Paul uses stark language in Galatians 6 to indict both legalists and antinomians: "Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap" (v 7). While all in the Galatian assembly have some concern for honoring God, this verse makes a distinctions between those who "go through the motions," those who practice self-justification, and those true Christians who offer themselves entirely to God and live justly.
Speaking to Christians with a weakening resolve, Paul says "Let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart" (v 9). He continues, "So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith" (v 10).
Verses 11-18 seek to reiterate and summarize the entire epistle, which Paul writes with large letters in his own hand for emphasis (v 11). He contrasts the spirit (the true Gospel) with the flesh (Gentile circumcision and a doctrine of self-justification). He reveals those worldly men who want to "make a good showing in the flesh…only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ" (v 12). Consistently referring to the saving power of the cross, he says "But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (v 14). Because Paul knows the Christians are a new race within humanity, he establishes that "neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision" (v 15).
Although some may interpret verse 17 to read that Paul bore the stigmata, the words "I bear on my body the marks of Jesus," most likely refer to the wounds and scars that he bore from beatings and persecution in order that he might "fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ" (Col 1:24).
One must not conclude a study in Galatians without establishing that even the mind can be "of the flesh." In Col 2:18, Paul says "let no one disqualify you…puffed up without reason by his sensuous [fleshly] mind." A mind of the flesh has, among other things, a tendency to "rack up points" for itself after executing good deeds. He rails against those who place the things of this passing world – especially a pride-filled asceticism – ahead of Jesus Christ (cf. 20 ff).
Additionally, one must note that the Catholic interpretation of Romans and Galatians has never been that one can earn his salvation through good works. The Council of Trent reaffirmed the existing truth that no Catholic can earn his salvation, for it is a free gift of God. Still, ill-taught, immature and sinful Catholics may sometimes fall into the mindset that they must earn their salvation. One hopes that by living the fullness of truth in love, Catholics will debunk the myths that many non-Catholics believe about the Church’s Magisterium. Further, living the fullness of the Catholic faith allows one to bear the fruits of a life in the Spirit, maintain a loving responsibility for his brothers, and continuously grow nearer to God.
Christians do well to model Paul’s passion and willingness to challenge that which is manifestly wrong and leads to the spiritual death of the brethren.
Music: Beethoven’s Sonata No. 4 in E Flat Major, Op. 7 performed by Paul Pitman. www.musopen.com