The Gospel According to the Galatians
The epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Galatian churches is one of the most profound and powerful books in the New Testament. Even though it is relatively small compared to some of the other epistles, its doctrine is of utmost importance to the church.
Paul founded the Galatian churches, and when he left them they were strong in the faith. He received word, however, that some false doctrine had crept into the churches there. It had infected many well-to-do believers in a very short period of time. In fact, Paul marveled that they could be removed from the true gospel so quickly to a false gospel that was based on works (Galatians 1:6-7). Those that were spreading this false doctrine were converted Jews. They taught that one must be born again, but in addition to this they must also keep the Law of Moses to be saved. To combat this heresy Paul wrote this epistle we now refer to as the book of Galatians.
Paulís main thesis in the epistle is that we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ and not by our works, or the works of the Law. We have been liberated through Jesus Christ and can not work for our salvation. However, Paul was still careful to point out that our behavior does matter to God. Just because our works cannot save us does not mean we should live like the devil. Romans chapter six makes this very clear. What Paul was attempting to do was demonstrate the need of rejecting legalism, but also instructing them how to properly exercise their Christian liberty before God. His teaching was not popular with the legalists of his day, but He chose to please God rather than men (Galatians 1:10).
In the church today, we do not battle with the same legalistic heresy Paul addressed in the book of Galatians. Most Christians today understand that we are no longer under the Mosaic Covenant. The legalism we battle today is very similar, however. In order to apply the teachings of this epistle to us today, I will be viewing Paulís usage of the Law of Moses as a "law-system." A law-system is any system that teaches one must be obedient to man-made, extra-biblical commandments in order to be saved, or to be in a right relationship with God. This is not distorting the meaning of the book, but relating it to us in a more practical way for our time. Essentially, what Paul told the Galatians was that if they believed the keeping of extra-Biblical, man-made commandments would save them, then they were bound by legalism and failed the grace of God.
In order to glean some of the amazing, eternal truths of this book, I will give an applicable commentary on some of its verses.
And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain. But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.
Paul went to Jerusalem to compare the doctrine he had been teaching with that of the other apostles. He brought his fellow laborer in the gospel, Titus, with him on the trip. Titus was an uncircumcised Gentile. During his stay in Jerusalem, some "false brethren" as Paul called them, came in secretly to spy out Paul and Titusí liberty in Christ. They wanted to bring Titus into bondage by demanding that he be circumcised. These false brethren believed that one had to be circumcised in order to be saved (see Acts 15:1-2). The apostles, however, did not endorse these false brethren's desire. Paulís response to the false teachers was to reject and oppose them. He would not submit to their desires.
What is interesting to me is Paulís use of the term "false brethren." He was referring to Jews who had repented, been baptized in Jesusí name, and were filled with the Holy Ghost as evidenced with speaking in other tongues. What made these brethren pseudo-brethren? It was the fact that they believed one must keep the Law of Moses in addition to being born again for salvation. They were bound by a legalistic, work-for-my-salvation mentality, and thus were in opposition to the gospel of grace that Jesus established. They believed that one needed to add to Calvary, doing certain things to acquire salvation. They could not accept Christís work for them on Calvary by faith, but went about establishing their own righteousness by self-motivated works, and not by the power and influence of the indwelling Spirit of God.
Many have wondered why Paul would circumcise Timothy who was half-Gentile and half-Jew, but refused to circumcise Titus (Acts 16:1-3). Most have tried answering this question by pointing out that because Timothy was part Jewish, Paul circumcised him for the Jewsí sake to whom he would be ministering to. I believe, however, that this explanation is too superficial. It is apparent that Titus ministered with Paul to the Jews also. In fact, when the point of contention arose over the issue, he was in Jerusalem where thousands of Jews lived.
The reason Paul seems to have forbidden the circumcision of Titus was because the Jews were demanding it, claiming it to be a matter of salvation. They wanted Titus to be circumcised to bring him into bondage. With Timothy, there was nobody who was demanding him to be circumcised and claiming that it must be done for his salvation. Timothy submitted himself to circumcision so that he might reach more souls, namely the Jews. He was circumcised for the sake of the Jews, but the decision was his own. He became all things to all men so that he might save some. Although he was free from the Law of Moses, he subjected himself to circumcision so that he might gain them that were under the Law (I Corinthians 9:19-23).
What can we learn from this passage? We learn that it can be a good thing to submit ourselves to othersí personal convictions and personal beliefs (even if they are wrong). We should limit our freedoms to broaden our ministries. Timothy is a great example of this. He limited his freedom in Christ of not having to be circumcised, in order to broaden his ministry. However, when someone claims that their non-biblical beliefs and personal convictions must be obeyed by others in order to be saved, this must be opposed. When the Judaizers were compelling Titus to be circumcised, Paul forbade it so that the truth of the gospel might be maintained.
We must also resist any teaching that says one must obey some extra-Biblical, man-made conviction or command in order to be saved. If your brother does not think that wearing a red tie is godly, then do not wear one for his sake, but if he tells you that you will go to hell if you wear a red tie, you need to put your foot down. If you do not, the gospel will be perverted by a works-system. Where do we draw the line on when to submit and when to contend for the faith? It is when personal convictions are being made into salvation issues, and are being legalistically imposed on the body of Christ.
GALATIANS 2:11-16, 21
But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles. Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. vs. 21 I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.
Here we have the account of Peter playing the hypocrite. Even apostles are not exempt from legalistic tendencies. Peter was in Antioch of Pisidia with Paul, eating and fellowshipping with the Gentiles like everyone else. His attitudes and actions changed, however, when certain Jews from Jerusalem came to visit. When they arrived he separated himself from the Gentiles and would only be seen with the Jews. Paul accused Peter of not walking uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, and thus rebuked him. The truth of the gospel is that in Christ there are no social, racial, or sexual barriers. God accepts all the same (Galatians 3:28). The truth of the gospel also includes the doing away with the Law of Moses with all of its ordinances (Galatians 3:24-25; 4:9-11; Colossians 2:13-17). Peter did not walk uprightly in either of these truths. He showed a favoritism toward the Jews because of their nationality and treated them as superior over the Gentiles. He also separated himself because he was afraid of it being found out that he was breaking the dietary laws of the Mosaic law.
Paulís rebuke consisted of an argument. Essentially he said, "Peter, if you are living like a Gentile, then why are you attempting to persuade the Gentiles to live like Jews? If you know that a man is not justified by the Law of Moses, then why are you acting like a Jew under the Law of Moses instead of a member of Jesusí church under grace?" An even shorter version would be, "Peter, don't I smell ham on your breath?".
No man can be justified by his works. Justification only comes by Godís grace when we put our complete trust in Him for our salvation. We can do nothing to earn salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). The works of any law-system will ultimately end up in self-righteousness instead of Godís righteousness. Paul declared quite frankly that one can frustrate the grace of God by trying to establish their own righteousness based upon works and obedience to a law-system. Righteousness cannot come from obedience to a law-system. If it could, then Christ did not need to die, and His death has no value.
Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.
Here is a plain blanket statement: If there was a law that one could keep that would give everlasting life, then eternal life would have come by a law. Thank God there is no law-system that can save us! We would surely all fall short of it and be destined for the Lake of Fire if their was (Romans 3:23). We can only be saved by the grace and mercy of God.
Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.
The Galatian believers had known God and His grace in the past, but had turned away from His grace to a law-works-system trying to earn justification and salvation before God. They were giving up their freedom that Christ gained for them on the cross to be in bondage to a system that could not give them life. Paul felt that his time spent laboring among them might have been in vain. If they resorted to legalistic law-keeping for their justification instead of Christís substitutionary death, their initial faith in Christ would be eradicated.
If we were justified by Godís grace when we first trusted in Jesus for our salvation, then we must continue in Godís grace in order to be saved. We cannot resort to a works-system under the banner of "keeping ourselves saved." As Paul said, "Having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh?" (Galatians 3:3). The answer was an obvious "no."
Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth? They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them.
Sometimes I would like to ask some people the same question that Paul asked the Galatians: "Have I become your enemy because Iím telling you the truth and refuse to go along with what others are teaching you?" Sometimes the truth is not well received and is hard to accept. How Paul must have felt to be rejected by his own children in the Lord!
The reason the Judaizers were so zealous about converting the Galatians to Judaism was so that they could exclude the Galatians from Paul and his teachings. They were trying to exclude the Galatians from truth and separate them unto themselves. Their purpose was to gain converts for themselves.
One of the common elements of legalism and bondage to a law-system is separation. Groups who are bound to legalism usually exclude all others and look down upon those who challenge their teachings as enemies. Their major thrust is to get others to join them and their particular beliefs. It is not for the benefit of the people they are converting as much as it is for the benefit of the legalistsí egos.
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.
Paul admonished the Galatians to stand fast in the liberty they received from Christ and not be entangled again with the yoke of bondage. In other words they were to "stick to their guns," not giving up their liberty from the law-system to those who were bound by legalism. Sometimes we allow the legalists' actions under the banner of submission. Submitting to otherís personal convictions for the sake of unity, love, peace, and edification is the right thing to do, but not to the point that we throw out the Biblical teaching of Christian liberty to accommodate the unbiblical and God-hated bondage of legalism.
If the Galatians circumcised themselves with the idea that it would grant them salvation or favor with God towards salvation, then Christ profited them nothing. If they believed their justification came from obedience to a law-system, Paul said they had fallen from grace! To believe that what we do for God will grant us, or help us receive salvation, removes us from God's grace. Without the grace of God, we cannot be saved (Ephesians 2:8-9). This seems to imply that legalists are lost! It is not that God lifts His grace from them, but rather that they remove themselves from under the umbrella of His grace and mercy, while attempting to establish their own righteousness. They are then subject to the wrath of God that rains from on high as it will to those who have never received the grace of God in salvation.
How can one tell if they are relying upon their works to justify them instead of Calvary? Only God can help the individual to determine this. Let our prayer be as the psalmist Davidís, "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24). For every way of man is right in his own sight, but the Lord ponders the hearts (Proverbs 16:2).
GALATIANS 5:13-15, 24
For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. vs. 24 And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
What a word of caution here! If we bite and devour one another we will eventually be consumed by one another. There is nothing more sad than a bunch of saints who have no righteousness in and of themselves, bickering and fighting with each other over areas of Christian liberty. We were all lost, but now we have salvation and can share our joy together. Why let this fact and privilege be destroyed because our brother does not see eye to eye with us? Have we degraded ourselves to the world's system of "Iím right and youíre wrong, and Iíll make sure I prove it?" We are the body of Christ and He does not want us fighting each other. If we continue to have our war zones of "conservative" and "liberal" we will destroy each other. How sad it is when the church turns aside from fighting the real enemy (Satan) to fighting our own soldiers. What does the world think of us when they see this? Bickering over issues of Christian liberty to the disunity of the body shows evidence of two things: a lack of love and the loss of our true mission in this world; souls! The church turns inward instead of outward when it loses its vision and burden.
Paul reaffirmed that they did have liberty in Christ, but that liberty was not intended to give them a license to live for the desires of the flesh, but that this liberty should be exercised by loving one another. Those that are truly Christís do not live for their own desires, but rather have crucified those desires and affections with, and for Christ. It is not Biblical to believe that our liberty in Christ means we can do whatever we desire and the grace of God will still cover our sins. This mentality misses the whole message of Calvary! God saved us so that we could be released from the power of sin and have dominion over it (Romans 6). He saved us out of our sins, not in them. We need to yield our members as instruments of righteousness to God, and forsake the way of unrighteousness (Romans 6:13).
Because we have liberty from the Law, and are now under grace is no reason to continue living in sin, but it is the reason we can live above sin. God help us if we think we can continue in sin and fulfilling the lusts of our flesh and still please God! Our God is holy and He wants His children to be holy. Our lives need to be living sacrifices that are holy and acceptable to Him (Romans 12:1).
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