ten commandments and father with infant November 19 Chronological Bible Study

Timeline. Map. Go to today’s Bible reading (NIV) or alternate versions (use your browser arrow to return): Galatians 1, 2, 3, 4

Christianity—Is it Rules or a Relationship?

From childhood some of us were raised with a bunch of rules. They may have been in our homes, our schools, or our churches. They gave us security and let us know what behavior was expected. By conforming to them, we sought to please our parents, teachers, or other leaders. But did the keeping of rules and traditions give us joy and a relationship with those in authority or did it just “keep them off our backs,” so to speak?

In the time before Christ, if a Gentile (non-Jew) wanted to become a Jew, he had to be circumcised and obey the Law given by Moses (as taught from the books of Exodus–Deuteronomy). He would then become a Jew in almost every sense. He would keep their traditions, bring animals and present them for sacrifice at the tabernacle or temple, attend all the appointed feasts, and keep the Sabbath days holy, set apart to the LORD.

Between the writings of the Old and New Testaments, a new priestly sect rose up, the Pharisees. They interpreted the Law and composed a detailed legalistic system for keeping it. If Jews or converted Gentiles legalistically and faithfully kept the Law “as properly interpreted by the Pharisees,” attended the synagogues regularly, observed all the traditions, and gave their tithes to the temple, they were considered righteous. Are men and women righteous by conforming to religious rules and ceremonies?

Christianity was a threat to the whole Jewish religious system. Christians were persecuted because they followed a relationship with Christ and not all the rules. Because of this persecution, many Jewish believers sought compromises. They started teaching the new Christian believers that in addition to their faith they must also be circumcised and keep the Law to be made righteous in God’s sight. In Galatians 6:12, the Apostle Paul instructs the Galatian believers, “Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ” (NIV).

What is the motivation for keeping rules, ceremonies, and traditions in today’s religious circles? Is it to appear to be righteous? Is it to avoid persecution or malicious talk by ministers and church members? Adding to the grace of God brings no favor with him—it is a grievous error!

At this time of controversy, Paul writes to the Galatian believers,

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ (1:6, NIV).

The Galatian Christians are being pressured to conform to the regulations of the Law of Moses and the Pharisees, from which Christ has freed them. Paul composes the letter of Galatians to refute this false teaching.

In a very logical manner Paul presents his argument. “We who are Jews by birth and not 'Gentile sinners' know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:15-16, NIV). Jewish believers could be sure of this because the promise of being justified by faith came to Abraham before the Law of Moses was even given (Galatians 3:6). The Law does not nullify the promise of faith. It was put into effect to restrict wrongful behavior and bring order by having a standard based on God’s righteousness and holiness.

The Law, however, cannot bring righteousness. Much like a stop sign, the Law only points out wrong behavior. In obedience to God, by faith the Jews brought sacrifices to atone for their sins of which the Law made them guilty. They did this until Jesus came and was the ultimate sacrifice to take away sins.

Now the Apostle Paul tells them (and us), “You are all sons of God [children of God] through faith in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26, NIV). Christ is the one perfect sacrifice to satisfy God’s righteousness. A relationship with Christ, therefore, trumps all religious practices. This does not mean we no longer obey God's moral laws; they are still God's standards of righteousness. Now, however, we are able to obey them because of the grace and presence of God in our lives. We live in order to please God our heavenly Father.

Lessons to Live By

  • Adding to the grace of God is a grievous error! Rules are guides for behavior, but a relationship with Christ is required to give us joy, complete forgiveness of sins, favor, and peace with God (more...).
  • Do not let a religious cult draw you away from Christ.
  • A relationship with Christ trumps all religious practices.
  • Let us live to please God our heavenly Father.

Focus Verse: Galatians 3:26 (NIV) “You are all sons of God [children of God] through faith in Christ Jesus.” .

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A Look Ahead: We have freedom from being bound by traditions and religious rules, but what does Freedom in Christ really mean? Find out in our Next Lesson.

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