Eternal salvation is no do-it-yourself project. The gospel tells us that the law was given to point us to Christ, never to save. Why does legalism die hard?
What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats. Isaiah 1:11
For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 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. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. Galatians 2:19-21
Isaiah spoke powerfully against the hypocrisy of the people of Judah. Their law-keeping was mere window-dressing. God was not pleased with their offerings and sacrifices. But wasn’t this what God had commanded in the law given to Moses? Yes, but they were missing the essential part. The offerings and sacrifices were not intended to provide a cover-up for their sin. These should have been an outward expression of their repentance and contrition. God could see their hearts, and He was not impressed. He sent Isaiah to call them to act in ways that showed repentance and to seek His cleansing for even the most heinous sin (1:16-20).
In Galatia, a similar thing was occurring. The believers were abandoning the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and reverting to law-keeping as the basis for their reconciliation with God. Paul grieved deeply (Galatians 1:6-9). His letter aims to correct this grave and dangerous error. To make his point, Paul relates his own experience of receiving the gospel from Christ and, at one point, even having to confront Peter for wavering from that gospel.
Think about it
Why this tendency, of those who should know better, to revert to law-keeping for salvation? Perhaps, as justified people (but still not fully sanctified), we are prone to a prideful desire to merit our salvation, if just a little. Perhaps this error grows from a desire to cover-up our sin by appearing holy, instead of confessing our sin and trusting God’s forgiveness. Beware of straying from the basis of our justification, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ and not our faulty lawkeeping. Never rob God of His glory by reverting to trust in good works for your forgiveness. Legalism dies hard in Judah, in Galatia, and, I’m afraid, in our hearts today.