Day 315 – Thru the Bible
Today we start Galatians. Here’s the overview video on Galatians.
Video – Read Scripture: Galatians
How does this video help you understand Galatians better?
Galatians 1 – Paul begins the letter by asserting his apostolic authority. False teachers were undermining Paul’s authority by claiming that he was self-appointed, lacking the endorsement of the Jerusalem apostles. Paul refutes this charge by pointing out that his appointment is from the risen Lord Jesus.
The introduction to Galatians does not include the normal Pauline prayer of thanksgiving. This omission may point to the severity of the issues in Galatia. Paul does, however, pray that God will bestow grace and peace upon his readers. This is because of Jesus’ crucifixion, through which peace is established with God as we are “delivered from the present evil age” and transferred into the dawning new age (Colossians 1:13–14; 2 Corinthians 5:17). This succinct statement of the Gospel, centering on Jesus’ gracious self-giving on the cross, is explained more fully as the letter proceeds.
Paul passes to the major theme of the letter as he expresses astonishment that the Galatians are deserting the Gospel. While Paul can begin with thanksgiving when he writes to the Corinthians despite the radical dysfunction in that church (1 Corinthians 1:4–9), Paul views a loss of the pure grace of the Gospel to be a more radical problem than what Corinth was dealing with. Though the Galatians would seem far more outwardly impressive and mature than the Corinthians, their spiritual peril was in fact far greater; hence Paul’s scathing opening words in Galatians 1:6 and following.
God has called the Galatians in grace, but they are distorting the Gospel of grace by placing works as a requirement for salvation upon Gentile converts. This distortion is outlined in the remainder of the letter (2:3–5; 5:2–6; 6:12–13), and Paul’s condemnation of those who taught this is unambiguous. False teaching can take root in anyone, as is seen in Paul’s rebuke of Peter and Barnabas (2:11–14). The truth of the Gospel is not determined by the identity of the one who preaches but by the content of the message. Paul’s desire is to please God, not people, even if, as a servant of Jesus (1:10), faithfulness results in many hardships (5:11; 6:17).
Paul touches on something very profound for fallen humans when he speaks of “seeking the approval of man.” This need for approval is deeply wired into us. Yet the Gospel has the power to calm the quest for human approval, for in the Gospel we are freely given the full and free approval of God in Jesus. We are accepted and approved.
Paul insists that the Gospel he proclaims is of divine origin; he received it on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:1–7), where he received a revelation of Jesus Christ. Subsequent to this, Paul did not meet with the Jerusalem apostles but went into Arabia, east of the Jordan River. Prior to his encounter with Jesus, Paul, a Pharisee (Acts 26:5; Philippians 3:5), educated under Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), was zealous for the traditions of Judaism. This zeal led him to persecute the church, seeking to destroy it. After Jesus revealed Himself to Paul, Paul understood that the Gospel is the fulfillment of Jewish law (4:4, 5; Romans 10:4), and he was transformed from a church persecutor to a church planter. He was commissioned to declare this Gospel of grace to the Gentiles, a task for which God had set him apart prior to his birth.
Paul’s pre-Christian zeal was not only insufficient; it blocked the way for him to see the need for Jesus. Like many of his lost fellow Jews, who zealously sought to establish their own moral righteousness (Romans 10:2–3), Paul had formerly been zealous “for the traditions of my fathers.” What disrupted this, he says, was being called by grace. Moral zeal is necessary (Titus 2:14) but is dangerous to the Christian life if pursued in human strength alone and for personal distinction (Philippians 3:6; Romans 10:2).
Paul presents the case that he is independent from the Jerusalem apostles. He did not meet Cephas (Peter) until three years after the Damascus Road encounter, and then only for two weeks. When he did meet Peter, it did not result in a new Gospel in which the Gentiles needed to submit to the practices of the Jewish law. Paul proceeds to describe his itinerary through Syria and Cilicia, which matches Acts 9:30 (Tarsus is in Cilicia). This is again a reference to his independence from the Jerusalem apostles.
Despite Paul’s incredible experience of “a revelation of Jesus Christ,” the event did not lead him to spiritual arrogance but rather the experience magnified God: “they glorified God because of me.” This is what grace does. It glorifies the Giver.
How do we remain faithful to the pure Gospel of God’s grace and not pervert it with rules or requirements (making it no gospel at all)?
Galatians 2 – Paul returned to Jerusalem after 14 years, accompanied by Titus and Barnabas. This return to Jerusalem is recounted in . During this visit Paul presented the Gospel he proclaimed to the “pillars” of the Jerusalem church—James, Cephas (Peter), and John—who accepted both Paul and his message. This affirmation of a Gospel apart from observance of Jewish works of the law is seen as Titus verse 3, an uncircumcised Greek, was not required to be circumcised. Paul’s opponents taught that Gentiles needed to become Jews in order to become part of the people of God. The juxtaposition of the freedom of the Gospel and the slavery of the law becomes a major theme of ( , , , ; , ).
The Jerusalem apostles gave Paul the “right hand of fellowship,” not to establish his authority but to endorse his ministry in recognition of the grace he had received for his work among the Gentiles, just as Peter had been entrusted with Gospel ministry to the Jews.
Paul furthers his argument of his independence from the Jerusalem apostles by relating how he had rebuked Peter, one of the “pillars” of the church. When Peter arrived in Antioch he gladly ate with Gentiles, as had been his practice since he had received a vision prior to his visit with Cornelius (Acts 10:9–16) in which he had been told that all foods are clean (Mark 7:14–19). Peter’s subsequent withdrawal from table fellowship with Gentiles was a tacit but unmistakable denial of the truth of the Gospel, in which dietary laws have been fulfilled and are therefore not required for Christian fellowship. Peter’s snub, which had the effect of forcing Gentiles to live like Jews with respect to food laws, was akin to the false teachers forcing Gentiles to be circumcised. Consequently, Paul rebuked Peter as a hypocrite. Later references in the New Testament to the relationship between Paul and Peter (examples, 1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:22; 9:5; 15:5; 2 Peter 3:15) imply that Peter heeded Paul’s rebuke.
Note that in his rebuke of Peter—a Christian—Paul invoked the Gospel. Peter’s racist ways were not fundamentally a failure to follow a particular rule but a failure to walk “in step with the truth of the gospel.” For Paul, the Gospel is not only something for Believers to pass on to non-Christians; it is also the daily bread for Believers themselves to feed on. Peter evidently had forgotten that he had already been justified by grace, and was seeking to be “justified” by human approval—the very thing Paul had determined not to do, and from which the grace of God’s eternal approval in Jesus saves us.
Justification by faith apart from works of the law applies to Jews as well as to Gentiles. By justification, Paul means the acquittal of a guilty person before God’s judgment seat. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection in the middle of history, not only can Believers know that there is no present condemnation from God (Romans 8:1); they also can look at the cross and see their final judgment—at the end of history—already carried out on Jesus in their place. The expression “works of the law” (Galatians 2:16; 3:2, 5, 10; Romans 3:20, 28) does not refer to any inherent defect in the law itself, which is “holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12). Rather, these works are God’s holy requirements, which we sinners cannot adequately meet (Galatians 3:10–11). The problem is not the law but us.
By faith, Believers are justified through the completed work of Jesus Christ. He kept the law that could not be kept even by those to whom it was given (the Jews); He was faithful to His Father, was crucified, and then was raised to redeem people from the curse of the law (Galatians 1:4; 3:1; 4:4–5). Jesus was born under the law and kept it perfectly, and He died to redeem those who had transgressed it. Believers are united with Jesus by faith (Galatians 2:16, 20). As a consequence, we have been crucified with Him and our past sinful identity is nailed to the cross with Him at the same time that He indwells us with His resurrected life. Thus, by faith, we are united both to the death and the life of Jesus—free from our past sin by union with His death, and free to allow Him to live His resurrected life through us. The false teachers were nullifying God’s love graciously provided in this union by seeking to supplement Jesus’ death and resurrection with works of the law.
How is this Gospel of grace good news for you?
What other thoughts or questions does today’s video and reading bring up?
Some of these notes are from the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible study notes. We highly recommend this study Bible.
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