As we noted last Sunday in our “Prologue to Galatians” it would seem that during his second missionary journey while either in Athens or soon upon arriving to Corinth Paul received a disturbing report that the very group of heretics he’d dealt with in Antioch and Jerusalem (Acts 15) had come to the churches he had planted throughout the cities of Galatia questioning not only his apostolic authority, but the very nature of God’s amazing grace…
In response to this report and on account that it would be impossible for him to drop what he was doing and head immediately into Galatia to address these issues in person, Paul instead writes this letter to the Galatians to not only defend his Apostolic authority, but to reaffirm the true nature of God’s grace as being both the mode of our justification (how we become right with God) and that of our sanctification (how we become more like Christ).
In regards to the severity of the stakes that demanded Paul’s attention Dr. Merrill Tenny has remarked that “Christianity might have been just one more Jewish sect, and the thought of the Western world might have been entirely pagan had Galatians never been written.”
Furthermore, it’s been correctly said concerning the serious nature of Paul’s letter that, “While Christianity was born in the cradle of Judaism, it ran the terrible risk of dying there.”
I like how J. Vernon McGee sets up Paul’s approach to the Galatians… “The epistle contains no word of commendation, praise, or thanksgiving. There is no request for prayer, and there is no mention of their standing in Christ. No one with him is mentioned by name… The heart of Paul the apostle is laid bare, there is deep emotion and strong feeling. This is his fighting epistle — he has on his war paint. He has no toleration for legalism. Someone has said that Romans comes from the head of Paul while Galatians comes from his heart. Galatians takes up controversially what Romans puts systematically.”
In way of introduction Galatians has been given many incredible names:
For students of history it should also be pointed out how Paul’s letter to the Galatians has been instrumental in changing the hearts of the men who’ve changed the world.
The very idea presented in Galatians 3:11 that “the just shall live by faith” singularly sparked a reformation in the heart of Martin Luther that spawn a reformation of the church! Not only was Galatians Luther’s favorite book, but he’d go so far as to say, “The epistle to the Galatians is my epistle. To it I am as it were in wedlock. It is my Catherine.”
Not only Luther, but this letter was also a favorite of both John Wesley (who was a key figure in the Great Awaking in Britain and America) as well as William Wilberforce (who was the central and driving figure in the abolishment of the slave trade).
J. Vernon McGee has noted the important role Galatians has played in world affairs by calling it the “backbone and background for every great spiritual movement and revival.”
To this point James Montgomery Boice, commenting on the lasting impact Paul’s letter to the Galatians has had since the Protestant Reformation, says, “not many books have made such a lasting impression on men’s minds as the Epistle of Paul to the Galatians, nor have many done so much to shape the history of the Western world.”
Galatians can be outlined as follows: (Stolen from Pastor Jon Courson)
Galatians 1:1-2, “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 brethren who are with me, to the churches of Galatia…”
Right from the onset Paul seeks to immediately address the questioning of his Apostleship by making it clear he was not “an apostle… from men (in that no man had sent him) nor through man” (in that no institution had commissioned him). Instead, Paul declares that he was “an apostle” because Jesus called, commissioned, and sent him to be one.
In a sense Paul is making it clear he’s not presenting his opinions or sharing his musings. Because he had been specifically sent by Jesus he’s speaking under His authority!
Galatians 1:3-5, “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Paul begins… “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ…” It’s evident Paul waists no time getting right to the heart of the issue… “Grace!” In the Greek this word “grace” or “charis” simply means “favor.” It should also be noted that the word itself came from the Greek word “chairo” meaning “to rejoice.”
In 156 times the word is used in the N.T. “grace” takes on a redemptive quality describing an act whereby God avails His favor to those who patently don’t deserve it. Some have defined the Biblical concept of grace as “unmerited favor.” Other’s have more creatively defined it using the acrostic, “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.”
A.W. Tozer provided a more extensive definition by describing “grace as the good pleasure of God that inclines Him to bestow benefits on the undeserving.”
Pastor John MacArthur added saying that “Grace is the free and benevolent influence of a holy God operating sovereignly in the lives of undeserving sinners.”
Notice the order… “Grace and peace!” It’s not an accident that every time we see this coupling the order is the same: 13 times in Paul’s letters, in each of Peter’s (1 Peter 1:2, 2 Peter 1:2), once by John (2 John 1:3), and then by Jesus Himself (Revelation 1:4).
Understand… It is impossible for a person to experience the peace of God until they first fully experience the grace of God for if salvation or sanctification has any basis on a person’s works or their merit lasting peace is simply unattainable. Friend, the only way you can truly have peace is when you first find rest in God’s amazing grace!
Also note that according to Paul both “grace and peace” are not something that man can provide or that he can attain or create for himself! “Grace and peace” are something that must be given by God alone… They both originate in Him before being extended to us.
Paul says “grace and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Neither God’s favor nor His peace can be earned or found apart from His willingness to give them.
Friend, if you’re tired of running this rat-race… If you’re tired of trying to earn God’s approval… Tired of trying to be good… Of the striving and the fighting and the failing… Please realize the human soul will never find peace apart from the grace of God!
After introducing us to the bestower of “grace and peace… our Lord Jesus Christ” Paul continues by immediately explaining how it is that Jesus has the authority and ability to bestow these two things: God’s favor and peace… Jesus “gave Himself for our sins…”
It’s crucially important you understand that no man can accept a “Savior for sins” unless he first acknowledges “he sins.” It’s only logical that before there can be any remedy or proposed solution there must first be the existence and assumed recognition of a problem.
Honestly, I’ve found that many people fail to accept Jesus as a Savior (instead embracing Him as a loving friend, moral example, even a gracious God) because they refuse to see themselves for what they actually are - a sinner in need of a Savior…
And since this is the tragic case there are so many people today who subsequently fail to encounter Jesus for who He actually is (a Savior for sin) because they’re simply unwilling to admit they’ve fallen short of the person God wants them to be!
Understand, Jesus might love you just the way that you are, but that doesn’t mean He loves the way that you are! Sadly, there are so many people today who misinterpret His love for the person as His acceptance of that person’s condition. Sure Jesus loves you even though you’re fallen, broken, and messed up, but that doesn’t mean He’s content to leave you fallen, broken, and messed up!
In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus said, “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.”
Jesus enters your life for one purpose… To change you, transform you, restore you, and make you into the very thing you aren’t… So much so that He was willing to “give Himself” in order to deal with the root of your problem - Your sinful state!
Let me clarify something… You are not a sinner because you sin. You sin because you’re a sinner. The fundamental problem with man boils down to a heart condition (a fallen state) which makes any tinkering of one’s behavior frivolous and ineffective.
You see what man needs most is not a set of religious codes aimed at refining his behavior. What man needs is a Savior willing to completely atone for his sin, impart an alien righteousness, and able to permanently transform the very nature of his heart.
What you need more than anything else is your debt paid (atonement), your core problem addressed (redemption of the heart, mind, and soul), and a lasting remedy imparted (regeneration of your core desires brought about by the indwelling Holy Spirit).
This is why Jesus “gave Himself for our sins.” Which is interesting for while in John 3:16 we’re told “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” (no doubt communicating the incredible love of God for you and I), in this passage we’re told Jesus was a willing and able participant. He wanted to lay down His life to pay for “our sins.”
And why would Jesus do this? Answer: “That He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever.”
“That He might deliver us…” In the Greek this word is “exaireō” which means “to pluck out, to choose, to rescue.” The word can literally mean “to liberate.”
Liberate us from what? Answer: “This present evil age.” Sure while there is no doubt Jesus died to save us from the judgment of hell, His pressing intention in “giving Himself for our sins” was to liberate us from the fallen, wicked condition that dominates the world we live in today. Jesus saves us from the current of this wicked world!
Note: The Bible presents salvation as a former work whereby we’ve been saved from sin, a continued work whereby we’re being saved from this sinful world, and a yet still future work whereby we’ll be saved from the judgment to come!
Galatians 1:6-7, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.”
“I marvel (this phrase indicates speed and surprise… literally, “I’m shocked how quickly”) you are turning away so soon from Him…” The pressing question we must consider is what was it that these Galatians were “turning away from?” Answer: In context it seems that because they were adopting “a different gospel” they were in actuality “turning away from Jesus!”
This phrase “turning away” is much stronger in the Greek. Paul wasn’t saying they were “leaving” Jesus. Instead they were abandoning Him. Paul accuses these Galatians of being turncoats! He charges them with deserting Jesus… The One who “gave Himself!”
How does such a drastic thing like this happen to people who’ve at one point come to the cross of Christ? Answer: They base a relationship with Jesus on something other than “the grace of Christ.” Keep in mind Paul says these Galatians were departing “from” Jesus and the saving and transforming power of His grace “to” what he calls a “different gospel” which he then makes clear isn’t really “another” before calling it a “perversion of the gospel.”
Note: This word “different” means “not one of the same kind.” What Paul is saying is that this “different gospel” was not an effective alternative. It was a perversion… A distortion!
Whereas the True-Gospel gloriously bases our favor with God and the continuance of that favor solely upon His “Grace.” these men were perverting the nature of grace by formulating and teaching a twisted Anti-Gospel (a replacement).
There are three ways grace is distorted to create an “Anti-Gospel…”
1. There is the Anti-Gospel of “Grace, And” do these things…” I’m saved and sanctified by grace and the things I do.
Sadly there are many people who see the true nature of the Gospel as simply being to good to be true. I mean how could it honestly be that God’s favor would require nothing of me… That His favor is designed to be received and not earned… That the process of becoming “like Christ” occurs independent of my works or disciplines?
Because this is an affront to a person’s pride and sense of self-sufficiency, (while accepting God’s saving grace) they establish for themselves a religious code by which they either seek to earn God’s favor or at least prove themselves worthy.
To accomplish this they substitute the Gospel of Grace for the Three R’s of Religion: Their relationship with God is grace and their obedience to rules, regulations to insure obedience, and rituals in order to demonstrate their piety and devotion to God.
And yet, if the basis of your relationship with Jesus is “grace, and” the good things I do for God, my service, and my religious works then you not only fail to fully understand grace, but you’re saying Jesus’ death and resurrection are not enough.
2. There is the Anti-Gospel of “Grace, But” don’t do these things… I’m saved by grace, but sanctified by the things I refrain from doing.
Once again there are many people who also see the true nature of the Gospel as simply being to good to be true, but in an entirely different way. While God’s favor is designed to be initially received these individuals fall into the burden of seeing God’s continued favor as something they need to maintain.
Sure, while they’ll conceded there is nothing they can do to save themselves, they see human involvement as being essential to the process of sanctification. Yes, their relationship with Jesus is foundationally based on His grace, but they believe it can be fostered and deepened by the things they willingly and sacrificially give up for Him.
Sadly, what is produced from this particular outlook is a wicked form of Christian legalism that establishes a moral structure and a church culture that demands liberties to forgo and things to be sacrificed in order to be a better Christian in place of simply emphasizing the enjoyment and freedom that comes from a personal relationship with Jesus founded upon nothing but His amazing grace.
Though God’s favor is given at the cross many believe that God will be more pleased with a person when they abstain from drinking, dancing, or generally having fun! Once again when anyone says they’ve been saved by grace, but are sanctified by anything other than His grace they are distorting the very nature of grace itself!
You see, if the basis of your relationship with Jesus is “grace, but” the things you refrain from doing and the sacrifices you make for Him then you not only fail to fully understand grace, but you’re saying Jesus’ death and resurrection are insufficient.
3. Anti-Gospel of “Grace, So” I can do anything… I’m saved and sanctified by grace, so there’s no restrictions on the things I can do.
The irony is that while these people do understand the freeing nature of grace (it’s true you can do anything as God’s favor is provided independent of the individual) they subsequently distort grace in an entirely different way than the previous two.
Instead of grace yielding greater holiness and a sanctified life as it’s designed to do, grace is seen as a license for whatever goes. Unmerited favor in place of sin plus Jesus’ complete forgiveness concerning sin is viewed as an unrestricted permit to sin! It’s the Romans 6:1 mentality… “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound!”
Sadly, while it’s true that if you're worried grace can become a license for sin you have a fundamental misunderstanding of grace, it’s equally true that if you see grace as a license to sin you also have an equally distorted and perverted view of grace.
If the basis of your relationship with Jesus is “grace, so” I can do whatever I want, then you not only fail to fully understand grace, but you’re actually making a mockery of the death and resurrection of Jesus. To those who take this approach Paul would simply ask in Romans 6:2, “How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”
You see if you truly grasp the True-Gospel of “Grace. (period)” you will understand that being saved and sanctified by grace transforms who I am and what I want to do for when the heart changes and I enter into a love relationship with Jesus my desires also change! I don’t live to please Jesus because I have to. I live to please Jesus because I want to.
In conclusion… I’m struck by something Paul says in this introduction. He affirms that “there are some who… want to pervert the gospel of Christ.” What Paul is saying is that these distortions of grace do not occur by accident and are instead intentional! It’s provocative!
We must ask why would anyone want to pervert the nature of God’s amazing grace in any of these three ways? While all three distortions are different in their own right there is one commonality that provides the answer… Me! You see a central component of the true nature of grace is that it completely takes the power out of the hands of men.
The truth is that the “Grace, And” model is appealing because it affords my involvement in procuring the favor of God. The “Grace, But” model is appealing because it enables me to maintain a sense of moral superiority with my fellow man. And the “Grace, So” model is appealing because it allows me to remain in control of my life.
You see the reality is that the True-Gospel of “Grace.” is deeply offensive to human nature because it’s an insult to our pride and denigrates self. Fundamentally, it declare that I’m a sinner in need of being saved… There is nothing I can do to save myself… And that once I’ve been saved there’s no way I can take credit for it!
Sadly, what Paul has to say about grace and how he addresses these distortions in his letter to the Galatians is of such relevance for the church today because there is something in all of us that wants to pervert the Gospel. Is your relationship with Jesus, your favor with God, and the continuance of these things based on anything but the “True-Gospel of Grace.”?
No Additional Links.