Paul was upset. He had spent several years with the Galatians teaching them about how much God loved them. He had taught them that God had given each one of them a gift – the gift of His grace. Because of God’s grace (His unmerited favor), a gift was waiting for each one of them (and us)– the gift of eternal life in Christ. All they needed to do was to receive the gift. Christ had died to take away their sins. If they trusted Him and tried to follow Him they would be saved. The Galatians loved Paul and thousands of Galatians believed Paul and took God’s free gift. They joyfully gave their lives to Christ and the very first Christian churches in Galatia were born.
Paul stayed with the Galatians long enough to make sure they all knew that there is a freedom in Christ and that the gift of salvation was free. It couldn’t be earned- just taken by faith. It was all so simple. Faith was the key, not works. “For by grace you are saved through faith and not of yourselves it is the gift from God, not of works lest any person should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Paul had to say “goodbye” to his beloved Galatians, but he had promised to be back again as soon as he could. He felt like he was their spiritual father since he had been the one to bring them to faith in Christ.
But before many months had passed, Paul heard some bad news about his beloved Galatians. Some Jewish Christians had come to visit the Galatians after Paul had left and they had taught them that just having faith in Jesus wasn’t enough. These Jewish Christians had insisted that the Galatians follow certain Old Testament ceremonies along with believing in Christ. And they argued that the Galatians had to be circumcised in order to be saved. The Galatians were confused by these legalistic Jews and they started trying to follow the law and become circumcised along with believing in Christ.
So Paul was upset! Worried about his beloved Galatians! Had they really believed the legalistic Jewish Christians? Did they think they needed to work or do religious things in order to earn God’s gift of salvation? Paul wrote a long letter to the Galatians (and to us). The entire book of Galatians is about just one problem – the problem of believing you need to add your religious deeds to Jesus’ sacrifice in order to make it to heaven.
Listen to Paul as he pleads. “Do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through religious law, then Christ died in vain. Oh foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you ?…” (Galatians 2:21-3:1a) And: “But that no one is justified by the works of the law, for the just shall live by faith.” (Galatians 3:11)
More than fifteen hundred years later Martin Luther insisted that Galatians was his favorite book in the Bible because Paul had argued so passionately about the importance of trusting Jesus alone for salvation. As a young Augustine monk Luther wrote the words, “Sola Fide” or “Only by Faith” in the margins of his Bible. And the Protestant Reformation was started with this cry.
Paul (and the Bible) clearly states that salvation is by faith and not works (sola fide). But the Bible (and Paul) also often mentions works. Whenever Paul says that salvation is by faith, he is speaking in the past tense about our deliverance from sin and our new birth in Christ. We can never work to achieve our own salvation. It is a free Gift.
However after we become Christians we definitely can add our part and do our bit. We can follow Christ, do good deeds, study God’s Word and grow and mature in the faith. Or we can disobey and remain baby Christians. There is work for us to do after we accept God’s grace and receive the gift of salvation through Christ. But in the beginning when we become a Christian we just receive.
Here in 1 Peter 1:17-20 we are encouraged to work and live a good life and then we are reminded that our salvation comes from Christ alone and not from works or human strivings (perishable things). “Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives (work) as strangers here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed …but with the precious blood of Christ…”
The Galatian Christians are not the only Christians who have been tempted to believe that faith alone (sola fide) in Christ is not enough. It has been a temptation down through the ages. A temptation to believe that just trusting in Jesus is “too easy”. That we need to give more money or attend more religious ceremonies or do more good deeds to earn our own way. This is a common temptation that Christians seem to have.
So let’s not fall for this lie - make the same mistake as the Galatians. God has given a Gift to us (salvation through Jesus) and all we have to do is receive it. Just have faith - faith in Jesus. Martin Luther had it right. “Sola Fide” Faith Alone.