Main theme: Freedom in Christ
Date written: A.D. 49
- In the early church, one of the most controversial issues was whether the gentile Christians were compelled to keep the Jewish laws.
- There were teachers pretending to be Christians from the church in Jerusalem that visited the congregations which Paul had established and taught that he did not proclaim the Gospel to them fully and that they also had to keep certain Old Testament laws in order to be in right standing with God.
- News came to Paul that such teachers had been to the southern Galatian churches and that their false teaching brought the Galatians to the verge of giving up their salvation which came by faith in Christ alone.
- Paul writes this letter to refute these false teachings and re-establish the Galatians in their faith.
- This letter is of importance to every Christian for it contains crystal clear teaching, not only on freedom in Christ (which gives real life), but also on legalism and walking in the flesh that ends in death.
B. PAUL GREETS THE CONGREGATION
Paul greets the congregations of Galatia by saying:
- That the letter which follows is from him, Paul.
- That he is an apostle.
- That he has this apostleship not by the intervention of man.
- (See for instance the appointment of Matthias, Act 1:15-28).
- He was appointed directly by God the Father and by Jesus Christ that was resurrected from the dead by the Father.
- (He thus presses home the fact that his calling is absolutely divine).
- The letter is also subscribed by his co-workers (at Antioch, where he is ministering at the time of writing this letter).
C. HE PRONOUNCES GOD’S BLESSING OVER THEM
- By faith and under the anointing of the Spirit, he bestows upon them, the grace and peace that flows from the Father and the Son.
- It is this grace that made the Father and the Son to bring the sacrificial offering that made it possible to be saved from this present wicked world.
- For this salvation He must receive glory for all eternity.
D. THERE IS ONLY ONE GOSPEL
- Paul expresses his amazement and shock that the Galatians had so soon after accepting the Gospel he had proclaimed to them, departed from it.
- Had there been different ways to be reconciled to God, there shifting in conviction could be understood, but the Gospel clearly excludes every other possibility of salvation.
- So what happened in effect was that they had been set upon by people that contorted this message to confuse them.
- This is such a terrible sin against God and a crime to mankind, that Paul would speak a curse on such a being, be he man or angel and condemn him to hell.
- Taking such a vehement standpoint on this issue, proves that he is not seeking to be accepted by them for his own sake, for such a confrontation would certainly not draw those that are involved in this crime to him.
- Yet so let it be, for as a servant of Christ, he is seeking the truth and not the applause of man.
E. PAUL RECEIVED HIS GOSPEL DIRECTLY FROM CHRIST
- To prove the authenticity of his message, Paul begins by stating that he did not receive this message from man but directly from the risen Christ.
- It was not because he had been taught to follow Christ since his youth; on the contrary, he had probably been the staunchest follower of the Jewish religion ever, trying to keep the law to the letter, persecuting and destroying the followers of Christ, until that day that God, who had foreordained him to proclaim this message to non-Jews, revealed himself to him, not only physically but also inwardly, in his spirit.
- So strong and clear was this revelation that he never checked with any human being whether he had it correctly.
- What he did, was to depart to the Arabian Desert where he remained there for three years, contemplating the depths of this revelation.
- It was only after that period that, for the first time, he went up to Jerusalem where he met Peter and lodged with him for 15 days, during which time he also met James the brother of the Lord, yet none of the other apostles.
- Furthermore, he never ministered near to Jerusalem, like for instance in Judea where he could have picked up more of the content of the Gospel message from the other apostles, but went to minister in the Northern provinces, Syria and Cilicia; the apostles down south only heard what God was doing through this erstwhile persecutor and gave glory to God.
F. THE OTHER APOSTLES CONFIRMED PAUL’S MESSAGE
- Having preached this message of freedom in Christ for all of 14 years, Paul instructed by God, went up to the leaders of the church in Jerusalem, taking Barnabas and Titus, an uncircumcised Greek with him.
- (The Lord probably brought this meeting about in order to demonstrate and promote the unity of his Church, whether Jew or heathen, whether having found him through Peter or Paul).
- James, Peter and John, considered to be pillars of the church, headed the meeting.
- They never, for a moment considered conceding to the false “brethren” that insisted that Titus be circumcised, thereby robbing him (and Christians all over) of their freedom in Christ.
- On the contrary, they perceived and acknowledged that the same God that empowered Peter as the apostle to the circumcised (Jews) also empowered Paul to be the apostle to the uncircumcised (gentiles).
- The meeting was concluded by a warm handshake of goodwill and unity; the Jerusalem church asking Paul not to forget the poor which matter was also on his heart.
G. PAUL WITHSTOOD EVEN PETER WHEN HE DEVIATED FROM THE GOSPEL
- This precious truth of the believer’s freedom in Christ which Paul so strongly defends may so easily fall prey to legalism.
- Even Peter and Barnabas were sacrificing it in order not to offend Jewish Christian visitors from Jerusalem.
- These sacrificed their freedom by holding themselves apart and not sitting down to eat with the gentile Christians because the old pre-Christian Jewish laws taught that the gentiles were unclean. (The deeper reason probably was because the gentiles were not circumcised and the Jews abhorred any uncircumcised person).
- Paul would have non of this and confronted Peter openly by saying to him “How come that you are expecting the gentiles to bow to the very laws that you as a traditional Jew gave up on accepting Christ as Saviour?”
- He then proceeds to give a clear exposition of the Gospel of grace, saying:
- No-one can be saved by trying to keep the Law to perfection; for that reason even the (circumcised) Jews, had to be saved by putting their trust in Christ that forgives sinners by grace.
- By reverting to keeping certain old laws in order to please God, was the same as rebuilding the wall of salvation by cementing in some bricks of good works, a wall which they themselves had given up as impossible and then broke down when accepting Christ’s offer of grace.
- The very law of God kills a person because it condemns him for not being able to keep it completely because of his corrupt nature.
- But now, having been killed by the Law, Paul says, he is also dead to the law, which means that he does not respond to its requirements and claims, so that he may live unto Christ that delivered him out of the death the law brought upon him.
- He actually died with Christ on the cross and his old self righteousness is no longer alive, no, it is Christ that lives within him.
- This new life he lives, he lives by completely trusting in and relying on Christ that loved him and sacrificed himself for him.
- To again try to be justified by keeping the Law would be to reject the grace and sacrificial death of Christ and that, Paul would never do.
- (Remark: In speaking of the Law, Paul means “The Law as a means of being justified before God by adhering perfectly to its requirements).
H. THE LAW OVER AGAINST FAITH IN CHRIST
- Again Paul expresses his astonishment at their disobedience of the truth; they act as if they had beenbewitched, as if an evil spell had been cast over them for the Gospel had been brought so clearly to them; Christ had been pictured as having been crucified in their very midst and yet they now are on the brink of departing from this essential truth.
- He now appeals to their reason and puts forth a number of sound arguments in an endeavour to salvage them from the road of destruction and haul them back into sanity.
- His first argument is that they had experienced the glorious touch and seen the powerful working of the Holy Spirit.
- They need to ask themselves: “How did it come that we received the Spirit: was it by meticulously trying to keep the Law or simply by believing the message of salvation?”
- Secondly, they need to ask: “On what basis is God working these miracles amongst us; is it because we keep the many laws or because we believe in Christ?”
- Could they be so foolish as to, having savoured the sweet meat of the Spirit at the outset, now turn to the dry bones of the flesh?
- They should also remind themselves of how they were persecuted for rejecting the keeping of the Law as the way to find peace with God and not return and do the very things for which they suffered in leaving.
- His second argument is to consider that the salvation by faith they are now experiencing, dates right back to Abraham who was also reconciled to God, simply by faith and not by keeping the Law for the Law of Moses was given by God 430 years after the birth of Abraham – by departing from salvation by faith, they are in fact departing from the faith of Abraham.
- Those that are justified by simply believing the message of salvation by faith, are the real children of Abraham.
- As a matter of fact, this very same Gospel of salvation by faith had been preached to Abraham when God promised to him that in him all the nations of the earth would be blessed.
- Now, how would they receive this blessing that Abraham received: by simply believing the message of salvation in Christ, just as Abraham did.
- Those that try to be saved by keeping the law, are living under a curse for the Law states “Cursed is every one that does not fully and continuously keep each and every one of the laws written in the books of Moses”. (Deut. 27:26).
- This truth is confirmed elsewhere in Scripture, for it is written in the prophets: “The righteous shall live by faith”. (Hab.2:4).
- The Law states exactly the opposite for it declares: “The man that does these things shall live by doing them”.
- How then were we set free from the curse which the Law laid upon us: by Christ taking that curse upon himself, becoming a curse on our behalf, then being nailed on the cross and dying to bear the punishment of the curse for it is written “Cursed is he who hangs on a cross”. (Deut. 21:23).
- This was God’s way of fulfilling the demands of the curse to open the gates so that the blessing which He promised to Abraham could flow through to the heathen.
- This is the road of salvation through Christ, opened up by God, by which the promised blessing of receiving of the Holy Spirit comes to us, the moment we believe.
- The covenant between Abraham and God regarding this blessing, is like a person’s last will (testament), which, once it has been sealed and the person dies, cannot be changed afterwards.
- This implies that the promise of salvation by faith and the receiving of the Holy Spirit promised to Abraham, could not be revoked by God after Abraham’s death; therefore the Law of Moses that came 430 years later did not change that promise in the least.
- Now also take note of the fact that God promised that the blessing was for Abraham’s seed, not for his many seeds, which means that the blessing was intended and bestowed upon Christ and only through him to all that would believe in Him.
- If this blessing was to be received by punctiliously and completely keeping every iota of the Law, it would be bestowed on the basis of achievement and not by grace.
- This then leads on the logical question of why then did God give the Law through Moses; what purpose did it serve to God and man if it could neither save nor bestow the Holy Spirit.
- Are the Law and the promises of God in conflict with one another?
- The answer is no, the Law has a twofold purpose namely:
- It restrained the people of Israel from sinning recklessly to the extent that God would have to wipe them out and it kept them somewhat protected (in custody) against their evil desires until such time as they could receive the message of Christ and be saved.
- As a teacher not only imparts knowledge, but also points out the pupil’s lack of knowledge, the Law was continually bringing to their attention their impotency to do the will of God in their own strength, thereby prodding them on to rather seek God’s forgiveness by his grace which opened up the way for them to more easily accept the Gospel of grace in Christ when it came.
- However, now that the message of salvation by faith in Christ has come and the Galatians accepted him, were clothed in him (in his righteousness) and subsequently even baptized, they became children of God and have no further need of the Law as a protector, teacher and custodian for now they are lead along God’s path by the illumination and power of the Spirit.
- This unity in the Spirit is even greater than the differences in the flesh such as Jew/Greek, slave, free person, man/woman for they are now one in Christ.
- Those that now belong to Christ, are the true descendants of Abraham and as such, also heirs to the promise of salvation and of the Holy Spirit God gave to him.
IF YOU HAVE BEEN BLESSED BY THIS STUDY GUIDE AND WISH TO SHARE IT WITH US, OR HAVE ANY REQUEST, QUERY OR OTHER COMMENT, PLEASE USE THE CONTACT FORM BELOW.
SHARE WITH OTHERS: Have you enjoyed this study guide? Then please share it with your friends by way of social media such as Facebook, etc. In so doing we join hands in bearing out the Good News.