NT, Part 9. Part 2 in our discussion of Galatians.
One of the problems the early church had to puzzle through was how to take Christianity — an exclusively Jewish religion — out into the wider world of Gentiles (non-Jews) during a time when tribes stuck together. It was impossible to do this without hitches and stumbles, humans being what we are.
God intended ALL men and women to be able to hear the Gospel and to have the opportunity to become members of Christ’s body, the church. The Lord considers the human race to be one people.
Given Paul’s vast experience as a “legalistic zealot,” staunchly opposed to the Christian faith, followed by his miraculous conversion to Christianity, his years of contemplation in the desert of Arabia, and then his preaching in Cilicia and Syria, we know by the content in this letter, that Paul had already considered this matter of unity.
In this first letter, he mentions to the recipients that fourteen years after his conversion to faith in Christ, he and Barnabas had taken Titus (a Gentile believer) to Jerusalem with them when they went to present their Gospel message to the leaders before their mission trip across Galatia.
While they were in Jerusalem, none of the leaders, neither Peter, nor James (Jesus’ brother and head elder of the church in Jerusalem), nor anyone else had forced, nor compelled, Titus to be circumcised, though he was a Greek (Galatians 2:1-3). Rather, uncircumcised Titus was welcomed in as a believer.
Paul had already considered the matter of circumcision. He had reached the same conclusions that would be determined later in the Jerusalem council. With his letter to the Galatians, he attempted to encourage and to head off confusion and conflict in the Galatian churches that were filled with new converts to Christianity.
Jesus had come to make a new covenant with his blood. Salvation is by the grace of God alone, the absolute mercy of God poured out upon those who repent and turn to Christ as their Savior.Jesus came to make a new covenant with his blood. Salvation is by the grace of God alone, the absolute mercy of God poured out upon those who repent and turn to Jesus Messiah as their Savior. #Faith Click To Tweet
Then the trouble began. “But some men came down from Judea [to Antioch] and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’” (Acts 15:1 ESV).
This, of course, was a lie, and Paul immediately addresses this problem.
“Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers [and sisters]1. who are with me, To the churches of Galatia:” (Galatians 1:1-2 ESV).
The greeting establishes his authority, for not only was Paul commissioned as an apostle by Jesus Christ himself and by God the Father, but also Paul stands firm in the authority bestowed upon him by the church in Antioch and in Jerusalem. These churches and these apostles have sent him.
Any other message presented to the Galatians has, therefore, been a false gospel if it demanded circumcision or any other adherence to the Biblical Law.
Paul’s words are firm, solid, and should be taken seriously. He immediately presents the gospel again, right up front within his greeting, focusing on its power. Grace and peace are also necessary, for people had already confused the Galatians about the gospel that they had willingly and with great joy received.
“To the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (Galatians 1:2b-5 ESV).
Grace brings with it joy, favor, acceptance, causing rejoicing and gratitude as a result, followed by peace and tranquility. The focus of our joy is the glorious gift of salvation offered by God the Father through Jesus Messiah, whom God raised from the dead. He gave himself for our sins, plucking us out of the spiritual affliction of the pagan world of “this present evil age.“The focus of our joy is the glorious gift of salvation offered by God the Father through Jesus Messiah, whom God raised from the dead. Jesus gave himself for our sins, plucking us out of the spiritual affliction of this pagan world.… Click To Tweet
Nothing more needs to be added. Nothing. The well-meaning, but incorrect, Judaizers, have shaken the faith of the new converts by telling the Gentile male converts to Christianity that they must also be circumcised.
To Paul, having taken uncircumcised Titus to Jerusalem years earlier, this was a none issue, so Paul storms right into the conflict. Knowing of the paganism and the cults of the region, Paul’s passion was to preserve the purity of the gospel from these, and also from the assault of the Judaizers.
“Many scholars and theologians over the years have noted that Saul’s birthplace and upbringing influenced his vision of Christianity. He would have been aware of the Mithraic cult and their rituals as well as other religions such as the Cult of Hercules, Zoroastrianism, the Cult of Cybele, Manichaeism, the Cult of Isis, and many more. The popular Cult of Hercules was associated closely with the figure of the Dying and Reviving God – a deity who dies and returns to life – one of the earliest sorts of fertility-vegetative deities. In Tarsus, the cult (originally dedicated to the vegetation deity Sandan) was associated with three such figures: the Syrian Adonis, Babylonian Tammuz, and Egyptian Osiris (Wilson, 26).”WorldHistory.org.
And so, Paul hits his main point hard. “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7 ESV).
Paul marvels, he is shocked that their solid faith, so strongly embraced and certain, could be shaken this quickly by these false teachers who added works to the Gospel.
To “quickly desert” is a military term, that would have hit these men of Galatia hard. It pictures a military revolt against the One who gave his Son, and against the Son himself. They have switched sides, whether they knew it or not. They have deserted. To add anything to the Gospel makes it a “different gospel.”
This informs us that these are NOT issues over which Christians might legitimately disagree, or let pass as a disputable matter. Nope. To get this wrong produces a gospel that is not the gospel at all.
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9).
When the Holy Spirit states the reproof and the consequences twice, it means we’d better approach these words with deadly seriousness. This is a strong rebuke.
The word “accursed,” used twice, is “anathema.” It is used here and also in 1 Corinthians 12:3, meaning “given up to the curse and destruction, accursed.“ 2.
Yes, God is a God of love, and since this is true, if we cause someone to doubt their salvation, or to turn away from God in confusion, or to think that a legalistic act is required in order to be saved, then we have most certainly put ourselves in grave danger indeed, for our words and actions have produced spiritual harm to others. God will address this sin with us personally.
Pause to consider? Do we do this? Are we like the Judaizers?
The transformation of believers is the work of the Holy Spirit, not well-meaning busybodies who think we know what must first be changed in an individual’s life. God will transform us as he sees fit.The transformation of believers is the work of the Holy Spirit, not well-meaning busybodies who think we know what must first be changed in an individual's life. God will transform us as he sees fit. #Grace Click To Tweet
Paul Was Called by Christ Himself
What authority does Paul have to say this to these men? He led them to Christ, but in addition to the churches and the men, apostles, and leaders who have sent him as an emissary, what authority does Paul have?
“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:10-12 ESV).
This gospel message and this rebuke come directly from Christ himself.
It would be good for the men and women of Galatia and for us as well, to heed these sober and serious words, remaining true to the simplicity and the beauty of Christ’s gospel.
The Holy Spirit sanctifies us, not we ourselves. And so, adding additional requirements of immediate change (such as the Galatians did with circumcision), can overwhelm someone who is seeking salvation. Before accepting salvation, one can’t even imagine being able to grow or change in one’s area of greatest need.
Have you witnessed people who usurp the Gospel message by informing those with whom they share Christ that they MUST change immediately in this or that area, thereby placing them under the Law?
Do you recognize how presenting the above pre-emptive demands presents a graceless message? In his own time, the Holy Spirit will engender the desire and the ability to grow in every way.
How does the sobering care with which we are to present a gospel free of works impact you?
In what way in your life have you been impressed by the simplicity of the gospel, that there is nothing we can do to earn nor to improve it?
- Footnote, “Or brothers and sisters.” Galatians 1:2, ESV Study Bible, Crossway Bibles, 2008.
- The full definition of “accursed” with sources. #331. ἀνάθεμα anáthema; neut. noun from anatíthēmi (394), to place, lay up. A gift given by vow or in fulfillment of a promise, and given up or devoted to destruction for God’s sake (Sept.: Num. 21:1–3; Deut. 13:16–18); therefore, given up to the curse and destruction, accursed (1 Cor. 12:3; 16:22; Gal. 1:8, 9). In Rom. 9:3, estrangement from Christ and His salvation. The word does not denote punishment intended as discipline but being given over or devoted to divine condemnation. It denotes an indissoluble vow. See also Acts 23:14; Gal. 1:9. Anáthema is not to be confused with anáthēma (334), a votive offering or an offering not involving sacrifice, something consecrated in the temple, a gift, an offering (Luke 21:5)” (Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament, electronic ed. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.