During the first century, there were a bunch of Jews who were converted to Christianity called Judaizers, who didn’t understand that Jesus had crucified the old laws and replaced them with new ones. Paul passed through southern Galatia ‘strengthening all the disciples’, Acts 18:23.
If Paul wrote the letter on his third journey when he was in Corinth, then we would understand that these disciples were about ten years in the faith and it had been only a year or so after Paul had taught in the area.
This gives us an idea of how quickly apostasy to legal justification can set into a church, as well as, how persistent the teachers of such a doctrine can be. They were persistent and bold enough to walk right in behind the teaching of the apostle Paul on grace.
There is another consideration concerning the date of writing that might better enhance our understanding of the letter. Some people believe the letter was written in 48 A.D. or 49 A.D., or possibly immediately after the Jerusalem meeting in Acts 15 when Paul received word concerning the great influence of the Judaizing teachers in the Galatian churches.
If this is true, then the influence of legal justification entered the churches immediately after the establishment of the church in southern Galatia by Paul and Barnabas on Paul’s first missionary journey. That might explain the unconverted character of those who came immediately out of legalistic Judaism into the fellowship of the church.
This may also explain why Paul is so stern in this letter, for Judaizing teachers had come from Judea and were taking advantage of newborn babies in the Lord. Wolves had entered the flock before he could return to strengthen them in the faith.
If the letter was written immediately after their conversion, then we can understand that what Paul is teaching in this letter, must be taught to new converts.
And so, the letter of Galatians is basically Paul’s defence of the very foundation upon which the church is based. It’s an urgent message to the early church because God knew that legalism would destroy the church in its very beginning.
The Greek name ‘Galatia’ refers to ‘the land of the Gauls’. The region is enclosed in Asia Minor or modern-day Turkey. The area of Galatia was originally settled by the Gauls who broke away from the main tribal groups of the Gauls in central Europe around 278 B.C.
The Romans subdued the Gauls in 189 B.C. and 25 B.C., and Augustus, Caesar of Rome, formed the area of Galatia into a Roman province. This meant that the Romans took over the principal positions of government and ruled in the province. At the time of Antiochus, the Great, many Jews had moved into the Galatian area.
By the time of Paul’s preaching, Judaism had really spread throughout the region and greatly influenced the culture. Paul preached in this area on his first, second and third missionary journeys and Peter probably preached in this area after his stay in Antioch of Syria.
All the way through this letter, Paul is going to be dealing with the problem of legalism. And when it comes to the problem of legalism, Paul is going to get fighting mad, Galatians 2:14 / Galatians 5:11-12.
Paul is going to get fighting mad with these Jewish legalisers who were insisting that the Gentile Christians still need to obverse the law and be circumcised. Paul is going to remind us that a Jesus plus anything Gospel is not a Gospel at all.
A letter which we know was written by Paul because he tells so, Galatians 1:1 / Galatians 5:2. Very often Paul would get a secretary to write his letters for him but because of the seriousness of the Galatian problem, he sat down and personally wrote this letter.
Paul begins by reminding his readers of the authority he has as an apostle and he’s saying that his apostleship equals him in responsibility and authority with the original twelve apostles who were personally called by Jesus during His earthly ministry.
He’s going to remind them again of this later in this same chapter, Galatians 1:11-12. In other words, Paul had the same authority as the twelve because he was called and sent out personally by Jesus.
He didn’t have the qualifications of an apostle as we find it in Acts 1:21-22 but he still fulfilled the qualification of being an apostle by the personal calling of Jesus.
Remember to whom Paul was sent, Paul was a Christ-sent apostle especially called for a mission to the Gentiles, Acts 9:15. Christ sent Paul especially to preach the Gospel to all men but especially to the Gentiles.
And Paul says, ‘I’m an apostle, sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead’.
There were Christians in Galatia who were also claiming to have the authority of an apostle and as we go through this letter we’re going to see Paul defending his apostleship. He reminds them of what is at the very heart of the Gospel message, ‘Jesus rose from the dead’.
The very first Gospel message delivered to the Jews by Peter contained the heart of the Christian message, Acts 2:22-24. Paul reminds us that he preached the same Gospel message as Peter did and says it’s really important to remember this message.
We need to try and understand the importance of the Gospel message, it’s not just about the death and burial of Jesus, it’s about His resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. Paul understood that without this resurrection, Christianity has no real foundation that would distinguish it from other religions of the world.
After asserting his apostleship Paul now writes a common greeting where he desired that God’s blessing of salvation by grace would bring inward contentment. And because he’s about to deal with a legalistic problem, he’s gently reminding them that God’s grace brings peace between God and man.
It’s by the grace of God that sin is forgiven and since there can be no peace between God and man as long as sin reigns in our lives, we’re all certainly in need of God’s grace.
There is also the sense that Paul is reminding these legalisers that grace or salvation can never be obtained by good works or by keeping the law, which is one of the main problems in trying to work for our salvation by keeping certain laws.
Salvation is based on our own merit, it never really brings peace of mind simply because we never know if we’ve done enough. But for those who trust in the grace of God, they have peace of mind, why?
Because they trust in God and not in themselves. They understand they can never do enough to earn their salvation, they understand that Jesus did more than enough for them at Calvary.
That’s why Paul says that ‘the Lord Jesus Christ, gave himself’. It was God’s eternal purpose and will, that Jesus be offered as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of men, 1 Timothy 1:15.
Now, this is a significant statement that Paul is beginning with here in the Galatian letter because this is what he’s going to build his argument upon against the legalisers. Paul is saying that all Christians are saved by the atonement of Jesus on the cross, not by our meritorious deeds and works of the law, Ephesians 1:3-6.
The words ‘rescue us’ is the Greek word, ‘exaireo’ and it means to actively tear out. And so, what Paul is saying is, because of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christians are torn out by obedient faith from this dark, wicked world in which we live.
And who do we give the glory to? All glory must go to God, the Father. The glory doesn’t go to the church or the preacher, the church and the preacher must give all the glory to God, Galatians 6:13 / Ephesians 2:8-9.
Legalism promotes self-righteousness but for those of us who understand that they’re saved by grace, they will always give the glory to God for saving them, Luke 18:4 / 2 Corinthians 9:15.
The legalist will always see the worst in other people, especially among their own brethren, this is why Paul gets fighting mad when Christians demand they’re right before God based upon the things that they do or the things they don’t do.
We need to be on our guard against anyone preaching a Jesus plus Gospel. A Jesus plus Gospel says, ‘you have to come to worship’, ‘you have to study the Bible’, or ‘you have to do good deeds’. A Jesus plus Gospel puts demands in place where God has put no such demands.
A Jesus plus Gospel demands that we change our lives, our thinking, or our attitude. And so, it comes up with a bunch of rules and regulations to make sure you keep in line with the other legalists.
Legalism says God will love us if we change but the Gospel says God will change us because He loves us. The power to change isn’t within ourselves, it’s in the Gospel.
We worship God because we want to, we study His word because we want to, and we do good deeds because we want to. And the reason we want to is because of Christ’s coming into this world to die for each of us and give us the hope of eternal life with Him in heaven.
Rules and regulations can change people on the outside and force them to do certain things or stay away from certain things but rules and regulations can’t change people’s hearts, Ezekiel 36:26-27 / Ephesians 1:18-23.
Paul says that God draws us into circumstances that require us to relate to Him through faith, trust, and complete dependence on Him. This ever-increasing state of faith, trust, and dependence come from our hearts.
By trusting in and depending on God, and not trusting in the limited, temporal resources of the world, others, or myself, we shed the old dead skin off our sinful nature.
This shedding process allows Christ to renew our minds through the increased presence of His Spirit who we are making room for in our hearts of trust and dependence. In other words, we choose to live the way God wants us to live. We choose to come and worship Him as He asks of us, we choose to study His word because we know we’ll draw closer to Him.
We choose to do good deeds because that’s what Jesus did and we know that God gets pleasure when we do these things, 1 John 4:15-19. Just before Jesus’ final breath on the cross, His dying words recorded in John 19:30 were, ‘It is finished.’ Everything to do with our sins was dealt with at the cross.
Paul expresses great astonishment and surprise about how quickly the Galatians have deserted the true Gospel. It’s almost as if Paul can’t believe what he’s heard, they’ve not long become Christians and left Judaism and now they want to mix Judaism with Christianity. No wonder he’s going to rebuke them later, Galatians 3:1.
Remember this church was only a few years old and Paul is amazed at how quickly they are accepting this legalistic teaching from these Judaizers. And so, Paul is trying to shock them into realising that there is a huge difference between what they are accepting and the truth of grace he had told them about.
He says they were slowly but surely turning away from the truth and he’s writing to them to stop them from turning away from the freedom they had literally just gained in Christ. These Judaizers were presenting these Christians with a legalistic religion and Paul was having none of it.
He deals with this kind of legalistic mindset over in Colossians too, Colossians 2:20-23. Paul says this kind of legalistic religion looks good, sounds good but all it does is appeal to man and his outward performance of religion, Galatians 4:8-10.
Now, this mindset, this outward performance of religion isn’t anything new, Jesus had to deal with it, Matthew 23:6-7. There is something appealing about this kind of religion and these religionists like to create a religion that appeals to the carnal desires of men to walk ceremoniously before others.
But the problem is it has rules and regulations in place that God hadn’t stipulated. And all this religion produces is an atmosphere of judgementalism, where we end up judging ourselves and others, not by God’s standards but by your brethren’s standards, Galatians 6:13-14.
In other words, because of the appeal of this different Gospel, the Galatians were chasing after what could be measured by sight and not measured by faith. They were deceived into thinking that the performance of codes was the road to spiritual growth.
But what was it they were running from? They were running from their calling, they were running from the grace of Christ. The very thing which could save them, they were running from and Paul knew that these legalisers were actually attacking the grace of God.
8 times Paul uses the word ‘grace’ throughout this letter and it means ‘unmerited love’ from God and so, they are running from their calling, they were running from the grace of Christ.
But what exactly was it they were running towards? Paul says, ‘another Gospel’. The Greek word ‘heteros’ which is used here, is sometimes translated to the word, ‘different’. And the reason this Gospel was different was because it was counterfeit, it wasn’t the real deal, it was fake.
Remember these Judaizing teachers were actually preaching the Gospel that Paul taught in reference to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. The problem was that they were teaching a Jesus plus Gospel. They were adding requirements to the grace of God, which in effect said that what Jesus did wasn’t enough.
What Paul is saying to the Galatians is that if anything is added to or taken away from the message he first preached to them, Romans 1:16, then you need to know it’s a counterfeit Gospel.
Any legalistic system of religion not only destroys the fellowship of the church and the spirituality of the believers but also destroys our relationship with God, Galatians 5:4.
Notice Paul didn’t name those who were causing so much confusion. We don’t know their names but we do know what they were doing. These people were causing tension in the church with their additions to the one true Gospel, Acts 15:1.
These teachers hadn’t yet succeeded in completely leading the church astray, but Paul knew there was a real danger of that happening, Galatians 4:17.
What was happening was, that these false teachers were causing trouble by binding on the church those things God had never bound. Paul says they ‘are perverting the true Gospel’ which means they were changing the Gospel into a legal system of justification.
When anyone adds to God’s redemption of man by His grace, they are going beyond what God requires for salvation, 2 John 9-10. They are going beyond the teaching of Christ and those who bind where God hasn’t bound, have gone beyond the freedom that we have in Christ, Galatians 5:1.
The legalist is working in order to earn or merit their reward that is based on their performance of law. The grace centred Christian does good works and tries to please God because they know they are saved by grace, 1 Corinthians 15:10.
There’s no mistaking how serious Paul is concerning this matter. He says, ‘let me tell you something, if any heavenly being preaches anything which isn’t in line with what he taught, then God help them’. The word ‘curse’ is interesting, in Greek, it is the word ‘anathema’ and it means to ‘ban’ or ‘excommunicate’.
But Paul takes the meaning even further, he’s talking about total destruction, 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9. Paul is saying that these Judaizers will suffer because they are denying the all-sufficient atonement of the cross that came by the grace of God. And he’s so serious about anyone perverting the Gospel that he tells them twice what will be their outcome.
Paul very quickly contests those who were accusing him of seeking the favour of human beings by preaching those things that pleased men. In other words, Paul was telling them the truth which is something he will remind them of again later, Galatians 4:15.
Paul is not preaching in order to escape the persecution of those Judaizing teachers, he understood all too well what persecution was all about, he was on the receiving end of it many times. But he also understood that these legalistic brethren were trying to avoid persecution, Galatians 6:12.
These unbelieving Jews followed Paul from city to city, making plots to stir up the audience against him or plots to kill him. And if Paul were preaching to please men, then he certainly wouldn’t have been enduring this constant persecution.
Paul is describing people here who profess Christ but their lives are denying what their lips are confessing, Philippians 3:18-19. He calls them enemies of the cross. Why?
Because they are walking in a way that denies the priority of pursuing Christ-likeness. Paul says here in Galatians that if he was preaching to please people, he wouldn’t be a true servant of Christ.
If we’re not serving the one true God who gave us the one True Gospel, then it may be because we haven’t heard the True Gospel, 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. Anyone who presents a different Gospel from the Gospel we were taught, and obeyed, a Gospel that says, ‘we can be saved through trusting Jesus but we have to do something else to merit our salvation’.
Many people have been accused of many things and the apostle Paul was no exception. The Jews time and time again accused Paul of not being a true apostle and so, time and time again Paul had to defend his apostleship.
When it comes to legalism and legalists, they always use the same tactics and very often they will deny God’s authority in order to promote their own authority. And if they can’t discredit the message we’re preaching, they will try and discredit us but when we’re preaching truth, no one can argue.
These Judaizers were questioning Paul and his apostleship and when they failed, they went on to try and discredit Paul the Christian. And so, Paul says, ‘listen, my message to you was not invented by men, I didn’t receive it from any man, and it wasn’t taught to him by men’.
In other words, the Gospel Paul preached wasn’t the invention of Paul or any man. It wasn’t the accumulated theology of men who put together their ideas to formulate religious teaching. And Paul says, contrary to what these Judaizing teachers were doing, Paul preached what was revealed to Him from God.
The true Gospel didn’t originate from the oral proclamation of myths and fables, doctrines and teachings of Jewish rabbis or storytellers. It was revealed from God to man through Jesus and the apostles.
The true Gospel came to Paul through a direct revelation from God. The word ‘revelation’ is the Greek word ‘apokalupsis’ and it means an ‘uncovering, a removal of the veil, a disclosure of what was previously unknown’.
In other words, the Gospel was previously unknown to Paul, until God unveiled it directly to him. And so, for Paul, this revelation ‘began’ by Jesus’ personal revelation to him on the road to Damascus and it continued as more truth was revealed to Paul, possibly while he was in Arabia.
Yes, the Galatian letter was written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but loved ones, it contains no new revelations to the Galatians.
The Galatians had been taught the revelation Paul had received concerning the truth of the Gospel. And through Paul, the Holy Spirit is now rebuking them not to forsake what they already know.
Paul’s former way of life, was a life in the Jewish religion and remember when the church was first established in Jerusalem and Judea, Paul’s way of life was to destroy the church, Acts 8:1-3. And so, Paul’s former way of life was something he wasn’t proud of, but with the Gospel comes power, the power to change lives.
And it was through divine intervention, that Paul’s former way of life changed. His sincerity and the Gospel took him from being the persecutor to becoming the persecuted. He understood that the power of the Gospel can change people’s lives, 1 Timothy 1:15.
By the time of the coming of Jesus and the establishment of the early church, the Jews had moved away from the true faith that was based on the law of the Old Testament.
With the addition of Jewish religious traditions, the Jews thought that their covenant relationship with God was based on the conditions that they had created after their own traditions.
And so, when the church was established, a new confrontation came on the scene. The confrontation was between those of the legal works-oriented religion of Judaism, and those who trusted in God through faith.
It was those of the Jewish religion who put Jesus on the cross and persecuted the Christians who had accepted the grace of God through faith.
The Jews of Judaism persecuted the Jews who were sons of God by faith. The Jews who were sons of God by faith were considered liberal by the Jews who were in the bondage of their own religious institutions.
Paul came from in terms of his Jewishness, Paul says he was advancing. He was excelling way beyond his peers in learning the religious customs and laws of the Jewish religion, Philippians 3:5-6.
Like many Jews of his time, he was fanatical about maintaining the purity of Judaism and his growth in this religious system, Acts 9:1-2. Not anyone could just walk in and see the high priest and ask for letters, Paul was respected enough to be able to speak to the people in authority.
In other words, when Paul is writing to these Galatians he’s telling them, ‘listen, I know what I’m talking about.’
In contrast to the two commands of Christ, to love God with everything you’ve got and love your neighbour as yourself. The Pharisees had developed a system of 613 laws, 365 negative commands and 248 positive laws. By the time Christ came, it had produced a heartless, cold, and arrogant brand of righteousness.
Accountability to God was replaced by accountability to men. These laws reduced a person’s ability to personally discern and it created a judgmental spirit. The Pharisees had confused personal preferences with divine law. Their law was full of inconsistencies and they created a false standard of righteousness.
It became a burden to the Jews and it was strictly external and Paul says, ‘I’ve been there, I’ve done that, I’ve got the graduation papers to prove it.’
But he also says, he repented of that way of life a long time ago. He repented from following a religion that had been formed after the traditions of men, a religion that assumed that obedience to the law in and of itself would justify a person before God.
Even though Paul worked hard, even though he was driven by the legal obedience of the law to get to where he was in Judaism. He says he works even harder now, not because he has to but because he’s driven by grace, 1 Corinthians 15:10.
And so, Paul says he now believed that before his birth, ‘God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles’.
In other words, Paul is saying my life has been transformed so much, that it could only happen by the fact that he had a divine encounter with the Lord Jesus. His conversion was the result of the direct hand of God and the change in Paul’s life wasn’t the result of his work. God knew what He was going to do with Paul before he was even born.
Remember that predestination isn’t God taking over man’s will, predestination is God determining certain things to occur ahead of time. When we read our Bible, we read about ‘predestination’, but it’s always in relation to works that God has prepared in advance.
Paul had a choice and he could have declined God’s plan but God never predestines anyone for salvation. And so, Paul says the Father specifically and uniquely revealed Jesus to Paul in order to call him to his apostleship for the Gentiles.
His call was the work of God, not man, it was by grace, not by Paul’s work, 2 Corinthians 4:6. Paul’s argument here was to confirm the divine origin of his message. He was not, like the Judaizing teachers, promoting a man-made system of religion that was invented and broadcasted by a group of teachers who demanded conformity to a system of belief.
Since God had directly revealed what he preached, he did not need to conform to the whims of those who sought to bind where God had not bound. And to prove his point, Paul says that he went to Arabia.
If Paul had confided immediately with those in Jerusalem, then there would be the accusation that he received his appointment from either the apostles or false brethren who were influential Judaizers in Jerusalem, Acts 9:22-23 / Galatians 2:4.
But the point is Paul was kept by God, from the influence of the Jewish-oriented church in Jerusalem by going to Arabia. He didn’t go to Jerusalem until three years after his conversion, during which time he was already preaching the Gospel of grace.
We aren’t told what part of Arabia he went to, or exactly why he went and we don’t know how long he stayed in the actual region of Arabia. It’s possible that he went there for personal solitude and consultation with God.
The point is that Paul wants the Galatian brethren to know that he isn’t proclaiming an invented religion after the traditions of men, as is the case with the former religion of Judaism that he promoted.
Paul isn’t promoting a Jewish influenced Christianity of Jerusalem, after his time of conversion, three years later, Paul goes to Jerusalem.
Paul’s purpose for going to Jerusalem wasn’t to be instructed in the truth of the Gospel. He went to become acquainted with Peter or Cephas as the NIV has it.
He visited Jerusalem for fifteen days and moved freely in the city, boldly preaching and disputing with the Hellenist Jews, Acts 9:28-29. The Hellenist Jews were converts among the Jews who had returned to Judea after having lived abroad in the Greek world, and still spoke Greek and had adopted Greek cultural elements.
Paul says whilst he was in Jerusalem, he saw no other apostles except the Lord’s physical brother James. And notice what Paul says here, he says, ‘what I am writing you is no lie.’
Paul wants to make it very clear that he wasn’t commissioned by the Christ-sent apostles or any other man, he was sent forth directly by God.
Paul wants the Galatians to clearly understand that what he has taught and what he was teaching didn’t originate from any influence from Jerusalem, Galatians 2:13-14. And he wants to stop the influence of those who are moving among the churches in an effort to destroy the young churches through their system of legalistic religion.
And so, when Paul returned to his homeland on this occasion, he certainly didn’t keep silent about what he had experienced during the three years in Damascus and Arabia. Some believe that he stayed in the area of Cilicia and Tarsus for five to seven years, but again we simply don’t know how long he stayed there.
But we do know that he went back to his home country in order to announce to friends and family the grace of God that had now been poured out on mankind from a cross outside Jerusalem. It may be that while Paul was in Cilicia he didn’t comprehend the extent of his commission to the Gentiles.
But whatever the reason, Barnabas went to get him and bring him to Antioch of Syria, Acts 11:25-26. Paul may have been unaware of the tremendous growth of the Gentile church in Antioch. And so, Barnabas took him to a church that reminded Paul of the great things God was doing among the Gentiles.
And it was from this church, Paul would be sent forth to the Gentile world, a mission he had received about ten years before in the city of Damascus.
Paul was well-known for his persecution against the Lord’s church but he wasn’t personally known by face to the members of the church in the area of Judea outside the city of Jerusalem.
And if anything, at least they now know that Paul is preaching ‘the faith’. He’s not just preaching any old kind of faith but ‘the faith’, Jude 3.
Here was a man who was going places in Judaism and had a great reputation as a Jew. Here was a man who was so misguidedly zealous for the Lord, to the point where he went all over the place to find Christians and persecute them.
He went from being a legalistic Jew to becoming a grace centred Christian. No wonder the brethren in Judea praised God for Paul.