Be Free (Galatians): Exchange Legalism for True Spirituality by Warren Wiersbe is a commentary or study guide to read alongside the New Testament book of Galatians.
Paul wrote a rather strongly-worded letter to the Galatians with none of his usual thanksgiving and commendation for his readers. That’s because the Galatians were confusing law and grace.
The first Christians were Jewish and were quite stunned when Gentiles became believers. There was a lot of confusion at first about whether Gentile believers had to follow the same practices as the Jews (see Acts 10, 11, and 15).
The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will. (Acts 15:6-11, emphasis added).
The initial confusion was understandable. But some, called Judaizers, persisted in teaching that Gentile believers must keep the OT law, especially the Jewish rite of circumcision. Paul insisted this was trusting in works, not grace, and we’re not saved by works.
It wasn’t that circumcision was good or bad in itself. Paul mentions bringing Titus, a Gentile believer to Jerusalem with no thought of having him circumcised (Galatians 2:1-5). But later in Acts 16:1-3, Paul had Timothy circumcised. Was Paul being inconsistent? No, Timothy was half Jewish, half Greek, and Paul wanted to bring him along on his missionary journeys. As a part Jewish man, Timothy would never have been accepted or listened to by the Jews without being circumcised. So in his case, circumcision was a matter of not being a stumblingblock to those he wanted to minister to. (John Piper goes into this more here.) The difference was that neither Paul nor Timothy were trusting in circumcision as a means to salvation or to earn favor with God. The Judaizers were.
So Paul argues against law and for grace, appealing to the Galatians personally, doctrinally, and practically. They were in danger of teaching false doctrine, of forsaking and perverting the gospel. It was serious enough for Paul to write as he did.
I won’t go into all the details or Wiersbe’s outline here. But Wiersbe makes application to our day. Probably few of us are tempted to observe Jewish law for salvation as the Judaizers were. But we can easily lapse into trusting in the rules or standards of whatever faith group we’re a part of instead of trusting Christ alone for salvation.
Millions of believers think they are “spiritual” because of what they don’t do—or because of the leader they follow—or because of the group they belong to. The Lord shows us in Galatians how wrong we are—and how right we can be if only we would let the Holy Spirit take over.
When the Holy Spirit does take over, there will be liberty, not bondage—cooperation, not competition—glory to God, not praise to man. The world will see true Christianity, and sinners will come to know the Savior. There is an old-fashioned word for this: revival.
Here are a few other quotes.
We must never forget that the Christian life is a living relationship with God through Jesus Christ. A man does not become a Christian merely by agreeing to a set of doctrines; he becomes a Christian by submitting to Christ and trusting Him (Rom. 11: 6).
We not only are saved by grace, but we are to also live by grace (1 Cor. 15: 10). We stand in grace; it is the foundation for the Christian life (Rom. 5: 1–2). Grace gives us the strength we need to be victorious soldiers (2 Tim. 2: 1–4). Grace enables us to suffer without complaining, and even to use that suffering for God’s glory (2 Cor. 12: 1–10). When a Christian turns away from living by God’s grace, he must depend on his own power. This leads to failure and disappointment. This is what Paul meant by “fallen from grace” (Gal. 5: 4)—moving out of the sphere of grace and into the sphere of law, ceasing to depend on God’s resources and depending on our own resources.
God revealed Christ to Paul, in Paul, and through Paul. The “Jews’ religion” (Gal. 1: 14) had been an experience of outward rituals and practices, but faith in Christ brought about an inward experience of reality with the Lord. This “inwardness” of Christ was a major truth with Paul (2: 20; 4: 19).
Ever since Paul’s time, the enemies of grace have been trying to add something to the simple gospel of the grace of God. They tell us that a man is saved by faith in Christ plus something—good works, the Ten Commandments, baptism, church membership, religious ritual—and Paul made it clear that these teachers are wrong. In fact, Paul pronounced a curse on any person (man or angel) who preaches any other gospel than the gospel of the grace of God, centered in Jesus Christ (Gal. 1: 6–9; see 1 Cor. 15: 1–7 for a definition of the gospel). It is a serious thing to tamper with the gospel.
Justification is an act of God; it is not the result of man’s character or works. “It is God that justifieth” (Rom. 8: 33). It is not by doing the “works of the law” that the sinner gets a right standing before God, but by putting his faith in Jesus Christ.
Reading this book was a little different from reading the author’s Be Reverent on Ezekiel. Ezekiel has 48 chapters, so Wiersbe’s commentary covered broader sections in his chapters. But Galatians only has six chapters, so Wiersbe took two chapters to discuss each chapter of Galatians. If I had been reading this on my own, I would have just read one chapter of Wiersbe’s commentary on half a chapter of Galatians a day. But because I was reading one chapter a day of Galatians for our church Bible study, I had to read two chapters of Wiersbe to keep on track. It had my head spinning a couple of days, especially in the more doctrinal parts of the book. But Wiersbe in generally pretty easy to follow and comprehend.