Galatians 1:1-24

Saved by Faith Alone

        June 1, 2003                       © 2002, J.W. Carter
     www.biblicaltheology.com              Scripture quotes from KJV


Gal 1:1-5.

1Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;) 2And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia: 3Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, 4Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: 5To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

This letter, often called the Magna Carta of Christian Liberty, deals with the question of whether a Gentile must become a Jew before he can become a Christian. Certain Judaizing teachers had infiltrated the churches of Galatia in central Asia Minor which Paul had previously founded, (Acts 16:6), declaring that in addition to having faith in Jesus Christ, a Christian was obligated to keep the Mosaic Law. Paul insists on the contrary.

So serious was the crisis in Galatia that Paul dispenses with his customary expression of thanksgiving and commendation, and plunges directly into a vigorous defense of his apostolic authority and the validity of his teaching ,(1:1-2:21). The central part of the letter is an exposition of the doctrine of justification by faith alone (3:1-4:31). Lest some should imagine that his doctrine leads to a life of indifference to the moral code, Paul concludes with certain practical applications of his teaching (5:1-6:18).

Written about AD 55 during Paul's third missionary journey, the epistle to the Galatians gives many autobiographical details of the apostle's earlier life and evangelistic activity. Here are set forth the true function of the Mosaic law and its relation to God's grace manifested in Christ. The declaration of the principles reiterated in these six chapters made Christianity a world religion instead of a Jewish sect.

Like his other letters he starts by identifying himself as Paul, and identifies the source of the authority for his letter. What is it? (The Resurrected Christ, and God the Father.) He also refers to all brothers in Christ as being likewise raised from the dead.

Paul makes use of an unusual salutation that contains a play on words by making a literary reference to the two constituents to whom he is writing.  Instead of using the usual words for blessing and peace that is customary, Paul replaces them with two others.  Grace, charis, is a Gentile greeting, referring to God's unmerited favor. Peace, eirene is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew, shalom, meaning all that stood for the highest good under God's rule. This may infer that he is identifying himself as both a Jews and Gentile, which is certainly the case of those to whom he writes, considering the content of the letter.

At least one generation has passed since Jesus' resurrection and ascension.  Considered an heretical sect by the Jews, the Christians found themselves in conflict with them, a conflict that was waged on two fronts:  first, Christians believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and second, Christians reject the works of the law as a means for salvation, works that are required in Jewish dogma.   However, the defense of each of these positions was difficult.  The Christian doctrine the Galatian Christians received came initially from Paul and Silas and was reinforced by others who were leaders in Christian evangelism.  However, the Jewish books of Law, Prophets and Poetry that make up our Old Testament were still considered to be their canon, their scripture.  These scriptures outline in detail much of the law that was imposed on Old Testament Jews.  This brought about an opinion that righteousness was attained by faith in Jesus and in keeping the law, and to a first-century Jew, this law included not only all of the scriptural law but also a much larger set of additional traditional laws that were maintained in writing (the Mitzvah and the Talmud) and taught by the scribes.

However, Paul's doctrine taught that it is through faith in Jesus Christ alone that righteousness is attained.  We are immersed in a sinful world, and we simply cannot keep the law that was laid down by Moses.  Consequently, Paul teaches that the law exposes sin rather than defeats it, and our only hope of righteousness comes from Jesus Christ who gave himself to deliver us from this bondage to sin and the eternal separation from God it engenders.  Salvation by faith was always God's plan, and God's provision for us through Jesus Christ gives us reason to praise and thank Him.

Gal 1:6-7.

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: 7Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.

Rather than continuing his salutation with thanksgiving to God and commendations for those to whom the letter is written, as is the case with most of his letters, Paul gets right down to business. This helps to illustrate the importance of the subject.  Certain members of the churches who came from the Jewish faith, particularly those in Galatia, were adding requirements to the Gospel. These Judaizers, effectively were trying to project their system of Mosaic law on Gentiles.  As people listened to these well-intentioned leaders they were being led away from the truth.

How does this problem relate to Christianity today?  People are bombarded by the media with every form of religious and secular dogma imaginable.  Oprah Winfrey preaches a gospel of simple sincerity.  George Lukas preaches a pantheology that distributes God, the good force, into all created objects in the universe (let the force be with you.)  The Mormons would have you believe that each Christian will become a Jesus to another world.  Jehovah's Witnesses place their security in the ransom paid by Jesus, and not in Jesus Himself, rejecting his preincarnate deity.  This world is replete with faiths and religions that try to get man prepared to meet God.  Religions use a set of rituals, rules and guidelines that, they believe if obeyed, engender true righteousness.  Legalism, the placing of one under a law, is the common denominator of the world religions, and even the Christian church, which declares a rejection of such a source of righteousness, is often subject to its bondage.

Like other world religions, misinterpretation of its dogma, in this case the Mosaic Law, created a legalistic religion, where righteousness was determined by performing rituals and obeying rules without regard to a relationship with God. How is righteousness obtained in the truth of the Gospel? We find repeatedly that salvation comes through faith in Christ alone. It is Christ's righteousness, imparted on us by God's grace that results when we place our faith in Christ as Lord and Savior.  There is no act of our own that can provide salvation.

Legalism was creeping into the churches like a snake crawling through the grass in the dark. Does that happen in churches today?  How do we see legalism demonstrated in the church?

  1. For some reason, it is humanly more reasonable to accept reward for work rather than by grace. If we can be told the proper words to say, actions to do, we can accomplish those things and attain the goal, taking pride in the effort. All these things are contrary to the Gospel and consistent with human nature.
  2. Attainment of a legalistic goal separates people into levels of accomplishment and worth. Again, this is contrary to the Gospel but very human in a culture that values position and self-worth.
  3. The result of legalism in the fellowship is a system of relationships within the brotherhood of the church based on finger-pointing and condemnation by those who feel they have accomplished more or stayed truer to the law than those who have not. Again, this is contrary to the Gospel.

Is this a problem in our churches today?  We do not need to look far to find Christian denominations that maintain lists of "do's and dont's", the very basis of legalism.  We expect a pattern of behavior from a Christian, and in that expectation make demands that such a behavior is exhibited consistently, providing a means to deal with transgression. Consequently, this lesson may be a bit difficult for us. When Christians impose such a list of required behaviors and actions, they are crossing into the area of a legalistic, works-based theology, one that perverts the gospel of Grace.

In the Galatian church this change in the doctrine of grace was coming from the teachings of Jewish leaders who spent their pre-Christian years steeped in the legalism of Judaism.  What is the source of the teaching of legalism in the modern church?  Such a doctrine may come from simple human nature, an infiltration of a worldly philosophy that produces socially-centered churches rather than gospel-centered churches.  Such churches teach what their members should and should not say, do, and wear, rather than simply preach the gospel of Grace and love.  Instead of loving all of the fellowship of believers, they would shun those who do not follow their prescriptions.  Such doctrine creates fortress churches that think they are the only righteous believers.  When this happens, evangelism fails and Satan wins.

It is very important the Christians understand the true and full gospel and remain vigilant to expose and reject those who bring a false gospel.  The ignorance of the Galatian members provided the basis for their misdirection.  With two thousand years of Christian experience, we have no such excuse today.  Only by remaining ignorant of God's word can the church turn to false prophets, and because of that ignorance, false prophets abound.  Very few Christians give more than token attention to God's word, considering it sufficient to attend a weekly church meeting.  Many times those meetings spend very little, if any, time in the study of God's word.

Gal 1:8-10.

8But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. 9As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.  10For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.

What does Paul say about those who would seek to pollute the Gospel?  It is unusual for Paul to repeat a phrase in it's entirety.  Paul makes it extremely clear that there is no judgment harsh enough for one who preaches a perverted gospel.  We as Christians are not purposely trying to pollute or destroy the Gospel. However, when our actions show a lack of love for each other, it is often based on the same kind of pollution we are seeing in these verses. Since our lives are the only Gospel that many see, we may indeed be spreading a different Gospel.

In our desire to learn more of God's Word and God's purpose in our lives, we often submit ourselves to the teaching of a variety of Christian leaders from a variety of sources, including but not limited to television, radio, and in-person contacts.  Many of us are familiar with the names and personalities of many media-savvy teachers and preachers that draw much attention and respect from their listeners.  However, Paul warns us that even an "angel from heaven," or one who appears to be preaching God's true and divine message, has the potential of preaching falsehood.  Christians must be very careful to measure the credibility of preaching and teaching by the truth of God's Word alone.  Consequently, how does one use the Word as a "plumb line" to measure the truth of Christian teaching?  One must be familiar with it.  One must listen with an ear that is tuned to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

One can also look at the purpose of a speaker to attain the truth of their gospel.  Does the speaker intend on pleasing those to whom he/she speaks?  God's Word is a two-edged sword (Rev. 2:12) that cuts deep into the hearts of men, exposing their sin and challenging their hearts to repentance.  Those who preach a good-time gospel, one of guaranteed prosperity and riches, a gospel of rules and regulations, or any other gospel than that which Jesus proclaims is to be summarily rejected.  Preachers who stand on their own rather than on the word of God should be banned from the sanctity of the pulpit.

If his statement sounds harsh, consider Jesus' words in:

Mat 18:6.  But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

A millstone is a very large, carved stone, through which poles extend to the yoke of horses or oxen who turn it.  What is the final circumstance of an individual who has such a stone tied around his neck and then thrown in the ocean?  Jesus is saying that it is better that such a person be completely removed from the setting than be allowed to lead on away from the true faith.  Being drowned in the drowned in the depths of the sea is certainly a final solution for those who would preach a false gospel.

Consequently, we should always listen to teaching with a critical ear, and reject teaching that is inconsistent with God's Word.  When called upon to share God's word, effort must be made to assure its source and integrity.

Gal 1:11-17.

11But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. 12For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. 13For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: 14And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. 15But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, 16To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: 17Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.

In these verses Paul gives part of his personal testimony. Why, do you suppose, rather than start teaching, does he do this? He is so concerned that the church is wandering from the truth that he must establish his credibility first. It is difficult to attain authority and respect without first establishing a relationship of some kind. Paul does not have that opportunity to do so in person through the building of relationships, so he must establish his authority with fact. The facts are; 

(1) His gospel came by revelation from Jesus Christ.  True Christianity is the only faith or religion that has not come from man.  All other faiths and religions are fabrications, systems designed by man to establish a pattern of supposed righteousness that compensates for the sin of which all people are aware in order to be accepted by a holy and perfect God.  Consequently, the entire world system of religions is based upon man's design.  Why is it so surprising that the Christian church would struggle with a gospel that contains components of man's own design?  The true and full gospel is the gospel of Jesus Christ as presented in the Bible, God's word as He gradually revealed Himself and His purpose to man.  It is the gospel of Jesus Christ that is woven like a thread through all of its pages.  The context of the gospel is taught and demonstrated by Jesus during his ministry and through his death and resurrection.   It is this gospel that the Bible presents, and it is this gospel that Christians can preach and teach to others.  It is when the gospel is polluted by man's additions or decimated by man's subtractions, that falsehood and confusion arises.

Though God illumines the hearts and minds of people to understand His word, there have been no new revelations concerning the gospel since the writings of the apostles, because the gospel is complete.  Consequently, we are dependent upon God's word and His word alone (sole scrittura) for spiritual truth.  The last chapter of John's revelation prescribes all manner of woes upon those who would add or detract from this complete revelation.

(2) His life was radically changed by the event.   The faiths and religions of the world have the capability of producing change in a person's life as they inspire decisions that promote that change.  However, none of these world religions have the power to make the real change that God planned from the point of the creation of man:  eternal fellowship with Him.  Such a relationship comes only through the dwelling of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, a relationship with that person of God that comforts and guides a person through their life on this earth, and that person that serves as a seal of their security, the only true indication of the righteousness of Jesus Christ that brings salvation in the final judgment.  The coming of the Holy Spirit creates a true life change, a regeneration of the heart and mind of the individual that is not possible any other way.  From the point of His coming into the heart, the believer is empowered by the very power of God to praise Him, to pray, and to live a life that is characterized by godly works that are engendered by nature rather than by choice.   

(3) He was an extremely zealous Judaizer.  As those in the church were trying to impress others with the zealousness of their faith in the law and traditions, Paul was far more accomplished in this than any who were in the church to whom he is writing.   Paul found himself competing with those who were attempting to bring the cultural baggage of legalism into the church, and pointed out that he, himself, is extremely well-studied and experienced in this religion of works that is being propagated in the church.  However, the true and full gospel is one of faith and not of works, a fact that was dramatically revealed to Paul early in his conversion experience.  Paul had the potential of including a works-based righteousness in his gospel, but his knowledge of the truth dissuaded him from such an error.  His rabid defense of the law and traditions empowered Paul to propagate such legalism, but even He, the most rabid persecutor of Christians, learned the error of this theology.  Likewise, as Christians present the gospel, it must be the true gospel of love, grace, and faith.  Christians, just like Paul, must eliminate from the requirements for grace any system of works and reject any additional requirements that serve only to place people back into another bondage, moving them from a bondage to sin, to a bondage to works.  The Judaizers in the Galatian church sought to place the people under bondage to the Law.  Christians proclaim that the presence of the Holy Spirit in the heart and life of the believer frees them from the law, reducing the law to a system that exposes sin in the lives of the lost.

(4) He was called by God to teach the truth. Paul understood that it is imperative that the Gospel he presents is true and free of any additions or impurities.  Likewise, as Christians present the gospel, it must be presented in truth without addition or error.  It is so easy for us to include additional requirements for righteousness since, like Paul's legalistic background, a works-based righteousness is the world view from which we all come.  It makes human sense to be punished for being bad.  People are willing to accept punishment for their sin rather than simply thank God for forgiveness that comes without punishment.  Also, it makes human sense to expect to be rewarded for being Good.  However, no person is good, for all have fallen short of God's glory (Rom. 3:23).    

Gal 1:18-24.

18Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. 19But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother. 20Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not. 21Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; 22And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ: 23But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed. 24And they glorified God in me.

Paul had established that his early exposure to Christian truth came directly from communication with God during a three-year retreat in the desert of Arabia. Paul then went to Jerusalem to meet with Peter, who was then the leader of the apostles. Again, Paul is demonstrating how his Gospel came directly from God and resulted in teaching the Gospel of the apostles.  Paul certainly had a testimony to share immediately following his conversion on the Damascus road.  However, before he made an effort to preach and teach, he invested the time in prayer, study, and listening to God that was needed for him to have a complete and true understanding of the gospel. 

There are many times that well-meaning Christians are eager to express their faith through preaching and teaching, but engage in the enterprise without the requisite education.  Certainly, very little or no religious training is needed for a Christian to give a testimony of what God has done for them.  However, in order to preach and teach the meat of the gospel, some learning of scripture is certainly necessary.  As we read scripture, we are separated by 2000 years of time, a vast difference in culture, an entirely different language, etc.  There have even been changes in English usage since some of the earlier Bible translations were written, and newer Bible translations contain changes that have come as a result of new understanding and knowledge of ancient language, culture, and scripture manuscripts.  Unlike Paul who could learn of the gospel through revelation, most Christians are dependent upon study of the scripture with a sensitivity the message that was intended by its authors.  Such study takes time and effort.  The exercise even took Paul three years of concentrated effort.  Christians should never disdain religious knowledge, but should rather seek out every opportunity to learn more so that, like Paul, their testimony can include a depth and understanding of Christian theology that can be proclaimed to others.

Where does one turn to learn spiritual truth?  First, and foremost, one can turn directly to God's word, the Bible.  All of its pages were written to ordinary men by men of ordinary language and experience who were placed in extraordinary circumstances.  The pages of the Bible were written to be read, not to be solely placed on a shelf and venerated as holy.  A new believer can easily read the books of John, 1 Peter, and James to get started and then move on to Romans for more depth of theology.  The books of Genesis, Exodus, 1 and 2 Kings provide much of the basis for understanding the context of the faith.  Of course, the book of Psalms contains many expressions of praise, and Proverbs contains much wise instruction. 

When we turn to Christian teachers and preachers, we can give our attention to those who spend their time teaching and preaching God's word, directly from scripture, and avoid those who use the platform as an opportunity to share opinions or secular philosophies.   When we consider the plight of the Galatian church, and many churches today, the understanding of the true and full gospel serves to refute any false doctrine that places additional requirements above simple faith in Jesus Christ for salvation.  As Paul emphatically teaches the Galatians that salvation is not accomplished by works of the flesh, we always must remember that when a person turns to Christ, the life change that takes place results in spontaneous works of the Spirit, as described by James.  Understanding that works that are a response to God's love, and works that one requires to attain God's love are two separate and exclusive concepts.  We cannot attain God's love by works ... He already loves us.  It is by faith that we are saved, through grace.  In this, none can boast of attaining salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9).