This is the only letter that Paul writes addressed to multiple churches. Many Bible teachers believe Paul is addressing those churches they had planted on their first missionary journey as recorded in Acts 13-14. These were beautiful congregations established by God, but false teachers had crept into the church, and were actually turning people away from Jesus (see v. 6).
I’ve always been impressed at the passion in which Paul writes this letter (we will see it throughout). Paul was unique in that he was appointed an Apostle, not by man, or even through man (v. 1), but by God the Father through Jesus Christ. Paul brings this up because it gives “weight” to his words – don’t listen to the false teachers, listen to the anointed Apostle…appointed by God Himself.
Paul was amazed at how the people were turning away from Jesus so soon. Simply because someone moseyed on in and preached a different gospel (which was no gospel at all). They had perverted the Gospel by adding elements of Judaism as a requirement, especially the act of circumcision. Paul is so passionate about this, that he tells them – straight out – it doesn’t matter if it’s us, or an angel from heaven, listen, if anyone preaches any other gospel than what we’ve already preached to you, let that person be accursed (damned, sent to hell). This is serious stuff!
Paul goes on to explain that the gospel he had preached to them was not something he acquired by his own invention, or human education, no, it was by divine revelation. Paul shares his personal story in that when he was saved, he didn’t “immediately confer with flesh and blood,” in other words he didn’t go to man and have him explain this to him, he didn’t go to Jerusalem, or to the Apostles – he went to God. His was a unique experience of the Gospel, saved and taught directly by Jesus. Paul spent 3 years in Arabia and it was there that God opened up the Bible to him, the Gospel of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (see Ephesians 2:8-9; John 3:16; 14:6).
After 3 years Paul went to Jerusalem for 15 days, spending time with Peter and James (the Lord’s brother) but then he was sent home and continued to preach the Gospel that God had given to him.
All this to say that any other gospel is counterfeit; if it’s human it’s impotent, if it’s demonic it’s evil and the enemy is doing all that he can to bring us into bondage (a word found 6 times in Galatians). The enemy is fighting with full force to turn us away from the simplicity that is in Christ (Galatians 1:6; 2 Corinthians 11:3).
My prayer as we read through the book of Galatians, is that we’d rediscover the liberty we have in Christ – we’ve been saved and set free, may we use that liberty to love the Lord and His people (Galatians 5:13).
The incident Paul writes about can be traced back to Acts 15. False teachers had crept into the church and taught the people that faith wasn’t enough, that they also needed to be circumcised in order to be (or stay) saved. Thank God that Paul was an advocate for the Gospel, he didn’t give-in for a moment to even a single “drop” of perversion to the Gospel!
Paul reveals one of the motives of these false teachers, and that is to bring people into “bondage” (v. 4). This is what legalism does, it takes away the freedom and peace we’ve been given in Christ by imposing various rules and regulations, additions of traditions, and the next thing you know, you’re either weighed down by a growing burden of man-made convictions, rules and regulations, or you lose the very assurance of your salvation. Friend, please, beware of legalism! Let’s make sure we have a clear understanding of the Gospel, that we are no longer bound by any man’s religious law. We are saved by faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ.
Paul only agreed to go up to Jerusalem and be part of that first church council, because the Lord supernaturally told him to go (he said he went up “by revelation” v. 2). I’m sure Paul respected the leaders in Jerusalem, but he knew that God doesn’t have favorites, and the Gospel is not something that originated with men, Paul says, they “added nothing to me,” in other words, they didn’t add anything to my message.
The truth is, James, Peter, and John, as well as the other apostles who were in Jerusalem, had the same Gospel but, a different “audience.” At that point in time, those other brothers were focusing on evangelizing the Jews, while Paul was reaching out to the Gentiles. They approved of each other’s different ministries geographically, but in their hearts served Christ unitedly, they only asked Paul to continue to consider the poor in Jerusalem, something he was always eager to do.
Over the years I’ve read some pretty strong thoughts about Paul and the Apostles. Some of them say that if it weren’t for Paul, Christianity would have ended up as simply a “sect of Judaism.” We see a hint of that here in Galatians 2 as Paul boldly confronts even Peter and Barnabas for their hypocrisy. Under the New Covenant, they were allowed to eat anything (1 Timothy 4:3-4) and with anyone (see also Acts 10). So, Paul and Barnabas freely ate with the Gentiles, but when “certain men” came from James in Jerusalem, they reverted back to the Old Covenant – they wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles under such circumstances, and Paul confronted Peter face-to-face!
We are called to preachthe Gospel to the lost, protectthe Gospel from false teachers, and preservethe Gospel by expounding it to the church with great clarity.
Paul goes on to remind us that we are saved by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law. I believe the sin Paul is writing about in verses 17 and 18 have to do with the sin of unbelief and returning back to the law. He doesn’t want to “build” those things again! The religious person that Paul had been all his life had died, crucified (2:20), now the life he lived on earth, he lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved him and gave Himself for us.
Legalism and a performance-oriented relationship with God is such a pressing temptation…it’s also an intrinsic inclination. This is why the enemy is so successful in his endeavor to bring us into the bondage of legalism. It’s hard to believe that not only are we saved by faith, but we’re also sanctified by faith. By nature, we’ve come to believe that nothing is free and therefore we must “perform” in order to possess the promises of God, this is why the law was so alluring to the Galatians.
Paul rebuked them strongly – they were being foolish, they were bewitched, it’s as if someone had cast a spell on them. They knew Jesus died so they might live, but now it’s as if they were saying a crucified Christ was not enough. If you think back to the beginning of your Christian life, you’ll remember that you were saved and received the Spirit when you believed in Jesus, by faith. We began as Christians in the Spirit, why then do we think we can grow as Christians, in the flesh (and that’s what religion through rules and regulations is – fallen flesh – it will fail every time).
The Judaizers were telling them that they needed to be circumcised in order to be saved, to be a Jew anda Christian, Paul said absolutely not! We are saved by faith alone.
Pau goes back to Abraham to whom the promises were given and illustrates the fact that Abraham simply believed, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. It’s interesting that the Abrahamic covenant was not only a covenant of faith, but it was also a covenant that would spread to the whole world, “…in you all the nations shall be blessed…”(Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14). Paul explains that the law was never intended to save a soul, it only brings a curse because no one can keep the law – no one, that is, except Christ, who not only kept the law, but bore the curse for us, when He hung, bled, and died on the cross of Calvary.
Paul reasons that even human covenants are not altered or annulled, how much more so the Divine Covenant God made with Abraham and his Seed, that would then bless all the nations of the world! The law came AFTER the covenant with Abraham! The Judaizers wanted to go back to Moses, but they should have gone back farther, to Abraham, and there they would discover that salvation is by faith; something that even the OldTestament explicitly stated in Habakkuk 2:4.
The Mosaic law has no power over sin, it can only point out sin, and was therefore intended to point us to our Savior. In those days children had a guardian while they were young, who would take the children to school, so they could learn, but eventually the day would come when the child would no longer need a tutor in that sense. That’s what the law was, a temporary school-master to bring us to Christ by showing us our sin and our need for forgiveness.
Let’s not be confused by v. 28 – of course we know that there are still racial, financial, and sexual differences, but this passage teaches us that none of those things create any spiritual advantage or disadvantage. We have all been saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
Most of us nowadays have no clue what it’s like to be a literal, actual slave. In the Roman world of Paul’s day, there were 60 million slaves, and every single one of them knew the infinite difference between them and someone who was free. Until Jesus came, the whole world was in spiritual slavery, under bondage to sin and lawful religion, but when Jesus came, He set us free; if we place our faith in Christ, the chains are gone (John 8:35-36). This is what Paul is trying to teach the Galatians. In Christ, we are no longer slaves, we are children of God! Why were the people going back to the bondage of rigorous religion?
Paul mentions the fact that they were turning again to religious rules and regulations (4:9). Earlier in Galatians 1:9 Paul marveled that they were turning away so soon from Jesus! Paul was heartbroken and even afraid at the possibility that he had labored for them in vain, that he had wasted his time (4:11).
Paul urged the people to return to Christ and His message and messenger. He reminded them of how it was in the beginning, the relationship they had when Paul first preached the Gospel to them. We don’t know all the details, but there was a day when they esteemed Paul to the extent that they would have plucked out their eyes and given them to Paul. Now they see him as their enemy simply because he’s telling them the truth (4:16). The false teachers wanted to replace Paul, they wanted the people to be zealous for them.
I thought it was interesting that Paul was here laboring in birth “AGAIN” until Christ was formed in them (4:19). It’s almost as if he was starting all over with them.
Paul goes on to give an allegorical example and explanation from Genesis 16 as to what was taking place from a Spiritual perspective (I encourage you to read that chapter if you can).
Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael was born from the bondwoman (Hagar), Isaac was born from the free woman (Sarah). Ishmael was born of the flesh (it was man) but Isaac was born of the promise (it was God). Ishmael corresponds to Mt. Sinai, where the law was given, Isaac corresponds to the heavenly Jerusalem, Mt. Zion, which gives birth to children who are born in liberty, who are spiritually rich, and who are freely empowered to be like their God (and Father). This is who Christians are.
Sandy Adams elaborates on this wonderful teaching, “Isaac was the result of God’s work, or grace. Ishmael was the result of man’s work, or legalism. Ishmael became jealous of Isaac and refused to let him live in peace. Likewise, the legalist is jealous of the believer who lives by grace. Paul is warning that there will be no rest for the Galatians until legalism and the legalist have been booted from the body.”
The enemy was trying to reroute the Galatian Christians, and he’ll try to do the same to us. We must stand fast and firm, hold our ground, cling to Christ, stay right where we are in a relationship with God based on love and not law or legalism.
Paul issued a heavy, heavy warning to the Galatian Christians, if they bought the lie of the legalists, that Christ wasn’t enough. If they went ahead and got circumcised, they essentially exited Christianity and entered into Judaism, they fell from grace and were now obligated to keep the whole law (something that no one can do – Acts 15:10).
They had been doing so well, they were running the race, but whenever and wherever God does a great work, the enemy will oppose that work vigorously; these lying leaders had leavened the lump. We have many cults today and established “religions” who all teach salvation by works founded by men who were not called by God but sent by Satan. Paul was filled with a righteous indignation towards these false teachers even wishing that these troublers would “cut themselves off” (mutilate themselves). The Judaizers were teaching that men must be circumcised to be saved, so Paul took it a few steps further and wanted these imposters to castrate themselves! (He sounds upset)
Our Christian life should be a blessing not a burden; God wants us to be free, to travel light, to rest assured, to walk in peace – God has granted us liberty – but – we are not to use this liberty as a license to sin. What beautiful words we read in v. 13, “…but through love serve one another.”That’s it, that’s what we’ve been set free to do, to love God and to love everyone else!
This type of love cannot be genuine in our own strength or effort. Agape (Divine) love is only possible if we walk in the Spirit (function under His influence – Ephesians 5:18). The contrast would be if we walked in the flesh – referring to our own fallen nature and the war within.
How can you tell if you’re walking in the flesh or walking in the Spirit? There will be evidence, there will be fruit.
As I read verses 19-21 I do so reverently and honestly…does any of this describe me? If it does, if any of these characteristics describe a person consistently, wherein this is their practice, then Paul says such a person will NOT inherit the kingdom of God!I thank the Lord that He’s set me free from the sinful sex, drugs, and rock and roll parties of my B.C. days, but what about hatred, strife, quarreling, outbursts of wrath, envy?
What about love? Does that describe me? How about you? This is theeevidence of a Christian. This is definitely an emphasis in this chapter (verses 6, 13-14, 22). Pastor Chuck Smith taught that love is the fruit of the Spirit and the other 8 qualities listed in verses 22 and 23 are simply manifestations of love. If we’re truly Christians then we live in the Spirit, we must now do our best to be led by the Spirit, and hence walk in the Spirit…under His influence (Ephesians 5:18; Proverbs 1:23).
I often quote Galatians 6:1-2 when I meet with someone after they’ve fallen. If the one who has strayed is repentant and open to restoration, we need to gently, Biblically, and humbly help them – not that we as counselors are anyone special or have it all together, because in all reality, were it not for the grace of God, I could just as easily have done the same thing, but certain situations are too much for a person to bear alone, and we need to show our love for them, by bearing it with them.
I like the way the NLT translates v. 3, “Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else.”
Verses 3 and 4 teach us that there are those times (works) that we are solely and personally responsible for; wise and Spirit led is the person who knows the difference.
As a teacher I would encourage you to pray for your teachers (v. 6) encourage them in the Lord.
It’s important to realize that every day we are “sowing seeds,” every day we are making an investment, either to our fleshly life or to our spiritual life. We must not deceive ourselves into thinking that we can sow to the flesh (take in and practice sin) and it won’t affect us. The law of the Lord is that whatever you plant will eventually grow, and we’ll reap that harvest, whether good or bad. So, you may want to reconsider the “seeds” you’re planting in your heart. If it’s bad seed, don’t be deceived, and if it’s good seed, don’t be discouraged. I love what Sandy Adams said on this, “Just remember you never reap in the same season you sow. Whether you have sown good seed or bad, there is always a waiting period before your crop, crops up. If you are sowing bad seed the delay can deceive. If you are sowing good seed the delay can discourage. Do not grow weary in doing good! God will fulfill His promise! You be patient and persistent.”
Let us do good to all, especially the brethren (v. 10) take advantage of those “opportunities.”
As Paul closes the letter he personally pens it himself with big letters (that may indicate he had an eye problem). But he goes back to his primary premise and that is for the Galatians to stay away from these false teacher’s teaching of salvation or sanctification through circumcision. These imposters were only trying to avoid persecution; they were not pastors of Christ and of His gospel, they were just another one of those so called “ministers” who likes to boast in numbers, or his own accomplishments, claiming more and more of HIS disciples.
Paul’s only boast in all of life was the cross where Jesus died for all of his sins. The blood of Christ was/is enough! “Nothing in my hand I bring, only to Thy cross I cling!” Paul let go of his grip on religion (the world) and therefore the world lost its grip on him. The people who hold to the pure gospel will experience peace and mercy, they are the ones who belong to God (v. 16) and may we be minsters who have the “marks” Paul had – service to the point of sacrifice and suffering…what a sermon (v. 17).