Paul’s concern was less about theology and more about transformation. Not to say that Paul wasn’t contending for the true gospel of God when he wrote the church at Galatia, but, more importantly, he was laboring as an expectant mother about to give birth for true children of God.
My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you, I would like to be present with you now and to change my tone; for I have doubts about you. Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law?
(Galatians 4:19-21 ESV)
They had heard the gospel preached. They had seen, by faith, Christ crucified. Known firsthand the regenerating work of the Spirit of God in their lives. Their names were in the Book. Mission accomplished, right? Not really!
You can’t read Galatians without knowing two things. First, Paul would fight fearlessly for the sake of the gospel’s purity–Jesus plus nothing, that is the power of God for salvation for all who believe. Nothing to be added to the work of Christ on the cross–it is finished. No human merit needed to earn salvation, no human effort able to secure salvation.
The other thing you can’t miss is that, for Paul, it wasn’t enough that followers of Christ be saved by grace, but that they also grow in grace. The gospel was not simply to be “fire insurance”, it was to be fullness of life. Having people respond to the good news that Jesus saves wasn’t an end game for Paul, it was the beginning of a race. Being made a new creation in Christ wasn’t the ultimate goal, as much as it was to live as a new creation in Christ.
I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you
Christ formed in you. That’s how Paul viewed the gospel’s purpose. That those created as image-bearers of God would be re-created to be image-bearers of God’s Son. That having being crucified with Christ, they would know what it was to have Christ live in them. That having confessed the folly of the flesh, they would now desire to live by the Spirit. Having been born again by grace, they would be formed again by grace to emit something of the nature of the risen Christ.
To add anything to the gospel, such as the need to follow the law, not only distorted the message, it also derailed the metamorphosis. It not only corrupted the text, but it also curtailed the transformation.
Responding to the gospel is only the beginning. Being reformed by the gospel is a life-long work. And what began as work of the Spirit, cannot be completed by works of the flesh.
It’s more than just a message Paul was contending for, it was those redeemed by that message. That the gospel seed would bear much fruit, fruit evidenced by Christ formed in them.
Good theology leads to great transformation.
By His grace. For His glory.