot of the whole epistle. Before it are two examples from his own life that Paul uses as analogy. After it are two examples that Paul uses from the life of Abraham (the father of faith) to drive this point home.
Interspersed are discussions of sonship, adoption, Zion, and circumcision. Together we have a cohesive attack on the observation of the Torah (first five books of the Bible) as means of salvation and sanctification, as well as an attack on any striving to live out a preconceived idea of righteousness. We also have a cohesive foundation for the whole of Christian ethic and life. What exactly does it mean to walk in the Spirit, and how exactly do we do so? The answer is put plainly throughout the whole book.
May God give grace enough to open up the words upon the page, that they may be more than mere statements about something, more than just doctrinal teaching, but that they might be the eternal, apostolic, and prophetic declaration that brings forth transformation within the believer. God, give us ears to hear and hearts to receive such difficult words.