Several years ago — before this devotional became a website and was simply an email list — I wrote a series on the Book of Galatians. I recently reviewed my notes from that series and was moved by the importance and power of the message of Galatians. Because many (probably most) of you were not subscribed at that time, I am reposting the series with updates. It will be a verse-by-verse study of this great epistle.
“Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia.”
During his first missionary journey, the apostle Paul established a number of churches in the Roman province of Galatia in southern Anatolia (modern Turkey), in particular in the four cities of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. Upon returning to Jerusalem (see Acts 13–14), Paul heard that false teachers were leading the Galatian churches astray with a distorted version of the gospel. The term that is most often used to describe these false teaches is Judaizers, because they taught that conversion to Christ required adherence to their legalistic form of Judaism.
The Judaizers saw their message as Jesus Christ plus Moses. They had constructed a religious system that claimed salvation required faith in Christ plus total commitment to the law of Moses. This adherence to the law was a denial of the adequacy of Christ’s work and an abandonment of the Holy Spirit as God’s way of guiding and empowering the Christian life. In other words, the legalism of the Judaizers was more than simply a problem: it had become a new message, a different gospel — a corrupted gospel — that was threatening the integrity of the early church.
It is to the churches in Galatia, then, that Paul writes this letter (about AD 48 or 49).
The focus of the letter is the gospel. Paul passionately clarifies the truth of the gospel, and at the same time challenges the Galatian believers not to be deceived by the false teaching of the Judaizers. Throughout the letter Paul both admonishes and instructs.
The letter addresses social and racial division not just in the churches of Galatia, but in the early church throughout the Roman Empire. The first Christians in Jerusalem were Jewish, but as the gospel spread out from that center, increasing numbers of Gentiles began to receive Christ. However, the Judaizers were now insisting that the Gentile Christians practice all the traditional ceremonial customs of the law of Moses, as most of the Jewish Christians did. They taught that the Gentiles had to be circumcised and be required to observe all the dietary laws in order to be saved and fully accepted into the Christian fellowship.
Paul warns the Galatians that the religious system of the Judaizers is not from God, is not based in the revelation of Jesus Christ, and does not depend on the Holy Spirit. Indeed, it is a false gospel. Right from the start he addresses the issue: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-7)
The book of Galatians will make clear that we are made righteous before God not through adherence to the Law, but through the finished work of Christ; that salvation is a gift received by faith, not something achieved by human effort. It will clarify the purpose of the Law of Moses in God’s kingdom plan; that the Law provided structure and standards for the people of Israel, but was never intended to be a means of salvation.
The heart of Christianity is not living by the law; rather, it is living by trust in Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Obedience matters, and the Lord calls us and commands us to obey. But we don’t obey the Lord in order to be saved; we obey the Lord because we are saved.
The book of Galatians has much to teach us. Let the journey begin!