Summary: In this brief greeting to the Galatians Paul summarizes his authority and his gospel.
Throughout human history, every person at some time or another has wrestled with the basic question of the human heart: “How can I find true happiness? How can I obtain peace, tranquility, and freedom from fear?”
Many solutions have been suggested. These include religion, rigorous asceticism, the affliction of the body, good works, etc. But every solution suggested by mankind has failed to discover the answer. Why? Because in his own strength and by his own wisdom man is totally incapable of discovering the answer. Only God, the One who created us, can supply the answer to the question.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians is God’s answer to the basic question of the human heart: “How can I find true happiness? How can I obtain peace, tranquility, and freedom from fear?”
True happiness is found only in a right relationship with God. Peace, tranquility, and freedom from fear can only be obtained from God in the person of Jesus Christ.
This is Paul’s message to the Galatians. This is the good news—the gospel—that brings true happiness, peace, tranquility, and freedom from fear to every human heart. But, as is common in every era of history, the message of true happiness, peace, tranquility, and freedom was being distorted by false teachers in the Galatian churches. And that is the reason why Paul wrote this letter.
Let us now read Galatians 1:1-5:
"Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers with me,
"To the churches in Galatia:
"Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen" (Galatians 1:1-5).
Paul’s letter to the Galatians is a bomb! It is dynamite! Perhaps no piece of literature in the history of Western civilization has been as profoundly influential as Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
In the late 1730s a small group of men literally changed the face of Western civilization. Led by John and Charles Wesley, hundreds of thousands of people became Christians. This happened on both sides of the Atlantic, in America as well as in Britain. It was a tremendous movement of God, sometimes known as the Great Awakening. Initially these men were seekers; they were not yet Christians themselves. One of them was a man named William Holland. He records in his diary that on May 17, 1738, he was “providentially directed to Martin Luther’s Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians.” He continues:
"I carried it round to Mr. Charles Wesley, who was sick at Mr. Bray’s, as a very precious treasure that I had found, and we three sat down together, Mr. Charles Wesley reading the Preface aloud. At the words, ’What, have we then nothing to do? No, nothing! but only accept of Him who of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption,’ there came such a power over me as I cannot well describe; my great burden fell off in an instant; my heart was so filled with peace and love that I burst into tears. . . . My companions, perceiving me so affected, fell on their knees and prayed. When I afterwards went into the street, I could scarcely feel the ground I trod upon."
A few days later Charles Wesley became a Christian. And then a few days after that John Wesley became a Christian. The result was an incredible impact upon the world. And it all started because of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
Let’s review the background to Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
Paul and Barnabas were commissioned by the church in Antioch (in Syria) to go on a missionary journey to plant churches (cf. Acts 13, 14). Traveling via Cyprus they sailed to Perga (in Pamphylia). From Perga they went on to Antioch (in Pisidia), Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, where Paul preached in each of those towns.
In these communities, Paul preached that true happiness, peace, tranquility, and freedom from fear is a free gift given by God to sinners who put their faith in Jesus Christ. This gift is never achieved by any amount of conformity to rules and regulations, even God-given regulations.
Paul’s message was well received. These former pagans (4:8) believed Paul’s message (3:1), were baptized (3:27), and received the Holy Spirit, who began working miracles among them (3:5). After some time, churches were established, and Paul and Barnabas returned to their home church in Syrian Antioch.
While Paul was in Syrian Antioch, some Jewish teachers traveled from Jerusalem to the churches Paul had established in Galatia. They said that Paul was wrong in his understanding of the gospel and that they had come to give the Galatians the full gospel (1:7). They began teaching that the Gentiles had to conform to the Law of Moses. And they also taught that Gentiles had to be circumcised. Apparently the Galatians believed the false teachers (also known as Judaizers) and started departing from the gospel that Paul had preached to them (1:6).