NT, Part 8. Part 1 of the examination of Galatians. The greeting. The point. Moving through the Acts of the Apostles and examining each of Paul’s epistles along the way.
The first letter penned by the apostle Paul was to Jews and Gentiles he had encountered and had led to Christ on his first ministry trip. This trip was taken with Barnabas across the southern region of Anatolia, the region of the Celts of Galatia, modern-day Turkey.
Across this region were towns that contained Jewish synagogues, some of which had members who had been in Jerusalem for Pentecost and who had heard the Gospel in their own languages when the Holy Spirit gifted the church with spoken languages, thus taking wide the Gospel.
However, most of the citizens of these towns were Gentiles (non-Jews). Many had converted to Judaism, accepting circumcision and all Jewish practices of the Old Testament Law pertaining to food restrictions.
But most of the Gentiles were not converts to Judaism. Rather, they were local people, descended from Celtic tribes, Greek speakers, who had heard the gospel message and were drawn to Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Upon returning with Barnabas to Antioch, Paul wrote his first epistle to the churches in Galatia, for Jewish men from Jerusalem had begun traveling about instructing the Gentiles that they needed to keep the Law and be circumcised, or they would lose their salvation.
This was not true! It would have been alarming to hear this. It shook the newfound faith of the believers all across Galatia.
And so, Paul wrote as quickly as possible. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he brought to bear all he had witnessed that proved that Gentiles (non-Jews) and Jewish believers were free from rigid adherence to the Law.
In this letter, Paul’s identifies himself as an apostle, for he saw and was commissioned directly by Jesus Christ upon his salvation. The Gospel he presented was the message given him by Jesus himself, and so, he writes with authority.
“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 1:11-12 ESV).
Later, when he wrote to the Corinthians, he also stressed this significant truth:
“Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” (1 Corinthians 9:1a ESV).
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared. . . Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:3-5a, 8-9 ESV).
Before he believed and placed his faith in Jesus Messiah, Paul had set out to destroy the church in Damascus. When he and his group of Jewish men neared the city, Paul was left blinded when Jesus spoke to him.
Ananias had been given a message by God affirming Paul’s calling: “Go,” God spoke to Ananias, “for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name“ (Acts 9:15b-17 ESV).
Paul was to go, and he was to suffer. And so, zealous Paul turned to the task.
“But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia…” (Galatians 1:15-17b ESV).
In the letter to the Galatians, Paul greets the new believers of Galatia whom he had led to Christ. And then, with the strength and power of having been commissioned directly by Christ himself, led by the Holy Spirit, Paul wasted no time in getting immediately to the point of his message.
Law vs. Grace
“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 who are with me,
“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.
“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 1:1-7 ESV).
The Jewish men who traveled about informing the new believers that they had to be circumcised and to keep the requirements of the Law had done their damage. The new believers were deserting their faith, a military-type desertion of fleeing back to the other side.
In short, to believe that anything needs to be added to our faith in Christ Jesus as Savior is to believe another Gospel. HOWEVER, THERE IS NO OTHER GOSPEL. Nothing needs to be added.
To add anything to the simplicity of the gospel is to DISTORT THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST, to turn it from saying one thing and to twist it so that it says exactly the opposite.
When Christ is present in our lives, we will be transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit within us, not by following the letter of the Law, by eating certain foods, or by being circumcised.When Christ is present in our lives, we will be transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit within us, not by following the letter of the Law. #Legalism Click To Tweet
To believe that keeping the Law and adhering to the rituals of the letter of the Law is in essence “quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ” and in doing so one is “turning to a different gospel.”
The ESV Study Bible on Galatians 1:6: “These are NOT issues over which Christians might legitimately disagree. The Galatians are questioning the very gospel itself, and Paul is a model of forthright frankness when central gospel issues are at stake.” (Crossways Bibles, Wheaton, Illinois, 2008).
The gospel plus legalism equals no gospel at all.The gospel plus legalism equals no gospel at all. Faith vs. Legalism. Click To Tweet To entrust oneself to legalism–the keeping of laws and rules, believing them to be of greater significance than the gospel–is "a different gospel," not the real gospel of Jesus Christ. #Faith Click To Tweet
To entrust oneself to legalism — the keeping of laws and rules, believing them to be of greater significance than the gospel — is “a different gospel,” not the real gospel of Jesus Christ. Thinking that the Law, circumcision, and dietary restrictions must be kept is “to distort the gospel of Jesus.”
To twist the gospel in any way, to change the simplicity of the message is a matter of great peril, for our salvation cost Messiah Jesus his life and his blood. The gospel is the most serious and significant message on the face of the earth at every time in history since Christ died, rose, and ascended.Our salvation cost Messiah Jesus his life and his blood. The gospel is the most serious and significant message on the face of the earth at every time in history since Christ died, rose, and ascended. Click To Tweet
So, what was the gospel message presented by Paul and Barnabas? First came the Jewish history prologue, and then the Gospel itself:
“Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation. For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him [Jesus] nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm,
“‘You are my Son,
today I have begotten you.’
“And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’”
“Therefore he says also in another psalm, ‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’
“For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, but he whom God raised up did not see corruption. Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses“ (Acts 13:26-39 ESV).
There it is. Do not add to, nor take anything away from this message.Let it be known that through Jesus Christ forgiveness of sins is proclaimed. By him everyone who believes in him is freed from striving to adhere to religious rules or laws. Jesus is the One and Only way to salvation. Click To Tweet
Jesus did all the work. We can add nothing that will gain us salvation. The Holy Spirit empowers our transformation, enabling us to repent of our sins, and to recognize our great and enduring need for Jesus Messiah.Jesus did all the work. We can add nothing that will gain us salvation. The Holy Spirit empowers our transformation, enabling us to repent of our sins, and to recognize our great, enduring need for Jesus. Click To Tweet
Thanks be to God and our Lord Jesus Christ for our salvation!
Have you ever been affiliated with a legalistic group of people who call themselves Christians and yet place more importance on their regulations than on the living out of the Gospel?
How did you leave that group? How did you come to see the truth? What happened?
Why do you think that we humans are often so tempted to resort to rule-keeping rather than to faith?