THE MESSAGE

 

Week of February 10, 2008

 

Bible Verses:  Galatians 1:6-9,11-12; 3:1-9.

 

Biblical Truth: There is one gospel message – the good news of salvation by grace through faith in Christ.

 

Centered in Christ: Galatians 1:6-9.

 

[6]  I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; [7]  which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. [8]  But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! [9]  As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!     [NASU]

 

After greeting his readers, in every other Epistle Paul goes on to pray for them or to praise and thank God. Only in the Epistle to the Galatians are there no prayer, no praise, no thanksgiving and no commendation. Instead he addresses himself at once to his theme with a note of extreme urgency. He expresses astonishment at the fickleness and instability of the Galatians. He goes on to complain about the false teachers who were troubling the Galatian churches. And then he utters a most solemn, fearful anathema upon those who dare to change the gospel.

 

[6]  The word for deserting signifies ‘to transfer one’s allegiance’. It is used of soldiers who revolt or desert, and of men who change sides in politics or philosophy. Paul accuses the Galatians of being religious turncoats, spiritual deserters. They are embracing another gospel. The true gospel is in its essence what Paul called it in Acts 20:24, ‘the gospel of the grace of God’. Nothing is due to our efforts, merits or works; everything in salvation is due to the grace of God. The Galatian converts were now turning away to another gospel, a gospel of works. The false teachers were evidently Judaizers, whose gospel is summarized in Acts 15:1: ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ They did not deny that you must believe in Jesus for salvation, but they stressed that you must be circumcised and keep the law as well. In other words, you yourself must finish, by your obedience to the law, what Christ has begun. You must add your works to the work of Christ. You must finish Christ’s unfinished work. Paul simply will not tolerate this doctrine. The work of Christ is a finished work; and the gospel of Christ is a gospel of free grace. Paul goes on to say that the defection of the Galatian converts was in their experience as well as in their theology. He accuses them not of deserting the gospel of grace for another gospel, but of deserting Him who called them in grace. To turn from the gospel of grace is to turn from the God of grace.

 

[7]  The Galatians had been thrown by the false teachers into a state of turmoil, intellectual confusion on the one hand and warring factions on the other. This trouble was caused by false doctrine. The Judaizers were trying to pervert or distort the gospel. You cannot modify or supplement the gospel without radically changing its character. So the two chief characteristics of the false teachers are that they were troubling the church and changing the gospel. These two go together. You cannot touch the gospel and leave the church untouched, because the church is created and lives by the gospel. Indeed, the church’s greatest troublemakers are not those outside who oppose, ridicule and persecute it, but those inside who try to change the gospel. The best way to serve the church is to believe and to preach the gospel.

 

[8-10]  Paul now pronounces a solemn curse upon the false teachers. He desires that God’s judgment will fall upon them. This curse of God is universal in its embrace. It rests upon any and every teacher who distorts the essence of the gospel. Why did Paul feel so strongly and use such drastic language? Two reasons are plain. The first is that the glory of Christ was at stake. To make men’s works necessary to salvation, even as a supplement to the work of Christ, is derogatory to His finished work. It is to imply that Christ’s work was in some way unsatisfactory, and that men need to add to it and improve on it. The second reason why Paul felt this matter so keenly is that the good of men’s souls was also at stake. Paul knew that the gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation. Therefore to corrupt the gospel was to destroy the way of salvation and so to send to ruin souls who might have been saved by it.

 

Conclusion. The lesson which stands out from this paragraph is that there is only one gospel. How can we recognize the true gospel? It is the gospel of grace, of God’s free and unmerited favor. This is the first test. The true gospel magnifies the free grace of God. The second test concerns the gospel’s origin. The true gospel is the gospel of the apostles of Jesus Christ, in other words, the New Testament gospel. The norm or the criterion by which all systems and opinions are to be tested is the gospel which the apostles preached and which is now recorded in the New Testament [8-9]. This is the second fundamental test. Anybody who rejects the apostolic gospel, no matter who he may be, is himself to be rejected. So, as we hear the various views of people today, we must subject each of them to these two rigorous tests. Is their opinion consistent with the free grace of God and with the plain teaching of the New Testament?

 

A Work of God: Galatians 1:11-12.

 

[11]  For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. [12]  For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.     [NASU]

 

Paul begins by affirming the divine origin of his Gospel. The statement is given a somewhat formal and solemn character by the introductory verb: I would have you know. It draws special attention to the subject about to be presented and indicates that Paul looks upon it as having particular importance. Four assertions, of which three are negative and one is positive, are made. First, Paul asserts that his Gospel (i.e., the good news as preached by him) is not according to man. That is to say, man is not its measure, its standard, or its pattern. It is not a product of man’s inventiveness and genius; it is a creation of the mind of God. Second, Paul did not receive it from man. This assertion is proof of the non-human character of Paul’s Gospel. Paul intended to affirm that his knowledge of the Gospel did not come through ordinary channels of human tradition. Man was not the source from which he received it, nor was man the means by which it was communicated to him. Third, Paul was not taught the Gospel. This means that human instruction was not the method by which he obtained his Gospel. Here Paul wishes to exclude the idea of any private human interpretation. Fourth, it came to him through a revelation of Jesus Christ. That is to say, it was by a direct revelation similar to that by which God spoke to the prophets of old that Paul came to know the Gospel. This does not necessarily mean that all the facts of our Lord’s life and ministry were communicated to Paul in this manner. It does mean that his Gospel, which is an interpretation of those facts, came by divine revelation. The word revelation signifies “an uncovering,” “an unveiling,” “a disclosing.” In the New Testament it is used always of a disclosure of religious truth previously unknown. The precise meaning of the phrase of Jesus Christ is not certain, there being two possible ways of interpreting it. That is to say, the words may represent Christ as the One revealed, or they may mean that Christ was the agent through whom the revelation came. Both interpretations yield a good sense, but the former is to be preferred. The thought is that Jesus Christ had been revealed to Paul in such a way that the revelation carried with it the substance of the Gospel. Paul was thinking of the whole content of what had been revealed to him as being summed up in Christ.

 

Received by Faith: Galatians 3:1-9.

 

[1]  You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? [2]  This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? [3]  Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? [4]  Did you suffer so many things in vain--if indeed it was in vain? [5]  So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? [6]  Even so Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. [7]  Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. [8]  The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU." [9]  So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.     [NASU]

 

[1]  Paul not only addressed his readers by name (Galatians); he also characterized them in a very unflattering way as foolish, stupid, senseless, silly. The bluntness of Paul’s language should not blind us to the fact that he had earlier referred to the Galatians as brethren [1:11] and that he would later call them his children [4:19]. Paul’s harsh rebuke is an example of tough love. He confronted the Galatians with their folly so that by this means he might win them back to the truth they were in danger of forsaking. The Galatians were obviously enthralled by the supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit in their midst. At the same time, their grasp on the fundamental truths of the gospel was woefully inadequate. One of the most dangerous dichotomies in the Christian life is for the spiritual to be divorced from the doctrinal, experience from theology. Not being firmly grounded in the faith, they had been led astray by undisciplined thinking and careless theology to the point where they were now on the verge of embracing dangerous doctrines. But how had this happened? On one level the answer to Paul’s rhetorical question was very simple. The false teachers, the Judaizers, had sown confusion and doubt among the believers of Galatia, leading them to their present state of spiritual disarray. However, the who in Paul’s question is singular, suggesting that behind the work of the Galatian agitators was the devil himself.

 

[2-5]  In these verses the term “Spirit” is introduced for the first time in Galatians. It appears again at critical junctures throughout the book [3:14; 4:6,29; 5:5; 6:8] and is central to Paul’s description of the life of freedom and love to which every believer is called [5:16-26]. Paul’s six questions can be reduced to one: This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? If only this one question could be resolved, Paul thought, the whole trouble with the Judaizers would soon be over. However, to answer this question the Galatians had to reflect theologically on the experience of the Spirit in their midst. This Paul led them to do by posing three contrasts for them to consider. The first question brings into sharp antithesis two prepositional phrases, each of which represents an alternative way for the Galatians to interpret their initial reception of the Holy Spirit. Did this happen by the works of the law or by the hearing of faith. The implied answer to this question was undisputed for one reason: the Galatians had been saved and blessed with the Spirit as a result of Paul’s preaching of “Christ crucified” long before the Judaizing disturbers of their faith had appeared in their midst. Paul’s second question went to the heart of their motivation for abandoning the gospel of free grace he had preached to them. There is a twofold contrast in this question: beginning/completing and spirit/flesh. The contest between Paul and his opponents reverberates in the background of this verse. There is no evidence that these law-observant teachers denied either the fundamental fact of “Christ crucified” or the manifestation of the Spirit among the Galatians. Their claim was rather that the entry-level gospel proclaimed by Paul was insufficient for the higher spiritual realities offered only through the works of the law. They would have abhorred Paul’s antithesis between the gift of the Spirit and the works of the law. For them the granting of the Spirit was merely a preliminary initiation into the Christian faith, one that remained vacuous and incomplete until it was perfected by receiving the sign of physical incorporation into the people of Israel. It was the soteriological value attached to circumcision, and not the rite itself, that prompted Paul’s negative reaction to the reforming mission of his opponents. The “higher life” they were promoting was in reality a step backwards into the negative sphere of human self-justification and rebellion against the grace of God. Three times in Galatians Paul has raised the specter of the absurd consequences of justification by works. In 2:2 Paul raised the possibility that his missionary labors may have been in vain. In 2:21 he raised the stakes and suggested that if righteousness could be gained through the law, then even Christ would have died in vain. Now here in 3:4 he queried the Galatians about whether the Spirit had not been given to them in vain. In effect, he was saying to them: “See where this kind of theology will lead you! If salvation is not the work of God from first to last, then the preaching of the gospel is vanity, the cross of Christ was a farce, and the gift of the Holy Spirit means nothing!” By presenting these terrible alternatives to the Galatians in such a startling way, Paul sought to jar them from their folly and break the spell that had left them bewitched.

 

 [6-9]  Having appealed to the Galatians’ Christian experience, Paul now directs their attention to the witness of the Scriptures. His argument is that these also show that faith, not works, is the means of gaining a right standing before God. He begins with the testimony of the Old Testament concerning the faith of Abraham [6-9]; this is followed by a statement of its witness concerning the curse of the law [10-14]. The argument from Abraham would carry special weight with the Judaizers, for it was customary for the rabbis to settle their controversies by precedents which they found in Abraham’s life-story. He was venerated by all Jews as the founder of their race and was looked upon by them as a righteous man par excellence. Paul affirms that the patriarch was justified by faith and argues from this that only those of like faith participate with him in the divine blessing. The phrase even so Abraham shows that the experience of the Galatians [1-5] and that of Abraham are essentially the same. The one serves to confirm the other. Paul’s quotation from Genesis 15:6 shows that faith, not works, brought Abraham’s acceptance with God. The word translated reckoned means to credit or charge something to one’s account. The thought is that God accepted Abraham’s faith as equivalent to righteousness. In verses 7-9 Paul shows that only those persons who have the faith of Abraham can properly be called the descendants of Abraham. The expression those who are of faith means believers, those whose fundamental life principle is faith, those who, like Abraham, believingly commit themselves to God. Since kinship with Abraham depends on faith, the promise given to him and his descendants can be shared by believing Gentiles. What the Scripture foresaw was that God would justify the Gentiles by faith. The words by faith are, by their position in the sentence, emphatic. Paul’s statement is that justification by faith is God’s rule of action in every age. What the Scripture preached is stated at the close of verse 8: all the nations will be blessed in you. Paul saw this divine promise as an advance announcement of the Gospel. The argument begun in verse 6 is summarized and concluded in verse 9: So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. Paul emphasizes that men of faith are the spiritual descendants of Abraham, not the doers of law.

 

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.         How would you define the Gospel from these verses in Galatians?

 

2.         Why is Paul so concerned about protecting the purity of this Gospel?

 

3.         What can we do to protect ourselves from being “foolish” and “bewitched” like these Galatians?

 

4.         John Stott writes: “the church’s greatest troublemakers are not those outside who oppose, ridicule and persecute it, but those inside who try to change the gospel.” How do you see this happening in various churches today? What can we do to protect our churches from this very great danger?

 

References:

Galatians, Timothy George, NAC, Broadman.

The Message of Galatians, John Stott, Inter-Varsity.

Galatians, Curtis Vaughan, Founders Press.