*1 *Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— *2 *and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia:
*3 *Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, *4 *who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, *5 * to whom be the glory forever and ever.
*6 *I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— *7 *not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.
*8 *But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.
*9 *As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
Today we begin our study through Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
Lord willing, we will work through this book at a rather quick pace and finish up just before Christmas.
The reason I feel compelled for our church to study this book of the Bible is because we are still a very young church, both in the median age of our members as well as in the time of our existence together.
And Galatians is a very good place to go to get a basic understanding of the Bible’s central message.
There really is nothing better that we could do together than to continue to ground ourselves together in the gospel while we are still a young church.
After all, we believe that it is the gospel that creates true biblical community, so we need to become fluent in the gospel if we are going to be a healthy church.
Of course if you are a member here then you must have a basic understanding of the gospel since you are asked to explain the gospel to the pastors before you are permitted to join.
But you also know that this gospel message is not intuitive; it has to be told to us before we can believe it.
That means that in spite of how well we can recite the gospel to each other, we are naturally inclined not to believe it.
The book of Galatians demonstrates that even the most committed Christian struggles to live out the implications of the gospel that he believes.
So it would help us to become better experts in the gospel if we can see the alternative that we are much more likely to gravitate toward.
We need to know our enemy.
And that is the topic about which Galatians was written.
Today let’s consider first some of the background details to the book of Galatians.
Then we will be introduced to the two competing “gospels” that fight for our allegiance.
THE REASON FOR GALATIANS
Any time we begin a study of a book of the Bible it is helpful if we keep in mind who wrote the book, to whom he wrote, and the purpose for which he wrote.
This information can be quite helpful at times to interpreting and applying the biblical text in our day.
!! Paul, the undisputed author
According to the first word of the first verse of the first chapter of Galatians, the Apostle Paul was the author of the letter.
He also sends greetings to the recipients of the letter from “all the brothers who are with me” (v. 2), but it is clear that the letter claims to be the work of the Apostle himself.
And there really is no debate about the authenticity of that claim.
Even according to the most liberal Bible scholars, Galatians is one of Paul’s /Haupbriefe/ (German for “main letters”) so there is no doubt that Paul really was the author.
!! The churches of Galatia
In verse two we read that this letter was addressed “to the churches of Galatia.”
/Galatia/ refers to an area within Asia Minor (present day Turkey), and there is some debate about the exact location to which Paul refers.
The territory originally occupied by the Gauls lay to the north, but when Paul wrote, the Roman province to the south was also known as Galatia.
Today scholars tend to believe that Paul was writing to the southern area.
The main reason is that Paul says he had preached the gospel to these people (Gal 1:8), but we have no record of his travelling through the northeastern part of Asia Minor.
We do, however, have record of his travels through the Roman province of Galatia, an area that included the cities of Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe.
According to Acts 13-14, Paul evangelized these cities during his first missionary journey.
!! The occasion for writing
The most important background detail we need to uncover is Paul’s purpose for writing.
What was the occasion that made him pick up his pen and write?
For the book of Galatians, this is not too difficult of a question to answer.
As we read through the account of Paul’s mission in Galatia, we find that the Jews in those regions were quite hostile to him and his fellow missionary, Barnabas.
In Acts 13:50 we find that the Jews incited the political leaders of Antioch to stir up persecution against the two missionaries and to drive them out of the area.
Paul and Barnabas went on to Iconium, but things didn’t get much better.
There “the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers” (Acts 14:2).
Finally, in Lystra Paul was stoned and left for dead when the hostile Jews from Antioch and Iconium persuaded the crowds to act with violence toward Paul and Barnabas.
In spite of this severe opposition from the Jews, the mission to Galatia was a huge success.
Acts 13:49 recounts that “the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.”
At Iconium “a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed” (Acts 14:1).
At Derbe they “made many disciples” (Acts 14:21).
In most of these cities churches were planted (Acts 14:23).
But the influx of both Jews and Gentiles into the church had created tension as many of the first Jewish converts to Christianity continued to practice their Jewish lifestyle.
Apparently some of these Jewish Christians, whom we will call the Judaizers, were teaching that the Gentile Christians needed to submit to Jewish law and customs in order to be true Christians.
They must have been persuasive, so Paul had to write Galatians in an attempt to silence the Judaizers who were unsettling the churches and to bring the churches of Galatia back to faith in the gospel he originally preached to them.
!! The reason for this series
So can you see now why we should also study Paul’s letter to the Galatians?
If the churches that the Apostle Paul himself started were so quickly persuaded away from the gospel, how much more are we prone to drifting away from it, too?
This is no small matter for the church.
The tone of Paul’s letter to the Galatians is as serious as we find anywhere else in the Bible.
A sampling of two verses will suffice to demonstrate this.
* /As we have said before, and now I say again, if any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let him be condemned to hell! /(Gal 1:9, NET)
* /I wish those who are disturbing you might also get themselves castrated!/
(Gal 5:12, HCSB)
Nothing was more important to Paul for the churches he planted than that they remained firmly committed to the gospel that he had preached to them.
But this would not come easily.
It would be a fight.
A fight between two competing “gospels.”
THE GOSPEL OF LIBERTY
In one corner we find the gospel that Paul preached to the churches of Galatia.
I’m calling it the gospel of liberty because a major theme we find throughout the letter is the theme of freedom (the word /free/ or /freedom/ occurs 9 times in Galatians).
We need to see that the gospel of Jesus Christ is good news because it is a message of freedom and deliverance.
!! Grace and peace
Why wouldn’t you want to embrace this gospel when it comes with such a promise?
In verse three we find Paul’s customary greeting: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Every one of the Pauline letters begins with some version of this salutation; most are worded exactly this way.
But what is different here is that rather than ending his greeting at verse three and beginning the body of his letter in the next verse, Paul continues seamlessly with a doxology (notice the word /Amen/ at the end of verse 5).
“Grace and peace” are not used here merely as a formality, like when we greet each other by saying, “How are you doing?”
He calls attention to the fact that grace and peace are realities that are given to us by the gospel that God the Father offers through the Lord Jesus Christ.
!! The person of Jesus
So the gospel message is an announcement centered on the person and work of Jesus.
It is all about him: who he is and what he has done.
Who is he?
He is the /Lord/.
We do not make him the Lord when we receive the gospel.
He already is the Lord and the only question to be decided is whether or not we will submit to his lordship.
He is also /Jesus/, the man from Nazareth who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
He is the real man who lived in Israel and died on a cross as a Roman criminal some 2000 years ago.
He is the same man whose grave is empty because he literally resurrected from the dead and walked out of a Palestinian tomb.
And he is /Christ/, the promised Messiah, anointed by God to carry out the salvation of mankind from the devastation cause by his sin.
!! The work of Jesus
What did he do?
He “gave himself.”
This expression refers to the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf.
He substituted himself for us.
It refers to Jesus’ bodily death on a cross.
Jesus “gave himself” by being crucified.
This means that the work of Jesus that is central to the gospel is his voluntarily death on the cross.
Those who are fluent in the gospel should have no problem detecting the flaw in the following summary of the gospel:
I have been sent by God with this good news — that God loves humanity, even in its lostness and sin.
God graciously invites everyone and anyone to turn from his or her current path and follow a new way.