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:
that faith in God’s word holds greater importance in relating to Him than the Mosaic Law
that faith and grace preceded the works of the law
that the Law had no power in itself to bring forth righteousness
that God never intended the Law to bring forth righteousness
Defense of the Gospel from Experience
Not from men (1:11-12)
Revelation of Jesus Christ (1:12)
Refutation of human authority, including his own (1:13, 16-17)
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)
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.
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
Can We be Saved through Creation, Other Religions, or Human Philosophy?
Today’s Christians live in a religiously pluralistic and diverse environment. Pluralism is a hot topic in our post-modern society. That is, we receive pressure to be all-inclusive and to embrace diversity. This pressure does not stop with culture or race. Religious pluralism is also included in this list. Such pluralism suggests that we should be accepting of other religions and their teachings as well as embracing more than one way to God and His salvation. Otherwise, we are labeled intolerant and narrow-minded. However, must we accept this mindset?
This book tackles these challenges.
A tug of war continues to exist over two positions within Christian circles:
1.Exclusivism – One who does not know God must encounter the proclaimed gospel to come to a saving knowledge of him.
2.Inclusivism – Those who have never heard the gospel can come to a saving knowledge of God without hearing the gospel. Rather, they can go to heaven by responding to the light from creation, other religions, human reason, or philosophy.
One of the major consequences of these two positions concerns the person and nature of God. This book engages in a lengthy discussion about how each position treats God and the difference such treatments of Him make.
It addresses such questions as “Is God fair? Can we trust Him? Is God in control of the future, specifically our destiny, or does He share control and power with His creation, specifically humanity?”
The environment of inclusivism has an increasingly negative influence on evangelical churches and whole denominations, leading many astray. It is of utmost importance for Christians to understand influences speculative philosophy and false teachings have on faith.
This book also affirms that only the gospel “is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Salvation requires the right power. The Scriptures declare that the source of that power is in the gospel, and it begins with the righteousness of the triune God. Getting the God of our faith right insures that we come to an accurate understanding of salvation. This book discusses these two essential attributes of God, His power and righteousness, for salvation.
More often than not, Easter messages focus on the gospels, the first four books of the New Testament, and rightly so. These are historical accounts narrating the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Less frequently do messages arise from the various New Testament letters and the Acts of the Apostles. Luke, Paul, Peter, James, and John take up the historical event of the resurrection and bring its significance to bear on the life of faith.
One cannot read these letters without recognizing the resurrection’s strong strand. It weaves through the message of the authors as they show how this historical event proclaims liberty to the captives and “the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (Isaiah 61:1) as Jesus announced (Luke 4:18).
One of the great truths of the resurrection is freedom. Before the resurrection of Jesus, His disciples failed to understand such freedom. They viewed it in terms of a material kingdom rather than spiritual life. Tradition dictated their view of the external rather than the internal. However, afterwards, they could not hold back this lofty truth.
Historical Basis for Freedom
A walk through the New Testament reveals narration of the historic event of the resurrection and its application to a life of faith. Truth stands on history and not fiction. History builds a mountain of evidence on which biblical faith rests. Without historical evidence, faith would be futile and freedom would be a mirage or relative to how one defines it. Biblical faith leads to freedom because God intervened in history, interacted with humanity through Jesus, and brought Jesus from death to life through His unsurpassed power. Freedom stands on this mountain of evidence.
What then is this freedom? The gospels narrate the events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Jesus also left traces of the meaning of freedom through His sermons (Luke 4:18-19). However, the apostles expanded at length on this freedom arising from Jesus’ resurrection. Throughout their letters, resurrection dominates. It is the center of their messages. However, how does resurrection link to and bring freedom?
In the middle of presenting the gospel to the Church at Rome, Paul gives a sublime example. He takes the reader from an intentional self focused to a resurrection focused excursion. This self focus serves to make a point at the conclusion of the chapter,
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)
What death? The death to which Paul refers is that which prevents him from living upright, good, and pleasing to God. This body of death is that which sin rules. Notice the number of times Paul uses “I” and “me” prior to crying out this statement and question. Immediately following these, he pivots from the “I” and “me” to gratitude for the resurrection. He boldly pens,
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1-4).
He crowns his declaration of freedom with the following statement,
If the Spirit of a him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (8:11).
Resurrection is the pinnacle of the argument Paul applies and the foundational doctrine for living the Christian life. The resurrection means no longer being in debt to the flesh but living by the teaching and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Resurrection life now is a mere taste of the glory reserved for us when we meet our Savior face to face. The song “Blessed Assurance” highlights this taste in its lyrics:
“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! Oh what a foretaste of glory divine!
The resurrected Jesus imparts to us the resurrected life to whet our appetite for all God has prepared for us in His presence.
Beginnings of True Freedom: Resurrection and Salvation
Resurrection brings life and liberty. Easter is an everyday occurrence and not just once yearly. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead brings about a different life than the self-focused one. The old life bound us to the disdainful beatings we may give ourselves of hopelessness, despair, shame, dread, and trash talk under which we bury others and ourselves. At times, the old life also attempts to elevate us above our peers through boasting, smugness, strife, anger, envy, greed, and division. This, too, is bondage to fantasy and self. However, Paul claims that the same power that raised Jesus from death enables us to be free from those things that hold us in bondage.
When we cry out like Paul, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” the answer immediately registers, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ out Lord!” (7:25). The answer does not stop there, just as the Easter message does not stop with one day,
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do” (8:1-3).
How often do we live under self-condemnation, ripping others and ourselves apart when others or we fail, fall, or falter? Christ’s resurrection took care of this condemnation and corresponding way of life. While in this present body, we continue to struggle with these burdens of our existence. However, hope in the Easter message illustrates faith in Him for continued deliverance and assurance that Christ paid the price for all our sin. The Easter message proclaims that through the new birth we possess resurrected spiritual life from God. Consequently, the power of resurrection and its corresponding new life increasingly energizes and spurs us to live for Him. “Increasingly” suggests missteps along the way, but these missteps do not stop God from conforming us to the image of His resurrected Son.
Freedom begins with salvation. Salvation is almost a lost word, because many have lost sight of what precedes it: the gravity of the human condition. Humanity is in bondage. We understand bondage from looking out on our world. It exists visibly in human slavery that still prevails in many nations. People take others into captivity and strip them of everything they have.
A more insidious bondage survives that of human slavery: bondage to internal evil we afflict on ourselves and others resulting from spiritual death due to natural rebellion against God. This natural rebellion results in known and seen characteristics in everyone throughout the world: hatred, greed, rebellion, immorality, murder, strife, deceit, and maliciousness. The Bible calls this sin. It all begins from within us.
Salvation is deliverance from all this sin and the power to live right with God. This is a liberty greater than freedom from human slavery, because it is spiritual freedom exceeding the material and lasts for an eternity. The power God gives to live in freedom is the same power God exercised for raising Jesus from death. When God imparts a new spiritual life (resurrection) from spiritual death within us, He gives the power to live that new life. Freedom begins for us with that power.
The Good and Freedom
Good Friday precedes the resurrection, just as our good God existed from eternity before He pronounced His created works good. Goodness in God precedes the greatness of His works, especially the grand finale of the resurrection. The Apostle Paul declared this resurrection arrived at the proper time, in the proper place, and through the proper Person – Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5-6). Goodness does not stand alone, but it is bound to our good God.
On that first Good Friday, the tragic circumstances of the death of Jesus left the disciples in deep despair. All they could think about immediately following Jesus’ death was themselves, their predicament of being a dead man’s disciples, and their own prospects of death. That despair festered like an ulcer. They initially saw no good in Jesus’ death but certain bondage to chains and ultimately the grave. They forgot their good God and His sovereign hand. They cast aside all they heard from Jesus. Fear ransacked their spirits. They could not fathom how Jesus’ words could ring true: His return, His Father’s house, His kingdom. Good Friday was not good for them. They later discovered the truth of resurrection.
God’s goodness transcends despair, tragedy, hopelessness, weakness, tears, fear, failure, and frailty. Just as God raised Jesus from the dead the third day, His power also raises us up from the bondage of emotional turmoil, doubt, dismay, and unbelief. Liberty means God refocusing our eyes off ourselves and on the resurrected life He gives when He raises us from spiritual death to new life He promised in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Easter celebrates the resurrection life and turns despair and dismay into hope and joy:
Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5)
Easter is that morning that took the disciples ( and us with them) from mourning to joy. God wakes us up through a new life to smell the freedom air of the resurrection.
Sunday morning, the minister talked about Jesus sharing about His second coming to His disciples from John 14-16. A thought surfaced – “I have heard this before many times.” Pride. No sooner does the proclamation of the gospel happen that a temptation arises to attempt to blunt the message. Temptations do not come from God. Rather they come from the source of darkness and try to block our listening so we do not hear and the Spirit does not have material to work in our hearts. Such subtle deception – these temptations.
Yes, I have heard that message from that passage many times before, but the moment the cross gets stale and old is the moment it fades from memory. This results in losing sight of the love of God. The slippery slope begins from that point first toward questioning God. This questioning, while entertaining what we consider as the staleness of the message of the gospel, leads to another rung downward. Doubt creeps in. This questioning and doubt do not arrive without a nudge. Temptation gives them that nudge. Unless we encounter that temptation, it could blossom into skepticism and subsequent unbelief. Giving into temptation takes a person a step away from God. That first step encounters more temptations. If we succumb to them, the steps away from God become more rapid until we run full speed into unbelief.
I have read many stories lately about former pastors, elders, and leaders in the church “deconverting” and becoming atheists. One atheist, John Loftus, was a pastor for 14 years, graduated from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and studied under Christian apologist William Lane Craig. He has now written six books against the Christian faith. Among them are: “Why I became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity,” “The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails,” and “The End of Christianity.” He even taught apologetics. He gave three reasons for deconverting: adultery, the failure of other Christians when he asked for help, and atheists came up beside him and converted him. Two of them had nothing to do with atheism and its merits. Even the other one failed to give merits for atheism. He boasts in his failures. This is a sad and tragic commentary. Temptations killed whatever faith he claimed and baptized him in pride and boasting. He apostatized. It is tragic that fellow believers shoot their own wounded, and we must take care to surround a wounded sheep. But do we not have responsibility to come to Christ with our problems (Matthew 11:28)? Loftus did not, and he rejected faith in Christ and took the ultimate step toward apostasy. That occurred frequently in the early church from what we learn from John,
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us” (1 John 2:19).
I am constantly reminded of what Peter writes, “For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth” (2 Peter 1:12). Though you know. Hmm. Fading thoughts without reminders lead to forgetfulness and cold hearts. I do not want temptations to get in the way of remembering the cross. I need to check my temperature regularly to insure that I never get cool toward Christ and His cross. Temptations are sneaky and devious. They break the temperature gauge and whisper that it is warm outside.