Galatians is an early letter written by Paul, dated between AD 49 and early to mid 50s. This letter, thought to be Paul’s first, was written to some of the earliest converts to Christianity through Paul’s ministry. Written to both Jewish and Gentile converts, Paul’s letter to the Galatians pushes back against the legalism and false teaching that had infiltrated the church. Paul and his missionary companion Barnabas had previously spent two years living amongst and ministering to the Galatians. Now, all of that work seemed in peril because unhealthy orthodoxy (belief) and orthopraxy (practice) had crept in.
Paul’s writing is straightforward and, at times, confrontational. He’s writing with urgency to the churches in that region because they were facing a theological crisis as some had abandoned the Gospel. Paul’s opening to the churches of Galatia is brief, if not curt, in its greeting and salutations. Void of Paul’s typical encouragement and thankfulness, his letter begins with a quick reminder of who Paul is, the Authority who sent him, the message he’s teaching, and the confrontation of false messages.
The rest of this letter is reminiscent of Romans (just in a more compact, less theologically dense version). The beginning of the letter talks about important matters of theology, such as salvation and justification. The latter portion of the book is more focused on the practical application of what Paul is saying and how that should play out in a believer’s everyday life when it comes to matters of the Law and living in freedom.
As we read this letter over the next six days, pay close attention to each chapter. Look for words that are repeated over and over as you pick up on the important themes in this book. Process your takeaways and what you’re learning with the community around you. As always, thanks for reading along!
Read Galatians 1
1 Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christand God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2 and all the brothers and sisters with me,
To the churches in Galatia:
3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age,according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
No Other Gospel
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!
10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Paul Called by God
11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
13 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. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.
18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.
21 Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they praised God because of me.
Paul wastes no time at the beginning of this letter before he reminds them of the Gospel (v. 4)–the true Gospel which is salvation is by grace, through faith alone, not by human works. With clarity and conviction, Paul intended for the recipients to understand that the message he preached was not a gospel but the Gospel. And, not because Paul originally preached it to them, but because Jesus had given it to him.
However, the churches in Galatia quickly slipped back into legalism (which astounded Paul). How swiftly they believed a lie! Because they fell away so fast from the Gospel of grace Paul preached, Paul’s credibility and integrity came into question as well. He spends the first two chapters of Galatians defending his authority as an apostle.
In his defense, we read these words: “If I were trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (v. 10). Said another way, “If I wanted the approval and applause of people, I certainly wouldn’t leverage my whole life on the message of Jesus, his forgiveness of sins, death on the cross, and resurrection.” Yet, Paul was compelled–willingly enslaved–to share the Gospel.
We grow complacent with familiarity and tired with repetition so it’s understandable when we gloss over Paul’s conversion and surrender. Yet, if we are willing to observe, with fresh eyes, his encounter with the risen Christ, we experience a renewed awe of God and worship of Jesus. Paul was the least likely character to encounter Christ. A murderer of those who believed in Jesus. The people who he now served. He set out to abolish Christians, not become one. He had to know that people would not believe his conversion; that opposition would follow him.The gospel of Jesus changed his life forever. If he wanted to be popular or well-liked, surrendering his life to Christ and becoming His ambassador was not the avenue for approval and applause. His conversion only makes sense if it’s true. He had nothing to gain, except Christ. And, to him, that was everything. He was unknown, unqualified, unbelievable, and undeserving.
Yet, Paul’s calling was a Divine calling. As is ours. Make no mistake: It is God who qualifies the called. We cannot qualify ourselves. No one can validate our worth or purpose apart from Jesus. We cannot (and will not) find lasting approval, appreciation, or applause from anyone other than God. But, like the Galatians, we are often quick to try. We are quick to take our allegiance from Christ and give it to another.
Even without Paul’s traditional opening of gratitude and encouragement, we see a word repeated throughout chapter one: grace. It’s as if Paul, with his pen guided by the Spirit, is reminding us that what we desperately need as we journey home to Jesus is freely given to us. Grace. When we seek the approval or affection or applause of someone other than Jesus, it’s grace that reminds us we are already approved. When we believe the lie of the enemy again and again, it’s grace that prompts us to remember truth. When we doubt the simplicity of the Gospel and try to clean ourselves up to go to God, it’s grace that reminds us we already belong. All is grace. All is undeserved. All freely given.
- Whose approval do you want the most? What compromises of character are you making to gain or sustain their approval?
- What encourages you from this chapter? Why?
- The word gospel is repeated throughout chapter one. In one sentence, what is the Gospel?
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