Introduction to Galatians
Today we are going to start on a journey together through the book of Galatians. The early church fathers wrote more commentaries on Galatians than on any other book. It has been called the masthead of the reformation, the magna carta of the early church, the manifesto of Christian liberty, the impregnable citadel. It is said that” immortal victory is set upon its brow”, that it is the secret to the great reformation. Luther said, “This is my epistle. I am wedded to it”. (Who knew Luther had more than one wife;) I cannot think of any other book that exalts the supremacy of Christ alone, through faith alone, more than this little letter. So, what better way to give your ministry a healthy foundation than by beginning in Galatians?
The other reasons I chose this book is because this year it is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation – and these 6 chapters encapsulate the Reformation. This book will force us to come face to face with the gospel, and in it you will either encounter the risen Christ, or you won’t. Your heart will be hardened or softened. You will not be able to make it happen, it will happen through the supernatural power of the Spirit. It is a gift of God.
My prayer with this book is that we will go through it as a family, studying it and applying it to our lives, week in and week out - Together praying that God would continue to lift our eyes to Christ, the author and finisher of our faith. I pray that we will be refreshed in, or maybe discover for the first time, the deep and awesome truths of the Reformation. That we will together be affirmed in our rich Christian heritage, and that in thankfulness we will be a light shining the good news to the people in Bellville and Cape Town.
I have titled this sermon series as follows
The Reformation Still Matters! The Basis, the Content, the Result
Today we are going to kind of orient ourselves and look at the background, and structure of the book.
With some exceptions we can split the book into three main sections. In Chapters 1&2 we are going to look at the basis of the Reformation – namely the reliability and authority of the word of God spoken through men. This deals with the first great truth of the Reformation: The absolute, unique supreme authority of Scripture over pope, councils, classis, synods, pastors, kings, queens or presidents: basically, over everything in the entire universe except the triune God himself.
In chapters 3&4 we are going to look at the content of what caused the Reformation - this deals with the second great truth of the Reformation: The precious gospel of justification by faith alone, through grace alone, on the basis of Christ alone, to the glory of God alone.
These are the two principle truths of the gospel that I pray I will preach to my dying breath – One is the formal principle (authority by what we say what we say) and the second is the material principle (what we say/preach.) and then the third section asks what this content looks like in life in chapters 5-6.
That is what 5&6 are about – life resulting from being found in the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection: namely a new life found in Christ, empowered by the Spirit. For you see the doctrine of justification by faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone, never ever leaves us where we are alone – but the Holy Spirit comes alongside and pushes us in, to make the work of Christ a powerful and ever present reality in our life.
My prayer is that by the end of this book each one of you will know the gospel message so well, and will come to see it at a heart level, that were the church to ever deform, you would be impassioned and knowledgeable enough to stand courageously upon the word of Christ in all humility, knowing that if you lose the truth of Christ, you have lost all.
With that in mind let’s study this book together, trusting that this is the word of God Almighty which will never return empty. This sermon we are going to be doing a lot by setting up the entire series. We will look at the date of the letter, then the themes, and then the situation Paul was addressing, and then we will dive into the first few verses. You ready?
In terms of date this was one of the very first letters that Paul ever wrote, probably right around November/ December of 48 or early 49, before the Jerusalem council. He may have even written this letter on the way to the Jerusalem council, that we read about in Acts 15! You can imagine him traveling to Jerusalem with “the brothers” he references in v.2. His love for these people comes through in his astonishment and frustration that they are turning to another gospel. With a broken heart, frustrated, and maybe a little angry he takes his pen in hand and writes one of the most impassioned books in Scripture. Whoever said that Paul was merely an academic, needs to read Galatians.
I say it must have been written before the council because it would have made no sense after, since the council settled many of the issues he is writing about. What this means is that Paul had over 12 years of experience already by the time he penned his first letter. I wonder how many theologians wait 12 years before starting their own blog to pontificate about all their opinions regarding the Word of God, and theology.
The themes in this book come out in pairs or opposites. In this book Paul gives the Galatians and you today, a number of choices. And you either have to pick one or the other, there is no other way. God or humanity, Spirit or flesh, freedom or slavery, Christ or law, faith in Christ or works of the law, new creation or world. These opposites echo throughout the book of Galatians and indeed reverberate throughout Scripture. While other things that the Jews think are important, are left by the wayside. Circumcision is declared to be completely irrelevant, and other things that the society at that time would have felt were vitally important are in fact eliminated: like Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free. The key to unlocking it all is the Christ event: particularly his crucifixion and his resurrection. Christ is the heart of the Gospel; Christ is at the heart of this explosive letter. Having looked at themes let’s look at the situation that gave rise to this letter.
At first, we read in Acts 13:45 that the Jews he writes about opposed him out of pure jealousy, and that is why they talked abusively against what Paul was saying, but by chapter 14 of Acts it has quickly turned into a theological argument, with people taking sides. These were similar to the Jews in Acts 15:1 that said unless you are circumcised according to Jewish custom you cannot be saved. It was a form of legalism. These Jews started arguing that the message did not come from that lesser apostle Paul, but from the original apostles in Jerusalem.
Paul writes to these churches in desperation, frustrated at his distance from the believers who are accepting a gospel different from the one he passed on to them. The only certain source of information on the situation in Galatia is this emotional letter. And much about their situation will stay unknown. What we do know is that the Galatian churches, made up mostly of gentiles, are being persuaded to adopt Jewish cultural traditions.
Paul is writing against some people who are perverting the gospel of Christ. They are “confusing” the Galatians and keeping them from “obeying the truth.” These people wanted them to undergo certain Jewish rituals to complete the Christian experience. It’s like if we say someone is saved to a degree, but not quite willing to accept them as brothers or sisters until they become part of the Vrye Gerformeerde Kerke. In order to really be saved they need to follow our liturgy exactly, dress like us, and play music like us, have the same confessions as us. “NO!” says Paul, your identity is exclusively found in Jesus Christ and his work, or it is not at all. This letter is about where one finds one worth – in your community or in Christ.
Legalism can look very much like Christianity, it just combines Christianity with something else, in this case it is the Mosaic law as the climax of one’s conversion to Christ. This was nothing less than a repudiation of the adequacy of Christ’s work, and a perverse desire to add to his work through a form of works righteousness. In other words, the legalism of the Judaizers is more than a problem; it has become a new message, a different gospel. This is like telling a convert at a Billy Graham sermon that he or she must become Baptist, Presbyterian or Reformed before the salvation process is complete. No! The salvation process is complete the moment we have put our faith in Christ! Anything less than that and it is no longer submission to Christ but to a certain group. Do you see why this book is so relevant? We want people be like us. Make them in our own image. Rather than in the image of Christ.
With that in mind let’s dive into this letter.
Chapter 1:1 starts off with “Paul, an apostle – sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead.” In terms of authorship: There is almost not one respected scholar that will deny the Pauline authorship of this book. In fact, this letter is used as the benchmark for Paul’s writings. They compare the other writings with this one to see if they are real. Now I want you to think about that – even scholars who don’t believe in God still believe that this book was written by someone who claimed to have met the risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That means these people are forced to call Paul a liar, or crazy. You see people need to undermine the characters of Scripture so that they don’t have to listen to the Word. But in the end, it should not really surprise us because at the root of all sin is the attempt to undermine God’s Word and Character. Did God really say….?
That is exactly what people in Paul’s day were doing. Rather than debating on theological grounds, they were trying to ruin his character. Nobody listens to someone they don’t trust or have contempt for. They were labeling him – destroying his character as an apostle. In response to that Paul says, “…I am an apostle not from men or by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.” “You see,” he says, “I was not sent to preach this message by the church in Antioch, or the people in Jerusalem. I was set as an emissary by the risen Lord and King Jesus Christ himself, and God who raised him from the dead.” The apostle Paul comes to the church – he comes to you in this book with all the authority and backing of the risen Christ that struck him on the Damascus road. If you want to mess with that you do so at your own peril.
The authority with which he speaks was unique to the apostle. He was not sent or commissioned by a church like I was! He is an apostle chosen by God. Right from the “get go” he tells the church LISTEN UP! This is Jesus Christ speaking here through me! It’s not my words! It is the word of God from God!
People today will still say Paul was the inventor of Christianity. Jesus taught love, and Paul complicated it all with his theological structures, and Greek concepts. “His teaching is not really from God,” they say, “but teaching about God!” Absolutely not! says Paul to the church in every generation. Do not believe this hogwash. I am an apostle commissioned by Jesus and God the Father. We, in this sermon series are going to listen to someone who was taught by the Lord Jesus Christ himself.
And yet, even though he was appointed by Jesus Christ he was not a lone wolf theologian – he was working and writing in community. He was a pastor, but not a pastor who worked alone, as we read in verse 2. “… Paul an apostle – sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead – and all the brothers with me.” His authority comes from God and he writes in the community of faith to the churches of Galatia.
Galatia: There has been much debate throughout the history of Christ’s church as to the destination of this letter. Personally I don’t think that place makes a big difference in the message of the book, so I will just briefly state that I believe we have strong biblical evidence that this letter was written to the churches that he visited on his first missionary journey (Pisidian Antioch, Lystra, Iconium, Derbe; See Acts 13-14). This is the area we know to be Turkey. We have evidence in Acts 13 of him visiting these churches, and going back through the region to strengthen them in Acts 14:22-25.
What does he tell these churches, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Not many see this book as a book of grace and peace. When you read through it at first it seems neither gracious nor peaceful. It is though, because sometimes harsh words are gracious and peaceful when leaders are leading others outside the realm of grace and peace. Paul drives us to the only place we find grace and peace – to Jesus Christ, and particularly the cross. And it shows us that anything else outside of that gives reason to sound the alarm. Loud and clear! Don’t look for a non-Christ centered, cross centered gospel. The reality of grace and peace can only be found in Christ.
Listen to me carefully: I am going to be honest: You and I are unworthy, helpless, and sinners. You don’t just become a sinner. You are a sinner. And because of that you and I deserve eternal death and condemnation. That would be just and that would be fair. Can we just all say that for ourselves? Can we admit that? One more thing, there is only one way out. The Way the Truth and the Life.
Without Christ we are nothing. We lose everything if we lose him. When we understand that we will begin to understand the depth of this blessing that we hear every Sunday. Living in the reality of Grace means living in the reality of a new life, and remade world, a new humanity – where through the cross we die to the old way and come more and more to realize the resurrected life. That is the reality we enter into each Sunday. Understanding grace – the gift of God in Jesus Christ, will give us peace. Shalom. Total wholeness, contentment in every circumstance, especially in suffering!
There is a correlation between the level at which you see your own sin and brokenness and the level at which you see Christ as savior. Take a deep look in your heart. And confess that I am unworthy. It is exactly when we come to that low point that Christ comes in and says but I am worthy. I am powerful. I am perfect. Let me die in their place. Grace. Grace to you. Jesus Christ for you.
Grace and peace to you! Peace, it was the first word that the disciples heard from the mouth of Jesus! Shalom! In the age of the resurrected King, dear church, you live in the realm of grace and peace! I must confess it is so hard to explain this awesome stupendous reality of grace and peace – I pray that the Holy Spirit would reveal it to each one of you in this building at a heart level.
Where does this grace and peace come from? Again, it comes through Jesus Christ who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. You see Jesus Christ does not just deliver us from sin, but places us in a new reality. Our age is an age of corruption, decay, and death. It is dominated by the evils of war, murder, oppression, slavery, incest, and abortion. Church of Cape Town, you do not belong to that reality, to that world, you have been rescued through the cross. Through the cross, Jesus Christ raided the domain of darkness and took you out of it! You are his spoils of victory! In Christ the reality is that we no longer live under the power of evil. We have already started living in the age to come. It is a truth that still needs to be consummated but it is a truth nonetheless!
At this point of the letter we realize there is not a single thing that we have done, Paul is just telling us what God has done in history. He has done it! He has done it all! Do you see the glory of this! He has done it. Why? Simply for his glory. He has done it all so he gets all the glory. Literally his glory goes on into the ages of the ages, which unlike this age, will never end.
Jesus Christ – he is everything or nothing. He cannot just be somethings. This generation, as every other generation, needs to be reminded of the sole sufficiency of Jesus Christ for the redemption of humankind. Galatians sounds a clarion call for a vital relationship with Jesus Christ rather than mere religious ritual, for total trust in the Savior rather than dependence on self, for submission to the living Christ rather than mere subscription to creeds, and for a life enabled by the Holy Spirit rather than one ruled by legalistic rituals. Are you ready for the journey church? The journey of growth in Christ through his Word, to his glory? I hope so because it is an eternal journey of life in Christ.