Summary: Grace is not about what we do for God; it is about what God has done for us.
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INTRODUCTION TO GALATIANS
• AUTHOR: PAUL the apostle.
• RECIPIENTS: Probably churches in southern GALATIA (present-day Turkey) that Paul founded on his first missionary journey (Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe; cf. Acts 13-14). The letter to the churches in Galatia was a circular letter (passed on from church to church). It is the only letter written by Paul that does not contain some form of praise for his readers. This fact reveals his displeasure with the Galatians.
• PROBLEM: False teachers (Judaizers) were promoting a FAITH plus WORKS gospel. They were saying that Gentile believers had to be circumcised.
Do the math: (1) FAITH + WORKS = SALVATION (wrong); (2) FAITH – WORKS = SALVATION (right); (3) FAITH = SALVATION + WORKS (right). We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.
Paul referred to the Judaizers as “agitators” (5:12), said they were “throwing [the Galatians] into confusion” (1:7; 5:10), and called their teaching a “perversion” (twisting) of the gospel (1:7).
The Judaizers attacked Paul’s gospel on three fronts. They argued that Paul’s gospel was (1) a gospel of compromise (they said Paul watered down his message to make it more appealing to the Gentiles), (2) a gospel of immorality (they claimed Paul’s message of grace was a license to sin), and (3) a gospel without authority (they denied Paul’s apostleship).
“In the decade or so surrounding the year A.D. 50, the infant church was drifting … toward its first great doctrinal crisis. When the gospel was being preached primarily to Jews by Jews, the development of the church progressed smoothly. But as the ambassadors of Christ pushed out into largely Gentile communities and the gospel began to take root there, questions arose regarding a Christian’s relationship to the law of Moses and to Judaism as a system.” (James Montgomery Boice, “Galatians,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 409)
“Paul feared the creation of two denominations: Jewish Christianity and Gentile Christianity.” (Scot McKnight, Galatians, p. 33)
• PURPOSE: To show that justification is by GRACE through FAITH in Jesus Christ.
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling.
It was the rediscovery of the book of Galatians that sparked the Protestant Reformation. Two of the mottos of the Reformation were sola gratia, which means “by grace alone” and sola fide, which means “by faith alone.”
WHO WAS PAUL?
Other than Jesus Himself, no one was more influential in first-century Christianity than Paul.
• A former PERSECUTOR
For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it (1:13).
He was born around the same time as Jesus in the city of Tarsus (not far from Galatia). He was brought up in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3).
Paul’s Jewish name was “Saul.” He belonged to the tribe of Benjamin (Philippians 3:5) and was probably named after the tribe’s most famous member: Saul, the first king of Israel.
Paul was present at the stoning of Stephen.“When the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him” (Acts 22:20; cf. 8:1). After Stephen’s death, “Saul [Paul] began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison” (8:3).
• A former PHARISEE
He had been a student of Gamaliel, the most honored rabbi of the first century (Acts 22:3).
He was a “future star” in Judaism (like Cal Ripken was a “future star” in MLB; see his 1982 Topps “Future Stars” card).
But he was converted on his way to Damascus (Acts 9:1-6). The church’s worst enemy had become a Christian!
• An APOSTLE sent by Jesus Christ to preach the gospel to the Gentiles
Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by men, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers with me (1:1-2a).
An “apostle” is “one who is sent on a mission.” “Apostle” can be used of (1) those sent out on a mission by a church (example: Barnabas; Acts 13:3; 14:14) or (2) those sent out directly by Jesus (the Twelve; Mark 16:15).
The Judaizers argued that Paul was not on the same level as the Twelve. They argued that Peter and the others had been commissioned directly by Jesus, but Paul had not (attack the messenger). But Paul begins by declaring that he was not sent “from men nor by men, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father.” Like the Twelve, he had received a divine commission.