In 1215, English subjects of King John forced him to accept the Magna Carta, proclaiming freedoms for citizens, limiting the king’s powers by law. The Magna Carta led to eventual constitutional law in England and later America. The Book of Galatians in the Bible has also been called the Magna Carta of Christian Liberty.
Martin Luther, leader of the Protestant Reformation, utilized Galatians more than any other book in the Bible in developing his theology in the 16th century. Luther taught that we are justified by our faith in Jesus Christ, not by following religious laws or making payments to the church. In effect, Luther freed Christians from the legalistic practices of Catholicism.
Galatians 2:16 provided his foundation: “Know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.” The Apostle Paul, who wrote Galatians, was not saying that God’s law was bad. He was simply saying that we only had to place our faith in Christ and we did not have to follow all the legalistic requirements of the Catholic religious leaders.
Luther was very effective, in fact, so effective, he is the declared leader or the formation of the Protestant church, which broke away from the Catholic Church. Pope Leo X in 1520 excommunicated Luther, and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1521 condemned Luther as an outlaw. You know you are an effective religious leader when you are called an outlaw just for simply following the teachings in the Bible.
Paul was speaking to the citizens of Asia Minor, later called Turkey, who had been corrupted by Judaizers, Jewish Christians who believed in Old Testament ceremonial practices as being binding on Christians. Paul was explaining to them in the letter to the churches in Galatia that the Judaizers were perverting the gospel of Christ. He declared that if anyone was preaching a gospel other than having faith in Christ in order to receive God’s grace, that person should be eternally condemned (Galatians 1:9).
Paul actually saw and communicated with Christ. He was qualified to be an apostle because of his witnessing Christ after the resurrection. Paul was completely transformed from being a persecutor of Christians into being a devout Christian. It was a 180-degree turn-around for him. We give Paul a lot of credence because he was chosen by Christ to lead the church and because of his close connection to Jesus, imparting many of the secrets of faith.
Paul stated in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Paul was referring to the religious laws that unnecessarily restricted their freedom. Christ did not want us to avoid his ethical teachings, but did not want us to be shackled to the human interpretations of what God wanted us to do. There have always been false prophets, even among the religious leaders. Jesus ran into them when he overturned the tables of the money-changers in the Temple. Jesus ran into them when the Jewish leaders wanted him crucified.
Paul and Martin Luther both wanted us to keep the simple thought in mind: it is only through faith in Jesus that you will receive the grace of God, and not through works or following the law of the times. And even the Pope and his followers could not change this simple rule.
However, the Bible is also very clear that your deeds and works will be judged by Jesus. Don’t these two ideas conflict with each other? They don’t if you believe Paul, who said that there are three heavens in 2 Corinthians 12:2. Paul was very focused on the facts provided to him by Jesus, and must have received this information directly from Jesus. The first heaven is through justification by grace alone. The second heaven is through both faith and works or sanctification. The third heaven is a mystery and is not discussed in the Bible, but Paul did not elaborate other than to say that this heaven is God’s kingdom or paradise.
It is important to remember that your faith in Jesus is the first step. It is the only way to receive Gods’ grace for the first heaven. You should exercise self-control and lead a good life following the teachings of Jesus so that you will have sanctification for the second heaven. I honestly do not know anymore than Paul mentioned about the third heaven.