The book of Galatians is the earliest letter we have from Paul. It was written on his second missionary journey, probably from Corinth, and addresses Christians in the cities of Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe in Asia Minor. Galatians is also the book theologians most often go to when opposing “legalism” in Christianity.
“Legalism” is a “quid pro quo” religion that says if you keep the commands, God owes you blessing. Two items are significant in this thinking: First, that God’s blessing is “up to you.” Second, is that you can put God in your debt by the way you live.
A “quid pro quo” religion is easy if you define the commands narrowly: do you go to church on Sunday? Are you faithful to your spouse? Do you tell the truth? If we could narrow the important commands to these, we’d be good.
In Galatia, the commands had been narrowed to three: keeping certain religious holidays, observing Jewish dietary laws, and practicing circumcision. These had been staples in the Jewish faith for a long time and since Christianity grew out of Judaism, the carryover was obvious. By doing these three, you certified you were one of God’s people, you “observed the law” and God owed you blessing.
But that, of course, left out faith. It also left out holy living.