Snapshot view of Galatians
Snapshot view of Galatians.
According to the renowned historian and commentator Sir William Ramsay, this letter to the churches in Galatia written by the Apostle Paul, "is the most remarkable letter ever written". This was the writing that triggered the Reformation and so changed the course of Christian history. Here Martin Luther found a new faith that led him out of the Roman Catholic faith and kick started the Reformation.
This book is the "charter for Christian freedom". (Barclay pg. 55) As we read the book today it challenges us to examine our own faith as perhaps no other book in the Bible does. It sweeps away the legalistic view that constrains Christian growth and limits us from reaching our full potential as followers of Christ. Here Paul left no space for the Judaizing teachers of his day and it leaves no space for Christians today to impose a new legal system that constrains personal and church growth.
The background to the letter is probably recorded in Acts ch.13 +14, when Paul worked as an evangelist in Roman Province of Galatia. During this time he was very ill but was received with love and concern (4:12-16). Paul finds the Church under attack by the Jews who wanted Christians to also accept the Jewish Law. There were three kinds of Jewish people in Pauls world of that time: some were totally opposed to Christ, some accepted the Good News with reservations and some gave up their Jewish Law to accept the Freedom in Christ i.e. freedom from the law and freedom from a legalistic system that some would try and impose on believers.
As humans we like to have law when it suits us. In Galatians, Paul argues for grace rather than law. The salvation that we enjoy in Christ comes by grace and not law. This does not mean freedom from responsibility, but rather the power to live a new life in the Spirit. Paul makes the same arguments in Romans 6:1-4. When we are in Christ we are a new creation and so give up sin and become ambassadors for Christ and servants of the cross.
There are some important lessons for today that we can learn from this letter.
1. Firstly, in 1:6-10, Paul deals with those who would pervert the true Gospel. In 1:6 he writes "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to different gospel - which is really no gospel at all". (NIV translation) There is in fact, only one Gospel and even today confusion exists about the teaching of Christ that causes the divisions that are found in today's Christianity. Paul again deals with this problem in Ephesians 4:4 where he emphasises the need for unity of believers: "there is one body, and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." (NIV)
In Galatians he is specifically dealing with the problem of those who would demand that Christians keep some of the Old Testament Laws. Today the honest seeker is confused by the many teachings that contradict each other because the simple Gospel has been changed by humans over the ages.
2. The second important lesson that we can get from this letter is that we are saved by faith and not works. This was the message that hit Martin Luther like a sledge hammer. Works, be they an attempt to keep the Old Testament law, or human efforts to earn salvation, have no part in God's great plan of salvation. The new life we are offered in Christ Jesus comes by faith and will then lead to obedience and to the challenges of a new life but in no way can earn us salvation. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourself be burdened by a yoke of slavery" (5:1).
The contrast between the old life in the flesh and new life in the Spirit is beautifully laid out in this letter (5:16-26). Anyone choosing the life of this world above the life in the Spirit is greatly misguided, and also misses out on the blessings offered in Christ." But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control" (vs. 23). Compare; "the acts of the sinful life are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery ..." (vs. 19). The choice of where it is better to live is obvious!
In Galatians 3:26-29, the promises of God through the ages are explained clearly: "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ...... If you belong to Christ then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise". You then receive the Holy Spirit to produce God's promises in your life.
Scriptures taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, Copyright 1973,1978,1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.
The "NIV" and "New International Version" trademarks are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by International Bible Society. Use of either trademark requires the permission of International Bible Society.
Barclay, W. The Men, The Meaning and The Message of the Books.
New Illustrated Dictionary