Martyn's commentary is considered to be ground-breaking in that it was one of the first readings of Paul in modern biblical scholarship to highlight the apocalyptic and Christus Victor themes in Pauline thought. We tend to read Paul through the lens of the Reformation and think that Paul's main theological project was to describe how we are saved via "justification by faith."
In contrast to this view, Martyn notes how Paul's soteriology fits better with a Christus Victor frame. As Martyn has written (emphasis added):
Galatians is a clear witness to a basic conviction of Paul: the gospel is not about human movement into blessedness, but about God's liberating invasion of the cosmos.You can see this Christus Victor emphasis right at the start of Galatians:
Galatians 1.3-4aWhat we see in this is how the work of Jesus, while involving the forgiveness of sins, was critically about "rescuing us from the present evil age." Why rescue? Later in the letter Paul describes our predicament as one of slavery to dark forces:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age...
Galatians 4.3Being set free from these "elemental spirits" and from the "present evil age" sets up a freedom/slavery motif for the entire letter. Two of the central texts of Galatians highlight these themes:
So with us; when we were children, we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe.
Galatians 4.8-9All this is not to deny Paul's focus on sin and the Law and how both place us under a curse. But as these texts make clear (along with many other passages in the epistle that can be cited), Paul isn't thinking in moralistic or individualistic terms. Paul sees sin and the Law as elemental powers that hold us captive.
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods. Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits? How can you want to be enslaved to them again?
For freedom Christ has set us free.
What is needed, then, is less a matter of forgiveness than liberation and emancipation from enslaving powers. Salvation is less about moral absolution than God's liberating invasion of the world and the establishment of a "new creation" (Gal. 6.15).