Faithlife
Faithlife

Galatians

Sermon  •  Submitted
0 ratings
· 5 views
Notes & Transcripts
There is so much more to tell of that story, I wish I had time to tell it. If you ever have a chance to read some of Martin Luther’s writings certainly do. Read of the torture he put himself through trying to please God: he was contstantly in depression, anxiety, in fear: as he felt he was never doing enough to please God. He was terrified of God: he was told a meager diet would help so he ate nothing but bread and drank water, he was told to wear uncomfortable clothing: that would help him please God, he was told to beg even though he did not need to beg: that would please God. He walked 800 miles to Rome and 800 miles back to ascend what was supposedly the Holy steps where Jesus walked up to Pilate: and they had moved them there to Rome; after having done that and been exposed to Rome, he saw more corruption than he had ever seen in his experience as a monk in Wittenberg, or anywhere else in Germany. He was so overwhelmed by sin that he would confess his sins incessantly, up to six hours. He confessed them to his priestly confessor, a man by the name of Staupitz; and Staupitz was so worn out by these long confessions that he said to Luther, “Do not come back unless you commit adultery or fornication. Stop with the endless confessions.” He was in constant torture trying to please God. He said: “I tortured myself with praying, fasting, keeping vigils, and freezing. The cold was enough to kill me. I inflicted such pain as I would never inflict again.” Yet all that changed: through time he saw the corruption of the Roman Catholic church, and he saw the truth of the gospel in the book I am going to ask you to turn with me to this morning: Galatians.
if you have a copy of God’s Word go ahead and turn with me to Galatians chapter 1 this morning. I would encourage you to find a copy of Martin Luther’s commentary on Galatians: listen to the testimony of Charles and John Wesley: how God used just the preface of that commentary in them, and we also pray that for us: we would have an aha moment as we study this book as did Luther. We are beginning a series working through the book of Galatians. Galatians is like a little bomb. It’s not a very long book. It’s six chapters. They’re not very long chapters, but it’s a bomb. There’s dynamite in it. It is a letter from Paul to the churches in Galatia, a region in Asia Minor, modern day Turkey, and it is the only letter that specifically addresses churches in more than one city. Paul likely founded all of these churches himself and is heavy burdened with anger, concern and frustration as he writes this letter. He writes to counter the Judaising false teachers who were bringing a new gospel which of course was not a gospel at all, but it was their way to add to the gospel: to mix legalism with grace trying to force all believers to submit to the Jewish law so they could truly be followers of God. The central theme of Galatians is really the gospel: the gospel of grace, the gospel of peace, the gospel that frees you: freeing you not to sin, but freeing you to serve and to walk by his grace.
It’s like growing up as a child and having the legalistic routine of getting ready for bed: do you know what I’m talking about? Parents are the Phariseeic enforcers of the bed time law: and the kids want freedom from that. It’s seriously we’ve got to brush our teeth? Tonight? Yes, every night. Seriously, we’ve got to go to bed; we’ve got to go to sleep? Yes. But, I want to stay up, I want to watch TV, or I want you to read me another book. Go to sleep. I’m hungry: no you’re not, go to sleep. I saw a grizzly bear in my closet: no you didn’t: go to sleep. And then you get out of your parents house and you’re like freedom! It’s time to stay up late, watch tv, eat a bean burrito in my bed watching tv at 2 in the morning, but it doesn’t take you long at all to realize that what you want most out of life when the day is coming to an end is that which your parents tried to enforce: you just want to go to sleep. And the earlier the better. That bean burrito doesn’t sound good anymore either; you’re freer than ever yet you are more obedient than ever before to your parents commands and nightly demands.
Galatians is like a little bomb. It’s not a very long book. It’s six chapters. They’re not very long chapters, but it’s a bomb. There’s dynamite in it.
That’s what we see in our growth of the gospel grace. There’s this law in front of us: obey all of these commands: yet our flesh fights against it: our flesh desires to break those commands, but then through Christ, the power of the gospel: we are set free from the law, but as we grow we realize as the prophets prophesied: we realize that law is what our heart now desires, it’s now written on our hearts, now we have power to live out the law because the grace of the gospel is not just offered at the moment of salvation, but throughout our walk in Christ. That is the message of Galatians. Let’s begin:
Galatians 1:1–5 ESV
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 brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
This morning we are just covering these few verses here at the beginning of Galatians: and it’s just the salutation. It’s pretty rare to hear or for me to preach a message focused only on the salutation. It’s the greeting at the beginning of a letter: if we write emails we don’t do much of this. I get many emails that don’t start with a salutation and just go right to the point probably you do to, sometimes though I might get one or a letter from a student that starts with dear: so we still use dear sometimes: dear Mr. Cothran, dear Pastor: that’s left over from salutations: you may not even meet the person you are writing to, but you’re calling them dear: why: it’s you’re way of saying grace and peace to you: I write with good intentions. So, in the beginning of these New Testament letters: you’ll find these three things a from, and to, and a salutation. Normally, though in reading Scripture we somewhat overlook or just quickly read through the salutation, but I don’t want to do that this morning here in Galatians.
This is the longest salutation of Paul’s salutations because he has so much intensity and so much burden in his heart: he cannot even get through the salutation without letting it out. It’s like he says this is Paul to churches in....listen we have got to talk: look at the foolishness you are doing. And basically everything he says later in the letter is somehow outlined here in this opening passage. So, this morning we are just briefly hitting some of those areas, and will then dive deeper into these issues beginning next week. This week it’s like we are new students and Apostle Paul is walking us through the hallway at the school of Galatians’ open house saying: there’s where you’ll have literacy, there’s where you’ll have math, there’s where you’ll study science: don’t go in there yet, but that’s where you’ll be: we’re just walking through the hallway this morning. And I’d like to say most of the messages here are understandable enough so that if a stranger off the street comes in: he’ll get it, but I can’t say that will be true for these messages in Galatians: it is very cumulative in understanding; you can’t miss the first half the school year and expect to know what’s going on in math class.
Today is just kind of a curriculum map, an introduction, and still yet the bombs of Galatians will be experienced: we’re going to see Christians in America have much in common to the Christians of Galatia. And it’s my hope many of you who are living as slaves will be set free during this series. The Galatians’ main problem was that they thought they believed the gospel, but they were losing touch with it, they were losing it and going back to slavery. They did not really understand the gospel. Do you really understand the gospel? Of course I’m a baptized Southern baptist, I’ve been a member for 30 years, but the point of Galatians is you think you know the gospel, and you don’t. You think you apply the gospel and you don’t. You think you’ve worked the gospel in your heart, but you don’t. In fact as Tim Keller wrote: Paul is saying, “If you think you understand the gospel, that proves you don’t understand the gospel, and if you say, ‘Oh, I hardly understand the gospel,’ that means you’re starting to get it.”
Paul shows us in this passage and highlighting the rest of this book: significance. And that’s why the bombs are going off: the significance has shifted in Galatians: away from grace and onto works, away from what God has done and on to what we can do, away from God’s gospel and onto man’s gospel: so he emphasizes it here. Let’s look at it.

1. The Significance of Doctrine

Galatians 1:1 ESV
Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—
First of all: Galatians focuses on the significance of doctrine. Look again at how Paul begins, introduces himself as who: Paul an apostle. Apostle being one sent out with a message and his argument here: my message, my doctrine is not from what other people have said: it’s from Jesus Christ himself. Notice also he says: To the churches of Galatia …” He is not writing this letter to a church, but to a number of churches in the northern part of Greece, where he had planted churches. This is very unusual for Paul; why does he do this? Ordinarily, he would write to one church if there was a problem, a party division or a troublesome member. But you see, what’s going on here, the reason he can write to a number of churches is because it’s a doctrinal issue. There’s a group of false teachers who have moved into that area, that region and the churches in that area and these new Christians there, have started to listen to these teachers.
First of all: Galatians focuses on the significance of doctrine. Look again at how Paul begins, introduces himself as who: Paul an apostle. Apostle being one sent out with a message and his argument here: my message, my doctrine is not from what other people have said: it’s from Jesus Christ himself. Notice also he says: To the churches of Galatia …” He is not writing this letter to a church, but to a number of churches in the northern part of Greece, where he had planted churches. Why? Ordinarily, he would write to one church if there was a problem, a party division or a troublesome member. But you see, what’s going on here, the reason he can write to a number of churches is because it’s a doctrinal issue. There’s a group of teachers who have moved into that area, and the churches in that area, the people, the new Christians there, have started to listen to these teachers.
He’s not talking about this or that personal problem or this or that division or this or that practice. Like when you read the Corinthian letters, they are very specific about the practice of an individual church. He’s after false doctrine. He is denouncing false doctrine. Right away, I know we’re flying right in the face of what our culture and the politically correct say. They say, “The idea of talking about false teachers and heretics and talking about false doctrine and trying to contradict false doctrine and combatting false doctrine and false teaching … Please!” People would nowadays say, “Everybody has a right to come to their own conclusions about their religious and moral beliefs. You shouldn’t be telling people their moral and religious beliefs are wrong. People have a right to come to the conclusions on their own.”
But, I want you to consider this; I would like you to reflect with me for a second. Why did the Nazis kill millions of Jews and Eastern European people? Why? “Well,” you say, “because that was an evil act.” I know. But why? I mean, did one of them say to the rest, “Hey, want to do something evil?” and the others said, “Oh, yeah. What?” No. They didn’t say, “Oh, we’re doing something evil.” They did the evil thing they did because they believed some human races, some racial groups, were subhuman and not worthy of protection. Somebody says, “Wait a minute. I thought we were talking about religious beliefs?” I am. Do you believe all human beings are equal and they should all be equally protected, do you believe God created all people in his image? Go to Science and ask Science, “Is everybody equal?” No. They’ll give you bell curves. Or ask Science, “Is everybody valuable? Is every human being valuable?” What are they going to tell you? Take a look at evolution, you’re going to see the weak ones need to die. They must die. They should die. They should be eaten”? Do you believe what the Nazis did was evil? If you believe what they did was evil, it’s because your view of human nature, your view of human dignity, is wholesome and theirs is not. That view you have is not an empirical view, not based on senses or experience. It’s not an empirical conclusion. It is a belief, and it is a religious belief, essentially. When you go, and anyone goes and says, “We’re going to stop genocide in the world,” what you are doing is you’re combating false doctrine, because genocide is always based on a different set of doctrines, a different set of religious beliefs. They’re not empirical; they are faith. Do you understand? You’re combatting false doctrine. That’s why to solve the external problems of our world can never be done through an external solution: it’s an issue of the heart; it’s an issue of belief!
Let’s get a bit more personal now with this though. Imagine you have two women who go in for an interview: both women get turned down: neither gets it. One goes home angry, depressed and in despair: the other it doesn’t affect: why? What is causing this emotion? You say it’s the circumstance, the fact I was let down: no, because the other woman was turned down. The difference is a doctrinal difference. It’s processing the circumstance through doctrine, through beliefs. Maybe it’s her beliefs saying I am so good and these people don’t recognize it, or at the same time I’m not very good, I’m no good, I’m a failure. It’s this is how I find my approval and my joy: it’s in this job: it’s doctrine. What causes your emotions is not your circumstances: it’s your beliefs.
Have you ever talked to anyone that was suicidal? Do you know what you were doing? You were contradicting false doctrine. You had to be. They were saying, “My life isn’t worthwhile. I have no reason to live.” “Yes, you do. It’ll be all right. You’re okay. You’re not what you say. You’re not that bad.” Are these scientific arguments? No. This is faith. These are beliefs. Everything about us is based on beliefs, not experience, not circumstance, faith belief systems. If somebody comes along and gives you false beliefs and warps your beliefs, your life is warped. One of the things we have to see in this passage that, actually, convicts me : when you read it in Greek, the first word after the initial name and title, he says, “Paul, an apostle …” That’s the first line. Then after that, in Greek the first word in this whole gospel is not. “Paul, an apostle … not …” He’s not afraid to say, “No.” He’s not afraid to say, “This isn’t true. This is wrong. This is false teaching.” He’s not afraid of it. If you don’t like that … You’ll never change anybody’s life if you can’t say “No,” to false teaching. You’ll never help anybody. I’m saying this to myself because I’m a reconciler; I’m a peacemaker. I like to say, “Hey, this is okay. You’re all right. Everything will be fine.” I never want to say, “No! Not!” Paul is the man who is not afraid to say, “Not.”
Each of us, every single one of us: have to open our eyes to this: to the false doctrine we have been told and have recieved: because it shapes us, it shapes our life. Some of you are in an emotional mess because of this, some of you a financial mess because of this, some of you a spiritual mess because of this: can we each humble ourselves and open up enough to say Lord: shape me with the truth, consume the deception, and may my ears and heart be one of discernment?

2. The Significance of Authority

First, we see here the significance of doctrine, secondly and very much related to doctrine: is the significance of authority. Yes, we must focus on doctrine, but the question is which doctrine? Whose doctrine? What doctrine is authoritiative over my and your life? This is going to be something that Paul wrestles with the entire book of Galatians. Vs. 1:
Galatians 1:1 ESV
Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—
Paul is saying: “I’m not sent from men, nor by men.” Here’s what he means. I come with authority from on high. ILL: It’s kind of like those old corny commercials where someone is bringing a case and a bunch of people are sitting around the table saying: we’ve got this case in the bag, but sir they’ve hired Corbett Law firm: and the pencil breaks or the coffee falls on the floor. I’m coming with the power of attourney, Paul is saying I’ve got better than Corbett law firm, I’m not called an apostle by man, but directly by Jesus Christ. My message is not from man it’s directly from him. Take me in contrast to that or any preacher as a matter of fact. I’m bringing you a message. It’s from the Bible. It’s not my opinion. So the message I give you, to the degree that I’m preaching it from the Word of God and not from my own head and my own belief system, to that degree I can say, “The message I give you … I am sent, and what I’m bringing you is not from men. It’s not from human resources. It’s not human opinion.” But, I could never say as Paul does, “not through men”. Paul is saying, “Not only didn’t I get my message from human beings, but I wasn’t even sent by human beings.” See those two words are fairly important. What he is saying, I can’t say that nor can any man alive, because though I think my message is from God, but I was trained, I was ordained, I was accredited, I was sent, through human beings.
But Paul is saying, very important, “What I’m about to tell you is not only not from men, but it’s not through men. I got this right from Jesus. I saw “the risen Jesus, the One raised from the dead. I saw him… Not a dream. Not a vision. I am an apostle, capital A.” The apostles were a select little group of people who, actually saw the resurrected Jesus Christ came to them and said, “You are my apostles. You are going to teach the world and the church my message, and I’m going to tell you exactly what it is. Take this down.” See, here’s what Paul was doing. And you have to be careful as you read Paul in Galatians because at first he sounds arrogant, like he’s defensive for himself, but that’s not at all what he’s doing: he’s defensive, defending the gospel: so he defends himself only for the sake to defend the truth of the message.
The reason he has to talk about this is because these Galatians are new Christians, and new Christians or I should say immature Christians, very zealous people, have a problem with discernment. They’re like children. We say to our children as they are still little, “Don’t go with bad men. Don’t go with bad people who offer you candy. Don’t go with strangers.” But, they think they know what bad men look like. Daddy we know how to spot a bad man.“Bad men look like this.” Sure. See, spiritual children are like that. They say, “Oh, I know a false teacher. A false teacher is somebody who comes up and says, ‘I’m a false teacher. I’m going to oppress you.’ ” No. Not at all: I can tell you there are many false teachers with many big churches today. And Jesus promised this: in the last days: false teaching will abound: people will set out to have their ears tickled. Can you recognize what doctrine is authoritative in your life? Can you recognize the difference between true doctrine and some motivational speech that uses the Word of God as a book to take quotes from now and then?
What is the authority for your faith and beliefs? Who is the authority? It better not be me, it better not be some preacher, it better not be some organization, or some denomination: it has to be the Word of God, the words of the gospels, the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, the words of the Apostles sent by Jesus to write this book inspired by his spirit. Tim Keller suggests that there are three primary ultimate authorites. (1) Tradition: what I believe is tradition, that’s what my tribe says, what my family says, what my church says: tradition is often the authority: that’s dangerous. (2) Jiminy Cricket philosophy: if you remember Jiminy Cricket, but it’s also basically the theme of every Disney movie ever made: search inside: what do you feel, what does your heart say: that’s your authority. Let your conscience be your guide. Well, Jiminy serial killers and rapists have been doing this for years. The authority is how you feel: that’s dangerous. (3) The apostolic revelation: what we get from the very words of Jesus delivered to the Apostles and 2,000 years later through many wicked men trying to destroy it: still have today.
You don’t let your conscience be your guide. You let what Paul says be your guide. You don’t let your tradition be your guide. You let what Paul says be your guide. Then we have to go so far as to say you don’t even let the tradition of your family or even your church be your guide, you don’t let your pastor be your guide, you receive it: but you always have to continually bring it under the judgment of this book. We must when it comes to our faith: be filled with the message of authority, God’s authority. Maybe some of you: it’s what the culture says and does: that’s the authority, not the Bible, but you’re culture: well this is the cultural norm you say, yes I see that in the Bible, but this is 2017 you say. For some of you it may be what’s inside of you, the Jiminy Cricket authority: I believe this why? Because you have hate in your heart, or you have bitterness and unforgiveness you won’t let go of, or you have lust for stuff so surely the radical commands of Jesus are not authoritative, but surely my heart is. And then maybe for others of you it’s tradition: it’s a preacher that discipled you into a very dysfunctional way of belief, it’ s a parent, or someone who spoke something into you that even though it was spoke in you years ago: continues to be the authoritative word in you to this day. Do you see the significance of authority?
3. The Significance of God’s Initiative

3. The Significance of God’s Initiative

The first thing was the importance of doctrine. The second thing is the importance of the right intellectual authority. The third thing is the importance of God’s initiative. Because you see, from verse 3 to verse 5 what is Paul doing? This is great. He’s giving you the whole gospel. He’s going to do it over and over and over and over again, but what he’s actually doing is he’s so excited he’s cramming into the salutation everything he’s going to say later anyway. He has to even get in the salutation, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ …” Yeah, Lord Jesus Christ. “… who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” There it is.
Galatians 1:3–5 ESV
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
What is the gospel? What is the heart of the Christian message? What is the thing Jesus told the apostles, that the apostles traversed heaven and earth and were quite happy to die in order to get that message out? Well, here it is. Notice there’s only one subject really, Jesus, with all those clauses, all those verbs, all those predicates. It’s Jesus doing everything, but what does he do?
What is the gospel? What is the heart of the Christian message? What is the thing Jesus told the apostles, that the apostles traversed heaven and earth and were quite happy to die in order to get that message out? Well, here it is. Notice there’s only one subject really, Jesus, with all those clauses, all those verbs, all those predicates. It’s Jesus doing everything, but what does he do?
Galatians 1:3–5 ESV
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
First, he rescues us. The ESV reads delivers: better translation is rescues. Do you realize what a great word that is? What it means? Jesus is unlike every other founder of every other religion, because no other founder of any religion can rescue you.If you stand in front of Buddha or Muhammad or Confucius, Darwin even: if you could, and you said to them, “Savior!” they’d be very upset, very upset. Even they can admit that; they cannot save you.
If a man is drowning in the water saying, “Help! Help! Help! Help!” you don’t throw him a manual on how to swim. “Hey, here.” It won’t work. It won’t help. You see, when it says, “Jesus came not to teach us how to swim, but to rescue us, not to teach us how to live, but to live and die in our place …” You see, Jesus Christ is our Hero. He is not just our Teacher. He’s our Hero. Therefore, Jesus Christ rescues us. We’re helpless. We’re drowning. This is a much more humbling and pessimistic assessment of our condition spiritually than any other religion makes, because every other religion basically says, “Here’s the way to be saved. Follow it. Do it.” Christianity doesn’t do that. Christianity does not give us that kind of assessment. Fortunately, the worst thing is to be overestimated. If you set your alarm clock too early, it can be very, very, very unpleasant to get up too early, but you don’t miss that big appointment, which is much, much, much more unpleasant. See? It’s annoying and painful to be underestimated, but it is deadly to be overestimated. Christianity doesn’t overestimate.
On the one hand, it has a lower estimation of our ability, but that means on the other hand, what God sends in Christianity is so much greater and so much more wonderful. He doesn’t send a teacher. He doesn’t send just a counselor. He doesn’t just send an instructor in swimming. He sends somebody who doesn’t throw a swimming manual in the water with us. He sends somebody who throws himself in the water.
Secondly, how does he rescue us? Well, he jumps in the water himself and he rescues us and dies in the process. Because here it says, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and [our] Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins …”
Secondly, how does he rescue us? Well, he jumps in the water himself and he rescues us and dies in the process. Because here it says, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and [our] Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins …” For our sins, the word for here is a Greek word that means on behalf. This is saying, right up front, Jesus didn’t just die in some general way because we were sinners, but he died in our place, on behalf of us, because we were sinners. See? He came and stood in for us. He was our Substitute. Now go a little further. Why does he do it? Not because we’re seeking him, but why? “According to the the will of God to whom be all the glory.” Therefore, it’s grace. Galatians begins and ends with grace. Do you see where we are? Here’s where we are. The only reason God would actually come after us is because of his grace. Not because we’re searching for him or deserving it. The only thing that is done is Jesus, nothing we do. This is the gospel.
The gospel is you only need one thing if you’re going to be saved. You need nothing. That’s why so many people aren’t saved, because they don’t have it. They have to go get it. Go get it. When the father comes to Jesus and says, “Could you heal my son?” Jesus says, “If you believe.” He says, “Help my unbelief,” and Jesus heals his son. Why? If you say, “I believe,” you don’t believe. If you say, “I don’t believe,” finally you believe. You see, the only way you can become a Christian is not by pointing to your qualifications but by admitting you have no qualifications, which is the only qualification. Until you admit you have no qualifications, you’re not qualified.
What was it that Luther said? “… Mr. Charles Wesley [read] the Preface aloud. At the words [where Luther said], ‘What, have we then nothing to do? No, nothing! But only accept of Him who of God is made unto us [our] wisdom …’ ” All those of‘s, all those our‘s. “ ‘… [our] righteousness and [our] sanctification and [our] redemption.’ ” That’s it. That’s the reason why old John Gerstner used to say, “All you need is need. All you need is nothing, but most people don’t have it.” Jesus is our Hero.
Thirdly, what’s he doing it for? “… to rescue us from [this] present evil age. …What is the present evil age: perhaps you picture like Halloween type of movies: demon posessions, paranormal activity and such. And if paranormal activity kind of stuff was going on in your house and you were aware of it, you'd be far more serious about the things of God than you are right now. But, surely our Enemy is more slick than that. He has been fighting a lot longer than you and I have. This "present evil age" doesn't mean that kind of darkness isn't there; it means it disguises itself in a way that lulls us to sleep, that there's actually a battle going on at all. Christ has come and he has given himself for our sins that he might save us from this present evil age.
Did this happen after ?
The Significance of Doctrine
This is a great word, this picture of rescue. You go back to the book of Acts, and what you’ll see is the people of Israel were rescued. It’s the same word that’s used there, from slavery in Egypt...freed from their slavery. When Peter’s in prison in , and he’s rescued, he’s freed. This is the word that’s used when Paul’s about to get lynched by a mob in the book of Acts, and he’s rescued out from them, he’s freed from them. That’s the word.
IM: An apostle: sent with a message, not one church but region
This is the only time this word is used, right here in , to describe our salvation. It’s a great picture of how we’ve been rescued. What are we being rescued from? The present evil age. Now, this word, this word for rescue, is not just being...to be delivered from, but it also means to be delivered from the power of something. The picture that Paul’s given us here is that we’re rescued from this present evil age, this world that we live in and all of its ways that are contrary to the Word.
Now, obviously, we’re not rescued out of this world. We’re still here, but we’re rescued from the power of this world and the ways of this world, and what Paul is saying...and this is directly hitting on this accusation that his gospel leads to the license to sin and lawlessness...Paul is saying, “No, the gospel of grace is a gospel of rescue, where you are free, and you don’t...you don’t live like the world lives any more, and you don’t think like the world thinks, and you don’t love what the world loves, and you don’t indulge in what the world indulges in, because you’re freed from that; you’re rescued from that. You’re not in bondage to the ways of this world any more; you’ve been freed from that to live completely different. This is what Paul is going to talk about, especially in and 6. He’s going to show us how God puts His Spirit in us, and it’s a Spirit of freedom that frees us to live the presence of Christ in us, according to the ways of Christ, speaking the words of Christ, and thinking the thoughts of Christ.
The Significance of Authority
This is the beauty: now we live by grace. We’re not just praying a prayer and leaving grace behind. Now, we’re walking by grace. When we wake up in the morning, we need grace to breathe. We need grace to talk, and we need grace to walk, and we need grace to live out anything in the New Testament. We need grace to pray; we need grace to study the Word; we need grace to do anything, and moment, by moment, by moment, day by day, we are dependent on grace, and grace is saturating all that we are. Grace flows out of all that we are, because for the first time, by the grace of Christ, we are freed up to live like God has created us to live, not in bondage to this world any more.
IM: an apostle, not from men, all the brothers
Christian, if you are struggling with sin, persisting in a particular sin that you just can’t seem to get out of, I remind you, you are freed from that sin. You’re freed from the power, rescued from the dominion of that sin. It does not have dominion over you any more. By the power of Christ in you, and the grace of Christ in you, not based on your ability to work really hard when you leave and try to overcome that, but based on the power of the grace of Christ who has conquered that sin on a cross, you are free. You’re free from guilt from sin. There’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death. You are free from any kind of defeated Christianity. There’s no such thing; we have grace. Every moment we have grace.
The Significance of God’s Initiative
When you read that, at least right here, if this was the only place Paul said that, we wouldn’t quite know whether he was saying “In the future sometime …” Right? “In the future, we’ll be rescued from the present evil age,” but no that’s not what he’s saying. He is saying, “When Jesus Christ died, he did rescue us from the present evil age,” because in it says that. It says we used to belong to the present evil age. What could that mean? Here’s what it means. The age to come, the last days, after the world is over, when we have all heaven and we have all bliss and we have all the glory and there’s no more alienation, psychological or social or physical, and everything is one, everything is right … Do you know what happens? Ah, we can’t wait until we get there. To be a Christian means that’s your center of gravity. When you become a Christian, the things that are going to happen then are already beginning to happen now.
You are free by the grace of Christ. He has forgiven you by His grace, and there is nothing you can do to earn pleasure before Him, because He is pleased in you based solely on your identification with Jesus Christ. “He has taken your sins and removed them as far as the east is from the west,” . , “He remembers your sins no more.” “He cleanses you of all unrighteousness,” . says, “He makes you a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, who once did not have mercy, and now you have mercy.” says, “You have mercy, not based on your desire effort, but based on the desire of God and the effort of God.” He has pursued His way to you, mercy has come running to you, and you are free. By His grace, you’re free; this is good news. It is the best news in the world, and it is the only way we can have peace before God, by grace. By grace, and grace alone.
IM: He game himself, to deliver us, according to the will of our God and Father, Grace
David:
I’m convinced that really every single one of us, every single Christ follower in this room, in some sense, is a recovering legalist, because all of us, whether or not we like to admit it or not, secretly, we think that there is something we can do in order to please God and be approved by God, or be accepted by God. Secretly, we think that if we have spent good time in prayer and in Bible study this week, that we come, and we sit in our seats tonight, and God is pleased with where we are. However, if we’ve not prayed like we should, or we haven’t studied the Bible, or we’ve really wandered in some different areas of our life, that, in some sense, God is not pleased with us. That’s based...this is a performance-based kind of faith that is really legalism, and I want us to make sure we know what legalism is, so we can call it when we see it, but also, I want us to be careful that we don’t call something legalism that’s actually not legalism.
The picture is...that’s a silly example, but there are many examples of how we add...we add rules, and we say, “Well, we need to do this, and this, and this, and this, and this.” We have to be careful, because as soon as we begin to add rules and say, “We’ve got to do this, and this, and this in order to be accepted by God,” then we’re undercutting the gospel, and we’re becoming legalistic.
Paul is telling us to do this, the Scripture saying, “Do this,” then to talk about obedience to those commands is not legalism; it’s Christianity. It’s the core of the gospel, but you have to be careful not to add our own rules, working in our own power, according to our own rules.
That’s why Martin Luther...Galatians, one of his favorite books, if not his favorite book in the Bible. His commentary on Galatians is famous. Think about Luther. Luther was living in a day, father of the Reformation, living in a day where he was surrounded by a church that was saying, “Work in your own power according to these rules.” The church had added all kinds of rules: “Trust in Christ, yeah, trust in Christ and then do this, and do this, and this, and this, and this. Do it all in order to be accepted before God.” Galatians was the rock that he stood on. Luther was a pretty...well, stubborn in many ways, hard-headed kind of guy, and he was proudly stubborn at this point.
I want you to listen to what he said, what he wrote down. He said, “Wherefore, God assisting me, my forehead shall be more hard than all men’s foreheads. Yes,” he said, “I am glad, even with all my heart in this point to seem rebellious and obstinate, and here I confess that I am and ever will be stout and stern, and will not one inch give place to any creature.” He continued, “Let this be the conclusion of all, that we will suffer our goods to be taken away, our name, our life, and all that we have, but the gospel, our faith in Jesus Christ, we will never suffer to be wrested from us. Let every Christian here be proud and spare not, except he will deny Christ.”
In other words, he said, “I’m standing on a gospel of grace, and I cannot be moved, and I proudly stand here.” That’s exactly what Paul does when he gets to the end of this book, and he says in that, “We boast in the cross.” We don’t move from the cross, because this is where our faith rises or falls, and yet there is a tendency that will always be there, in our hearts and in the church, to pull us away from grace.
Christian, if you are struggling with sin, persisting in a particular sin that you just can’t seem to get out of, I remind you, you are freed from that sin. You’re freed from the power, rescued from the dominion of that sin. It does not have dominion over you any more. By the power of Christ in you, and the grace of Christ in you, not based on your ability to work really hard when you leave and try to overcome that, but based on the power of the grace of Christ who has conquered that sin on a cross, you are free. You’re free from guilt from sin. There’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death. You are free from any kind of defeated Christianity. There’s no such thing; we have grace. Every moment we have grace.
Jerome once said that when he read the letters of the apostle Paul he could hear thunder. Nowhere in the Pauline corpus is such stormy dissonance more evident than in the Epistle to the Galatians. Though written from prison, Philippians is a love letter on the theme of joy. Romans reflects the considered objectivity of a master theologian reveling in the doctrines of grace. Ephesians is an uplifting commentary on the body of Christ. Even the Corinthian correspondence, though obviously written out of great personal anguish and pain, revolves around the great triad of faith, hope, and love, with Paul’s hardships and concerns set over against his greater confidence in the God of all comfort who causes his children to triumph. In Paul could admonish the believers in Corinth to greet one another with a holy kiss. But Galatians is different. From beginning to end its six chapters of 149 verses bristle with passion, sarcasm, and anger. True, there is a touch of tenderness as well; once in the midst of the letter Paul referred to the Galatians as his “dear children” (4:19).
As the context reveals, though, this was the tearing tenderness of a distraught mother who must endure all over again the pains of childbirth because her children, who should have known better, were in danger of committing spiritual suicide. Paul was astonished and “perplexed” by their departure from the truth of the gospel. He feared that they had been “bewitched” and deceived. In frustration he dubbed them, as J. B. Phillips translates it, “my dear idiots” (3:1).
Galatians contains one of the most important autobiographical reflections anywhere in the writings of Paul.
The Hellenistic age refers to that period dating from the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. through the consolidation of the Roman Empire in the early centuries of the Christian era. This age was characterized by a historical transformation that gave to the Mediterranean world a common intellectual culture and eventually political unity. A new form of the Greek language, the koiné or common tongue, came into general use. Greek philosophical concepts drawn from the teachings of Plato, the Stoics, the Epicureans, the Neo-Pythagoreans, and others became the common possession of educated people throughout the empire, providing the basis for an interpretation of reality in objective and rational terms. The impact of Hellenism on the Jewish faith is most clearly seen in developments at Alexandria, a major center of culture and learning at the mouth of the Nile. Here under the sponsorship of the Ptolemaic king of Egypt, the most influential of the Greek versions of the Hebrew Scriptures was produced in the third century B.C. It is called the Septuagint (LXX) because of the tradition that seventy-two scholars had completed the translation process in seventy-two days. Early Christian writers including Paul inherited the Septuagint and commonly quoted the Old Testament passages from it. During the time of Jesus there flourished in Alexandria a Jewish thinker and exegete of great ability, Philo, who produced a remarkable synthesis between Greek philosophy and Hebrew religion through the allegorical interpretation of the Old Testament. Philo has been called “a none too distant cousin of St. Paul,” and one certainly can point to a number of parallel passages in their respective writings, due largely to Paul’s ability to draw upon the language and thought forms of Hellenistic Judaism.
Destination
The destination of most of Paul’s letters presents no problem to the student of the New Testament. Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Colosse, Philippi, and Thessalonica are all specific cities precisely situated at strategic points in the Mediterranean basin. Galatians is the only one of Paul’s letters addressed neither to an individual nor to Christians in one specific city. In the period of late antiquity “Galatia” was an elastic term reflecting the changing political developments in central Asia Minor.
In the early twentieth century two scholars, one a German, W. Lütgert, and the other an American, J. H. Ropes, redirected the discussion of the Galatian problem by arguing that Paul was simultaneously fighting against two groups rather than one. The title of Lütgert’s book, Gesetz und Geist, “Law and Spirit,” indicates the nature of the two-pronged battle Paul had to wage: on the one hand legalists had infiltrated the churches of Galatia with their message of justification by faith plus circumcision; at the same time certain libertines within the church had misinterpreted Paul’s message of freedom by converting Christian liberty into unrestrained license. Thus Paul admonished them not to use their freedom as “an opportunity for the flesh” (, RSV).
In 1945 F. R. Crownfield published an article on “the singular problem of the dual Galatians” in which he argued that the error Paul confronted in Galatia was a kind of Jewish Christian syncretism that involved both a reversion to certain patterns of Jewish legalism but also incorporated more esoteric features associated with various spiritualist and Gnostic groups. Although one scholar has criticized the syncretistic hypothesis as “quite incredible,” C. H. Talbert has declared it “the best alternative concerning the identity of the Galatian opponents of Paul.”55 Talbert bases this judgment in part on the similarity between the false teaching in Galatia and that which Paul encountered in Colosse. Both letters include references to elemental spirits, calendrical observances, visions and revelations, the practice of circumcision, and libertine tendencies. The chief advantage of this theory is that it makes sense of Paul’s homogenous treatment of his Galatian adversaries while taking into account the diverse elements of his complex argumentation. Clearly Paul presupposed a high level of acquaintance with the Old Testament Scriptures on the part of his Galatian readers, a familiarity that his opponents played on in their appeal to these new believers. Diaspora Judaism was not a monolithic system, and many of Paul’s Gentile converts may have been exposed to Jewish syncretistic strands prior to their acceptance of the Christian kerygma.
None of these alternative theories has offered sufficient evidence to displace the traditional interpretation of Paul’s opponents as Jewish Christian teachers of a legalistic bent who dogged Paul’s trail in Galatia just as they or their associates had done earlier in Antioch (Acts 15:1). Although Paul was writing to the Galatians, not to his opponents, he did allude to them in every chapter of the book. At this point it will be helpful to recapitulate Paul’s characterization of these theological disturbers of the peace in order to appreciate more fully his stern reply to their teaching. In Gal 1:6–9 he referred to them as “some people” who are sowing confusion and distorting the gospel of Christ. They were preachers of another gospel who deserved to be damned for their subversive activity. In Gal 2:1–14 Paul recounted two important incidents from his earlier ministry, one at Jerusalem and the other at Antioch. In the former Paul referred to “some false brothers” who had sneaked into the Gentile churches to subvert their Christian liberty. In the latter he referred to “certain men” who “came from James,” representatives of “the circumcision group,” whose intimidating presence at Antioch precipitated his confrontation with Peter. Paul evidently rehearsed these two incidences in the context of defending his apostolic authority because he believed them to have direct relevance to the situation in Galatia. The mission churches of Galatia were experiencing a problem similar, if not identical, to that which had earlier shaken their mother church at Antioch. In 3:1 Paul assumed that his Galatian converts had succumbed to the demonic enchantments of the false teachers who had “bewitched” them. Whether this expression was meant to be taken in a figurative sense or referred to the actual magical powers of the false teachers, it clearly indicates that a number of the Galatians had fallen under their influence. In 4:17 the personal rivalry between Paul and his opponents comes into play as he criticizes their strategy to alienate the Galatians “from us” in order to enlist their support “for them.” In 5:10–12 Paul picked up on an expression he had used earlier in chap. 1, referring to his adversaries as those who were “throwing you into confusion.” This passage contains some of Paul’s strongest language against the agitators. He said, “I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!”—an obvious reference to their emphasis on the necessity of circumcision. In 6:12–13 Paul further characterized the false teachers as those who wanted to make a good outward impression. They were urging circumcision on the Galatians in order to “boast about your flesh” and thus “avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.” Thus the agitators were a homogenous group of false teachers who were bent on undermining Paul’s apostolic authority and denigrating his message in order to win over his recent converts for their own selfish purposes.
None of these alternative theories has offered sufficient evidence to displace the traditional interpretation of Paul’s opponents as Jewish Christian teachers of a legalistic bent who dogged Paul’s trail in Galatia just as they or their associates had done earlier in Antioch (). Although Paul was writing to the Galatians, not to his opponents, he did allude to them in every chapter of the book. At this point it will be helpful to recapitulate Paul’s characterization of these theological disturbers of the peace in order to appreciate more fully his stern reply to their teaching. In he referred to them as “some people” who are sowing confusion and distorting the gospel of Christ. They were preachers of another gospel who deserved to be damned for their subversive activity. In Paul recounted two important incidents from his earlier ministry, one at Jerusalem and the other at Antioch. In the former Paul referred to “some false brothers” who had sneaked into the Gentile churches to subvert their Christian liberty. In the latter he referred to “certain men” who “came from James,” representatives of “the circumcision group,” whose intimidating presence at Antioch precipitated his confrontation with Peter. Paul evidently rehearsed these two incidences in the context of defending his apostolic authority because he believed them to have direct relevance to the situation in Galatia. The mission churches of Galatia were experiencing a problem similar, if not identical, to that which had earlier shaken their mother church at Antioch. In 3:1 Paul assumed that his Galatian converts had succumbed to the demonic enchantments of the false teachers who had “bewitched” them. Whether this expression was meant to be taken in a figurative sense or referred to the actual magical powers of the false teachers, it clearly indicates that a number of the Galatians had fallen under their influence. In 4:17 the personal rivalry between Paul and his opponents comes into play as he criticizes their strategy to alienate the Galatians “from us” in order to enlist their support “for them.” In 5:10–12 Paul picked up on an expression he had used earlier in chap. 1, referring to his adversaries as those who were “throwing you into confusion.” This passage contains some of Paul’s strongest language against the agitators. He said, “I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!”—an obvious reference to their emphasis on the necessity of circumcision. In 6:12–13 Paul further characterized the false teachers as those who wanted to make a good outward impression. They were urging circumcision on the Galatians in order to “boast about your flesh” and thus “avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.” Thus the agitators were a homogenous group of false teachers who were bent on undermining Paul’s apostolic authority and denigrating his message in order to win over his recent converts for their own selfish purposes.
Letters in the first century, whether Jewish or Greek, usually began with a salutation that included three parts: the name of the sender, that of the recipient, and a formula of greeting, usually just the word chairein, a word that literally meant “rejoice” but that had come to represent a standard greeting, such as “welcome” or “hello.” Paul followed this same format in all of his letters usually with the addition of a word of blessing or prayer of thanksgiving for the one(s) to whom he was writing. However, Paul by no means followed the same formulaic salutation in all of his letters. For example, rather than merely repeating the everyday word for “greetings,” he forged a distinctively Christian expression, “Grace and peace.” In addition, he also adapted his salutations to the unique circumstances and conditions of his writing to a particular person or place. The salutation in Galatians is significant both for the added information it contains and the important feature it lacks.
In v. 1 Paul provided an important clarification concerning his apostolic vocation; in v. 4 he included a decisive elaboration on the salvific work of Jesus Christ. From the outset, then, we are confronted with the two major themes that will dominate Paul’s Letter to the Galatians: the vindication of his own apostolic authority in the context of salvation history and the divine initiative God has taken to redeem lost men and women through Jesus Christ and him alone.
The salutation in Galatians also is remarkable because it does not contain the traditional prayer of thanksgiving with which Paul routinely opened his other letters (cf. ; ; ; ). Just where we would expect to find such a word of blessing and affirmation, Paul lashed out with his statement of astonishment concerning the apostasy of the Galatians, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting” (1:6). In this way we are prepared for the tremendous emotional intensity of the letter that follows.
The salutation reveals not only the mood in which Galatians was written but also the passion and burden of Paul’s heart that prompted him to write it. What is at stake is the content of the gospel Paul proclaimed to the Galatians. This too is restated with force in these opening verses as Paul draws a theological line in the sand against the false teachers who have undermined the gospel by undermining his apostolic authority.
Paul: The word “Paul” in Greek literally means “small,” or “little.” The earliest physical description we have of Paul comes from The Acts of Paul and Thecla, a second-century apocryphal writing that describes the apostle as “a man of small stature, with a bald head and crooked legs, in a good state of body, with eyebrows meeting and nose somewhat hooked, full of friendliness; for now he appeared like a man, and now he had the face of an angel.” Although written many years after his death, these words may well reflect an authentic tradition about Paul’s actual likeness.
We know that his opponents in Corinth poked fun at his physical appearance, claiming that while his letters were weighty and bold, he was not much to look at in person. “His bodily presence is weak,” they alleged (, RSV).
They themselves were “super-apostles” (), as Paul dubbed them, glorying in their eloquent speech, miraculous powers, and impressive platform performance. What were Paul’s credentials compared to theirs? What could he possibly brag about, this “little Apostle Little”? While we cannot be sure that Paul’s opponents in Galatia were the same as those he confronted in Corinth, there seems to be a common thread running through his defense against both sets of adversaries. In both Galatians and 2 Corinthians he advanced a theology of the cross in distinction from a theology of glory. In Paul resolved to boast only in his weaknesses, afflictions, and persecutions, “for when I am weak, then I am strong” (12:10). In he identified himself with the crucified Christ and his cross, the only proper standard of boasting for a true follower of Jesus ().
An Apostle: an apostle is literally an envoy or ambassador, one who has been sent in the service of another. In classical Greek the term was actually used of a naval expedition, perhaps deriving from the apo prefix, indicating “to send away from,” that is, to send off on a long and arduous mission.Luke said that out of a larger band of disciples Jesus chose twelve individuals and designated them apostles (). By the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the concept of the Twelve had become so fixed that it could refer to this special circle of Jesus’ followers even after one of the apostles, Judas Iscariot, was no longer a part of it (cf. ). When the early church met to choose a replacement for Judas, it was deemed necessary for his successor to have been a participant both in Jesus’ earthly ministry and an eyewitness of his resurrection (). In the exclusive sense, then, the apostles were, as Calvin put it, “the highest order in the church.” In this special sense the apostles represent the continuity of salvation history from the old covenant to the new. In John’s vision of the New Jerusalem the twelve apostles are linked with the twelve tribes of Israel as representatives of God’s redeemed people of all the ages (). In a similar way, the apostles and prophets together form the foundation for the household of God, with Jesus Christ himself as the chief cornerstone (). To be sure, the word “apostle” is used in a more general sense in the New Testament as well. Once even Jesus himself is referred to as “the apostle and high priest whom we confess” (). More often the name is applied to early Christian missionaries or emissaries who were sent forth as representatives of a particular congregation. Thus Paul and Barnabas are so described by Luke in his account of their first missionary journey (). Paul also referred to Andronicus and Junias, two otherwise unknown fellow workers, as “outstanding among the apostles” (). He also referred to Epaphroditus as the apostolos of the Philippians, “whom you sent to take care of my needs” (). In Galatians, however, Paul nowhere used the word “apostle” in its more general or generic sense. The source of Paul’s apostolic consciousness is evident from his bold assertion that he had been “sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (). The expressions “not from [apo] men nor by [dia] man” indicate that Paul’s apostolic vocation neither originated nor was mediated by human agency. Here in the very first sentence of his letter Paul was countering the allegations of his Galatian opponents who had alleged that he had no divine apostolic appointment at all. To their mind Paul was a latecomer, at best an apostle of the apostles, and not a very faithful one at that!
On the basis of his divine commission Paul claimed nothing less than an apostolic status equal with the Twelve. In later ecclesiastical tradition we find that Paul had displaced Matthias in standard listings of the twelve apostles. However, this interpretation by no means represents the unanimous consensus of the early church. As late as Augustine, we hear an echo of anti-Pauline rhetoric as he depicted how Paul’s hearers might have responded to his question, “Do you not know that we will judge angels?” (): What do you mean by boasting that you will be the judge? Where will you sit? The Lord appointed twelve seats for the twelve apostles. One fell—Judas. Mathias was ordained to fill his place. So all twelve seats are occupied. First find somewhere to sit; then you can boast that you will be the judge. Paul surely must have confronted similar jibes in his own day. Unlike his opponents, who brought impressive résumés and letters of recommendation to validate their apostolic claims (), Paul appealed to the one unique authority for his distinctive self-awareness and assurance: the living God who “set me apart … called me … and revealed his Son in me” ().
Called by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead
The entire message of Galatians is contained in these words. True, they are words that belong to the confessional and kerygmatic tradition of earliest Christianity; they are part of the heart of that message that Paul claimed to have “received” and then “passed on” to his converts (). These words were not invented by Paul but rather already were there in the praise and proclamation of the first believers. Still, Paul pressed this confession into service in Galatians at this particular point in order to establish a firm foundation about everything he would say about faith and works, law and gospel, freedom and bondage, circumcision and the cross. Let us examine three aspects of this foundational statement. THE CONTRAST OF CHRIST AND HUMANS Paul said that he had been appointed and commissioned “not … by man, but by Jesus Christ.” We are struck by the fact that Paul here completely separated Jesus Christ from the category of all other humans and placed him on the side of God. Why did he do this? Clearly he was not denying the true humanity of Jesus. Later in this same letter he reminds his readers that “God sent his son, born of a woman” (). Elsewhere he could speak of the “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (). In , however, Paul was concerned to show that Jesus is much more than a mere man. He is qualitatively different from every other human being who has ever lived, not only with reference to his sinless life but also in respect to his unique relationship with the Father. This was a critical issue for Paul for this one reason: if Jesus Christ were not fully divine, he could never have redeemed us from the curse of the law or freed us from the power of sin by his death on the cross. THE UNITY OF THE SON AND THE FATHER Paul had been called not by man, but “by Jesus Christ and God the Father.” This is an unusual expression in the Greek text, for both Jesus Christ and God are governed by the same preposition (dia, “through” or “by”). Moreover, Jesus Christ is placed first, followed by God the Father, which is a reversal of the usual sequence. In this expression Paul was making two points at once: he was claiming that there is no distinction between the calling of Jesus Christ and the calling of God, and, further, he was asserting the essential and eternal unity between the Father and the Son. Clearly Chrysostom understood this text to imply “no distinction of essence” between the Father and the Son over against the Arians, who taught that Jesus Christ was an exalted, godlike creature, not the eternally divine coequal Son of the Father. Obviously we should not read the Trinitarian disputes of the fourth and fifth centuries back into the texts of the New Testament. But neither should we lose sight of the fact that to a large extent the same great issues were involved in both eras even if they were couched in different words and thought forms. The question then as now is, Who is Jesus Christ? By so directly linking Jesus Christ and God the Father in such an unqualified, absolute, and intimate way, Paul was making a stupendous claim about a specific Jewish teacher who had lived and died in Palestine just a few years before these words were written. His brother James was still alive as were hundreds of other friends who had known and seen him (; ). Paul was saying that the life and work of this man, Jesus of Nazareth, transcends the bounds of all human categories—rabbi, prophet, guru, miracle worker, religious genius, philosopher, and statesman. When we consider who he was and what he did, we can only say that this one, Jesus, is God, the eternal Son of God, who freely came to earth to accomplish the Father’s plan of redemption. He came into the very thick of our humanity, as bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, but God has vindicated his shameful death on the cross by raising him from the dead and exalting him to his right hand in heaven. He is the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world, now worthy to be worshiped and glorified by all who are his.
And all the brothers: We do not know who the “brothers” were or how many they numbered or whether the entire church (at Antioch or elsewhere) endorsed the letter. It is significant that Paul did not write as a lone-ranger Christian, however unique his commission and solitary status. He deliberately associated himself with fellow believers who shared with him a burden for the gospel as well as for the Galatians. Thus at the outset the unity of the church was acknowledged in marked contrast to the fractured fellowship within the churches of Galatia ().
They are not children of the Father by nature but by grace, not by birth but by virtue of rebirth, as belonging to one and the same Lord, they are made each other’s equals. None of them is Lord over the others, not even the apostle!” The word “brothers” thus anticipates the theme of freedom Paul would expound throughout the epistle. To be a brother or sister in Christ is to be a son or daughter of God, a status in which the categories of one’s former existence (Jew/Greek, slave/free, male/female) pose no barrier to union with Christ and fellowship in his body ().
To the church in Galatia
Galatians: church often refers to local congregations of baptized believers who regularly meet
Grace (Vs. 3)
Galatians begins and ends with grace: One scholar has suggested, somewhat ingeniously, that Paul deliberately inserted these standard liturgical rubrics into his letter so that when it was read aloud in the churches it would fit with ease into the order of worship. More likely, however, is that Paul wanted to reiterate the basic burden of the letter in the context of prayer and doxology at both the beginning and end of his epistle.
Vs. 4: The NEB translates the expression “who sacrificed himself for our sins.” This recalls Jesus’ own description of his mission in , “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Behind this language stands the image of the Suffering Servant in who bore our iniquities and carried our sorrows through being smitten and crushed by God’s righteous judgment. Paul here emphasized the voluntary character of Jesus’ self-offering, “He gave himself.” This theme is further developed in the kenotic hymn in , “He made himself nothing … he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
We also glimpse in these words the radical character of sin, another major theme Paul developed throughout Galatians. So serious is the breach between us and God caused by our sins that nothing less than the substitutionary atoning death of God’s Son can reconcile us to the Father.
“The present evil age” is the context in which God’s purpose of salvation is now unfolding. The notion of two ages, borrowed from Jewish apocalyptic thought, juxtaposes a present age of sin and decay and a future age of blessing and peace. For Paul, however, the death and resurrection of Jesus has radically punctuated this traditional time line. The Christian now lives in profound tension between the No Longer and the Not Yet. The coming of Christ has drastically relativized, though not completely obliterated, former distinctions of race, class, and gender. It also has placed in a totally new perspective such former requirements as circumcision, food laws, and feast days. Christ has rescued us from this present evil age through justifying us by faith and pouring out his Spirit in our lives. This is an accomplished fact, and we must not be drawn back into “a yoke of slavery” (). But while Christ has rescued us from this evil age, he has not taken us out of it. Thus our liberty must not degenerate into license nor the gift of the Spirit be abused by selfish carnal behavior ().
According to his will:
Martin Luther:
RELATED MEDIA
See the rest →
RELATED SERMONS
See the rest →