Lesson 1 - An Introduction to Christian Liberty - Galatians 1

Lesson One: An Introduction to Christian Liberty

(Galatians 1:1-9)

The predominant theme of this letter to the Galatians is Christian liberty.  Jesus said, "Therefore if the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed."  John 8:36.  Galatians clearly magnifies that profound statement by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Even though this letter was written around a.d. 49, it has a contemporary relevance today.  Charles R. Erdman, a Bible scholar from a previous generation, has rightly said, "Wherever religion has lost its reality, wherever ritual is more regarded than right living, wherever subscription to a creed is substituted for submission to Christ, wherever loud claims of orthodoxy are accompanied by conduct devoid of charity, wherever deeds of self-righteousness are obscuring the glory of the cross, there this epistle should be made to sound out its clarion call to a new dependence upon justifying grace, to a faith that is shown by works, to a walk that is by the Spirit, to a life inspired by love."  And all God's people shouted, "Amen!"

The Author of the Letter.  (1:1)

The author identifies himself as "Paul, the apostle."  Altogether Paul wrote 13 of our New Testament epistles.  Some Bible teachers believe that he also authored the book of Hebrews.  He mentions his apostleship in the introduction to nine of his letters.

His apostolic title is especially important in this epistle, because Judaizers had entered the churches of Galatia and spread the word that Paul was not an apostle.  If the accusations about Paul were true, then he was not only discredited, but his message was discredited as well.  Here in the first verse of this letter he affirms in no uncertain terms that he was appointed "by Jesus Christ, and God the Father," the highest and final authority.


The Addressee of the Letter.  (1:2)

This letter was not sent to one particular church, but rather to a group of churches, "To the churches of Galatia."  In Paul's missionary work he planted churches throughout the southern region of Galatia in Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe.  See Acts 13:14-14:26.  Obviously he had a great concern for the spiritual wellbeing of the brethren in those churches.

Where was Galatia, and who were the Galatians?  In Paul's time Galatia was a Roman province of Asia Minor, which is modern-day Turkey.  The Galatians were descendants of the ancient Gauls, a barbaric tribal group who migrated from western Europe through Italy and Greece.  They were said to be somewhat fickle and easily induced to change.


The Salutation of the Letter.  (1:3-5)

The Galatian churches were made up largely of Gentile converts with Jewish believers a minority.  Paul greets them.  "Grace" was the usual Greek greeting, and "peace" was the customary Hebrew greeting.

Galatians 1:4 is foundational to this epistle.  The cruel cross of our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the heart and soul of Paul's message.  It was on the cross of Calvary that He "gave Himself for our sins."  Why did Jesus die?  The Son of God laid down His life "that He might deliver us from this present evil age."  He did not deliver the Galatians that they might be in religious bondage, but rather that they might be free.  His redeeming work on the cross was in full accord with "the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever.  Amen."

The Occasion of the Letter.  (1:6-9)

Other Pauline epistles usually included an expression of praise, even his first letter to the carnal church at Corinth, but not here.

Why did Paul write this letter to the churches of Galatia?  The Galatians were "turning away...from Him (Christ)...to a different gospel."  "Turning away" is a military term in the Greek language similar to AWOL in English.  The apostasy had begun, was in progress, but not yet complete.  Paul wrote to turn the situation around, to expose the different gospel for what it was, and defend his gracious gospel of Christian liberty.

The Galatians had been called "in the grace of Christ" to deliverance from the death penalty and enslaving power of sin.  Underline the word "grace" in your heart and mind.  It cannot be emphasized enough that the test of the gospel is grace.

God only has one gospel, "the gospel of the grace of God."  Acts 20:24.  This gospel freely offers forgiveness and hope of eternal life to undeserving mankind.

The Judaizers held a view that gave an important place to a righteousness based on good works, and accused the apostle Paul of preaching a do nothing gospel to receive popularity and acceptance among the Gentiles.  Some Jewish believers did not consider Christianity to be outside orthodox Judaism.  They were especially adamant about the continued practice of circumcision for all those who followed Jesus Christ.

These false teachers were misleading the Galatians, preaching "another gospel," which in reality was no gospel at all.  Grace and works don't mix.  They are mutually exclusive.  According to Romans 11:6, "And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace.  But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work."  We cannot be saved by grace and works.

The word "pervert" (Greek, metastrepho) found in Galatians 1:7 is only used three times in the New Testament, and it means to completely change into something of the opposite nature.  For example, it is first used in Acts 2:20, where "the sun shall be turned into darkness."  It is last found in James 4:9, where laughter is turned to mourning and joy to gloom.  The Jewish legalists perverted the gospel of Christ, changing law for grace, circumcision for the cross, works for faith, bondage for liberty, and human strength for the Holy Spirit.

In Galatians 1:8 Paul says, "But even if...an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel...let him be accursed."  It is interesting that today the Book of Mormon claims angelic authority as delivered by the Angel Moroni and translated by Joseph Smith, the founder of this Mormon cult.

The apostle Paul has a strong word of condemnation for anyone who preaches a different gospel.  "Let them be accursed."  This is indeed a word of warning to those who proclaim a gospel of works.

Finally, Paul was accused of being a pleaser of men.  When he declared "anathema," the Greek word for "accursed," upon the legalists, he certainly was not trying to please them.  Today in some legalistic churches the grace of Christ is derided by calling it "cheap grace."  Grace is freely given.  Those who have faith in Jesus are "justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."  Romans 3:24.  "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."  Romans 6:23.  Eternal life is a gift.  Salvation is also a gift.  "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God."  Ephesians 2:8.  Our English translation makes it appear that faith is the gift mentioned in that verse, but "it" (Greek, touto) refers not to faith, but salvation.  This demonstrative pronoun is neuter, whereas both "grace" and "faith" are feminine.  "It" refers back to the concept of salvation.

The Lord met the self-righteous, do-gooder Jews of His day, and said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you."  Matthew 21:31.  Jesus saves sinners by His grace on the basis of His sacrificial work of redemption.  Yes, grace is free, but it isn't cheap.


Lesson Two: The Apostle of Christian Liberty - Galatians 2



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