The fact that God had saved the non-Jews and accepted them—evidenced by the same gift of the Holy Spirit—compelled the Jewish Christians to accept the conversion of the non-Jews. However, some of these same Jewish Christians later accepted the argument of the Judaizers that the non-Jews, apart from circumcision and the keeping of ritualistic tradition, had an inferior status (Acts 15:1, 5). By referring to their reception of the Holy Spirit, Paul takes issue with that assertion and reminds the Galatians of their equal status in Christ.
How did they receive the blessing of the Holy Spirit? Paul says that there were two possibilities: Either as the result of faith or of works.
To suggest that the non-Jews were saved by law-keeping (works) was ridiculous. They formerly had not been under the law, and Paul never listed it as a requirement for salvation. No, the Galatians had been saved by hearing the Gospel and responding with faith. The Spirit of God quickened the Galatians and enabled them to understand and respond to the Gospel.
If works could not save, certainly they could not sanctify. Paul’s argument is based upon a principle that is both logical and biblical: The means for justification is the same means for sanctification—faith in the Good News that is Jesus Christ.
Paul presses his readers to identify the basis for God’s on-going blessings in their lives. If law-keeping is so important—as the Judaizers insisted—then what does it produce? Are “works” the basis for God’s blessings? No. It is not behaving that moves God to act graciously, but believing. It is by “hearing with faith” that God’s blessings are realized.
This is the error of legalism. Legalists look upon God as condemning; as though God hates to bless and must be bribed by the good works of men. Grace and generosity are partners, just as are severity and legalism.
The point Paul drives home is that the same God who manifested His power in saving the Gentiles continues to work in them in a mighty way. This strikes at the weakness of the Judaizers. The more we are convinced of the greatness of God’s power, the less we are inclined to depend upon self or works. To stress works implies God’s in ability or unwillingness to act. Belief (faith) relies on God to act; law-keeping (works) suggests that man has to take matters into his own hands. Is that really what we want to do?