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 brethren who are with me, To the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ. But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. (Now concerning the things which I write to you, indeed, before God, I do not lie.) Afterward I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ. But they were hearing only, “He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God in me.
This great letter written by Paul is a mini-Romans: all the themes of Romans are condensed for us here for it was written first. The main theme running through this book is the freedom bought for us by Jesus. Martin Luther called this book: “the great charter of religious freedom” and I really do agree – in understanding Galatians freedom comes. When I was a young Christian and I felt down or condemned a youth leader would say to me: Read Galatians. This is great advice. Read it and read it till it sinks in.
At the outset Paul has to establish his credentials because there are serious things to be dealt with in this letter - things that have to do with undoing the freedom that has been given to us in Christ.
It seems Paul has always had to justify himself to his readers that he has the authority from God to say the things that he says. And today there is an attack upon Paul like at no other time. One of the first things I had published when I was about 20 years old was a letter to my local newspaper justifying the writings of Paul and establishing them as Scripture. Scripture is the Word of God. So, this was very important. I was responding to an article written disparaging Paul. And today I see that even in the Church I have to put forward Paul’s credentials.
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,
We hear that Paul is he is a woman hater and the perpetrator of a patriarchal society, and that he, really, is the founder of Christianity rather than Jesus Christ. Whilst it is very true that without Paul’s influence the Gospel would not have had the impact upon the world that it has had it was still God who used him. Paul existed because of the Gospel not the Gospel existed because of Paul.
Will we only accept those things that we agree with him about? But would we argue with God? Will we only accept that which is palatable to us? Paul says that he is not from men or through men that he is an apostle. What Paul wrote within the pages of our bible are Scripture, they are God’s Word, who are we to argue with them? In the letter to the newspaper I wrote:
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
But, of course, I could have written what Peter said of Paul:
and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.
Also, regard the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our dear brother Paul has written to you according to the wisdom given to him. He speaks about these things in all his letters. There are some matters that are hard to understand. The untaught and unstable will twist them to their own destruction, as they also do with the rest of the Scriptures.
How remarkable is that considering the latest attacks upon Paul. Peter wrote this after Paul had written all his letters. He equated His writings with Scripture. His writings are Scripture, meaning they are God-breathed, meaning that if we want to argue with Paul we are actually arguing with God. Let us be careful not to criticise writers of Scripture for this is the standard we are called to and if we don’t like this standard then it is we have fallen below what is acceptable and if our society, even within the Church, does not agree with Paul then it is we who have to change not Paul. We are not to criticise Scripture but Scripture is to criticise us! In our membership rule 3.1 states that, as members, we accept Scripture to be the sole authority. Who has authority? Scripture. Who does not have authority? We, neither our opinions nor our society nor our culture. That is why we believe in sola scriptura: Scripture alone.
So, Paul establishes that it is God who called him as an Apostle through Jesus Christ and God who directly revealed the doctrine he is putting forward.
The purpose of Jesus coming is that He gave Himself for our sins that He might free us from this present evil age. This present evil age is the one we are all still living in but we are promised a better living in a place where there is no sin nor suffering nor any other kind of evil. The evil age is similar to the days of evil that Ephesians speaks of where sin has marred our personal lives and infected the whole world and it also speaks of the demonic powers at work that seeks to keep people enslaved. Last week we saw that it is against these principalities and powers we are to stand strong in the Lord.
The evil age has been overcome by Jesus. This has been achieved for us in Christ at the cross and resurrection and it is already a spiritual reality. The price has been paid in full. It is finished. There is now no price to pay. It’s hard for us to accept sometimes that we are completely forgiven, cleansed...the sin is covered, washed away in his blood never to be seen again, all forgotten. It is all grace...a gift given to us along with the robe of righteousness...our sin forgiven, covered, paid for and now we are citizens of Heaven.
But the end of the evil age in its complete fulfilment is yet to come. For we are saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. When Judgement Day comes back the evil age will be over. Sin will be finished with and the devil locked up never to influence us again.
But until then we have to be aware that there are nefarious schemes at work to undo the work of Christ, to bring people back into bondage and the prime way to do that is to have another gospel preached.
But we have to be aware that there are nefarious schemes at work to undo the work of Christ, to bring people back into bondage and the prime way to do that is to have another gospel preached. A gospel that says that we have to work to gain salvation rather than working being the result of salvation: a salvation that works. We could and can do nothing to gain salvation for we were in a helpless state that required Jesus to come and die in our place. All these things that we heard this morning. This is why we believe in sola gratia: Grace alone.
There is a true story of a man that was working in his garage. He was the kind of person who did not like to be interrupted while engaged in a project. Knowing this, his wife walked into the garage and stood quietly at his side for several minutes, waiting for the proper time to speak. At last, her husband looked up, the signal that she was free to say what was on her mind. Very calmly, and without a trace of panic, she said, “The house is on fire.”
Paul dives right into the reason why he is writing with such urgency that whilst in all the other letters he thanks God for what he is doing in the lives of those he is writing to, even the church at Corinth, he can hardly contain himself with concern and worry about the state of the church at Galatia. There is a time to be diplomatic and most of the time it is but when the house is on fire you need to be shouting it.
That story reminded me that when I was in a friend’s house in the kitchen the toaster caught fire and I simply said calmly: The toaster’s on fire. I got no response. The second time when I said it my friend leapt into action and dealt with it…I had no idea what to do at that time for I knew water would do no good and of course I was right…but my mate knew exactly what to do…disconnect the electricity and smother the fire with a blanket – the kitchen and the toaster was saved. Shortly thereafter though they had a major kitchen fire – started by the same toaster.
The thing is you cannot just leave things – if you leave a fire, as long as it has things to burn and has oxygen, it is going to grow – but if you put it out but not deal with the underlying problem it is going to break out again – and this is why Paul deals so decisively with this issue. There was a fire to put out and he was going to deal with the underlying problem – the false teachers and the daft Christians who believed them.
Paul could not understand that these Galatians were moving away from the true Gospel so fast: so much so that he was amazed. It seems that Christians have the ability to surprise us, not so much in a good way. Our high demand is that all Christians behave in a way that is like Christ and are shocked when we discover that lurking beneath the outward veneer are some surprising traits. Paul was staggered that these Galatians that he had taught so well were easily persuaded by others to move in a direction that was harmful to their spiritual health.
Our high demand is that all Christians behave in a way that is like Christ and are shocked when we discover that lurking beneath the outward veneer are some surprising traits. Paul was staggered that these Galatians that he had taught so well were easily persuaded by others to move in a direction that was harmful for their spiritual health. Paul knew just exactly how bad the situation because he was once a Pharisee who through obedience to the law ended up persecuting the Church…so he knew this was no good thing. The Galatians were turning away from the true Gospel, and the free gift of grace was being forgotten. Paul knew that self-effort was a dead-end because there is nothing anyone can do to gain God’s favour.
Paul knew exactly how bad the situation was because he was once a Pharisee who through obedience to the law ended up persecuting the Church…so he knew this was no good thing. The Galatians were turning away from the true Gospel, and the free gift of grace was being forgotten. Paul knew that self-effort was a dead-end because there is nothing anyone can do to gain God’s favour.
though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.
(NKJV) 4 though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; 6 concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. 7 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.
Paul preaches a gospel that says that we do not have to work to gain salvation. We could and can do nothing to gain salvation for we were in a helpless state that required Jesus to come and die in our place. All these things that we heard this morning. This is why we believe in sola gratia: Grace alone.
But today we are have a world full of false gospels and Christians are getting suckered by them.
I am well aware that there are true Christians in the Roman Catholic Church but the Gospel they preach is not the Gospel - this is the kind of thing that Paul himself was preaching against. They have a gospel that says that it is faith and works in the form of sacraments and the mass. Which is exactly what Paul was criticising: you come to faith in Christ and then you want to be circumcised, which was a backwards step towards legalism. Legalism is the opposite of freedom. When you come to Jesus you are set free, no longer bound, no longer tied to a system of you have to do this or that in order to maintain favour with God.
Seventh Day Adventists are the same and preach the a gospel of faith and works to be saved in the manner of keeping the law and that especially of the Sabbath. This is why we believe in sola fide: Faith alone. The whole reformation centred on this.
Even if an angel were to declare to you a different gospel you were to reject it says Paul. Did you know that there are two world religions that base their faith upon what an angel said to them?
Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, claimed that he was visited by the angel Moroni who informed him that the true gospel had been corrupted after the apostolic age and thus had been absent from the earth for nearly 19 centuries. Smith viewed his calling as a restoration of true Christianity to the world. The Mormon gospel is based on self-effort, submission to baptism for regeneration, the acceptance of Joseph Smith as God’s end-time prophet, a belief in the “inspired” Mormon scriptures, and the keeping of the Word of Wisdom, which includes abstinence from caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol, among other things.
Similarly, Islam teaches that the angel Gabriel delivered the Koran to Muhammad. Islam says that a man must declare their faith, must pray five times a day, must give alms, must fast for the month of Ramadan and must go to Mecca on pilgrimage and even then you might not be saved.
Amazing that Paul, so well in advance, would tell us these things and call both heretical.
Paul then shares his testimony as one who had persecuted the Church but had then met with Jesus and had been radically changed. Now others were glorifying God because of him because they had heard this amazing story. It was a move from the law to grace and the Galatians were trying to move back to law.
Every single one of us have a testimony of how we came to faith in Christ. It may have been a gradual realisation or it may have been sudden. Every way is a miracle. Of course, it might be true that you have not yet trusted Jesus with your life so I implore you today to do so. Listen again to the sermon from this morning which, God willing, will be on the Church website by tomorrow.
Today we hear similar stories from the Middle-East of people who have been agitating against Christianity, often through visions or near-death experiences and upon waking up speaking to Christians, coming to faith in Jesus. In another story I heard this week of one old Syrian Muslim man who would not come to faith in Christ until he had spoken to all his family about what he was about to do after he had seen the kindness of Christians towards him. He preached the Gospel to them before he himself said yes to Jesus. The whole family were saved.
The point of Paul’s story is that it is one of complete mercy and grace, that he was called before he was born to be a preacher among the nations of the true Gospel. Others, on the other hand, are preaching a gospel which is not a gospel at all. Anyone who preaches such a non-gospel is in danger of hell for they are not only keeping themselves out of heaven but others also. Paul calls such people anathema or accursed. Which is to say that they will separated from God forever without chance of parole. The gospel is deadly serious. The gospel is of utmost importance in God’s world. We are to resist with everything we have every distorted version of the gospel and hold fast to the gospel of Jesus Christ who gave Himself for our sins and to deliver us from the present evil age.
And because of this anyone who preaches such a non-gospel is in danger of hell for they are not only keeping themselves out of heaven but others also and so a worse punishment is due to such people. Paul calls such people anathema or accursed. Which is to say that they will separated from God forever without chance of parole. The gospel is deadly serious. The gospel is of utmost importance in God’s world. We are to resist with everything we have a distorted version of the gospel and hold fast to the gospel of Jesus Christ who gave Himself for our sins and to deliver us from the present evil age.
Mangum, D., & Brown, D. R. (2012). Galatians. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Scofield, C. I. (Ed.). (1917). The Scofield Reference Bible: The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments. New York; London; Toronto; Melbourne; Bombay: Oxford University Press.
Exported from Logos Bible Software, 19:11 22 July 2017.