GALATIANS

OVERVIEW

PEOPLE AND PRELIMINARIES

†Paul wrote Galatians (six chapters), either in ad 49 or ad 50 (if written to the Celts in the north of Galatia), or possibly 54 ad to 55 ad (if written to southern Galatia). It is his fourth letter presented in the New Testament. See comments on Romans.

PLAN AND PURPOSE

†Legalistic Judaisers are men who seek to undermine the gospel of Godís grace in Christ by insisting on a mere external keeping of the law and its ordinances, majoring on their false belief that no one can be accepted by God unless he is circumcised. Thus they oppose Paulís apostolic insistence that salvation is by faith alone, in Christ alone, by His death alone, as revealed by God alone. They seek to discredit Paul, claiming he is inferior to other apostles, in order to annul his teaching. Galatians is written, therefore, both to vindicate Paulís authority as an historic apostle, through whom God reveals His word, and also clearly to restate and demonstrate that redemption can only be through the Lord Jesus Christ and His all-sufficient redemption purchased by His death on the cross. Paulís defence is not conducted for his own self-aggrandisement, but to contend for the divine origin and inspiration of his message.

PROFILE AND PROGRESSION

Paulís introduction, criticism of the Galatiansí slide from grace, reminder of his credentials and proof of apostleship, and his equal standing with the apostle Peter in correcting him about legalism and contending for justification by faith alone (1:1-2:21); justification by faithóincluding the Spiritís presence and working, Abrahamís pattern and covenant, the law and the curse, the principle of promise, Paulís appeal, the two covenants, Christian liberty and the fruit of the Spirit (3:1-5:25); responsibility to restore others, spiritual sowing, the cross rather than circumcision, and final greeting (6:1-18).

PRINCIPLES AND PARTICULARS

†Under Godís Holy Spirit, Paul blends personal, doctrinal and practical inputs. His emphases are: God has given him this authoritative message; Christ crucified is all the repentant sinner needs; and this must be worked out and made evident by sanctification in the practical arena of daily Christian living.

 

Gal 1

V 1-2 : GREETING In his greeting to the churches of Galatia, Paul stresses that his apostleship is God-given, and reminds them immediately of Christís resurrection from the dead. One of the characteristics of an apostle is that he has seen the risen Lord personally.

V 3-5 : GRACE Paul wishes them Godís grace and peace. He reminds them that the basis of blessing is that Christ has died for our sins to Ďdeliver us from this present evil ageí. This was in Godís will and for His glory.

V 6-10 : GOSPEL Paul is concerned about those who pervert the gospel of grace and turn others from it. Twice he states that anyone who perverts the gospel of Christ should be cursed. His concern is to please God and so fulfil his role as Christís servant.

V 11-24 : GOD In authenticating his apostleship, Paul makes it quite clear that his call as an apostle has come from God. He refers back to Godís work of grace in his life, marked by an immediate desire to preach the gospel to Gentiles. God revealed to him the same gospel that he revealed collectively to the apostles, as he found out three years later when he went to Jerusalem to see Peter and James, the Lordís brother. God underlines his status as an apostle by the blessing that He gave to Paulís ministry among the churches. No wonder God has been glorified in Paul.

 

Gal 2

V 1-5 : CONFIRMATION Fourteen years later, Paul, along with Barnabas and Titus, went to Jerusalem to meet the other apostles. He confirmed that the truth that he preached was given to him directly by God. It was the same truth that God had given to the other apostles. There was, right from the start, a real concern that no falseness, especially legalism, should creep into the doctrine and spoil the truth Ďeven for an hourí. Titus, a Greek, was not compelled to undergo circumcision. That Jewish rite could never bestow salvation.

V 6-10 : COMMISSION God confirmed to Peter, James and John that Paul was His apostle. Accordingly they commissioned him, along with Barnabas, to take the gospel to the Gentiles. They also were asked to remember the poor.

V 11-15 : CONFRONTATION Later, when Peter came to Antioch, Paul confronted him openly because Peterís correct practice of eating with the Gentiles was suspended when Jews came along. Paul saw this as a hypocritical undermining of the gospel, which adversely affected the Jews and even his companion Barnabas.

V 16-21 : CORRECTION Paul insisted to them that it was only by grace in Christ that anyone could be saved, and that salvation could only come by personal faith in Him. In dying to justification by the works of the law, and living by faith in the Son of God, Paul taught that Christians should reflect the fact that salvation is by grace and not by the works of the law. The death of Christ and His risen life are fundamental to this. The false teaching of salvation by works empties the cross of Christ of its real meaning and purpose.

Gal 3

V 1-9 : FOOLISHNESS AND FAITH Paul now tells the Galatians that it is foolish to seek to be perfected in Christ by keeping Jewish legal observances. We are saved by faith and indwelt by the Holy Spirit because, like Abraham, we believe and trust in the promise of God.

V 10-14 : CHRIST WAS CURSED To attempt to be saved by keeping Godís law and then to fail would mean that coming under the curse of Godís judgement on sin. But Christ has taken our sin and our curse when He died on the cross in our place. When we trust Him, we are forgiven, cleansed, and counted as righteous because He has been cursed in our place. God gives us His Spirit to confirm this. The principle is the same as that through which Abraham was blessed, namely receiving Godís promise through faith.

V 15-18 : PERMANENCE OF PROMISE Paul stresses that there is only one spiritual seed of Abraham. It is not to do with Jewish nationality or race, but with trusting Godís promise. In that sense, Abraham is the father of all who are justified by faith in Godís promise, whether Jew or Gentile. The arrival of the law, 430 years after the promise to Abraham, cannot annul that fact. In Christ we are saved through trusting Godís promise.

V 19-25 : LAW IS LEGITIMATE The law is not intended to make us righteous before God and cannot do so. It is not against the promises of God, but shows us our sin, so that it leads us to faith in Christ alone. Righteousness and salvation become ours only in Christ, as we trust Him, realising that we can do nothing to save ourselves. Just as a tutor would lead an infant to school for education, the law leads us to Christ for salvation. He is our mediator.

V 26-29 : SONS IN SALVATION Faith in Christ makes us sons of God and, as those who have believed Him, also Abrahamís spiritual seed. We inherit that ancient promise in our crucified and living Saviour. So does every other Christian, irrespective of background, social status or gender.

Gal 4

V 1-5 : ADOPTION Paul states that Christians are adopted by God as His sons. An adopted child is brought from one family into another. We have been brought from the Ďfamilyí of condemnation to the Ďfamilyí of salvation in Christ. As such we are heirs who inherit His eternal blessings.

V 6-7 : ABBA Paul is quick to point out that this is not only a legal position, but that Godís Spirit works in our hearts so that we know Him as ĎAbba Fatherí. ĎAbbaí literally means Ďdaddyí. We are not slaves, but sons and heirs.

V 8-16 : ASTRAY Paul applies this truth and tells them of his concern, because having been saved by faith in Christ according to Godís promise, they are now putting themselves into bondage by observing days, months, and seasons. They seek to fulfil unnecessary legalistic requirements either of a past and extinct ceremonial law, or of man-made laws. Paul observes the difference that this has made to their former conduct towards him. Previously he had been encouraged by their love and their warmth. Now he feels treated as an enemy because he insists on Godís truth about salvation.

V 17-20 : APOSTATE The comparison between the false apostles, who seek to exclude the Galatian Christians from the grace of God, and Paulís fatherly concern is obvious. Nevertheless, he is prepared to act as a good father and reprimand them if necessary.

V 21-31 : ABRAHAM Paul refers to scriptural history. Abraham and Hagar had a son, Ishmael. Abraham and Sarah, his wife, had the son God promised, namely Isaac. Paul illustrates two distinct and opposing covenants of law and of freedom, represented by the two different relationships, which underline what he teaches the Galatians in this chapter. As Isaac inherited Godís promises to Abraham, so we inherit Godís promises magnified to repentant sinners in Christ. Thus we are the free Ďchildren of promiseí and are born of the Spirit of God. We do not become Godís children of promise through the law or our works.

Gal 5

V 1-10 : CIRCUMCISION Paul develops the principle and applies it to circumcision. Circumcision is the putting away of the flesh as a mark of entering the covenant of Israel. Paul says that this is now outdated and to continue to observe it would logically mean that the circumcised person needs to keep the whole law in order to be accepted. The Christian is counted righteous through faith in Christ. Sadly, the pernicious teaching of being saved by circumcision has hindered obedience to Godís word and has grown like yeast in bread.

V 11-12 : CROSS Paulís insistence on preaching the cross has led to his persecution because it is an offence to those who wish to justify themselves rather than relying solely on what Jesus has done for them. So grave is this error that troubles the church, that Paul could wish them cut off.

V 13-15 : CALLING The gospel has called the Galatians to liberty. That liberty should be used lovingly to be a blessing to others and not in destructive in-fighting that evidently characterises their lives, and flows from the false teaching, as Paul writes.

V 16-18 : COMMAND The Galatians are commanded to Ďwalk in the Spirití. Only in so doing can they conquer the lust of the flesh, because it is the Spirit, given through faithís response to Godís promise, who gives liberty. Such a Spirit-led life cannot be achieved by seeking salvation by keeping the law.

V 19-23 : CONTRAST The evil of the works of the flesh are contrasted in detail with the goodness of the fruit of the Spirit borne by those who, turning from sin, trust Christ. There is no law against the fruit of the Spirit.

V 24-26 : CRUCIFIED Paradoxically those who have freedom in the Spirit are those who count themselves as crucified with Christ and follow Him. This alone deals with conceit, strife, and envy.

Gal 6

V 1-5 : BEARING BURDENS The outworking of the previous teaching to the Galatians means that the Christian bears the burdens of others. This means a genuine desire to restore those who have gone astray, in a humble and gentle spirit, and a realistic assessment of oneís own Ďnothingnessí apart from Christ. Self-examination is called for.

V 6-10 : SOWING SEED Generosity is a hallmark of a spiritually alive person. He will constantly support those in Christian work, sow generously Godís word in his own life and in othersí lives, and do good to others. He will reap a bountiful harvest and not lose heart. Christians are to be His special target of good works.

V 11-15 : CHRISTíS CROSS Paul adds a note in this letter in his own handwriting. Although those who insist on circumcision will continue to persecute Paul, he is determined that his only boasting will be in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. That cross not only deals with his sin: it deals with his heart. It crucifies Paul to the world, and the world to Paul. It has become the instrument making him into a new person. Circumcision can never do that.

V 16-18 : WISE WALK Godís peace and mercy rest on those who walk with God. The apostle, seeing himself as crucified with Christ, prays for the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to be with the spirit of those who have received his crucial letter.