Summary: Introduction to Galatians
Standing in the Freedom of the Gospel:
Introduction and Overview
Introduction to Galatians
Galatians is unique among Paul’s epistles. His normal greeting is abrupt, with no prayer or thanksgiving for the evidences of grace, or some other prayer (see Eph 1; Col 1; and Phil 1). He is deeply grieved and disturbed about the heresy among the Galatian churches. So he immediately starts denouncing the churches because they have deserted not just the gospel but God who called them in the grace of Christ (1:6). The he goes after the false teachers who have distorted the gospel of grace and are leading the churches away from God’s grace. These false teachers are called Judaizers and what they taught is most succinctly described in Acts 15:1, 5. The Judaizers were requiring Gentiles converts to adhere to what Paul calls ‘works of the law,’ becoming circumcised, observing the Sabbath and other days on the Jewish calendar. It was, in essence, taking on a Jewish identity but we will see that adding anything to the gospel perverts it and nullifies grace.
1. Paul defends his Apostleship (vs. 1-2; chapters 1-2)
Paul begins this letter by defending his apostleship because these Judaizers had told the churches that Paul’s gospel came from other apostles, that he is a Johnny come lately, had no special authority and that he was catering to the Gentiles, to win converts. The word apostle has two basic meanings in the New Testament. In a broad sense it is used of someone sent as a representative of the church, often translated as messenger (Phil 2:35; 2 Cor 8:23). The word is also used in a narrow sense of the office of apostle describing the twelve apostles sent out by Christ himself. The twelve had a special relationship with Christ and were sent out by him personally to speak on his behalf and with his authority 1 Cor 1:9; Luke 6:13-16). This narrow sense is the way Paul is using the word. His call is not from men but from God the Father; it is not through men but through Jesus Christ. Therefore he speaks and writes on behalf of and carries the authority of Christ so that his words are the very words of God, not the words of a man. It is authoritative; it is why we have it in the bible. Paul also makes it clear that this gospel is not just some subjective word from God but is affirmed by the brothers who are with him and whom the Galatians know (see 1:8b). He has defended his apostleship and he now moves to defending his gospel.
2. Paul Defends the Gospel (vs. 3-4a; chapters 3-4)
Grace and peace flow from the gospel – Jesus giving himself for our sins. Paul defines the gospel in 1 Cor 15:1-4, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” He received his gospel directly from Christ and affirmed by Peter (2:7). Grace is God’s goodness towards those who only deserve punishment. God is never obligated but grace is always given freely on God’s part (Ex 33:19). Salvation is by grace as opposed to human effort (works of the law) because grace is freely given (Rom 3:23-24; Rom 11:6; Eph 2:8-9). “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph 2:8-9). Because grace is not earned there is only one response appropriate for receiving it, faith (Rom 4:16). Faith is turning away from depending on self and trusting in another, Christ. The whole Christian life is the result of grace and why Paul says they have fallen away from grace by ‘works of the law.’