Summary: Paul’s converts in Galatia were compromising the purity of the Gospel and their liberty in Christ so he tells them What we were under the Law, What God did in Jesus, What God has made us as sons and What we now should be.
Many of the letters written by Paul, the Apostle, were the results of controversy. His letter to the church at Galatia is no exception. The local believers were on the verge of being sidetracked from the truth of the Gospel. Paul had to do something about it. "Stay on course", he urged them. It reminds me of a story about Winston Churchill. He once gave a speech at Harrow School that lasted less than a minute but it drew a standing ovation. With his unforgettable, deep, gruff voice he said, "Never give up. Never, never give up! Never, never, never give up!" was all he had to say. Paul was similarly emphatic. The Galatian Christians had received the truth of the Gospel - on no account must they give it up.
The problem was that the transition from Judaism to Christianity was a slow process with some of the early Jewish believers in Jesus. Those who had been steeped in the Jewish religion for many years found it hard to shake off some of its teaching and traditions, even though they had believed in Jesus as their Messiah, their Saviour. Some of the Pharisees who had been converted taught that before a Gentile could become a Christian he must first become a Jew by undertaking to observe the Law of Moses.
Unfortunately these people weren’t content to hold their erroneous views privately, but went around inflicting their opinions on unsuspecting churches. These Judaizers, as they were called, had gone to the Ga1atia, a city in what is now modern Turkey, with their unsettling teaching and had thrown the little worshipping community into turmoil. What should they believe? Was it really the case that some 1aw keeping, at least, was necessary for salvation? How did one become a Christian? By faith in Christ and by obedience to the law?
When Paul heard of the crisis in the Galatian church caused by the Judaizers he wouldn’t have been surprised for they had dogged his steps all his life. But he was deeply disturbed in his spirit that the Christians should be in danger of compromising the purity of the Gospel and being led away from the liberty they had gained through faith in Christ. It’s no wonder then, that Paul writes so passionately. His soul is at white heat as he deals with the burning issue at questions at issue: What is the genuine Gospel? What is the relationship between Law of God and the Lord Jesus Christ? Of course we’re now two millennia on from those days - the details of the questions are different but the principles remain: What is the genuine Gospel?
It’s most important that we should have a close understanding of the points raised, as it will indicate if the foundations of our faith are secure. Many false cults have gained converts because people weren’t sure of their faith. Paul was saddened to see how quickly his converts could be turned aside from the truth. He called them deserters! Paul longed to re-establish them in the truth. To do this he had to go back to first principles. Let’s include ourselves in his analysis, for he is dealing with the biography of "everyman", at least every Christian. In the first place, he tells us:
WHAT WE WERE: SUBJECTS OF THE LAW
The Law that Paul writes of to the Galatian Christians is that which was given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, summarised in the Ten Commandments. It affected every part of the people’s life. We may well ask: what was the purpose of the Law? It wasn’t to bring salvation. Paul declared "it was added because of transgressions" (3:19). The Law’s main work was to expose sin. It was intended to make plain that sin was a revolt against the authority of God. It acted like a prosecutor at a trial exposing wrongdoing of the person in the dock. When we compare ourselves with the righteousness demanded by the Law, who can honestly say they’ve kept the Ten Commandments? The Law, of course, is part of God’s design, for unless we realise we need to be saved from sin, we should have no desire for salvation.
Paul uses an interesting illustration to explain the purpose
of the Law. He says the Law kept men shut up in prison, so bringing home to them a sense of guilt and the power of sin. The Law was like a prison guard keeping us confined (3:23). Rather like the Berlin Wall kept people in the communist sector from escaping to the West. And then the Apostle gives another illustration, saying that the law was a kind of tutor. In Paul’s day the tutor or guardian of boys would be a trusted slave whose job it was to take the children of the family to and from school. He had the supervision of them and was often a stern disciplinarian. Like the children’s tutor, the Law rebukes us, but it’s for our benefit as it prepared the way for Christ. The Law shows the will of God, telling us what to do and what not to do, and warns us of the penalties of disobedience. We can thank God for the Law for, although it shows us as under its just condemnation, it points us clearly to Christ who can free us from its prison and the discipline of the tutors.