Teaching series from Galatians

The "Table of Contents"

Galatians 1:1-5

Teaching t12619


This morning we begin a study of Galatians. This is a letter written by Paul, one of the leaders of the early Christian movement, to a group of churches that Paul started in south central Turkey (MAP). It is probably the earliest of Paul’s letters (and one of the earliest in the New Testament), written in 48 or 49 AD.

Before we read the beginning of this letter, we need to understand its setting. Shortly after Paul started these churches, he had to leave. In his absence, a group of Jewish pseudo-Christian teachers (often called “Judaizers”) visited the Galatian churches and attacked Paul’s message and authority. From this letter (and Acts), we can reconstruct the essence of their attack:

They said that Paul diluted the Christian message. Simply receiving Jesus as our Savior isn’t sufficient to be accepted by God—we also must obey the Old Testament law and become Jewish, which includes undergoing circumcision and observing Jewish dietary laws and religious festivals.

They also said that Paul lacked authority. They apparently said that the only authoritative leaders of the church were those in Jerusalem. They claimed that Paul was subordinate to these leaders, and that he knowingly diluted their message (above) because he was afraid that the Galatians would reject him if he required them to become Jewish.

With this brief background, let’s read Paul’s greeting (read 1:1-5). Although this greeting follows the typical form of first-century letters, it also introduces Paul’s response to the Judaizers’ two attacks. It thus functions as a kind of “table of contents” for the rest of the letter, distilling key themes that rest of the letter will develop in much greater detail.

Paul’s authority: Jesus’ apostle

In 1:1, Paul responds to their attack on his authority by claiming that he is an “apostle” of Jesus. He also specifically denies that he is subordinate to any human church authority.

“Apostle” (apostello) literally means “sent one”—one who has been chosen to speak officially on behalf of the one who sent him. Referring to the Hebrew equivalent term (shalika), the rabbis said: “The one sent is as the one who sent him.” “Apostle” is therefore a technical term here that emphasizes Paul’s special representative authority. (Note how Paul distinguishes himself from “the brethren with me” in this respect.)

An ambassador is in foreign relations what an apostle is to the Christian church. An American ambassador is a citizen of the U.S., but he has been chosen by the President to be his official representative to a specific foreign nation. When the American ambassador to France, for example, meets with French officials, he does not spout his own opinion about American-French relations. He communicates the President’s policy—he speaks on the President’s behalf. And the French officials’ response to the ambassador’s words is considered to be their response to the President himself.

Jesus appointed twelve of His disciples to be His apostles (Lk.6:13). He emphasized their apostolic authority in Matt.10:40 (read and explain). His Spirit uniquely inspired them to recall His words and deeds, and to understand and explain the meaning of His death and resurrection (refer to Jn.14:26; 16:13).

This is an extraordinarily important issue. It is no exaggeration to say that the very definition of Christianity turns on the issue of apostolic authority.

How do we know which ancient writings about Jesus belong in the New Testament? The answer is: Only the writings of the apostles. Early church councils did not create the New Testament—they merely confirmed the authority of the apostles’ writings. Other ancient Christian writings may be helpful for learning about the early church (e.g., early church fathers), but they themselves make it clear that the apostles’ writings are authoritative. Other early writings that falsely claim to be written by apostles (e.g., Gospel of Thomas) are spurious because they were written after the apostles died. Ironically, their claim to be apostolic demonstrates what everyone understood—that the apostles’ writings alone were authoritative.

How do we know what contemporary “Christian” teachers/leaders are trustworthy? The answer is: Those who conform to the teachings of the apostles (i.e., the New Testament). No matter how many seminary degrees they may have, no matter what title (e.g., “Reverend;” “Pastor;” “Bishop;” “Pope”) they have, we should follow their teaching only if it agrees with apostolic teaching.

Paul claims in 1:1 that he is an apostle of Jesus Christ just like Jesus’ original disciples. He claims that he was commissioned directly by Jesus for this role, just like they were. He claims that his message comes not through the church but directly from Jesus, just like theirs. He claims that his message is the standard by which all other messages (including that of the Judaizers) about Jesus must be evaluated.

You may be thinking: “How can Paul be an apostle when he was not one of Jesus’ original disciples?” This is evidently the issue the Judaizers used to undermine Paul’s authority. Paul will answer this question in the first major section of Galatians (1:11-2:14). We will explore this passage in three weeks.

Paul’s message: God’s grace

In 1:3-5, Paul responds to the Judaizers’ attack on his message by concisely stating its contents. The key word here is “grace” (1:3a – “Grace to you...”). This is the most important theological term in Paul’s letters. He begins every one of his letters with this phrase. He uses this word over 80 (in a theological sense) times in his letters – 7 times in Galatians. God’s grace is what makes Christianity “good news” and distinguishes it from all other religions. Galatians expounds God’s grace like a cut diamond, full of beautiful facets. Even in these few verses, we learn four insights into God’s grace – two of which Paul elaborates on later in the letter.

God’s grace results in peace for its recipients (1:3). Paul writes this phrase at the beginning of every one of his letters, and always in this order (never “peace to you and grace”).

“Peace” is related conceptually to the word “reconciliation.” Namely, peace is not merely a truce (the absence of conflict or overt hostility), but restoration to relational closeness by resolving the root cause of the alienation (MARRIAGE EXAMPLE). God offers each of us peace with Him—and this peace is the most deep-seated and stabilizing peace you can ever have. Only peace with God provides the basis for having peace with yourself and with other people.

What good news it is that God offers us peace! And even better news is that He offers us peace on the basis of His “grace.” “Grace” is the Greek word charis, from which our word “charity” derives. “Grace” is a free gift offered to people who don’t deserve it. God’s grace is God’s free gift of peace with Him offered to people who don’t deserve it. This is a unique concept in world religions; all other religions teach that can and must earn salvation through religious observances and/or moral self-reform. How does God make His grace available to us? 1:4a answers this question...

God’s grace forgives our sins through Jesus’ death (1:3a,4). Jesus’ death was not an accident or terrible tragedy. It was God’s will, because it was the means by which He offers us the gift of forgiveness: “He gave Himself for our sins.”

It is our sins that alienate us from God (Isa.59:1,2a) and make us deserving of His condemnation. Our sins (past and present) make us unable to extricate ourselves from this dilemma (Rom.3:23). But Jesus took on the full guilt of our sins and bore God’s condemnation for all of us (2Cor.5:19a,21). This is the grace of God: Jesus bore the condemnation He didn’t deserve so that we can receive right standing with God that we don’t deserve.

This great theme is called “justification by faith”—receiving right standing with God through simple trust in Jesus and His death for our sins. Paul devotes the largest section of this letter to this theme (2:15-4:31). He answers several questions:

Is grace fair to “good” people?

Is grace dangerous to “bad” people?

Does grace contradict the Old Testament (how people are saved; the purpose of the Ten Commandments; primary role of rituals in the worship of God)?

Can grace co-exist with non-grace approaches to God? We will look at Paul’s answer to this question NEXT WEEK.

God’s grace forgives all of your sins the moment you ask Him for this gift. But it doesn’t end there. God’s grace also rescues us from the authority of evil in this life (1:4b). This rescue does not refer only to the future, when Jesus returns to destroy God’s enemies and establish His kingdom over all the earth. It also refers to a present rescue, in which Jesus rescues His followers from the power of evil to live a whole new way of life in the midst of this present evil age.

An evil kingdom exists all around us, expressed through evil people and evil rulers – both human and demonic. And evil remains inside us – what Paul calls “sin that dwells within us.” But Jesus has begun God’s kingdom through His resurrection. He has liberated His followers from the authority of that evil kingdom into His kingdom (read Col.1:13). He has given us His Spirit, who supplies us with motivation and power to please Him and to love others with His love (read Phil.2:13). So, like the movie “The Matrix,” we still live in this present evil age, but we are no longer of it, and we do not live under its power. We live as members of God’s kingdom, empowered by His Spirit to rescue others from this present evil age.

This is the theme that Paul develops in 5:1-6:10. He answers several questions about the Holy Spirit:

How do we receive God’s Spirit?

How do we to live by the Spirit’s power?

What kind of character and lifestyle does the Spirit produces in us?

1:5 supplies one more insight into God’s grace. God’s grace motivates its recipients to praise Him. Paul’s praise here is not an impersonal religious duty; it is spontaneous, heart-felt praise to God as he thinks about God’s grace (as he does elsewhere – e.g., Rom. 5:1-5,11; 11:33; Eph.1:3ff.; 1 Tim.1:17; 6:16). Paul’s praise is not because God’s grace is a new discovery for him; he had been familiar with it for decades. When you realize how undeserving you are, and when you see how gracious God has been to you, you heart springs up in appreciative praise to Him (Rom.5:6-11). This desire to praise God for His grace, therefore, is a key diagnostic indicator of your spiritual state:

“What is I have never experienced the desire to praise God for His grace?” This probably means that you have never received His grace. In other words, it means that you are probably not a Christian. But you can receive God’s grace this morning! You don’t have to clean yourself up first, or make a vow to become religious. Just call out to Jesus, tell Him you want peace with God, tell Him you want His forgiveness, tell Him you want His Spirit to live a new life. He will answer you, and you will soon be praising Him!

“What if my desire to praise God for His grace is a distant memory and/or rare?” This probably means that you are a Christian, but that your spiritual life is unhealthy. Just as lack of energy is an indicator of poor spiritual health, lack of praise for God’s grace is an indicator of poor spiritual health. The main way to remedy this is not to just make yourself praise God; it is to immerse yourself in His grace! My prayer is that this series on Galatians will open your spiritual eyes to understand and appreciate and apply His grace. If you do this, your heart will begin to praise God like Paul, and you will become spiritually healthy!


NEXT WEEK: Gal. 1:6-10 – “No Give On the Gospel”

Paul uses “the gospel” as a synonym for God’s grace 57 times in his letters.