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Galatians is a letter written by the apostle Paul to the churches in Galatia that Paul founded on his first missionary journey. Paul had received a special commission by Christ to preach the gospel to the Gentiles.
“Justification,” “law,” and “grace” are important words in Galatians.
• Justification – God’s declaration that a person is INNOCENT of sin.
• Law – God’s COMMANDS.
• Grace – God’s UNDESERVED kindness.
GRACE VS. LAW
Are we justified by law or by grace?
• Justification is not a REWARD earned by OBEDIENCE.
All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law” (3:10).
Those who believe they can be justified by obedience to the law miscalculate the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man.
• Justification is a GIFT received by FAITH.
Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith” (3:11).
Biblical Christianity is unique among all of the world’s religions because it teaches grace (very different from karma in Hinduism). No other religion teaches that justification is given to the undeserving.
THE PROBLEM IN GALATIA
Why did Paul write the letter to the Galatians?
• False teachers were claiming that justification is by faith PLUS WORKS.
• Paul wrote to explain that justification is by faith ALONE.
Paul presents two convictions we should have about the gospel of Jesus Christ.
1. There is ONLY ONE gospel!
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all (vv.6-7a).
Paul doesn’t beat around the bush. He gets straight to the point. He says, “I am astonished.” He’s amazed, shocked, stunned. Why? Because (1) the Galatians are “so quickly deserting the one who called [them].” Who was that? God! “Deserting” is a military term used for traitors. And (2) they are “turning to a different gospel” —not a gospel of grace, but a gospel of grace mixed with law.
“Deserting” is in the present tense, which tells us that the Galatians were in the process of turning from God’s grace, but there was still a chance they could be stopped. This is why Paul begins this letter with such urgency.
Paul is possibly suggesting “a correlation between his converts’ impending apostasy and Israel’s defections (1) in the case of the golden calf (cf. Exodus 32:8 LXX, ‘They have turned quickly from the way that you commanded them’) and (2) during the period of the judges (cf. Judges 2:17 LXX, ‘They would not listen to their judges because they prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them and made the Lord angry. And they fled quickly from the way in which their fathers had walked’). Particularly suggestive are these parallels when it is remembered that ‘the Way’ was the earliest designation of those who believed in Jesus (cf. Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). (Richard N. Longenecker, Galatians, p. 14)
The NKJV says the Galatians were turning “to a different gospel, which is not another.” The Greek word for “different” is heteros, which means “another of a different kind.” The Greek word for “another” is allos, which means “another of the same kind.”
ILLUSTRATION: When I was a kid, I hated onions. (I’m still not a big fan.) For some reason onions in a McDonald’s hamburger were OK, but a tiny piece of onion in a meatball rendered that meatball inedible. Onions could turn a good meal into a bad meal.
The word “gospel” means “good news.” When a little law is mixed with grace, the message is no longer good news; it’s bad news. Why? Because (1) the cross is no longer sufficient, and (2) justification becomes somewhat dependant on us (always a bad thing).
To CHANGE the gospel is to create a FALSE gospel.
Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ (v. 7b).
The false teachers (Judaizers) were (1) confusing the Galatians and (2) perverting the gospel.
The Greek word for “pervert” (metastrepho) means “to turn upside down.” This word is found only two other times in the NT: “the sun will be turned to darkness” (Acts 2:20); “change your laughter to mourning” (James 4:9). Paul is saying that the Judaizers have changed the gospel into something totally different. Probably many of the Judaizers were sincere, but they were sincerely wrong.
Two implications: (1) We need to be very clear on what the gospel really is. The most effective way to detect error is to know the truth. (Be on guard because many false teachers use our terminology but mean something very different.) (2) pluralism is wrong. Pluralism is the belief that all religions are equally valid (different paths, same destination).
2. There is nothing more IMPORTANT than the gospel!
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! (vv. 8-9).
How important is the gospel to Paul? It’s so important to him that he says preaching a false gospel should result in a person being “eternally condemned”! Verse 8 addresses an unlikely scenario (“even if we or an angel”); verse 9 addresses the current situation in the churches of Galatia.
The Greek word for “eternally condemned” is anathema. The KJV translates anathema as “accursed.” It means “doomed to destruction.” Paul uses this word in Romans 9:3: “I could wish that I myself were cursed [anathema] and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race.”
To put it bluntly, Paul is saying, “If anybody is preaching to you a false gospel, let him be damned,” or, “Let him go to hell.” This is not something Paul can tolerate. Nor should we! (Notice that Paul includes himself: “even if we.”)
Why does Paul use such strong (unloving?) language? Because he understood that souls were at stake.
ILLUSTRATION: Imagine you are in an airport and you overhear someone talking about blowing up an airplane. What would you do? Would you remain quiet and let people believe they were safe? Should we be quiet and let people trust in a false gospel?
Paul calls the Judaizers “false brothers” in 2:4. They were teaching their false gospel inside the church.
The church’s greatest danger is not the ANTI-gospel OUTSIDE the church; it is the COUNTERFEIT gospel INSIDE the church.
SERVANTS OF CHRIST
Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ (v. 10).
We must share the gospel, whether it is POPULAR or not.
The Judaizers were claiming that Paul only presented half a gospel, purposely trimming his message in order to gain a more favorable response. Paul denies this. The gospel is more important than the “approval of men.”
The gospel often offends people. It confronts us with our sinfulness and our need of a Savior.
However, Paul is not saying that his goal is to displease people. Actually, he tried to please people as much as he could. In his first letter to the Corinthians he writes, “I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved” (10:33).
Is this a contradiction of verse 10? No. Paul did not want to do anything to hinder people from accepting the gospel, so he presented the gospel in a pleasing way. (Not only is the gospel important, but its acceptance is also important!) But he would not do this to the point of changing the message.