Today we are beginning a brand new series on the book of Galatians. In this epistle Paul is fighting for the purity of the gospel, and he issues a strong warning against those who would pervert the gospel of grace. From its earliest days, the gospel has been attacked by those who would destroy it by adding to it. Two thousand years later we face the same battle. I think the need for this book is just as urgent now as it was when it was written.
I would ask that you prepare each week by reading ahead and doing some studying and praying over the text. If you just take the time each week to read through Galatians as though it was a letter, you'll get so familiar with the content that you'll find yourself getting a grasp of the book.
Several weeks ago I was invited to a men's Bible study by a business man in the area. We meet at his business each Tuesday morning for about an hour. Last Tuesday was my second time at the study. We are reading through the book of Acts and commenting on it as we go. This past Tuesday we came to this passage:
Acts 8:12-13 (NASB) But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. 13 And even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip; and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed.
After we read this passage a man at the study said, "Simon didn't believe." I said to him the Bible says that he did believe. He said, "He didn't believe." I responded by saying the Bible doesn't say,"Simon 'pretended' to believe" or "Simon 'said' he believed" or "Simon 'thought' he believed." What it does say is, "Simon himself believed." This man did not think that Simon believed, because later in the text, Peter says that Simon's heart was not right in the sight of God. This is a major problem in the church today; we tend to believe that if a person doesn't live right, they cannot be saved. And this, my friend, is salvation by works. It is an attack on the gospel of grace. It is faith alone in Christ alone that saves us.
This is what Galatians is all about! The goal of Galatians is to help us find true freedom in Christnot just freedom from the penalty of sin but freedom also from the performance trap. No wonder it has been called "the Magna Carta of Christian Liberty."
In his commentary on Galatians, Dr. J. Vernon McGee writes: "In a sense I believe this epistle has been the backbone and background for every great spiritual movement and revival that has taken place in the past nineteen hundred years. And, my friend, it will be the background for other revivals. I would like to see the Spirit of God move in our land today. I would like to hear the Epistle to the Galatians declared to America. I believe it would revolutionize lives." (J. Vernon McGee, Galatians, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991, page X).
Galatians had a profound impact upon the Reformer, Martin Luther. He spoke of the formal principle of the Reformation, which was the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. It is this doctrine that stands clearly throughout the pages of this epistle. Luther wrote: "If this doctrine be lost, then is also the doctrine of truth, life, and salvation, also lost and gone. If this doctrine flourish, then all good things flourish; religion, the true service of God, the glory of God, the right knowledge of all things which are necessary for a Christian man to know." He also adds:"This doctrine can never be taught, urged, and repeated enough." [Commentary on Galatians, Martin Luther, xi].
Luther's writings brought the truth of salvation by faith alone to John Wesley's heart in that little meeting at Aldersgate Street in London on May 24, 1738. It was Wesley whom God used in such a remarkable way to spearhead revival in the British Isles, leading eventually to the founding of the Methodist Church. And that revival positively affected the entire English-speaking world. As we study Galatians, we are participating in a tremendous spiritual chain reaction that even today could result in another revival.
This morning we are going to look at the first two verses of this book as an introduction:
Galatians 1:1-2 (NASB) Paul, an apostle (not sent from men, nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead), 2 and all the brethren who are with me, to the churches of Galatia:
Whenever a letter arrives in the mail, there are certain things we look for immediately: Who's it from? Who's it to? What's the point? When I glance through the mail, the very first thing I look at is the return addresses on the envelopes. Sometimes there is no return address, so I have to open the letter first. In that case I always go immediately to the end of the letter to see who wrote it, because my initial interest is in the author.
The ancient Greeks always put the author's name first so one didn't have to unroll a scroll to the end to find out who wrote it. The very first word in the book of Galatians is "Paul," so immediately we know that the one writing is the Apostle to the Gentiles. There is virtually no serious scholar, even in the liberal camp, who questions Paul's authorship of the book. His fingerprints are everywhere; in vocabulary, writing style, theology, and viewpoint.
The second thing I look for when going through a stack of letters is the addressee. Who is the intended recipient? The mail that is of the most interest to me is that which is personal and is addressed just to me. Letters to "Mr. & Mrs." are usually opened by Cathy, while letters addressed to "Occupant" go directly in the trash. This letter is sent to a specific audience "the churches of Galatia." While that isn't quite as personal as, say the letters addressed to Philemon or Timothy, it's certainly better than "occupant." It is as personal as Paul could get with a letter that was intended as a circular letter for a number of churches in what is now the central part of Turkey.
There is considerable debate among reputable scholars as to the precise area of modern day Turkey, which Paul meant. Some say that he was writing to Northern Galatia. But in the best chronologies of Paul's life, the Galatian Epistle seems to have been written before Acts 15 when the Jerusalem church dealt with the problem of the Judaizers, so it would have been early in his ministry. We have no record of Paul traveling to this hard-to-reach area of ancient Galatia. Others say that both Northern and Southern Galatia were meant by his address, but again, that is a broad area with no evidence that Paul traveled to the north at the time of this writing. I agree with those who hold to the Southern Galatian theory. This is the area of Pisidian, Lystra, Iconium, and Derbe, where Paul and Barnabas had such fruitful ministry.
This would be like Paul writing a letter to the churches in Tidewater. This would include churches in Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Portsmouth. The churches in each city would read the letter and pass it on to the next city.
As we read the book of Acts, we see that Paul founded several churches in Southern Galatia on
his first missionary journey. From Acts 13-14 you can find four cities located in Southern
Galatia, where Paul's first missionary journey led him. Paul and Barnabas set up churches in
these cities, and Paul visited them again when he made his second and third missionary journeys.
Turn with me to the book of Acts, where we learn the history of the churches in Galatia. In Acts 13 we see Paul and Barnabas worshiping with those in Antioch, when the Holy Spirit impressed upon the hearts of those present to set apart Paul and Barnabas for the work that He was giving them.
Acts 13:1-4 (NASB) Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, [si-re-ne] and Manaen [aan-e-an] who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3 Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. 4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus.
From Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas continued their journey on up to Galatia, or modern-day Turkey, and visited the synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:14-50). The people gathered from all over the city on the second Sabbath that Paul and Barnabas preached in the synagogue, but by the end of the chapter, we read:
Acts 13:50 (NASB) But the Jews aroused the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district.
After they were run out of Pisidia, they went on to visit Iconium. Paul and Barnabas visited the Jewish synagogue, as was their usual practice. When they shared the Good News of Jesus, some believed, but some were livid and wanted to kill them.
Acts 14:1-7 (NASB) And it came about that in Iconium they entered the synagogue of the Jews together, and spoke in such a manner that a great multitude believed, both of Jews and of Greeks. 2 But the Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the Gentiles, and embittered them against the brethren. 3 Therefore they spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands. 4 But the multitude of the city was divided; and some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles. 5 And when an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and the Jews with their rulers, to mistreat and to stone them, 6 they became aware of it and fled to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe, and the surrounding region; 7 and there they continued to preach the gospel.
We just read in verse 6 that after Paul and Barnabas learned of the plot to stone them, they went on to Lystra and Derbe; other cities located in Southern Galatia.
Acts 14:8-13 (NASB) And at Lystra there was sitting a certain man, without strength in his feet, lame from his mother's womb, who had never walked. 9 This man was listening to Paul as he spoke, who, when he had fixed his gaze upon him, and had seen that he had faith to be made well, 10 said with a loud voice, "Stand upright on your feet." And he leaped up and began to walk. 11 And when the multitudes saw what Paul had done, they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, "The gods have become like men and have come down to us." 12 And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds.
Just a few verses later Paul makes an impassioned speech seeking to correct the folks in Lystra in their misunderstanding. Paul makes it perfectly clear that it is God who is to be worshiped, and not he or Barnabas. Even after Paul's great sermon, the Scriptures tell us that it was hard to keep the people in Lystra from sacrificing to them.
A little later in the same chapter, we read about a radical turn of events. Turn with me to verse 19:
Acts 14:19-20 (NASB) But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. 20 But while the disciples stood around him, he arose and entered the city. And the next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe.
Please notice that Paul is stoned at Lystra. Can you even imagine what it would be like to have a group of people pick up rocks and throw them at you until they thought you were dead? This would have to be a very painful experience!
Did this stoning kill Paul? No! The text says, "supposing him to be dead." The Greek word translated "supposing" is nomizo. It is used 15 times in the New Testament, and in most of its uses, it has the meaning of: "Supposing something that is not true." For example:
Matthew 20:10 (NASB) "And when those hired first came, they thought [nomizo] that they would receive more; and they also received each one a denarius.
Luke 2:44 (NASB) but supposed [nomizo] Him to be in the caravan, and went a day's journey; and they began looking for Him among their relatives and acquaintances.
Acts 7:25 (NASB) "And he supposed [nomizo] that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him; but they did not understand.
Acts 8:20 (NASB) But Peter said to him, "May your silver perish with you, because you thought [nomizo] you could obtain the gift of God with money!
So while preaching to the cities of Galiata, Paul is stoned and left for dead. What would you do at this point? Would you strongly consider leaving missionary work? I know that I would. Please notice how Paul responds to this stoning:
Acts 14:20-22 (NASB) 20 But while the disciples stood around him, he arose and entered the city. And the next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 And after they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God."
Paul never misses a beat, he gets up and goes right on preaching! He even goes back to Lystra and encourages the believers to continue in the faith. Picture it! Paul must have been badly bruised and bloodied. There he stands encouraging the Christians. Believer, what does it take to discourage you from serving Christ? Paul doesn't get mad at God - he is serving Christ, and people stone him. Would you question God if something like this happened to you? Wouldn't you wonder why God didn't protect you in His service? Paul doesn't even complain. He just keeps on doing what God has called him to - preaching the Gospel.
Our next question is: When was the letter written? There is some discussion about when the letter was written, but for the sake of our study and our limited time, I will tell you that I believe the letter was written after Paul's first missionary journey, after he arrived back in Antioch. The date of the writing was probably around A.D. 49-50; about 20 years after the death of Christ. It was probably Paul's first epistle of those preserved for us in the New Testament.
The point. Most letters have a point. Very few of us take the time and trouble to write, when we have nothing particular to say. When I open a personal letter, I almost always scan it first to pick up the reason for which it was written. Is the writer mad about something? Is it a letter of gratitude? Am I being asked to give something or do something?
Paul writes for a reason something has happened that needs attention. What is it? The answer is that false teaching had begun to infiltrate the churches he had planted in Galatia. Notice what happens in Acts 15:
Acts 15:1-6 (NASB) And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." 2 And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue. 3 Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren. 4 And when they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. 5 But certain ones of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed, stood up, saying, "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses." 6 And the apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter.
This is apparently what happened in the Galatian churches. During Paul's absence, certain men began to teach: "A person needs to believe, plus perform certain rituals, plus keep certain laws before he can be sure of a right standing with God." We call this "legalism."
As we read on in Acts 15, we see that the Jerusalem Council renounces the "gospel" of the Judaizers, they concluded that Gentiles were not subject to the Old Testament law as a condition for salvation. The Gentiles, like the Jews, were saved by faith alone.
Please notice that the Judaizers did not go about as Paul and Barnabas, preaching the Gospel to the lost and planting churches. Instead they went to the church, seeking to save its members from the true Gospel and to convert them to what was another gospel.
It is a startling fact that the cults of today are conceived in the soil of orthodox, evangelical Christianity. Harold Bussell, in his book, Unholy Devotion: Why Cults Lure Christians, has come to this disturbing conclusion: "A close examination of popular Western cults reveals that many began in an Evangelical church or under leaders who claimed Christianity - men and women from solid church backgrounds."
The false teachers in Galatia were distorting Paul's true position. Paul had rejected the view that any ritual or any kind of law-keeping had anything to do with a person's salvation. His teaching on the Gospel was simply this: "Salvation is by the free grace of God, by the finished work of Christ on the cross. Period. Human works do not save, nor do they even contribute to salvation. We are saved by believing, not by achieving."
When Paul heard that these false teachers were subverting the Gospel in the churches he had planted in Galatia, and when he learned that some of the dear people he had won to Christ were confused and wavering, he fired off this letter. From start to finish it is a vigorous defense of the Gospel of grace against all who would dilute it by requiring some kind of human performance in order to experience salvation or maintain salvation.
This theme is most clearly stated in:
Galatians 5:1 (NASB) It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.
The fact that Christ set us free from sin is not disputed by anyone who calls himself a Christian. But sadly, many religious teachers simply offer another form of slavery.
Legalism is an attack on the very heart of the Gospel. Legalism, then, by its very nature is incompatible with Christian faith. Yet that is exactly what is beginning to infiltrate the Galatian churches. Listen as Paul addresses them:
Galatians 1:6 (NASB) I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel;
And in 2:4 he speaks of the false brethren:
Galatians 2:4 (NASB) But it was because of the false brethren who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.
Galatians 3:1-2 (NASB) You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? 2 This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?
We need to give careful attention to this issue of legalism, for it is still alive and well in the Church. Oh, I don't know anyone who is advocating circumcision as necessary for salvation, as were the Galatian false teachers, but there are many who demand baptism as essential; others put restrictions on the believer's diet; and still others have a long list of do's and don'ts not found in the Bible, but a list, nevertheless, to which they expect all other believers to conform. Legalism is an attack on the very heart of the Gospel.
Paul identifies himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ:"Paul, an apostle...." And then he goes to unusual lengths to discuss the source of his apostleship. In fact, most of the first two chapters are concerned with a defense of his apostleship. Why is this an immediate concern to Paul in this particular letter? Simply because if the false teachers can successfully challenge his claim to be an apostle, they can more easily discredit the Gospel of grace, which he taught.
The term "apostle" is a transliteration in a shortened form, rather than an actual translation of the Greek apostolos. Apostolos means: "a sent one," but it came to be used in an official sense of one who was commissioned by another as his representative. This included special credentials and the responsibility to carry out the orders of the one who sent him. Our term "ambassador" adequately gives the basic meaning.
Apostle is used in a general sense, in some passages in the New Testament, of a person who is sent someplace. But in its technical sense, it refers to those we know as "The Apostles" - particularly the 12 and Paul. These were men selected by God to have a unique ministry in establishing the church. They were men who had to have seen Jesus Christ after His resurrection from the dead. Some at Corinth were challenging whether Paul was an apostle. Paul's response to them was:
1 Corinthians 9:1 (NASB) Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?
One had to have seen Jesus Christ after His resurrection in order to have been eyewitness. Paul is the last of the apostles. 1 Corinthians, chapter 15 opens with Paul recounting the post-resurrection appearances of Christ to those whom Christ appeared after His resurrection from the dead. Then Paul concludes that list by saying:
1 Corinthians 15:8 (NASB) and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.
"I'm a unique case," Paul said. "I'm the last of the apostles. But He did appear to me, and that happened on the Damascus road." The apostles had the ability to perform miracles:
2 Corinthians 12:12 (NASB) The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.
It was necessary that the apostles could do signs, wonders, and miracles, because they also were the recipients of new revelations from God.
When Paul says in Galatians, chapter 1 that he is an apostle, he is one who represents Jesus Christ. He is in a unique position. It is important to establish his authority, because he is going to deal with false teaching. You understand that he is not just going to give one opinion among many opinions. He is going to render God's verdict on the issues at hand, because he is an apostle. He has that position.
These first century believers understood that the Apostles had authority and power from God. I'm sure that they had all heard about:
Acts 5:3-5 (NASB) But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the price of the land? 4 "While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God." 5 And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came upon all who heard of it.
That, my friends, is apostolic authority! To write a letter as an apostle is tantamount to saying that the author of the letter is God Himself.
It was important to establish that Paul was not an apostolic-recruit. No man talked him into joining the other apostles in the work of Christian missionary labors. There was no group of men who decided that Paul would be a good representative, so that they campaigned to recruit him. He clarified, "Not sent from men, nor through the agency of man." Paul could say without any equivocation that he was appointed "through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead." The Sender of this messenger of the gospel was none other than Jesus Christ and God the Father.
The coupling of Jesus Christ with God the Father was a very clear assertion of the full deity of Jesus Christ. To identify Him with the very same work as God meant that He Himself is God. The fact that Paul had no hesitation to place Jesus Christ before the Father in the order of names showed his understanding of the equality of our Lord in the Godhead.
The connection to the resurrection identifies both the power of the One who sent the apostle and the heart of Paul's apostolic message: "who raised Him from the dead." This is no God of man's imagination, but the one, true God who has power even over the foe of death!
He was an apostle of Jesus Christ, commissioned and sent out by Him. This is Paul's thrust in verse 1:
Galatians 1:1 (NASB) Paul, an apostle (not sent from men, nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead),
Just in case there was some doubt as to Paul's authenticity, he points out that he also writes this epistle under the authority and approval of:
Galatians 1:2 (NASB) and all the brethren who are with me, to the churches of Galatia:
This probably refers to the zealous missionary church of Antioch, who stood with Paul for the purity of the Gospel. He was no lone-ranger in his stand upon the Gospel. "The brethren" stood with him.
To Paul the message of Galatians was no small issue. He preached a "Jesus only" gospel. Another term for that is justification by faith alone, apart from the works of the law. He taught that the way of salvation was "by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone." The Judaizers taught a "Jesus plus" religion. They didn't deny that Jesus was the Son of God, and they didn't deny His death and resurrection, and they didn't preach against believing in Him, but they in essence said, "What Christ started, you need to finish. You must finish the unfinished work of Christ." In Paul's mind, this was nothing less than an attack on the Gospel itself. If the Judaizers prevailed, his work would have been in vain. The doctrine of grace itself was at stake in this controversy. It comes down to a simple question: Are we saved by believing or by achieving? Paul said by believing, the Judaizers said by achieving.
John MacArthur writes in his commentary on Galatians:
The Judaizers who plagued the early church claimed to be Christians, and much of their doctrine was orthodox. They must have recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah and even acknowledged the value of His sacrificial death on the cross--otherwise they would never have gotten a hearing in the church. They claimed to believe all the truths that other Christians believed. They did not purport to overtly deny the gospel, but to improve it by adding the requirements, ceremonies, and standards of the Old Covenant to the New. But anything added to grace destroys it just as surely as does anything taken from it. When law--even God's own law--is added to His grace, His grace ceases to be grace (cf. Rom. 11:6). (John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians, The Moody Bible Institute, 1987, page 13-14.)
Believers, the descendants of the Judaizers are still with us today as teachers and followers of Jesus trying to improve on the biblical doctrine of justification by faith. Salvation comes as the free gift of God. It is not earned, it can't be bought, and it has never come as a reward for good behavior. It has always been bestowed upon those who are undeserving, unworthy, and unlikely in the world's eyes to receive such a gift.
Just as Paul battled the Judaizers during his lifetime, so we must constantly battle the Judaizers of our own day. The most important doctrine of the Christian faith is this one single teaching: "The just shall live by faith." Faith not in themselves, nor their ability to live a godly life, or their ability to adhere to legalistic requirements of the Law, but faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ, and Christ alone.
Can you think of any modern day Judaizers? How about the Catholics?
The Roman Catholic church teaches that Jesus Christ's merit covered sin in a certain sense, but there also was a penalty that you must pay, and God will punish you either in this life or in purgatory. In Roman Catholicism, purgatory is the place of cleansing after death, usually imagined to involve punishment and suffering. According to this doctrine, Christians go to purgatory to be purified of venial sins that were unconfessed and unforgiven on earth. After the appropriate cleansing has taken place, the soul is ready to be received into heaven. Indulgences, masses, and prayers for the dead can speed the cleansing process and reduce the time in purgatory. Purgatory is NOT Biblical! It is an invention of man.
Catholic theology says, "By my deeds I can not only earn merit for myself, but if I earn more merit than I need to get into heaven, my extra merit goes into the treasury of merit to be applied to somebody else to get them out of purgatory." What that says is, "Not only can I, by my merit, earn my own salvation, but I can over earn it and apply what is left to someone else's salvation." This is salvation by works, and this is denying the sufficiency of Christ's work. If you are trusting in something that you've done to get you into heaven, you'll never get there.
There is a great need in the Body of Christ today for solid biblical teaching. There is such a need for the Body of Christ to turn around and go back to the basics of our faith - Christ alone! Our sufficiency is found in Christ alone! Our salvation is found in Christ alone! Our redemption, justification, sanctification, and freedom are found in no other place than Christ, and Christ alone!
The more I talk to people, the more I am convinced that the majority of church goers do not understand that our salvation is not based upon what we do, but upon what Christ did. They think that their relationship with God is based upon their performance. They think that as long as they live "right" that God will not condemn them. This is a "works" system. To attempt to live the Christian life by works is to live under constant guilt and condemnation. But to understand that salvation is by grace through faith, and that we are absolutely secure because of Christ's work, will bring great peace to your soul.
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