Galatians was written shortly after the Jerusalem gathering of Acts 15 on Paul’s second missionary journey (Acts 16 – 18). You should get the impression that the whole “you can only be saved by being a Jew” controversy has left Paul seething at the impertinence of this false teaching. When he discovers that the Galatian christians have been infected with it, he fires off this angry letter and it arrives without so much as a salutation.
The Jewish false teachers are urging gentile converts to become Jews and to accept the identifiers of Judaism: circumcision, festival day observance, and dietary restrictions. If they will but become Jews and act Jewish, God will grant them His blessings. In fact, the implication is that God will owe them His blessings.
Several points are vitally important to understand.
First, the business of “observing the law” (mentioned four times in Galatians) doesn’t mean “obey the Old Testament.” The phrase occurs only in Galatians and Romans and is confined to the particular matters Paul mentions: circumcision, festival day observance, and dietary restrictions. Galatians is not a diatribe against keeping the Old Testament. In fact, Paul requires obedience to it. It is a polemic against requiring Jewishness to be saved.
Second, near the end of chapter two, Paul writes (in most English translations): “the life I live in the body, I live by faith in the son of God.” In fact, Paul actually writes in the Greek text that he lives by the faith of the son of God. It is an important distinction. Paul isn’t saying faith in Jesus isn’t required (he will say it is required many times in his letters). He isn’t saying Jesus had faith and that’s enough, we don’t have to. He is saying Jesus had faith and we should have the kind of faith Jesus had. The phrase occurs seven times in the New Testament and only in Paul’s writings (Romans 3:22,26; 3:26; Galatians 2:16, 20; 3:22; Philippians 3:9).
It makes a difference does it not? It’s one thing for me to “believe” in Jesus. It’s another to have Jesus’ faith. That gives us all something to aim for.