TODAY’S READING: GALATIANS 1-6
The priority of grace in Paul’s message and life (chapter 1); the priority of grace in Paul’s ministry (chapter 2); the preeminence of grace over law (chapters 3 and 4); the priority of standing in liberty and walking in the Spirit in grace living (chapters 5 and 6).
HIGHLIGHTS & INSIGHTS:
Understanding the key issues facing the churches in Galatia causes the six chapters of this Book to be some of the most practical in the entire New Testament. The fact is, the 1st century “Galatian” problem is alive/and well in Christianity in the 21st century!
Let’s begin with a little background information. Whereas the other letters written by Paul to local churches were addressed to one specific local church in one specific city (i.e. Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, and Thessalonica), this letter was written to a group of local churches in a particular region. That region, known to us as modern day Turkey, was known in the 1st century as Galatia. It was this area that was settled by the Gauls of France, and thus became known as Galatia, or “Gaulatia,” if you will. The local churches in this region were established by Paul and Barnabus on their first missionary journey. The specific churches were the churches in the cities of Derbe, Lystra, Iconium and Antioch (of Pisidia) – see Acts 13:14-14:23.
Obviously, these churches were comprised of Gentiles believers who had responded to Paul and Barnabus’ proclamation of the gospel which is received by grace through faith in Christ alone. After receiving Christ, Acts 14:22-23 lets us know that time was spent by Paul and Barnabus “confirming the souls of the disciples” in each of these churches, and making sure that “they had ordained them elders in every church.”
It was just that fact that so blew Paul away! Not long after Paul and Barnabus had grounded these churches in the truth, false teachers began infiltrating these churches with what Paul called “another gospel.” Much to Paul’s utter shock and dismay, the “disciples” (Acts 14:22) and “elders” (Acts 14:23) in these churches dropped Paul and his gospel like a hot potato, for a false, powerless, and even damnable “gospel” (Gal. 1:6-9). Paul, literally, could not believe it! He writes, (with his own hand by the way (6:11) – in other words, Paul didn’t dictate this letter for someone else to write as he usually did. He was so passionate about the content of this letter, he wanted to write it himself, in spite of his obvious eye problems – 4:15 c.f. 6:11), but he writes using some of the strongest language and rebuke found in any of his letters.
These false teachers are known historically as “Judaizers” or “legalizers.” They were Jews, who like Paul before his conversion, were incredibly zealous for Judaism, or Jewishness, and thus, the title, “Judaizers.” Their basic point of attack upon these Galatian believers, was that at Gentiles, if they really wanted to be saved, and/or really wanted to stay saved, and/or really wanted to be “spiritual,” they would have to “become like them.” In other words, they would have to first become a Jew, and live under the ramifications of the law (and thus, the title “legalizers” or “legalists” — “legal” having to do with the law). Their teaching is epitomized in the words of Acts 15:1 – “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.”
Paul’s reaction to this false teaching is what prompted the writing of this scathing letter to those churches. Paul is absolutely livid with these false teachers, and the Galatian believers as well! He says that those who preach this false gospel give evidence that they are worthy of hell (1:8-9), and those who are swayed by it give evidence that they have not only been misinformed or deceived, but actually, “BEWITCHED” (3:1)! They were acting as if they were under a Satanic spell.
The content of this letter is of utmost importance, because the Judaizers of the 1st century were not the last of those who propagate that there is SOMETHING MORE that you need to DO in order to BE saved (i.e. be baptized, take communion, etc.), STAY saved (i.e. “Be like us. Dress like this, not like that; wear your hair like this, not like that; listen to this kind of music, not that kind; you can go to these places, but not those; etc., etc., etc.”) Understanding Paul’s message is vital in keeping us off of the endless treadmill of legalism.
What the Galatians didn’t understand, as is the case with most believers today, is that they were already as SAVED as they would ever be, and already as SPIRITUAL as they would ever be, and it’s not because of what WE DO or DO NOT DO, it is based totally on WHO CHRIST IS, and what He has DONE! We were “made the righteousness of God in Him” the moment we were saved (II Cor. 5:21). It’s hard to get more righteous than that! We were made accepted with God the moment we were placed in Christ – as accepted as He accepts Christ, His beloved Son (Eph. 1:6). And it’s hard to be more accepted than that! And again, this is all totally apart from what WE DO or DO NOT DO!!! That lesson is foreign to most believers, and comes hard! The difference, however, is the difference between legalism and a life of flesh-walking, and true, genuine biblical Christianity and a life of walking in the Spirit!
The message of the Holy Spirit through Paul to the Galatian believers and to believers today is, Christ, through His death, set us free from the law! Paul asks in 3:2 and 3, “This is only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” The obvious answer, is that it was through faith and by His Spirit that we were saved, and were placed on the road to maturity. Based on that reality, Paul admonishes us to first, learn to STAND — “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hat made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (5:1), so that we can learn to WALK — “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (5:16).
Understanding the practical ramifications of the Book of Galatians for new believers cannot be overemphasized. It will literally save 20 years (conservative estimate) of frustration, as the flesh tenaciously seeks and strives to produce what can only be produced by the Spirit (5:22-23) through the faith of Christ (2:16, 20 – see also Phil. 3:9; Rom. 3:20-22). Pray that God will open your eyes to the wondrous truth (Psa. 119:18) in this incredible little Book of Galatians.