Through the Bible in a Year: Galatians

This Week’s Reading Schedule

Monday, April 30: Romans 1-6
Tuesday, May 1: Romans 7-11
Wednesday, May 2: Romans 12-16
Thursday, May 3: James 1-5
Friday, May 4: Galatians 1-6

Next week we will go back over Romans chapter by chapter, comparing James and Galatians (and the Gospels).

The overall year’s plan is here.

Galatians

Galatia was a province, not a city, so Paul writes to the "churches" of Galatia, rather than the church. It is northwest of Antioch, Paul’s home church, in present day Turkey.

The issue in Galatians is that "Judaizers" had come through and convinced these Galatian churches that they should be circumcised and keep the Law. Paul spends most of Galatians explaining why this is not true.

Galatians 1:1-5

Paul defends his apostleship in the very first line. His authority has been challenged, so he defends it.

Notice the reason Jesus died in verse 4. His death delivers us from this present evil age (cf. Acts 2:40). As we saw in Romans, there is real power in what Jesus did, and it transforms those who believe.

Galatians 1:6-9

Paul does not beat around the bush. The gospel of the Judaizers is a false gospel, and he is not going to tolerate it (cf. 2:5). He pronounces an anathema on those who would change the Gospel of Christ.

The term "Judaizer" is used of those early Christians who promoted circumcision and the keeping of the Law. It’s used because they were trying to make Jews out of Gentiles.

An anathema is an ecclesiastical curse. Some think it consigns the cursed one to damnation, others to separation from the church, and others don’t specify.

Galatians 1:10-2:14

This is Paul’s story, where he explains how he received his Gospel and points out that it is endorsed by the apostles. These Judaizers may claim the support of the church in Jerusalem, but Paul really had it (see Acts 15).

Note in 2:11-14 that while it must have taken great courage for Paul to rebuke Peter publicly, it must have taken even greater humility for Peter to put up with it!

Note also the influence that James had over the church in Jerusalem and even among the apostles. James didn’t even come to Antioch, just "certain men" from James, and Peter stopped eating with the Gentiles! Peter, the apostle that brought the Gospel to the Gentiles and the apparent leader of the apostles, was intimidated by men from James! (Acts 11:1-18).

Very little is known about how James became so influential, other than he was known as a very righteous man and he was Jesus’ brother. His "rise to power" is never discussed anywhere authoritatively that I know of.

Galatians 2:15-21

This passage is probably a continuation of what Paul said to Peter, but I’m treating it separately because of the teaching that is in it. Here, as in Romans, Paul begins to defend his Gospel again.

In this passage Paul says both things he was trying to explain in Romans.

  • We cannot achieve our own righteousness through works because we’re slaves of sin.
  • Righteousness will come to us if by faith we enter into the life of Christ and walk by that life rather than our own.

Yes, we are "saved" by faith alone, but the salvation to which he refers is our entrance into the Christian faith, our deliverance from our old life. At baptism, we became a new creation, and Christ lives through us, completely by faith. Faith is the entrance to grace (Rom. 5:2), which breaks sin’s power over us (Rom. 6:14) and teaches us to live sober, godly, and righteous lives (Tit. 2:11-12).

Today, though we think salvation by faith alone is heaven by faith alone. The Scriptures don’t teach that, and Paul doesn’t teach that (Rom. 2:5-8; Gal. 5:19-21; 6:7-9). You will never find Paul teaching that a Christian goes to heaven by faith alone. In fact, he never uses the terminology "go to heaven," but he does speak often of inheriting the kingdom of God and receiving eternal life. When he does, he talks about walking by the Spirit vs. walking by the flesh and about the sins that can keep us out of that kingdom. Galatians 5:19-21 and 6:7-9 are excellent examples.

Just because a person has been saved from their sins through faith is not a guarantee of heaven. We still need to be saved from wrath by living out Christ’s life (Rom. 5:9-10). We need to "be diligent to make our calling and election sure" (2 Pet. 1:10).

Galatians 3

Verse 3: The contrast here is between the Spirit and the works of the Law. In both cases, the goal is to be perfected or completed. The Law will not successfully perfect us because our flesh is weak and sinful (Rom. 7), but the Spirit can: "What the Law could not do, God did by sending his own Son … " (Rom. 8:3-4).

Paul rebukes the Galatians here for starting in the Spirit and then expecting to go on by the keeping of the Law.

He is not rebuking them for seeking to do good works. In this very letter he will tell them, "Do not grow weary in doing good, for in due season you will reap if you do not lose heart" (6:9). As we’ll see when we get there, the thing being reaped by not growing weary in doing good is eternal life.

In Paul’s letter to Titus, he tells us that one purpose of Jesus’ death is that we would be "zealous for good works" (2:14).

Thus, Paul is not speaking against good works. He is speaking against the attempt to live righteously by the Law rather than by walking by the Spirit.

Verses 13-14: Throughout Paul’s letters he explains several different ways that Jesus’ death took away the Law’s claim on us. In this case, he points out that Jesus already took the Law’s curse, so we don’t have to worry about that anymore.

(In Rom. 7, he says we died in Christ so that we are no longer married to the Law. In Ephesians 2, he says that the Law was nailed to the cross and taken out of the way.)

Verses 15-18: Paul argues that Abraham’s covenant of promise came before Moses’ Law, so that it takes priority. Paul is presenting the argument against the Law from every angle.

Verses 19-22: The purpose of the Law was to reveal our sin. If there were a Law that could have delivered us from sin, Paul says, then righteousness would have come that way, but there’s not. So Paul preaches faith in Christ, which does bring life and righteousness to those who believe.

Verses 26-28: Paul ties faith and baptism together in verses 26 and 27. We’re sons of God through faith in Christ, but the way into Christ was that we were baptized into him. The result is that we are part of Abraham’s covenant of promise and faith, not Moses’ covenant of law and works.

Galatians 4:1-20

Paul continues his thought that the Law was a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ. It was our guardian until the promised Messiah came.

Galatians 4:21-5:1

Paul uses Sarah and Hagar as symbolic representatives of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. One is free, and one is a slave. Paul is driving the point home that the Galatians, by choosing the Law, are choosing a powerless slavery. (Peter called it a yoke too great to bear in Acts 15:10 as well.)

Galatians 5:2-6

Paul has strong words for the Galatians who give in to the Judaizers. They are "severed from Christ" and they are "fallen from grace."

God is not going to empower them to keep the Law. That is not the New Covenant. The New Covenant is to walk by the Spirit and not by the letter. God’s not going to change his covenant because men don’t understand or appreciate it. That covenant was purchased with the precious blood of his Son, the most costly purchase in the history of the universe.

I want to encourage you, too, to take some comfort from verse 5. Many of us who are Christians struggle. We read yesterday that "we all stumble in many things" (Jam. 3:2). Being spiritual means setting your mind on the things of the Spirit and letting Christ live through you. Paul calls it a "hope" of righteousness.

As we lean into the Spirit and walk in the Spirit, we will find ourselves changing. The Christian walk is not a walk from sin one day to perfection the next. It’s a walk of mercy and growth day by day.

Galatians 5:16-25

Here Paul drives home the difference between Spirit and flesh. In case his statements about walking in the Spirit are too abstract, he gives concrete examples of works of the flesh and fruit of the Spirit.

That’s not accidental terminology. Walking by the Spirit produces good works, but those good works are the fruit, or result, of setting our mind on spiritual things. As Paul said in Romans 8, the righteous requirement of the Law is fulfilled in those of us who walk according to the Spirit.

And again, this is all tied to inheriting the kingdom of God. Walk in the flesh, and you will not. He’ll say that again in the next chapter.

Galatians 6:1-10

This continues the thoughts at the end of chapter 5. We must help each other to walk spiritually, not condemn each other. If we take care of each other, perhaps the Judaizers would have no place among us. In the same way, today, if we take care of one another, we will find ourselves able to walk in the power of the Spirit.

But God is not mocked. There is mercy and restoration for the weak, but there is corruption and death for those who sow to the flesh without repentance.

Galatians 6:11

This statement about large letters has prompted most commentators to suggest that Paul had an eye disease. They suggest it is to this that he refers when he mentions an "infirmity" in 4:13.

Galatians 6:12-18

Paul makes an interesting charge in verses 12-13, saying that the Judaizers don’t keep the Law themselves! They’re preaching circumcision to avoid persecution and to boast about their successes.

He then makes a statement well worth memorizing:

For circumcision is nothing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. (v. 15)

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