The Apostle Paul authors this Epistle
Our Text – Galatians 1:1-10
Epistle Theme – Salvation by Grace
Key verse Galatians 1:8, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that, which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed”.
New and improved and preferred by three out of four doctors surveyed! We will not be undersold! Motor Trend’s car of the year! Every day, advertisements bombard us with claims that their products are better than the ones we have been using. Advertisers spend a great deal of money to develop commercials to get us to try new and better products. A new product may be better than the old, but occasionally we are better off staying with the original one. If you watch the Food Network’s program “Unwrapped” many of the ingredients for a certain product hasn’t been changed since the product was created and introduced, going back over 100 years. This epistle is addressed to a group of churches in Galatia, located in the center of what is now as Asia Minor. The apostle Paul is quiet disturbed that the Galatians had been seduced (Galatians 3:1) from their faith in Christ through a perversion of the gospel (Galatians 1:7). They had been told that faith in Christ alone wasn’t enough for salvation, and that works was also necessary for salvation. He writes to turn them back to a pure faith in Christ alone for salvation. Paul reveals that trusting in anything other than Christ alone for salvation voids the death of Christ (Galatians 2:21). Throughout the book of Galatians please keep in mind these three important questions:
(1) What was Paul’s message to the Galatians?
(2) What key principles did he want to teach?
(3) How do those principles apply to your life today?
As you answer these questions, the book of Galatians’ will assuredly come alive for you. You will learn that God gives grace so you can live freely and to share with others His message of grace. Throughout our history, religious people have devised all sorts of ways of trying to please a Holy God apart from trusting in His Son, Jesus Christ, for salvation. The book of Galatians deals with adding works to our salvation. However, the Bible tells us, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Thus, the Scriptures emphatically teach only one road leads to Heaven and that avenue is through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
Have you ever been stopped by someone wanting directions to a certain place because they had made a wrong turn and essentially was lost? Maybe you had to stop while on vacation and ask for directions to the restaurant where you had a reservation for dinner or maybe an appointment for a job interview. If the person gave you the wrong directions, you would still be lost and wouldn’t be able to find your way to where you were going. Can you imagine anything worse than giving the wrong directions to the driver of a rescue squad, fire truck or ambulance? I want you to take hold of and digest this sobering illustration … unlike today there was a time in our nation’s history when people took trains instead of airplanes when they traveled. A severe blizzard was raging over the eastern part of the United States, making it more and more difficult for the train to continue on to its destination. Among the passengers on this train was a woman with a small child. She was unfamiliar with the area, and very concerned that she might not get off at the right station. A man sitting near her sensed her anxiety and asked her if she was okay. She told him of her concern and he assured her that he had ridden the train often and was very familiar with the route. He told her he would tell her when they were coming to her station. After some time, the train made a stop. The man told the woman that the next stop would be hers. The train went on, and in a few minutes, the train stopped again. The man turned to the woman and said, “This is your stop ma’am!” The woman got up quickly, put the hat on her young child, scooped him up in her arms and walked off the train into the storm. Then, to the man’s surprise, the conductor came in to the car as the train was stopping and announced the station where the woman was supposed to get off. The startled man said, “You’ve already stopped at this station!” “No, sir,” said the conductor. “Something was wrong with the engine and we stopped a few moments to make repairs.” “That can’t be,” cried the passenger. “I told the woman with the young child that it was her stop and she got off between stations.” The police were notified and when the blizzard finally stopped, they found the woman with a child clutched in her arms, frozen to death.
The women and child lost their life because she followed the directions of a man who knew for certain at what station she was to get off the train. My friend, there is something much worse happening today, and that is giving individuals the wrong directions for entrance into Heaven. There is a multitude of differing voices that are offering false and misleading information in the spiritual realm, especially the matter of heaven and how one gets there. If you were to asked people today, you would be told there are many roads that lead to heaven. Moreover, the Word of God is the only place where you can find the right answer, and His Word points us to Jesus Christ as the only way to Heaven. “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6). To believe there is another way, or many other ways to Heaven, is following the wrong directions, and therefore will have eternal consequences. The apostle Paul was addressing this very problem with the Galatians as they were being told they also needed works. I’m reminded of the question the Philippian jailer asked in Acts 16:30, Sir’s, what must I do to be saved? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved …” (Acts 16:31). The answer wasn’t believe on Jesus Christ and your works, just believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.
Paul’s Greeting to the Galatians (Galatians 1:1-5)
Instead of taking the time to dictate this letter to a secretary, the apostle Paul wrote the book of Galatians by his own hand as recorded in Galatians 6:11, “Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand”. It’s very likely he was preparing to leave for the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) when he heard a disappointing report concerning the churches in Galatia. Since he couldn’t go to Galatia to deal with the problem, he did the next best thing, he wrote to the Galatian churches. Paul and Barnabas had founded the churches in Galatia (Acts 14). Later Paul returned to the region with Silas to strengthen and encourage the believers there (Acts 16:1-8). He couldn’t ignore the report that they were detouring into disaster. He understood that the spread of legalism would destroy the churches if he failed to oppose it.
Galatians 1:1, 2, “Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;) 2 and all the brethren, which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia”.
His credentials … The Epistle to the Galatians begins in the typical way that ancient letters were normally introduced. The name of the sender was identified first, followed by the naming of the recipients. Here we learn that “Paul,” a name meaning small or little, was the author of the letter. Note that Paul identified himself as an “apostle,” one sent out as an authoritative representative of another. This was one of his favorite self-designations (the other being “bond slave”), and occurs in eight of the twelve epistles where Paul is indicated as the author. Here, Paul used the term “apostle” to link himself to the Twelve in terms of both his divine commission and God-given authority. Note how the source and authority of his apostleship is clearly expressed in the phrase “not of men, neither by men” (v. 1).
This means that Paul wasn’t appointed or commissioned by any person or church body but, rather, he was called as an apostle “through Jesus Christ and God the Father.” Thus, on the positive side, Paul declared that his calling as a representative of Christ and the gospel came directly through Jesus Christ, the One who is none other than God Himself. This certainly brings to mind his dramatic conversion on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:1-19), and his subsequent consecration as the divinely chosen instrument to bear the name of Jesus to the Gentile world (Acts 9:15). The phrase “who raised Him from the dead” sets forth the central affirmation of the gospel which Paul preached, and also communicates to the readers that his apostleship was based upon the very same criteria as was the original Twelve, that he had been an eyewitness to the resurrected Christ.
His recipients … are identified in verse 2 and are addressed to those believers who were in the “churches of Galatia.” This statement provides evidence that the letter was intended to circulate among the various congregations of believers scattered throughout Galatia. There may have been at least four such churches that Paul had in mind. These were located in the cities of Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. The word translated “churches” basically means an assembly of those who have been called out by God. It can refer both to a local congregation, as here, and also to “the whole company of the redeemed of all ages and places”.
Galatians 1:3, “Grace [be] to you and peace from God the Father, and [from] our Lord Jesus Christ” 4 Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: 5 To whom be glory forever and ever. Amen”.
His message … even in his opening greeting, Paul introduced his theme; the gospel declares salvation by grace (v. 3). In these three verses, we have Paul’s greeting which, in his typically warm and personal way, expressed an initial blessing or prayer request for the church. Greek speaking people typically used the word “grace” when they began letters or met a friend. “Peace” was the customary greeting in the Hebrew language. These two words took on a much deeper significance in the New Testament. “Grace” refers to God’s free, underserved kindness toward sinners. It points especially to the salvation that God provides through Jesus Christ for those who trust in Him. “Peace” identifies a state of well-being or wholeness, a restored relationship. Sin produced a state of hostility between the holy God and an unholy human race. However, Jesus died in our place, enduring God’s wrath against sin. Because Jesus shed His blood for our sins, we can have peace with God. “Peace,” from the Hebrew term shalom, represents the state of being that exists in the heart of one who has come to know God’s grace in Jesus Christ. It is a profound sense of well-being and security that resides in those who have been brought into a right relationship with God. Note the tight connection between these two Christian blessings and “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 3). This indicates that, for Paul, grace and peace were never thought of as impersonal concepts. Each is closely related to the person and ministry of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity. It also demonstrates that grace and peace are found uniquely in Christ. Such blessings are available nowhere else in the entire universe.
Galatians 1:4, “Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father … In this verse the apostle Paul offered three facts about this good news”
First, Christ “gave himself for our sins.” We all have a sin nature from the time of conception. In addition, we all repeatedly commit acts of sin, because we choose to break God’s laws. As sinners, we deserve God’s penalty for sin, which is death (Romans 6:23), eternal separation from God and His goodness. Paul further described the gracious work of Christ. He alone is the One who, in an act of substitutionary atonement, “gave Himself for our sins.” Here, then, is the heart of the Christian gospel, that the death and resurrection of the Son of God would satisfy the justice of God the Father and result in the salvation of all those who trust in Him. This phrase also serves to highlight that it was our “sins” that put the Lord on the cross. The gospel then, is about God saving those sinners who are thoroughly unrighteous and deserving only of divine wrath.
Second, Paul stated that the purpose of Christ’s substitutionary death was “that he might deliver us from this present evil world or age” (v. 4). The bible speaks of the present age as a period in which Satan blankets the minds of people in spiritual darkness (2 Corinthians 4:4) and exercises control over their lives (1 John 5:19). Christians, therefore, are not under the domination of sin, as they were before salvation. Christ has rescued us from spiritual bondage. Yet, not only did Christ come to die for our sins, according to Paul, He appeared in order that He might “deliver us out of this present evil age” (v. 4). In other words, Christ’s death transferred us from one domain, that of Satan, sin, death, and depravity, to another, that of freedom and holiness in the fear and love of God (Colossians 1:13-14). Having once been enslaved to sin and living under God’s curse, those who are in Christ are now free indeed!
Third, this deliverance was “according to the will of God and our Father.” Paul didn’t invent the gospel of grace; God did. It was God’s purpose from eternity past to save sinners. Therefore, Paul exclaimed that God deserves glory forever and ever (vs. 4, 5). According to this verse, all of this has occurred “according to the will of God our Father.” That is, our salvation is due to the gracious purposes and “will” of God that is being worked out to perfection upon the stage of human history. God’s eternal purpose in salvation, then, was motivated by His infinite love and the pure pleasure of His own will to redeem sinners from death (Ephesians 1:1-12). He was under no obligation to do so since justice demanded that all sinners should be condemned to hell. However, to the glory and praise of His infinite mercy, He has chosen to save sinners in Christ! Another way of looking at this is to realize that “God loves us not because Jesus died for us; rather Jesus died for us because of the Father’s eternal and unconquerable love for us”.
Paul’s Concern for the Galatians (Galatians 1:6-10)
In all of his other letters, Paul opened those letters with thanksgiving, prayer, and praise for the saints within his salutation, such as found in: (1) 1 Corinthians 1:1-5, “Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, (2) To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: (3) Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (4) I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, (5) that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge”; (2) Philippians 1:1, “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: (2) Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (3) I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, (4) always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, (5) because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now;
Galatians 1:6, 7, ” I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: 7 which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ”
The following story has been told about a married couple. The husband was working in his garage and was the kind of person who didn’t like to be interrupted while engaged in a project. Knowing this, his wife walked into the garage and stood quietly at his side for several minutes, waiting for the proper time to speak. At last her husband looked up; the signal that she was free to say what was on her mind. Very calmly, and without a trace of panic, she said, “The house is on fire.” There definitely is a time to forsake the customary, polite, social graces and bluntly state the problem. The burning house was a time for immediate communication. Likewise, the departure of the churches of Galatia from the teaching of Paul and from the gospel of God’s grace was the time for the sounding of the alarm. Paul had little time to waste in polite introductions, for the problem facing these churches could have had devastating results.
Problem of false teaching … In this letter to the Galatians, Paul dispenses with his polite introductions after only one sentence (vv. 1-5), and quickly delivers a stinging curse against anyone who would dare preach another gospel than what he had preached (vv. 8-9). Paul immediately confronted the major problem facing the churches of Galatia. He was literally “amazed” that, due to the influence of the Judaizers and their false doctrine, the members of the body of Christ had turned from the marvelous truth of the gospel of salvation by “grace.” Note that Paul insinuated very strongly that in accepting a “different gospel,” one that essentially involves saving oneself by means of law keeping, the Galatian Christians actually disserted God Himself, the very One who “called” them “by the grace of Christ.”
This, no doubt, shocked the Galatians and thus held their attention throughout the rest of the letter. Paul placed the responsibility for the Galatians’ desertion on the Galatians themselves, even though false teachers had lured them away from the gospel, the Galatians had turned away from God, Who had called them to salvation in Jesus Christ. Because they had continued to listen to false teaching, they had abandoned the true gospel. In place of the good news of grace, they had turned to a different kind of “gospel.” The false teachers may have called their teaching the gospel, but Paul charged that it was no gospel at all. Distorting the gospel implies a perversion or a twisting of its truth and content. It is the slight manipulation of gospel truth to give it more of a man-centeredness rather than a God-centeredness. It subtly moves the inquirer away from Christ alone, grace alone, and faith alone, into a dependence upon the flesh or techniques or an organization or another person. It may well have been that these false teachers, who likely claimed to be missionaries as Paul, agreed with everything that Paul had preached, but they added what they considered he had left out. This is where the words and terms we use are important in defining precisely what is and what is not the gospel.
The apostle’s emphasis in verse 6 and 7 on “the grace of Christ” and “the gospel of Christ” stresses the fact that our salvation is in Christ alone. It is not in the church, nor our baptism, nor our own works of righteousness. It is not Christ plus something else that saves you, as some would teach. It is not Christ plus your merits, nor Christ plus your penance, nor Christ plus your service nor Christ plus the Church that saves you. If you are trusting in Christ plus anything, then you have missed the gospel. You have staked your eternity upon that which cannot save, for as soon as you add anything to the sufficiency of Jesus Christ alone and faith in Him for your salvation, you have embraced a false gospel. The emphasis of the gospel is never upon what we do, but upon what Christ has done on our behalf. The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ died on behalf of sinners. His death was substitutionary. His death atoned for our sins. His death satisfied the justice of God so that we can be justly declared righteous in God’s sight. His resurrection confirmed that the penalty due to each of us for our sin was sufficiently paid and that now this resurrection power operates in us who believe, bringing us to life through Jesus Christ.
Galatians 1:8, 9, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that, which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. 9 As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed”
The Issue… It is clear that Paul would not tolerate this false teaching in the church. If you tolerate false teaching about the gospel, you are actually deserting Christ himself. This is no small issue. It’s either salvation by Christ alone or there is no salvation at all. God doesn’t have a “Plan B” for those who don’t want to be saved by faith alone in Christ alone. These are some of the strongest words in the New Testament. The key phrase is “let him be eternally condemned.” Some translations say “accursed.” It basically means to reject something completely and to condemn it to destruction. Here Paul declares that anyone (himself included) who preaches any other gospel than the gospel of free grace should be eternally condemned.
Galatians 1:10, “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ”
The Motive… the apostle Paul continued his counter attack on these false teachers in this verse by asking, in effect, “Who am I trying to please?” There were only two alternatives: he could seek to please people or God. If he had been trying to please people, he certainly would not have written as harshly as he had in the previous verse. Paul’s claim to please God rather than people was not a self-righteous boast. When he wrote, “If I yet pleased men,” he as much as admitted that before becoming a Christian, he had tried to impress others. The Judaizers were messengers of another gospel that changed God’s truth to please people. Therefore, they did not serve the Lord; they served their own interests.
The apostle Paul wrote as he did because he cared deeply for the eternal welfare of his new converts. He cared so much that he dared to tell them the hard truth about the Judaizers and their false gospel. Paul warned the Galatians not to dilute the gospel to make it appealing to people. It would have been easier to overlook it or to issue a mild warning. But he didn’t take the easy way out. He risked everything, including their friendship, in order to save them from destruction. Because he cared more for the approval of God than of men, he spoke the truth. We should all be as bold as he was to speak the truth today. No one can improve the gospel, because it is a perfect message, having originated with God. It points sinners to Christ, magnifies the grace of God, and causes Christians to glorify their Heavenly Father. Below are four truths that we need to consider every day:
(1) Even well-taught Christians may unwittingly follow false doctrine. You may be deceived even though you are well taught and well grounded. Take nothing for granted, because Satan disguises himself as an angel of light for that very purpose. Be on guard for your friends and for those new believers around you. If Paul’s converts could be seduced, the same thing could certainly happen to those folks you lead to Christ.
(2) Standing for the truth demands that we expose error when major issues are at stake. However, every issue isn’t a major one. Certainly, we can have fellowship with believers from different backgrounds and denominations. And whether or not you use Power Point to put the words to the hymns on a big screen, that isn’t a “great issue.” It’s not even a biblical issue. It is purely a matter of personal preference. Ditto for a thousand things, we like to argue about. But there are some “great issues” that go to the heart of our Christian faith. And none is more fundamental than the doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. When that doctrine is denied or challenged or when it is watered down, it’s time to march and defend this major doctrine. I don’t believe in splitting churches, but here is a reason to split a church, or to leave a church. If the church isn’t straight on the gospel, whatever else they are straight on doesn’t really matter.
(3) Not everyone who claims to be a Christian is telling the truth. This is an obvious truth that perhaps needs to be repeated in our day. Jesus warned about people who work miracles and claim to be his followers, but in the Day of Judgment he will declare, “Depart from me, you workers of iniquity. I never knew you” (see Matthew 7:21-23). Lest we take that too lightly, ponder the thought that those words might one day be directed at you personally. Make your own calling and election sure. Before you point the finger, make sure you are not among those who claim to be something they are not.
(4) God still pronounces a curse on anyone who adds anything to the simplicity of the gospel of free grace in Jesus Christ. Again, this is not a popular statement but it is exactly what Paul is teaching. Anyone who preaches any other gospel than the gospel of the New Testament is under a curse from God. That’s not a good place to be. There is only one gospel, one Savior, one way of salvation, and that is through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
Where does all of this leave us? One thing is clear in the letter to the Galatians. Your relationship to Jesus Christ makes all the difference in the world. Ultimately, nothing else will matter. We must run to the cross as our only hope of salvation. Perhaps I can press home the issue this way. God is satisfied with what his Son did on the cross. Are you satisfied with what Jesus did? Is Jesus enough for you? Or do you think you need to add something of your own to what he accomplished in his death and resurrection? All over the world devout, well-meaning people … rich, poor, and in-between, struggle to understand that Jesus paid it all. Convinced that they have to do something to earn God’s favor, they attempt to pay for salvation as best they can. We need to understand that when God gave His Son Jesus as a sacrifice, the bill for our sin was paid. For us to try to pay for God’s gift is insulting to Him. Genuine trust is believing that God has already taken care of the payment. We don’t need to buy something that has already been purchased with Jesus’ death on the cross. If we could earn our salvation, Christ would not have died to provide it. Thank God for this “emergency letter” to the Galatians. It reveals the heart of the gospel and calls us to be faithful to the truth revealed in the New Testament. And thank God that the “finished work” of Christ is truly finished. Let us join together with true believers everywhere in declaring the free grace of God. This is the message the world needs to hear. May God deliver us from the fear of man? Never be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Preach it, believe it, and tell it to someone else this week.