The first letter that the apostle Paul wrote was to the church of believers at Galatia. His main purpose in writing the letter was to address a serious problem that was occurring in the fellowship. Some were proclaiming a false gospel, which was not even a “gospel” at all. It was such a serious problem that Paul wrote that anyone who speaks a false gospel should be accursed, that is condemned to hell. For emphasis he repeated the warning, as shown below:
But even if we (or an angel from heaven) should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be condemned to hell! As we have said before, and now I say again, if any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let him be condemned to hell! Galatians 1:8-9 (NET1)
The believers in Galatia had started out well. They had responded to the true gospel and recognized that God had redeemed them by sending His one and only son to die on the cross in their place for their sins. They had known that there was nothing they could have done to merit God’s redemption, forgiveness, justification and eternal life. But some false teachers came along and said, “Well, that is all well and good, but in order to stay redeemed, forgiven and justified, you have to obey the Law of Moses, just like the Jews. Failure to keep the Law results in failure to get into heaven.”
Such teaching has been called “Galatianism” and “legalism”. Instead of obeying the Law of Moses, false teachers can insist that some other set of rules must be obeyed, typically some manmade list that may or may not have support from Scripture. Such teaching is not uncommon today in churches. Some say that legalism is the most widespread problem in churches today, in spite of an entire epistle devoted to addressing it.
Here are a few verses that address the topic:
Rom 6:14 For sin will not rule over you, because you are not under law but under grace.
We are not to follow rules and regulations in order to establish, enhance or keep from diminishing our righteousness. By grace, God has made us righteous, as He is righteous, and has legally declared us to be so. We couldn’t be more righteous is we wanted to be because there is no greater righteousness than God’s righteousness.
Rom 8:1-2 Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus, because the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.
We have been set free from the law of sin and death. This law had us in bondage so that we could not avoid sinning. As Scripture states in Romans 6:23, … the wages of sin is death …
Rom 7:6 But now we have been released from the law, since we have died to what held us, so that we may serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old letter of the law.
We have been released from the principle and system of law because we died to it when we died with Christ. Romans 7:4 (NASB) Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.
Gal 3:19 (NASB) Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made.
The seed was Christ, who came and fulfilled the Law. He fulfilled the Law by dying in our place. The Law demanded that we die for our sins. Christ satisfied the demand of the Law, thereby fulfilling the Law.
1 Cor 15:56 Now the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
If you want a believer to sin more, then put them or keep them under law. There are churches that believe is a Christian is not constrained by some rules and regulations that they will go out and sin without restraint. However, the power of sin is not in grace, it is in the law. Our flesh reacts against law by producing evil desires of all kinds. Clearly, if you want someone to sin less, keep them under grace.
Here are definitions of the two systems of law and grace:
Law: a system of works to establish our own righteousness
Grace: a system of faith, believing we are God’s righteousness because of Christ’s faithfulness
In summary, the false gospel proclaimed in Galatia was something like, Christ died for your sins but now you must keep the Law of Moses in order to stay righteous.
The true Gospel states that Christ’s death in our place set us free from slavery to sin and to the Law and we are now eternally righteous.