So, this is going to be the 1st lesson on the book of Galatians and Lord willing we will work our way through the whole book over the next few weeks. First, we are going to read the whole chapter together. And then I will make a few opening comments about the importance of this letter, and then we will begin to open it up.
Galatians 1 (Read whole chapter) Of the 27 books in the New Testament, over half were written by one man: Paul.
The book of Galatians is one of Paul’s books. The apostle Paul was a church-planting missionary. After he planted a church and left a region, he continued to supervise new congregations through his letters. One of these letters is this letter to a church in the area of Galatia in Asia Minor. Most scholars agree that this letter was written by Paul around AD50 (only 15-20 years after the death of Christ). This means it was one of the first NT books ever written. It was written about 10 years before even any of the gospels was written. Most believe the church in Galatia is also one of the first church the Apostle Paul ever planted probably coming out of his first missionary journey that we can see, found in Acts 13
The book of Galatians is regarded as one of Paul's greatest and most important letters.
Galatians, more than any other single book, became the manifesto of freedom and revival of Biblical truth in the Reformation Era. It could easily be called "the Constitution of Christian liberty."
It has been called "a small pebble with which the Reformers struck down the papal giant of the Middle Ages."
Merrill Tenney, who served on the original translation team of the NASB has pointed out:
Few books have had a more profound influence on the history of mankind than has this small tract, for such it should be called. Christianity might have been just one more Jewish sect, and the thought of the Western world might have been entirely pagan had it never been written. Galatians embodies the germinal teaching on Christian freedom which separated Christianity from Judaism, and which launched it upon a career of missionary conquest. It was the cornerstone of the Protestant Reformation, because its teaching of salvation by grace alone became the dominant theme of the preaching of the Reformers.
Martin Luther called it "my own little epistle. I have betrothed myself to it; it is my Katie von Bora (his wife)."
Luther's entire life was changed by the impact on him of Habakkuk 2:4: "The just shall live by faith.” Though, it hit him with a force out of Romans 1:17 The just shall live by Faith. Who are "the just"? The letter to the Romans gives the definitive answer to that dilemma.
The just shall live by Faith. Galatians 3:11. How should they live? Galatians is the guide; a release from the bondage of religious externalism.
Paul's purpose was to keep the new kingdom that Jesus brought in, that is to be alive in men’s hearts until he returns, from being just another Jewish sect. The Gospel is to all men (Galatians 3:26) Paul’s letter to the Galatians has blocked the path of many, and Lord willing will keep doing so, of those who would change Christianity into just another religion.
It stands as a challenge to all who would take away the grace of God, the truth of the Gospel, and the joy and freedom that goes with it.
Legalism had its beginning in the Garden of Eden where the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, was not so much law breaking but also law making. They wanted to decided what was right.
Grace is God's answer to man's pride. In Romans 1:16, the Apostle Paul declares, “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation!” My friends, the book of Galatians is power. It is an explosion of joy and freedom which leaves us enjoying a deep significance, security and satisfaction—the life of blessing God calls His people into. Why? Because it brings us face to face with the gospel. It’s so easy to see so many other things central the Bible. It’s so easy to make so many other things central to the christian life. Even good and Biblical things, we make most important. Some people make missions most important. Some people make prophecy most important. Some people make the second coming of Christ as most important. Some people make Israel as most important. Some people make going to church as most important. Now whatever the case, it’s not that there matters are not important. But they all pale in comparison to how important the gospel is. The gospel is central. Yet, sometimes, the gospel is confusing to us. If I were to ask each one of you to describe what the gospel is in about 3 or 4 sentences. Now each person might not use the exact same words. You would probably all be right. But what the tendency is, is we often think about the gospel, as something mainly for non-Christians. We see it as a way to become a Christian. And that’s it. We often think that once were in, we don’t need to hear or study or understand the gospel anymore— that what we need now is deeper, more advanced material.
But in this short letter to the Galatians, Paul most assuredly says NO - the gospel alone is the beginning, the end and the middle of the Christian life. It is everything. All of the Christian life is growing, deeper and wider, and more surer, in and through and because of the gospel. The gospel is the way people are transformed, the gospel is the way churches are transformed and it is the way that the communities we live in are transformed.
We’re going to see Paul showing the Christians in Galatia, and us reading it 2000 years later, that theirs, (and our) spiritual problem is not only caused by failing to live in obedience to God, but that it is also caused by them, and us trying to rely on our obedience. Our standing before God is never, ever, no matter what - based on our obedience to God. But it is always on the basis of Christ and Christ alone. It is his perfect obedience that sets us free, not ours. And so we’re going to see him telling them that all they need—all they could ever need—is the gospel of God’s unearned favor to them through Christ’s life, death and resurrection.
We’re going to hear him solving their issues not through telling them to “be better Christians”, but by calling them to live out the implications what Christ did for them. We’re going to watch Paul challenge them, and us, with the simple truth that the gospel is not just the way into the Christian life, it is the all of the Christian life - that Christians need the gospel just as much as non-Christians. You grow in the christian life, by the same way you entered the Christian life. Through the gospel.
Paul will explain to us that the truths of the gospel changes lives from top to bottom; that they transform our hearts, our thinking and our approach to absolutely everything. I have heard somebody say, that the gospel can only be truly understood, when we understand that the gospel tells us that we are more wicked than we ever could imagine, but that we are also more loved and accepted in Christ than we could ever dared hope When we get this—it creates a radical new way of growing in obedience and love. Galatians is all about the gospel, which all of us need throughout all of our lives. It’s power. And I pray that it explodes in our hearts, and makes us passionate to see it do the same work in others’ hearts.
Let’s read the first 9 verses again … Galatians 1:1-9 So what you see immediately, what sticks out immediately in this first chapter, especially at the end of vs. 9
"If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
So what you see immediately in this chapter, in this letter is that the Christian Faith stands or falls with this letter. This books deals with things on which eternal destinies hang. Let them be damned. Let them be anathema. Let them be accursed. If they come preaching another gospel.
You get the gospel wrong. Your done. This is serious stuff. This should make you take life and worship seriously.
This is probably what stands out the most in the opening of Galatians is Paul’s tone, and the frame of mind that lies behind it. He is surprised. And he is angry. And his language is strong. Can you notice that? Now since Paul wrote so much of the NT, we can see a pattern that usually develops. And this pattern is just not here. What Paul usually does is has a greeting, then a thanksgiving, and then the body of the letter. His reason for writing and all that. Some examples would be Philippians 1:3-8; Colossians 1:3-8; 1 Corinthians 1:4-9) But here – it’s totally different. He totally skips the thanksgiving. No thanksgiving for the Galatians. He goes from Hi– to “I am astonished…” –
It would be like meeting someone for coffee, saying “Hello” and then immediately launching into, What in the world is wrong with you? How could you be so easily fooled?”
What has made Paul so emotional? 1st, Paul is astonished because these young Christians are taking hold of a gospel that isn’t really a gospel (v 7). Like I said, this is huge, they are in enormous danger.
And 2nd, he is angry at the ones who are doing the misleading—those who are “trying to pervert the gospel” (v 7b). He calls down condemnation on them (v 9). Paul, who in Romans 9:3 said he would be willing to be cut off from Christ if his kinsman could be saved. Paul who in 2 Timothy 2:10 says he suffer all things for the sake of the elect Paul, who has suffered ship wrecks, imprisonments, and beatings. Who has become all things to all people so that some might be saved. Is saying that he wishes that those who are perverting this gospel, the one he is willing to die for, that they would instead be cut off from Christ because of it. That’s what being accursed means. To be cut off from Christ. Condemned! That’s how precious the gospel is. That Paul who has given his life so others could hear it, is saying that those who are trying to block people from hearing it - need to be damned! This is not a trifle. But he is also angry with the Galatian Christians themselves. (v 6) He is astonished with them. Warning them that they are deserting Christ - this is a serious charge!
We’ll see as we walk through Paul’s letter that what caused him to feel and think this way was a group of people who were purporting to be Christians themselves. Jewish at that. Because the gospel came to the Jews first. Were teaching these Gentile Christian believers that yes, it was good to believe in Jesus, that was the way in. But then after that you also needed to keep the Jewish cultural customs. You need to keep the law of Moses— you needed to be circumcised and keep the food laws in order to be truly pleasing to God.
To the Galatians, this probably didn’t appear to be that big of a deal. Wouldn’t it make sense that the people from whom, the message of this God came to first would also know how to live in accordance with his ways. Surely this couldn’t be that different from what Paul had taught them. Maybe he had just not gotten to this part yet. But Paul says: No! This is an absolute rejection of all that I have been telling you.
He is not holding anything back! But if we believe what Paul believed, then we would understand. Imagine if you saw your child running towards the street about to get run over by a semi. Imagine the shock and horror you would feel. And that is what Paul is feeling right here. Except the semi truck of false teaching barreling down the highway here is no accident. These false teachers are teaching this on purpose. And your child running towards the highway about to be run over is running that way on purpose, too. This my friends increases the shock a little. This might give us a little insight into why Paul opens this letter the way he does.