Authority: The Gospel or Man-made Religion

GALATIANS 1:11-24 – “But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.  For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came †through the revelation of Jesus Christ…”

In this passage, Paul opens a broadside against the false teachers who came to the Galatians churches to claim their authority and dispute Paul’s authority.  They sought to dismiss the gospel Paul preached because they claimed it rested on his own authority.  They supported their claim by pointing to the Mosaic Law, specifically that of circumcision.  To them, that seemed reasonable, since their claim not only reached back into ancient history (for them), but it defined them as God’s people He delivered from the Egyptians and placed His mark on them as His chosen people.  How could Paul begin to argue against such insurmountable evidence?  To the Judaizers, it was an uphill battle for Paul to make any other claim.  How could anyone reject the established Mosaic Law that had more than 1,300 years of acceptance?  Additionally, how could anyone simply cast aside centuries of traditions the Jewish fathers taught in their interpretation of the Mosaic Law? Law and tradition were like hand and glove – inseparable.

However, since Paul received direct revelation from Jesus Himself, he staked his claim on that which was greater in significance – the promise of Messiah.  Promise had far greater value than the Mosaic Law, because promise stood as the grounds for faith whereas the Law catered to the flesh by inciting sin through the fleshly nature.  The promised Messiah came prior to Moses and saw His fulfillment apart from Law through grace (John 1:16-18).

Paul will take his readers through several arguments to explain the superiority of God’s promise over the Mosaic Law later in his letter by showing:

  1. that faith in God’s word holds greater importance in relating to Him than the Mosaic Law
  2. that faith and grace preceded the works of the law
  3. that the Law had no power in itself to bring forth righteousness
  4. that God never intended the Law to bring forth righteousness

Defense of the Gospel from Experience

  1. Not from men (1:11-12)
  2. Revelation of Jesus Christ (1:12)
  3. Refutation of human authority, including his own (1:13, 16-17)
  4. Refutation of traditions (1:14)
    • Affirmation of God’s grace 1:15)
    • Independence from men and apostolic authority (1:16-19; 2:9)
    • Affirmation from a changed life (1:21-24)

 

CHAPTER ONE WRAP-UP QUESTIONS

  • How does Paul explain the gospel?
  • Is the gospel just for unbelievers?
  • From what we have learned so far, how would you present the gospel to others? (See also Romans 10:9-10)

The Letter to the Galatians Outline

When Paul wrote his letters to the churches, he frequently addressed problems they encountered.  The urgency of the problem depended on how swift he addressed it.  In the Galatians letter, Paul began with the problem immediately.  Not long after Christ’s death and resurrection, defection from the gospel began.  The influence of Judaism and the Mosaic Law remained strong among the recipients of the gospel.

The Church lived in two worlds: the world of Judaism and the world of Christ’s resurrection.  While mass conversions took place to Christ, the thought of leaving Judaism never entered the minds of the Jews.  They still had their synagogues, the Temple, sacrifices, ceremonies, and Torah.  The newness of the resurrection never led the Jews to believe that they must leave the Jewish religion and all that defined it.

Then came Paul.  He discovered or rediscovered the seeds of the gospel in God’s word to the Jews in the Old Testament through his encounter with the living Christ.  These seeds came to fruition through Christ.  Christ opened his eyes to the grace and peace (Galatians 1:3) from the unchanging covenant given from God of the Jews and the Gentiles.  As he received this revelation from Christ, he understood how the Mosaic Law never meant to be the means of redemption or what distinguished the people of God from others.  The Gentiles never had the benefits the Jews possessed (Romans 9:4).  Yet, God also called them to redemption.

Since Paul ministered the unqualified grace and peace of Christ to the Gentiles, a huge tension arose among the Jews concerning authority.  God gave Moses the Law.  Must then the Gentiles enter the Christian community of faith through the same authority – Moses?  There is precedent for this process – Gentile proselytes through circumcision.  If so, they must be circumcised and observe the tenets of the Mosaic Law to receive redemption.  Christ was not enough.  Grace was not enough.  One cannot just kick Moses to the curb just because Paul said so.  Who was he to usurp Mosaic authority?  What was Paul’s answer?  No, no, no!  No one could keep the Law.  Sinful flesh held sway over us and simply leads to defection.  Jewish history gave evidence of Israel continually leaving God.

What then?  Paul argues that God the Father and Jesus His Son gave the necessary grace and peace the Law could not provide.  This grace and peace came through the cross: Christ becoming sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).  With this message, Paul encountered the first heresy of this young Church – the renunciation of Christ’s complete satisfaction for sin.  What are the points of this heresy?  Christ and His sacrifice were not enough.  Grace was not enough.  Peace with God was not enough.  The Galatians needed to go through the Mosaic Law to get through Christ’s redemption.  Therefore, salvation was Christ plus, grace plus, the cross plus.  What was the plus?  Human effort!  The tension was between Christ and human effort.

OUTLINE

I.            The Problem: Gospel Defection, 1:6-12; 3:1-4

A.                  The tension with the gospel

B.                  What is legalism?

C.                  Rejecting Christ

D.                 Rejecting Christ’s sacrifice

E.                  Substitutes another gospel that is human centered

II.          Defense of the Gospel from Experience, 1:11-2:21

A.                  Direct Call from Jesus Christ

B.                  Conversion and Rejection of Judaism

C.                  Affirmation by the Apostles

D.                 Showdown with Peter

III.        Defense of the Gospel from the Scriptures and History (OT), 3:1-4:31

A.                  Faith centered as shown by Abraham, 3:1-9; Acts 13:36-40; Habakkuk 2:4

B.                  Opposed to the Mosaic Law, 3:10-12

C.                  Christ centered, 3:13-14

D.                 According to promise, 3:14-18

E.                  Purpose of the Mosaic Law explained, 3:19-4:7

F.                   Mosaic Law versus the promises of God, 4:8-31

IV.        Application and Return to the Message, 5-6

A.                  The liberty of faith and the slavery of the flesh, 5:1-15

B.                  Walking in the Holy Spirit versus walking in the flesh, 5:16-26

C.                  Love as bearing burdens of others, 6:1-5

D.                 Love as doing good, 6:6-10

E.                  Keep the cross central, 6:11-18

 

The Letter of Paul to the Churches of Galatians: An Introduction

A Return to the World’s Efforts to Compromise the Gospel

As in the time of the Apostle Paul, the attempts to compromise the gospel has taken a toll on the Church universal.  Paul battled this tendency during his life and wrote a letter to the Galatians churches to warn them of those who wanted to compromise the one true gospel.  At the beginning of that letter, he declared,

“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9).

While the circumstances differed from those of today, the dangers remain just as high.  Other so-called gospels bring about a curse from God.  The one true gospel has its source in Him.  It concerns His declaration of the means of redemption found in His Son, Jesus Christ and informs us of the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing about the promise of redemption.  To compromise the gospel is to compromise not only God’s revealed word but also the work of God in redemption and God Himself.  A compromise of the gospel affects all three: God’s word, God’s work, and God Himself.

Paul informed the Galatians that such a compromise led them back into slavery to the fallen flesh and its corruption highlighted in the Law of Moses.  Those who preached another gospel to the Galatians churches raised doubts about God’s word to the apostles, God’s work of redemption through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and the very nature of God.  This letter explores all three of these theological issues and explains the outcome of compromising the gospel.

Today, we live in a world in which religions proliferate like ants. Just open the telephone book or an Internet page for churches within a given city, and you will discover a variety of churches.  Many teach another gospel than the one from the Bible.  Not only are numerous churches preaching another gospel, but also there are a myriad of religions spread across the world.  Most believe in many gods (polytheism).  Others believe in some ominous spirit that permeates nature (pantheism, panentheism).  Others believe in no gods at all (atheism, humanism) or claim that we cannot know if God exists (agnosticism).  Each has its own gospel (or good news) for bringing hope to humanity.

While Paul does not address religions per se in his letter to the Galatians, he makes it very clear that any other message than the gospel he preached receives a curse from God. If such messages receive God’s curse, how serious should we take the one true gospel rather than following cursed messages from whatever source?

As we go through this letter, we will encounter terms Paul uses to describe the gospel that need our special attention so that we can understand his message.  The original readers of this letter were well aware of what these terms meant because of the problems they encountered with the false teachers who came to them.  It is important to place ourselves in their shoes, their culture, their historical context, and their language so that we can understand what they did and not walk away from reading this letter with a different message.  These terms consist of law, flesh, faith, promise, justify, righteousness, grace, and liberty.  These words have context out of which Paul’s message arose.  We will walk through this letter carefully, paying attention to the repetition of these words so that we can come to grips with Paul’s message.  Not only will we do this, but we will also determine how Paul’s message encounters the pluralistic (many religions) world in which we live.  As we do this, we will be able to discern the one true gospel as opposed to the many false gospels spread across the world.