Historically, the Galatian letter, written by Paul, has been a significant letter. It’s been said that, if not for this letter and Martin Luther’s study of it, the Reformation would not have taken place.
The central theme of this book might be summed using a single phrase from Galatians 5:1: Christ hath made us free.
In this letter, Paul addresses the issue of liberty on two fronts. First, he teaches how we have been eternally saved by grace (John 8:36). Second, he teaches the practical side by encouraging we live as though we are saved by grace (John 8:32).
What exactly do we need freedom from? In the greatest sense, we need freedom from our sins (John 8:33-34). Furthermore, we need freedom from those doctrines–even “Christian” doctrines–that keep us in bondage (Gal. 4:9).
As we’ll see, Paul appears to be really upset. He offers no compliments and complains they have been told this all before (Gal. 1:9).
The author, Paul
Paul rebukes them for entertaining legalistic and false teachers who have come in after him. Remember though, Paul knows a bit about these men because he used to be one of them (Phil. 3:3-7). As a Pharisee, Paul was of the most traditional and legalistic–even more so than many other Pharisees (Gal. 1:14).
At the same time, Paul and others were sincere in believing they kept the law. Paul described himself as blameless. He even testified after his conversion that he lived in good conscience as a Pharisee (Acts 23:1). That’s not to say he was right when he persecuted Christians, but he did truly feel he was righteous in his actions. He later confessed he was ignorant (1 Tim. 1:12-13).
Paul’s salutation (Galatians 1:1-5)
Paul begins by asserting his authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ. An apostle was one specifically called and sent by the Lord (John 13:16). These were men who even had the opportunity to literally meet Christ (1 Cor. 9:1). Like the prophets of the Old Testament, they were instrumental in building the church (Eph. 2:19-20).
When Christ sent one of his apostles, they essentially acted on his behalf (Matthew 10:40). So, in a sense, the gospel preached by Paul the apostle as well as this letter is by Jesus Christ himself and we must accept it as such. Not only that, but we must be willing to fully submit our hearts and minds to what it teaches.
Notice the progression given in verses three through five. It begins with God’s grace–grace to you. That grace is passed through Jesus who gave himself for our sins according to God’s will. Once that grace through Christ reaches us, we respond by giving God his due glory–to whom be glory forever and ever.
Paul writes of this present evil. There are two senses in which we need deliverance from present evil, First, we need deliverance from sin to eternal life (Matthew 1:21). Second, we need deliverance from evil while on this earth (John 17:15).
One of the greatest evils is to be blinded and unable see the light of the true gospel (2 Cor. 4:4). Thanks be to God, by his Spirit, we are lifted out of that darkness (Colossians 1:12-13).
Pervert not the gospel (Galatians 1:6-10)
The focus of this chapter is not on the substance or content of the gospel, but rather its extreme importance. There is only one gospel. What the Galatian brethren had heard was nothing more than a close counterfeit brought in by men who presented themselves as “Christian” leaders (Gal. 2:4).
In verses six and seven, Paul teaches that doctrinal maturity is not a luxury but a necessity (1 Cor. 14:20). We often have too much impatience with doctrinal refinement. We think doctrine requires thought and thought is often seen as the enemy of feeling. Furthermore, we think Christianity is entirely built on feelings. But Paul taught otherwise (Acts 20:27-30, Romans 12:2).
Paul is astonished by two things. First, they turned away from God (John 14:6). Second, they turned away from grace (Gal. 5:4). This is the result of rejecting the only true gospel of Jesus Christ.
The false teachers who lead us away from the gospel are to be accursed or banned/excommunicated. We cannot permit these men to continue teaching doctrines contrary to those of the Bible.
In verse 10, we see that Paul is willing to be bold in this letter because he’s not concerned with pleasing men. There are two important things at stake if the gospel is perverted. First, the glory of Christ (Gal. 6:14). Second, the edification of believers (Gal. 2:5).
Of course, we are not more spiritual simply because we displease men (1 Cor. 10:31, Rom. 15:2, Col. 4:6).
The revelation of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11-24)
Paul spends the remainder of this chapter defending his authority as apostle. But why? In order to pervert the gospel and persuade these disciples away from the true gospel, these false teachers had to first discredit Paul.
Notice that Paul is not an apostle by any man’s will. He attempts to prove this point in verses 13 and 14 by describing himself before his conversion (Acts 9:1).
What’s the point of this nasty biography of his past? Verse 13 begins with the word, for. This is part of his argument. Besides Christ himself, what could have turned a man so resentful of the gospel into a preacher of the gospel? In verse 15, Paul explains how the resurrected Christ literally appeared to him.
To tighten the case further, he explains what he did after his encounter with Christ. He did not confer with flesh and blood or learn from men. He didn’t even know the men in Judea where these false teachings originated (Gal. 1:22). In other words, his calling and his understanding of the gospel came, not from other men or himself, but from God.
Jesus once asked the Jews, “The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men” (Matt. 21:25)? We might rephrase that question to say, “The preaching of Paul, whence was it? from heaven, or of men?” I hope the answer is clear.