Reflections on Galatians

I’m reading through the Bible in a year, and every month I post about what I’ve read. Other posts this month are on 1 Samuel , 2 Samuel, 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians.You may also read what I’ve blogged on Galatians so far.

The main messages of Paul’s epistle to the Galatians are salvation through faith and freedom in Christ. He wrote the letter to counter false teachers who were persuading the Gentile Galatian Christians to obey the OT law as a way of upping their reputation in God’s sight. Christians today aren’t big on the Mosaic law, but we still have the inclination to try and impress God by what we do.

A brief outline: in chapters 1 & 2, Paul appeals to his personal history;  in chapters 3 & 4 he appeals to Scripture; in 5 & 6, he gives the application.

1:1-24

In verse 1, Paul introduces himself as an apostle “sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father”, which will be his theme for two and a half chapters. His detractors were probably attacking both him and his message. Paul insists that his gospel came from God, not from his own imagination or from the other apostles. In contrast, the Galatians had turned to a different and perverted gospel, which was no gospel at all.

2:1-21

On a trip to Jerusalem, Paul and the other apostles recognised that they were all teaching the same gospel, which did not require the Gentiles to follow the Jewish law (2:1-10). For example, no one compelled Titus to be circumcised (2:3).

But Peter later backtracked, and Paul confronted him publicly. Peter was making a wrong call on whom he considered as a brother/sister in Christ, and that’s why Paul says that what Peter and the others did was “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel”. The truth is that no one is justified by observing the law (2:15-16).

3:1-25

3:1-5: Paul asks six questions in succession to get across his point that the way into the Christian life (faith) is the way on in the Christian life.

3:6-14: Paul makes seven OT quotations that point to the primacy of faith in God’s promise and the curse of the law. Everyone from Abraham to the Gentiles, is justified by faith not by law.

3:15-25: He explains the purpose of the law. The law was a prison and a schoolmaster with the task of supervision. Now that faith has come, says Paul, we are no longer under the law.

3:26-4:31

Those who belong to Christ are sons of God through faith. The distinctions of gender, race, etc, no longer matter in Christ (3:28). God sent His Son to redeem us, and sent His Spirit to confirm our sonship.

But the Galatians were turning back from all that. They had once been welcoming and self-sacrificing, but in their new legalism they had lost their joy (4:15).

In 4:21-31, Paul basically says the false teachers are children of Hagar, not of Sarah. The persecution the Galatian church had endured was a mark of their being children of the promise.

5:1-6:10

What is the implication of all this? Freedom (4:31, 5:1, 5:13a)!

5:2-6: Christ has set us free, therefore we shouldn’t abdicate our freedom. We have the option between the yoke of slavery and the life of freedom.

5:13-16: Christ has set us free, therefore we shouldn’t abuse our freedom. We have been set free to become slaves to one another (5:13b). The law isn’t the way to be made right with God, but that doesn’t absolve us from following it. The way to do so is to live a life of love, enabled by the Spirit.

5:19-21: The acts of the sinful nature. The Greek culture of the day said that the way to curb these vices was through knowledge. The Jewish rabbis said that the law was the remedy. But external actions cannot produce a transformed attitude.

5:22-23: The transformation is worked by the Spirit of God. First on the list is love. What is the point of this work? That we may inherit the kingdom of God (5:21).

6:1-2: Prompted by the Spirit, we should restore those who have fallen and relieve those who are burdened. (The Galatians had been biting and devouring one another as well as provoking and envying each other.)

6:3-6: There’s some personal responsibility to be taken: each person should test their actions and carry their own little load (the Greek word used in verse 5 is for a backpack, I’m told).

6:7-10: We should sow to please the Spirit without losing heart. In love we do good to all as we have the opportunity.

6:11-18

Paul concludes the letter recapitulating his main points. The Judaizers wanted to boast outwardly and avoid persecution (6:12). But they were inconsistent; their avoidance of persecution was an avoidance of the shame of the cross; their insistence on circumcision fell far short of what God is offering.

Conclusion

We should be wary of any teaching that says you need Jesus + [fill in the blank] in order to be pleasing to God. We come into the Christian life by faith in Christ’s work on the cross, and we remain Christians by that same faith. We don’t need any additional ritual or experience in order to make God more favourably disposed toward us.

Sources: CICCU media, David Jackman.

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