As with his other letters, Paul’s introduction is a shortened summary of the gospel: Paul, an apostle was sent by God to deliver this message: through Jesus we have been rescued from our sin. This letter in particular was written to the believers in Galatia in order to address some issues concerning false religious doctrines. Yet, as with the other letters, the lessons and instructions may be applied to all believers throughout all the generations of time.
Chapter 1: False Gospels
“I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from Him who called you by the grace of Christ to a different gospel- not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are troubling you and want to change the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than what we have preached to you, a curse be on him! As we have said before, I now say again: if anyone preaches to you a gospel contrary to what you have received, a curse be on him!” Galations1:6-9
These stern words of Paul should not be taken lightly. Consider how many people of all ages, nations and generations have come to accept false visions and false gospels- despite the warning. Consider how many religions are started as a result of false visions proclaiming a new gospel. Mormonism is based on an “angelic” vision given to Joseph Smith who thereby proceeded to distort the gospel message. Islam was based on Muhamed’s false vision of the angel Gabriel who supposedly was delivering a message from God. The Jehovah’s Witnesses base their doctrines on the visions and private revelations received by their so called modern day prophets. Many Roman Catholics have been deceived by visions of Mary that have appeared to lay persons and clergy, deceiving many. The one common thing we see is that all these so called visitation, which are actually Satan and the evil demons or spirits, actually take away from the gospel message. These deceptive spirits disguise themselves as “angels of light” delivering a different message that isn’t from God. Often times these messages teach a different Jesus than the Jesus we learn about in the bible. For example, some religions teach that Jesus was simply a prophet or a teacher. The false religions, false prophets and false teachers attempt to undermine the credibility of the message of the gospel.
Most of the earliest believers were originally Jewish. But as the gospel message spread as a result of the mission work of the apostles, others came to also believe in the message. Even during Paul’s own lifetime, false teachers and false prophets sought to undermine Paul’s authority. More specifically, some Jewish converts to Christianity, referred to by Paul as the “circumcision party”, tried to make the claim that new believers in Christ were first required to convert to Judaism. In other words, these false teachers erroneously were teaching new believers that Christianity was a sect of Judaism and that it was required that they submit to all the Jewish laws and regulations such as circumcision and dietary restrictions. The error of this teaching caused confusion and dissention among the early Christian churches. In fact some of these false teachers of the circumcision party went so far as to send spies who would then later spread rumors against Paul and the non Jewish converts in an effort to discredit them among the other members of the early churches. In response, Paul addressed the issue, by using the example of Titus, a respected leader of the ancient Christian church. Titus was a Greek not a Jew, yet when he accepted the message, he felt no need to be circumcised or follow any Jewish traditions.
Even the apostle Peter, a.k.a. Cephas, was unduly influenced by these false teachers and subsequently began to disassociate himself from non Jewish converts. In fact other apostles fell prey to the beliefs of the influential circumcision party including Barnabas. Whereas Peter and Barnabas used to associate with any believer, and no longer themselves practiced Jewish traditions in a hypocritical fashion they suddenly turned around and said that all converts must become Jews first and practice Jewish tradition and laws. According to Paul, “When I saw they were deviating from the truth of the gospel I told Cephas in front of everyone, ‘If you, a Jew live like a Gentile and not a Jew, how can you compel Gentiles to live like Jews’.” Gal2:14
Justification by Faith Not the Works of the Law
Paul strongly condemned anyone who tried to make the claim that a believer must follow the works of the law. “We know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ and we have believed in Jesus Christ so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by the works of the law no human being will be justified.”. Gal2:16-17 As believers, we have died to the law and are reborn in Christ. “I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness came through the law then Christ died for nothing.” Gal2:21 If in fact we could be justified by our works, then what was the point in Jesus dying for our sins? “You foolish Galatians! Who has hypnotized you? .... Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit are you going to be made complete by the flesh?” Gal3: 2-3 In fact, if you rely on the law for your salvation you might as well consider yourself cursed because you never will be saved! It is Jesus alone who can redeem us from the curse of the law. Only through faith in Jesus can we be justified before God. Before Jesus we were subject and even imprisoned as slaves under the law, but through Jesus we have freedom from the law. The scriptures of the old testament for shadow the fact that God would justify people through faith. This is obvious when we consider the old testament heroes such as Abraham and Noah who had friendship with God as a result of their faith. Through our faith we are considered children and heirs of God.
Do Not Forfeit Your Freedom in Jesus
Once we have become reconciled through our faith, and are children of God, why should we turn towards our former sinful ways of life? Why should we reject our freedom we receive in Christ in favor of becoming once again slaves to sin under the law? In fact many believers, just as many of the Galatians, turned away from the message they received and turned back to their former ways. Why should we wish to return to the yoke of the law once we have been liberated it from Christ. If you decide that Christ’s sacrifice is not sufficient, and decide you must merit your way to justification by the works of the law, then you have subjected yourselves under the yoke of the law as slaves. If you try to merit your way to justification under the law, then you are obligated under the law apart from the saving redemption that can be found only through faith in Jesus’ sacrifice. Remember that one corrupt teacher and one corrupt teaching can permeate and spread corruption throughout. If anyone teaches that works lead to salvation then “the offense of the cross has been abolished.” Gal5:11 In fact, the dissemination of this false teaching of salvation through works is so repugnant to Paul that he goes so far as to say, “I wish those who are disturbing you might also get themselves castrated!” Gal5:12
Continue Life in the Spirit Not by the Works of the Flesh
But remember, do not take advantage of your freedom in Jesus as an opportunity to do whatever you want! It does not give you an excuse to sin. If we are truly believers in the message we have received through face, we will abandon the “works of the flesh” which is sin in favor of the works of the Spirit. “The works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar.” Gal5:19-20 “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self control.” Gal5:22 Remember to carry each other’s burdens but be very careful that you yourself do not become tempted another one’s sins. Never tire of doing what is good. Never boast of anything except of God.