Introduction to the Book of Galatians

1.  Paul’s Purpose for Writing Galatians

Most solid Reformed Theologians give the Book of Galatians an early date, usually around A.D. 48-50.  This date places the Book less than 20 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  

What is difficult to conceive is that the Book of Galatians was probably the first book written included in the NT.  Galatians even predates any of the Gospel by 15 years.

The churches were beginning to form and Paul was the bolt of lightning that brought about most of the early churches.  He had started the churches in the region of Galatia and he addresses his letter to the churches in this region.

Churches had oral accounts of the life and works of Jesus.  They had the apostles teaching them about Jesus and what He did.  The churches had the OT.   

The Apostle Paul begins to preach and teach Jesus Christ to people in this region.  

Let’s look together for a moment at the Book of Acts and trace Paul’s steps as he travels to the region of Galatia on his first Missionary Journey. 

Acts 13:4–6 (ESV) 

So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them. When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. 

Acts 13:13–15 (ESV) 

13 Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem, 14 but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.” 

Acts 13:42–45 (ESV)
       42 As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath. 43 And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God. 

44 The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. 

About everywhere Paul went with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he was meet with resistance by certain Jews.  These Jews were promoting sort of a half-way idea of Christianity.  They taught a message of Jesus + works for salvation.  Almost immediately after Paul left these early churches the Jews known as Judaizers came into those Churches with their ideas of the Gospel + works = Salvation.

Now, the problem these Churches faced was a modified Gospel.  Here’s what we must understand a little poison in a cup is extremely toxic.  A little modification of the true Gospel equals no Gospel at all.

2.  What is the Gospel?

What is the Gospel?- The gospel is good news when we understand that we do not and cannot do anything to earn our salvation; the work of redemption and justification is complete, having been finished on the cross (John 19:30). Jesus is the propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2). The gospel is the good news that we, who were once enemies of God, have been reconciled by the blood of Christ and adopted into the family of God (Romans 5:10John 1:12). “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1). The gospel is the good news that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

Here’s some of the false teaching that had entered into the Gentile Galatian Churches…

To be a Christian one must be circumcised.
To be a Christian one must observe the Jewish holy days.

To be a Christian one must observe Jewish food laws.

Paul’s Gospel was Salvation by grace through faith apart from works…

Ephesians 2:8–9 (ESV) 

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 

Those in the Galatian Churches believed and were saved.  Then false teachers arose.  Some came from the outside and some from within.  These false teachers were from the Jews who had convinced many of these very young Christians that faith in Jesus was not enough.

Galatians 3:1–3 (ESV) 

3 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 

Bewitched- ebaskanen…to be fascinated and amazed by an evil twist.

It’s to take the pure and simple Gospel that has the power to save as we believe on Jesus and add an evil twist to it which makes it no Gospel.  Calvin writes that a drop of poison in the cup can make the entire cup poison and bring death with it.

These evil Jews bewitched the Galatians.

Notice…these false teachers were not denying the resurrection of Jesus.  They were not teaching one doesn’t have to believe.  They we not denying the virgin birth, miracles, truth of Jesus’ teaching or even that one must be born again.  What they were teaching is that one must believe and retain the observance of Jewish ceremonial Law to be saved.  

By adding the Jewish Ceremonial Law to the finished work of Christ, you no longer have salvation by grace.  Beloved, you no longer have salvation at all.  The Gospel has been lost no one is saved and all humanity is cast into hell.

Calvin says, the devil seduces…. when he cannot destroy, he will seek to distort.

3.  Seven Common Gospel Distortions

-FormalismThis gospel distortion has many external signs of cultural Christianity. A typical Christian who has fallen into formalism thinks that their external actions like being involved at church and service are enough, and often neglect a real heart change that comes from encountering the living God.

-Legalism… seeks to achieve righteousness by following God’s commands through a rigid list of do’s and don’ts.  Legalism ignores the depth of our inability to earn God’s favor. It forgets the need for our hearts to be transformed by God’s grace. Legalism is not just a reduction of the gospel, it is another gospel altogether, where salvation is earned by keeping the rules…

-Mysticism…this gospel distortion places more importance on a special spiritual experience or feeling (the subjective) than on true biblical faith that rests on Christ (the objective). The error of mysticism overemphasizes the emotional and experiential dimension of Christianity, forgetting that God works in our lives through the gospel even when we can’t feel it directly. We are to pursue Christ first and the experiences will follow. This view “reduces the gospel to dynamic emotional and spiritual experiences.”

-Activism…This type of gospel distortion makes a usually important issue (often a social issue such as abortion) an ultimate issue that acts as a litmus test to see whether someone is a ‘true Christian.’ Activists overemphasize the evil outside of them to the neglect of the evil that is inside them. This distortion defines Christian maturity as “a willingness to defend right from wrong” and often reduces the gospel to participation in activism activities.

-Biblicism… takes something good God has given and twists it into a potentially harmful thing. People who fall into Biblicism often know Scripture and theology well (often at an advanced level), but fail to live out the Christian faith practically. Faith is reduced to a mere knowledge of truth or having “good theology”; forgetting vital elements of faith like living with grace and in submission to Christ. Biblicism reduces the gospel to a mastery of biblical content and theology.

Psychological Gospel…This view often regards Christianity primarily as a self-help philosophy of dealing with emotional hurts like neglect and rejection instead of God graciously dealing with humanity’s sin problem and allowing us to worship Him through a personal relationship with Christ.  The worst sin in this view is the sin of others, and often the self is the mere victim of sin. Whenever you view the sin of another against you as a greater problem than your own sin, you will tend to seek Christ as your therapist more than you seek him as your Savior. Christianity becomes more a pursuit of healing than a pursuit of godliness. The gospel is reduced to the healing of emotional needs.

Socialism…This view emphasizes social relationships within a church and often caters to people who find a new and special social acceptance in a church group. A strong community of Christ-followers is a special thing, but it can easily turn into a social club that emphasizes relationships over growing in Christ.

These are Gospel Distortions.  They come in different forms.  Many look good and in many ways are good but they are not the Gospel.  We must be careful to never believe something less than the true Gospel.

4.  The Key Verse

This brings us to what I’d like to call the key verse in the Book of Galatians.  This verse sums up the entire Book.  This verse is one we will be going back to time and again as we work through the Book…

Galatians 2:21 (ESV)  21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

It is my goal as we study this wonderful Book to see our works of merit stripped away by the Holy Spirit.  We all have too much Pharisee in us.  Sometimes our conclusions may seem radical when we examine this topic.  We must remember that to add anything at all to the true Gospel is to walk away with no Gospel at all.

The “for” here gives a reason for the use of the harsh word “make void”–” ‘make void,’ I say; for that is just the right word, since if Judaizers say, justification comes even in part through our obedience to the law, then Christ died in vain. ”This verse is the key verse of the Epistle to the Galatians; it expresses the central thought of the Epistle. The Judiazers attempted to supplement the saving work of Christ by the merit of their own obedience to the law. “That,” says Paul, “is impossible; Christ will do everything or nothing: earn your salvation if your obedience to the law is perfect, or else trust wholly to Christ completed work; you cannot do both; you cannot combine merit and grace; if justification even in slightest measure is through human merit, then Christ died in vain.”—J.Gresham Machen, Notes on Galatians

5.  Legalism and Antinomianism

Since Paul is stressing in very strong language the fact that mankind is only and absolutely saved by grace with not the slightest measure of works then how should we view the Law of God?

Legalism– works are required for salvation.  The great and costly error of the Pharisees was that by adhering oneself to the Mosaic Law, salvation can be achieved by one’s merit. 

Example of the Legalism of the Pharisees…

Luke 10:25–29 (ESV) 

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” 

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 

He thought he was able to keep God’s Law and when the legalist realizes he cannot, he looks for loopholes to pardon himself. 

Grace has no works involved it is a free gift…

John 6:28–29 (ESV) 

28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 

The Legalist cannot save himself by pretending to keep God’s Law.  Legalism has no idea how utterly sinful we are.  The Legalist has no idea how holy God is.

Antinomianism– (Against the Law)

There are those who after reading a Book like Galatians walk away and say that the OT or the Mosaic Law is of no value for the Christian since we are not under the Law but under grace.  The Mosaic Law as with any law cannot save but only condemn and yet the Mosaic Law does show us God.  Because He is unchanging…thou shalt not kill, for example is still what God desires from His people.  We are saved by grace through faith.

The New Testament gives us rules and behavioral expectations, but these should be seen as the result of a faith relationship, not as the basis for it. They are not the measurement of our righteous standing before God – and that’s good, because we all fall short. We have no righteousness of our own, but when we put our confidence in Christ, God counts us as righteous (Romans 4:23-25). We have peace with God through Christ (Romans 5:1-2).

7 Distortions of the Gospel Commonly Accepted As Christianity

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