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Date: AD 53-57
Audience: Christians in the province of Galatia
The books of Romans and Galatians are closely linked in content, and both were written by the apostle Paul. In Romans, Paul opens to us the fullness of the gospel of grace, and in Galatians, he defends that gospel because it has come under attack by people seeking to draw the early Christian believers back into legalism. Paul probably wrote both letters from Corinth while he was ministering there.
We can see that Paul was passionate about ministering the gospel as much as he possibly could. While he was in one place teaching, he was thinking about and ministering to churches in other cities through writing letters to them. Paul worked hard toward his goal of seeing people saved by grace through faith and presenting everyone “fully mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28–29), and he frequently mentions how often he prayed for the believers in every city.
Paul emphasizes in both Romans and Galatians that not only are we justified by faith, but we must learn to live by faith as well. I like to say that we should not reserve our faith only for times of trouble when we need God’s help, nor merely for our initial salvation, but we should learn over time as the Holy Spirit teaches us to do everything we do by faith. We are to continually abide in Christ and rely on Him to help us at all times and in all things. Paul even goes so far as to say that whatever is not of faith is sin (Rom. 14:23).
Paul had been to Galatia two times and hoped to go again, but the Holy Spirit sent him elsewhere. When he first went to Galatia, the people there were idol worshippers, but by God’s grace Paul was able to bring many of them to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ through preaching. We can see from this example that when people are led by the Holy Spirit, they don’t always get to do what they want to do or what they think is best, but they submit to the Spirit’s leading. Paul tried on several occasions to go to certain places to preach the gospel, but he said that the Holy Spirit prevented him and sent him somewhere he had not planned to go (Acts 16:6–10). Freedom to follow the Holy Spirit in our daily lives is exactly what Paul is trying to remind the Galatians that they are free to do, and in order to be free we must not submit to legalism—a set of rules and regulations about how everything involving our relationship with God must be done.
Under the Old Covenant, the Israelites lived under the law. It seems there was a rule about almost everything they had to do, and they were proud of their ability to keep the rules. However, the problem was that no one could keep them all. Therefore no one could ever be justified before God through the law. But Paul announced that God had provided a solution: He sent His Son to pay for the sin of mankind, and by grace though faith in Jesus, the perfect Son of God, salvation is available to all who will believe in Him and put their trust in Him.
Salvation is a free gift, but many people found that truth difficult to believe. Even if they accepted Christ, they tried to add some of the old laws to their faith, so in essence their so-called faith became no faith at all. We live by one or by the other—faith or the law—but mixing the two does not work. Paul says in Galatians that he died to the law in order to live to Christ (Gal. 2:19). When Jesus died on the cross He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30), meaning He had fulfilled the law, and now God’s children could be free from the ceremonial rules and regulations they had once been required to perform.
Sometimes when people enthusiastically receive Christ, they go through times of severe testing shortly afterward. This was the case with the Galatians, as certain men began telling them they had to submit to the Law of Moses and that they must be circumcised, as the Jews had been, in order to have a covenant relationship with God. The Jews believed and taught that Gentiles had to become Jewish before they could become Christians. In short, their gospel was Jesus plus the Law of Moses. The truth is, we need Jesus only, not Jesus plus something else, in order to be saved.
Satan always comes and attempts to steal our faith in a variety of ways. That is certainly easier for him to do with new believers who haven’t had time to become rooted and grounded in their faith. But Paul encourages people throughout his writings to stand firm in the truth they have learned and not to fall back into the bondage from which they have been delivered.
The Book of Galatians has had a profound effect on many people, including some prominent Christians we read about and learn from. Martin Luther, the father of the Reformation, was one, and another was John Bunyan, the famous Puritan preacher and author of The Pilgrim’s Progress. Many scholars consider Galatians to be “the Magna Carta of Christian Liberty,” according to sermoncentral.com.
It is always good to read the Bible, but studying it is much better. We need to dig deeper into the Book of Galatians, as well as the rest of the Bible, and when we do we will find hidden treasures that not only help us live for God better but also continually make us more and more free to enjoy God and the life He has provided for us through Jesus.
Jesus came to give us a new way to live, one filled with life and power, with righteousness, peace, and joy. This is the way of faith in Christ by which we receive complete forgiveness for our sins and assurance of eternal life. In this new way, we have the freedom and privilege of being led and guided by the Holy Spirit rather than following written rules and regulations.
Jesus sacrificed Himself on the Cross and died there, bearing the burden and punishment of our sins. As promised, He rose from the dead on the third day and is now seated at the right hand of God. On Pentecost, another promise was fulfilled and our Heavenly Father sent the Holy Spirit to be in us and with us at all times (Acts 2:1–33)—to teach us, help us, comfort us, and guide and lead us in all things. This was good news for the Galatians, but some of the Jews were having a hard time accepting the new life in Christ and continued hanging on to their old legalistic ways, trying to convince those who were following Christ that they were wrong.
In this book I will discuss the problem with works of the flesh, which occur when we use our own human energy to try to accomplish what only God can do. Martin Luther, whom God used to bring about the Protestant Reformation, was a man who experienced the agony of trying to work his way into right standing with God by doing every conceivable thing he could think of (works of the flesh) and finding that none of it gave him a clean conscience or assurance of God’s acceptance. He was miserable and tormented until he discovered the gospel of grace and realized that Christianity is not about what we can do for God, but what He has done for us.
People who seek acceptance from God through their own works live by fleshly efforts that leave them exhausted, worn-out, and frustrated. I like to call works of the flesh “works that don’t work.”
In Galatians, Paul also deals with many practical issues of everyday life. He addresses topics such as the danger of people-pleasing, reaping what we sow, the proper way to deal with people’s faults, avoiding self-righteous attitudes, compromise, love, walking in the Spirit, and many others.
I believe you will find the Book of Galatians very helpful in your personal walk with God, and my prayer is that it will help you in your journey toward being formed into the image of Jesus Christ and being His personal representative during your time on earth. I also believe you will learn to enjoy your walk with God and the life He has provided through Jesus.
This book is meant to be studied, and you will find various Scripture references throughout the manuscript that will deepen your understanding of what that particular section of the book is teaching if you choose to take time to look them up.
Key Truths in Galatians
- Our relationship with God is based on grace, not law. We are to reject legalism and embrace grace in every area of our lives.
- In Christ, we can be set free and we can stay free.
- We are to walk in the Spirit, not in the flesh.
- We reap what we sow.
Qualified by God
Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers and sisters with me, to the churches in Galatia:
Paul begins this letter to the Galatians as he does some of his other epistles, by establishing in the first sentence that he is an apostle called by God, not by man. I am sure he does this because there were many who questioned his commission and authority. Where did he get the right to teach others, especially since he had formerly persecuted the church of Jesus Christ? What qualified him?
Many are called into the gospel ministry in much the same way as Paul. God calls them and qualifies them by anointing them for a special task. This perplexes those who don’t understand that God chooses who He uses for reasons that often make no sense to us. Paul’s past as one who persecuted Christians certainly did not qualify him. It actually would have disqualified him had that been the criteria for God being able to use him.
Having a sinful past prior to receiving Jesus as Savior and Lord does not disqualify anyone from being used by God. In fact, it may actually help us have compassion for those who are deceived and are living sinful lives, as we once were, and who need to be rescued and restored. Nothing helps us understand someone in trouble more than having had the same trouble ourselves.
Paul teaches that God chooses and uses what the world considers foolish in order to show the folly of worldly wisdom (1 Cor. 1:27–28). Those whom God chooses to use for His work are very different from those the world would choose. God often chooses people who do not have the right qualifications for the job based on worldly standards, but they do have the right heart. Their motives are pure, and they love Jesus greatly.
When God was ready to replace King Saul, He told the prophet Samuel that He would anoint someone from the house of Jesse as the new king (1 Sam. 16:1). Samuel went and examined all of Jesse’s sons one by one. God rejected each one, so he asked if any of the brothers were not there. The one God chose was the one the family believed was so unlikely they had not even brought him in from the field for consideration. The one God chose was named David, and Samuel anointed him to be king (1 Sam. 16:1–13). God doesn’t look on the outward man, but on the heart (v. 7), and David had a heart filled with desire for God.
We might say Paul also had a heart for God, and he had formerly been a zealous and committed Pharisee. He had a lot of zeal for God, but it was zeal without knowledge. Although he had done many terrible things, he actually believed he was serving God as he did them. When Jesus confronted him on the Damascus road, he was quick to repent and ready to do whatever Jesus asked him to do (Acts 9:1–19). After this encounter with the living Christ, Paul was never the same. He was saved by grace, certainly not by any of his own good works. He was deeply convinced of the truth that we are saved by grace alone and not by our works, and his mission in life became to teach others that same truth.
No one is more qualified to teach others a truth than those who have firsthand experience with what they are trying to teach. Paul had a fire in him that no amount of criticism or judgment from others could put out. He was called by God—not by man—to teach the message of grace; therefore, man could not stop what God had begun.
If you have been invited to do a job for God, you can be assured that nothing in your past can hinder you. God sees your heart, and He sees who you are becoming, not merely who you have been in the past. If we wish to walk with God, we must look forward. We have no eyes in the back of our head, and we might let that convince us that we are not to spend our lives looking back but, rather, looking to the future. Don’t look at the wrong things you have done; look at the right things you can do.
In what ways are you qualified for God to use you? How could He use your past to help others?
Grace and Peace
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the 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 forever and ever. Amen.
Paul adds his normal and frequent greeting, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” His greeting was much more beneficial to its recipients than most of our greetings might be today. We may greet a person with the words hello or hi, but Paul wishes those he meets the power of amazing grace in their lives and the peace of God, which is truly wonderful.
Unless we understand grace, we will never have peace, and Paul desires peace for every person. After all, what is life really worth if we don’t have peace? No matter what else we have—power, position, riches, influential friends, or possessions—it is worth nothing if we don’t have peace to go along with it. Peace leads us to joy, and I think what every person desires above all else is to be happy. Paul says that the Kingdom of God is not about meat and drink (things), but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17), and to that I say, “Amen!” We want to know that we are right with God and to have peace and joy. As Matthew 6:33 teaches us, if we will seek first the Kingdom of God and His way of being and doing, all the other things we desire will be added to us. The psalmist says, “Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4 NKJV).
Sadly, we often spend a great deal of our lives searching for what we think will make us happy, but we find once we obtain each thing, it is unable to provide us with what we thought it would. We go from possession to possession, job to job, relationship to relationship, or even religion to religion searching and searching, but all the while the simplicity of the gospel is available if we will open our eyes and see it. God created us for His pleasure and ours, and nothing else will ever satisfy us except a deep and intimate relationship with Him, putting Him and His will first in all things. This world is not our home, and I doubt that we can ever be completely satisfied as long as we dwell here. In fact, as believers in Christ, I think a part of us is always longing for our eternal home where we will see Jesus face-to-face.
Consider this Scripture verse and then ask yourself if you are pursuing the right things in your life:
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.
1 John 2:15–17
I urge everyone to spend their time on earth preparing for eternity. If we spend our time merely trying to have what the world offers, we will always end up disappointed. We may and should enjoy the things of the world, but God must always come first. I like to say, “Enjoy whatever God gives you as much as possible, but don’t become so attached to it that you feel you cannot be happy without it.”
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