We must now take some time to examine the Epistle to the Galatians in order to demonstrate that the concern of the inspired apostle was to uphold the liberty of Christ for the Gentiles over against the Judaizers who wanted to put them under the yoke of the Mosaic law.
OUTLINE OF GALATIANS
The Epistle to the Galatians falls into three main parts. Chapters 1 and 2 deal with the assertion by Paul that the gospel of liberty in Christ, which he preached and others rejected, did not come from man, but by divine revelation. It is God’s gospel. In chapters 3 and 4 Paul sets forth a defense of the truth of justification by faith without the works of the law. In chapters 5 and 6 Paul gives detail as to what the liberty in Christ really is. We will follow this main division.
1. Introduction to the Epistle (Gal. 1:1-10). The Apostle Paul identifies himself as the author, being an apostle who was called by Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:1). He names the recipients of the Epistle as the churches of Galatia (Gal. 1:2), extends to them the apostolic blessing (Gal. 1:3-5), expresses his concern that they so soon gave heed to “another gospel” which was no gospel but a perversion of the gospel. He pronounces anathema (a divine curse) on anyone who preaches anything other than the gospel of Christ.
2. The Apostle Paul proceeds to prove that he did not preach a gospel which has its source in man, but is of God, because he received the gospel by divine revelation (Gal. 1:11-2:21). Proof of that is that originally he was a zealous Jew, holding all the traditions of the fathers, even persecuting the saints (Gal. 1:11-14). He received a divine call from Christ while on the way to Damascus (Acts 9:5). He did not then go immediately to Jerusalem to be “brainwashed” by the Jews there; rather he went to Arabia where Christ by His Holy Spirit instructed him (Gal. 1:15-17). Then after three years he went to Jerusalem and conferred with Peter and James for a brief fifteen days (Gal. 1:18, 19). Leaving Jerusalem, he traveled for fourteen years preaching the gospel in Syria and Cilicia and was virtually unknown to the Jerusalem churches (Gal. 1:20-24). At the end of this fourteen year period, he went with Titus and Barnabas to Jerusalem for the conference. He reported to them of his work among the Gentiles (who remained uncircumcised, even as Titus) and how God blessed his ministry even as He blessed Peter’s among the Jews (Gal. 2:1-8). The response of the brethren in Jerusalem was good. They saw that God had granted salvation to the uncircumcised Gentiles. They encouraged Paul to continue as he did, only that he should be sure to remember the Jerusalem poor among the converts (Gal. 2:9, 10). The Apostle adds one more proof, how he withstood Peter’s conduct in Antioch. The church there had their customary love feasts. At these feasts they had tables set up. Some had foods from the market place (offered to idols and including unclean meats): others had foods approved by the traditional Jew. At first Peter ate at the Gentiles’ table, partaking of the “unclean meat.” But, when some of the Jews came from Jerusalem, he switched tables, thereby condemning the Gentiles and putting them to open shame. Paul rebuked Peter for this. At stake was much more than the question of meats. It was the very heart of the Gospel. Hence, Paul states that justification through faith in Christ was the issue. If we be crucified with Christ we are dead to the law of works and are righteous through Christ’s perfect work (Gal. 2:11-21).
3. The basis for liberty in Christ is rooted in the doctrinal truth of justification by faith apart from the works of the law (Gal. 3:1-4:31). The Apostle begins with a question: Did the Galatians receive the Holy Spirit by the works of the law or by faith in Christ? The implied answer is by faith. Why then should they imagine that the Holy Spirit would add to His work their works of the flesh, the keeping of the law (Gal. 3:1-5)? Paul now gives an example from the Old Testament Scripture, viz., Abraham. Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him for righteousness. We who are the children of Abraham are righteous in the same way—through faith in God’s promise, that is in Christ, in Him all nations are blessed (Gal. 3:6-9). The law cannot save, for no one can keep the works of the law; it can only curse. Christ alone was able to deliver us from the curse of the law, since He bore that curse upon the cross. Hence, the Gospel declares that the just live by faith in Christ. By the same faith in Christ, both Abraham and the Gentiles are saved (Gal. 3:10-14). Now the Apostle Paul sets forth the truth that God’s promise to Abraham could not be invalidated. The promise of Christ was confirmed to Abraham and his seed. The law was given 430 years later and did not negate the promise. Rather it temporarily was added in order to point out that salvation was only in the Promised One, Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:15-18). How did the law do this? It was like a schoolmaster which led the true sons of Abraham to Christ. The schoolmaster (pedagog) was a slave who took the young boy by the hand and led him to school. So the law confronts us with our sin and turns us over to Christ. In Christ there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for we both see our sins and turn by faith to the same Christ (Gal. 3:19-29). During the Old Testament, the believer was heir to the righteousness in Christ, but placed under the tutorship of the law and treated as a servant rather than a son. In Christ, they too are made free sons by adoption, for they have the Spirit in their hearts whereby they cry, Father! In Christ, the New Testament church enjoys the freedom of a son and is the true heir (Gal. 4:1-7). The Apostle reminds the Gentiles that before they received the Gospel they were in the bondage of sin, as heathen. Will they now exchange their freedom in Christ for the bondage of the Old Testament law? He warned them that by observing days (Jewish ceremonial laws) they were doing just that. He also reminds them of the joy they expressed in the Gospel at the first. Will they now consider Paul an enemy when he brings them the same truth (Gal. 4:8-20). One final point is made: reflecting on the history of Hagar and Sarah, Paul shows them that Hagar represented bondage, which had to be cast out. Sarah represented Jerusalem, the promise, freedom in Christ. They ought to cast out the bondage of the law for freedom in Christ (Gal. 4:21-31).
4. The believer’s liberty in Christ is to be free from work righteousness and is shown in the ability to do God’s will (Gal. 5:1-6:16). By contrast, a Gentile convert who submitted to circumcision is not by that act justified before God. The danger is to think that such an act is spiritually beneficial (fallen from grace means to forsake the Gospel for the law). Rather, such a one is a heretic who is a bad leaven in the church (Gal. 5:1-12). The liberty which is in Christ is one word, love. Such love does not give the license to commit sin; instead it is manifest in the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:13-26). Practically, this means that they restore one who falls into sin, bear each other’s burden, support their ministers, sow good works so that they may reap in due time (Gal. 6:1-10). Paul expresses a final warning against those who want them to be circumcised for carnal reasons. He would rather that they glory with him in the cross of Christ. The way to peace is to forsake work righteousness and to live in holiness as an expression of thankfulness to God (Gal. 6:11-16).
5. Conclusion (Gal. 6:17, 18). Paul mentioned that he wrote them in his own hand “how large a letter,” vs. 11. This is not a reference to the length of the letter (it was short by comparison); rather it was to the size of the letters which he wrote in his own hand. This could refer to one of two things: either to the fact that he had poor eyesight and thus wrote in large script, or it could refer to the fact that Paul emphasized certain parts of the letter by writing in large letters, much as we use italics. Paul certified his qualifications to write by reminding them that he had scars in his physical body as proof of his sincerity to preach the truth. He commended them to the grace of Christ Jesus (Gal. 6:17, 18).
1.Paul wrote this letter under physical and psychological strain. The greeting is terse; the conclusion does not have any expression of thanksgiving to God for them. He addressed himself to the problem at hand with the prayer that they would receive the true Gospel of Christ.
2.The letter demonstrates Christian apologetics; it is a defense of the faith against error. Paul includes Scriptural references, logical arguments, even his own experiences, and warnings.
3.The letter contains helpful information about the life of Paul.
4.It is the only letter directed to a group of churches.’
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Express in your own words the issue Paul faced in this letter to the Galatians. Why did this revolve around circumcision?
2. Show from chapter one that Paul considered the Gospel he preached to be the only gospel. Explain the anathema of verses 8 and 9. How do we apply this to our day?
4. Discuss what was at stake in Peter’s conduct at Antioch when he turned from eating with the Gentiles and ate with the Jews, Galatians 2:1 ff.
5. What is the relationship between faith and justification? See Galatians 3:6 and Heidelberg Catechism, Question 61.
7. Explain how the New Testament church is mature over against the infant Old Testament church. SeeGalatians 4.
8. Give detail on the bondage of Hagar and Ishmael over against the liberty of Sarah and Isaac (Gal. 4:22 ff.).
9. How does freedom in Christ exclude licentiousness?