"For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor.Galatians 2:18(NASB)
The epistle to the Galatians is not only a great proclamation of the liberty we enjoy in Christ, and the amazing grace that is afforded to all who believe in the person and work of the Lord Jesus, it is also a serious warning against turning away from biblical truth to a false gospel. It is an important denunciation against religiosity. It is an outstanding polemic against legalism.
The gospel of grace was the good news that Paul shared, throughout the region of Asia Minor, during his first missionary journey. He had been taught the gospel of the grace of God directly from the risen, ascended, glorified Lord Jesus, and was no doubt thrilled when the good news began to spread throughout the region, as men and women came to believe that Christ's sacrificial offering of Himself, was sufficient for their salvation.
Before his conversion, Paul was a strict Pharisee, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, who prided himself on his exemplary adherence to every jot and tittle of the Law of Moses. But after meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul was horrified to discover that the legalism, to which he had adhered so ardently, was the antithesis of the true gospel of God.
From that time forward, Paul's singular mission was to tell out the good news to those that were lost in their sin, and the region of Galatia became a fruitful missionary field. How shocking it must have been for him to discover that the gospel he preached had been twisted by legalists, and undermined by Judaisers, and that he himself, had been labelled as a false teacher, by those that opposed him.
It was difficult for Jews to discover that the Law of Moses had been superseded by the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus, and many refused to accept that the dispensation of Law ended at the cross, and had given way to the dispensation of the grace of God. As a result, Paul was vehemently opposed by legalists, who deliberately undermined his ministry and his message... and the churches throughout Galatia were infected with this false teaching.
It was under the shadow of this sabotage that Paul wrote his blistering letter to the Galatians, strongly condemning the legalists who introduced this false teaching, which attempted to place Christians back under the law. "Let them be accursed", was Paul's furious condemnation of these religionists, "if they preach anything but my gospel. If we, or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel, contrary to what we taught you, let that person be cursed by God and eternally condemned."
Paul had to speak very boldly and plainly to these believers. He needed to remind them that he was an apostle who was chosen by Christ Himself. He had been commissioned as the apostle to the Gentiles as well as an apostle to the Jews. Paul had to dismantle these false teachings systematically, and one way he did this was to remind them that there was a time when he was as legalistically minded as these false teachers, who wanted the Church to add Jewish teaching alongside Christian doctrine.
He reminded them of the occasion when the apostle Peter was being enticed back into legalistic ways, and that he, Paul, had to reprimand this great disciple of Christ, for refusing to eat with Gentiles, which was a tradition of the Jews. Paul needed to show these believers that neither Jews nor Gentiles are justified by works of the Law. We are all justified by faith in Christ Jesus - there is NO other way.
Paul had to explain that if he taught what these Judaisers were teaching, he would be sinning against the Lord, "For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed," he argues, "I prove myself to be a transgressor." If Paul reverted to living under the Law, as these legalists desired, he would be rebuilding what God has set aside, and going against the Lord's will. "For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor."
The Judaisers, religionists, and legalists of Paul's day wanted Christianity to become an offshoot of Judaism, where circumcision, Sabbath regulations, and the Mosaic Law were a requirement for salvation. There are even those today who similarly do not consider that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone - as the Bible teaches. How important that we familiarise ourselves with the dangers every false gospel presents, for if we try to rebuild what has already been set aside by God, we would be sinning against His perfect plan of salvation.
Never forget that man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus. Even Paul, a strict Pharisee, set aside his firmly held biases to believe in Christ Jesus, so that he too, was justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the Law - since by the works of the Law NO flesh will be justified.
Heavenly Father, thank You for the liberty I have in Christ and for the truth that I have in Your Word. Thank You that is is not by works of the law that we are justified, but simply by grace through faith in the person and work of Christ. Keep me from developing any religious bias or from being influenced by legalism. I pray that I may be filled with a knowledge of Your will and purpose for my life, so that I may walk in a manner worthy of You and honour You in every way. This I ask in Jesus' name and for His greater glory, AMEN.