Summary: The gospel of grace (1) is from God, (2) changes lives, and (3) leads to ministry.
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AN OUTLINE OF GALATIANS
Paul’s letter to the Galatians can be broken into three basic parts:
• BIOGRAPHY (chapters 1-2)
• THEOLOGY (chapters 3-4)
• ETHICS (chapters 5-6)
Paul is on the defensive in the opening two chapters. The Judaizers are attacking the message and the messenger. (Like attacking someone’s spelling in a “comments” section on a web page.) The Judaizers are claiming that Paul is a second-rate apostle with a second-hand gospel.
There is a similarity between verses 1 and 12. Paul’s apostleship is not from man, and his gospel is not from man. The validity of Paul’s apostleship and the validity of his message stand or fall together. If Paul is not an apostle, then his claim to authority collapses. If his gospel proves to be a human concoction, then he forfeits the right to be called an apostle.
THE LIFE-CHANGING GOSPEL
Paul gives three truths about the gospel he preached and passed on to us:
1. The gospel of grace is a message that comes from GOD.
I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ (vv.11-12).
a. Paul’s gospel was not an INVENTION (his brain had not fabricated it).
b. Paul’s gospel was not a TRADITION (the church had not handed it down to him).
In verses 16-24 Paul demonstrates his independence from the other apostles in Jerusalem. Paul preaches the same gospel as the apostles, but they did not teach it to him.
c. Paul’s gospel was a REVELATION (God had made it known to him).
When did Paul receive this revelation? On the way to Damascus (cf. Acts 9:1-5).
We deny apostolic succession; we affirm apostolic authority. The gospel Paul passed on to us is the message we must believe and share.
The gospel is not something man would invent. Why? First, it is OFFENSIVE to the PRIDE of man. According to the gospel, we are born into this world as sinners deserving punishment (hell) and needing a Savior. Insulting?
Second, it is FOOLISH to the MIND of man. According to the gospel, we can receive eternal life by trusting in a man who died on a cross. Idiotic? Prior to his conversion, this is how Paul viewed the gospel.
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
“Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:22-23).
• “Christ crucified” – the “cursed one” is the “anointed one.” “Christ crucified” is a contradiction in terms (like “godly murderer”). Christ (Messiah) meant power, splendor, triumph; crucifixion meant weakness, humiliation, defeat.
• “Stumbling block” (skandalon) – offense, scandal. “‘Scandal is in fact closer to the sense than ‘stumbling block,’ since the word does not so much mean something that one is tripped up by as something that offends to the point of arousing opposition.”1 Skandalon is also found in Galatians 5:11: “the offense of the cross.” Many Jews viewed the crucifixion as the ultimate proof that Jesus had been cursed by God for some sin of His own.
• “Foolishness” (moria) – stupidity, madness. “Gentiles wrote off the message of the cross not as eccentric, harmless folly, but as dangerous, almost deranged stupidity.”2 In the second century, Justin Martyr wrote, “They say that our madness consists in the fact that we put a crucified man in second place after the unchangeable and eternal God, the Creator of the world.”3
Paul’s gospel is no less controversial today. Many people claim that Paul invented Christianity. They say that the teachings of Paul are very different from the teachings of Jesus. (Actually, both taught that faith in Jesus brings eternal life.) Paul’s teaching is distinctive because he was the “apostle to the Gentiles” (Galatians 2:8; cf. Acts 22:21). The other apostles did not disagree with Paul on the gospel. The apostle Peter writes, “[Paul’s] letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16). Peter put Paul’s writings on the same level as the OT Scriptures!
2. The gospel of grace is a message that CHANGES lives.
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. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers (vv. 13-14).