Last Tuesday I concluded my installment on this Protestant Reformation series by saying that I’d write about Galatians this week to demonstrate Scripture’s stance against adding human works to God’s work of justification. Definitely, Galatians applies to the argument against Roman Catholicism’s system of sacraments, Purgatory, indulgences and the Mass.
Would you believe me if I said the dog ate my homework?
Didn’t think so. In which case I’m forced to admit that I just plain didn’t do my homework this week, leaving me totally unprepared to follow up on my promise. I consequently feel the same embarrassed shame I felt in my 7th grade English class when I had to admit (in front of the entire class, mind you) that I hadn’t done my homework. The teacher had always let the boys get away with it, but she sure had no grace for me!
I failed this week, but I at least did enough cursory research to know that Galatians has been called the Magna Carta of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther cherished the epistle, and his commentary on it is perhaps his most famous work. The little reading I did today convinced me that we really must look at Galatians as part of our discussion on the Reformation.
Paul wrote his letter to the church in Galatia because they had compromised the Gospel by believing false teachers. These false teachers had told them that faith in Christ alone wasn’t really enough to justify them before God; they insisted that these Gentile converts submit to Jewish law by undergoing circumcision. Infuriated by their distortion of the Gospel, Paul wrote the epistle to call them back to the truth that we can’t add anything to Christ’s work on the cross.
15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. ~~Galatians 2:15-12 (ESV)
Luther saw a parallel between the First Century Judaizers and the Roman Catholic Church that he saw in the 16th Century. His study of Galatians confirmed to him that the Roman Catholic system again taught the deception that human efforts must cooperate with God’s grace in order for salvation to take effect.
I honestly can’t promise to go through Galatians in detail, following Luther’s commentary, but I would like to go through a few key passages as we continue exploring the Reformation and its importance 500 years later. As Bible-believing Christians, we mustn’t forget why the Reformation happened. The Reformers risked their lives (in fact, many lost their lives) because they valued right doctrine over personal comfort. Since their doctrine of justification served as the keystone for them, we have an obligation to understand how they derived it from God’s Word.