A FAMILY, executing their carefully planned escape at midnight, dashing for the border… a man standing outside prison walls, gulping fresh air, awash in the new sun… a young woman with every trace of the ravaging drug gone from her system… they are FREE! With fresh anticipation, they can begin life anew.
Whether fleeing oppression, stepping out of prison, or breaking a strangling habit, freedom means life. There is nothing so exhilarating as knowing that the past is forgotten and that new options await. People yearn to be free.
The book of Galatians is the charter of Christian freedom. In this profound letter, Paul proclaims the reality of our liberty in Christ – freedom from the law and the power of sin, and freedom to serve our living Lord.
Most of the first converts and early leaders in the church were Jewish Christians who proclaimed Jesus as their Messiah. As Jewish Christians, they struggled with a dual identity: their Jewishness constrained them to be strict followers of the law; their newfound faith in Christ invited them to celebrate a holy liberty. They wondered how Gentiles (non-Jews) could be part of the kingdom of heaven.
This controversy tore the church. Judaisers – an extremist Jewish faction within the church – taught that Gentile Christians had to submit to Jewish laws and traditions in addition to believing in Christ. As a missionary to the Gentiles, Paul had to confront this issue many times.
Galatians was written, therefore, to refute the Judaisers and to call believers back to the pure gospel. The good news is for all people – Jews and Gentiles alike. Salvation is by God’s grace through faith in Christ Jesus and nothing else. Faith in Christ means true freedom.
After a brief introduction (1:1-5), Paul addresses those who were accepting the Judaisers’ perverted gospel (1:6-9). He summarises the controversy, including his personal confrontation with Peter and other church leaders (1:10-2:16). He then demonstrates that salvation is by faith alone by alluding to his conversion (2:17-21), appealing to his readers’ own experience of the gospel (3:1-5), and showing how the Old Testament teaches about grace (3:6-20). Next, he explains the purpose of God’s laws and the relationship between law, God’s promises, and Christ (3:21-4:31).
Having laid the foundation, Paul builds his case for Christian liberty. We are saved by faith, not by keeping the law (5:1-12); our freedom means that we are free to love and serve one another, not to do wrong (5:13-26); and Christians should carry each other’s burdens and be kind to each other (6:1-10). In 6:11-18, Paul takes the pen into his own hand and shares his final thoughts.
As you read Galatians, try to understand this first-century conflict between grace and law, faith and deeds, but also be aware of modern parallels. Like Paul, defend the truth of the gospel and reject all those who would add to or twist this truth. You are free in Christ – step into the light and celebrate!
PURPOSE: To refute the Judaisers (who taught that Gentile believers must obey the Jewish law in order to be saved), and to call Christians to faith and freedom in Christ
TO WHOM WRITTEN: The churches in southern Galatia founded on Paul’s first missionary journey (including Iconium, Lystra, Derbe), and Christians everywhere
DATE WRITTEN: About A.D. 49, from Antioch, prior to the Jerusalem council (A.D. 50)
SETTING: The most pressing controversy in the early church was the relationship of new believers, particularly Gentiles, to the Jewish laws. This was especially a problem for the converts and for the young churches that Paul had founded on his first missionary journey. Paul wrote to correct this problem. Later, at the council in Jerusalem, the conflict was officially resolved by the church leaders.
KEY VERSE: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (5:1).
KEY PEOPLE: Paul, Peter, Barnabas, Titus, Abraham, false teachers
KEY PLACES: Galatia, Jerusalem
SPECIAL FEATURES: This letter is not addressed to any specific body of believers and was probably circulated to several churches in Galatia.
In response to attacks from false teachers, Paul wrote to defend his apostleship and to defend the authority of the gospel. The Galatians were beginning to turn from faith to legalism. The struggle between the gospel and legalism is still a crisis. Many today would have us return to trying to earn God’s favour through following rituals or obeying a set of rules. As Christians, we are not boxed in, but set free. To preserve our freedom, we must stay close to Christ and resist any who promote subtle ways of trying to earn our salvation.
- Authenticity of the gospel (1:1-2:21)
- Superiority of the gospel (3:1-4:31)
- Freedom of the gospel (5:1-6:18)
EXPLANATION: A group of Jewish teachers insisted that non-Jewish believers must obey Jewish law and traditional rules. They believed a person was saved by following the law of Moses (with emphasis on circumcision, the sign of the covenant), in addition to faith in Christ. Paul opposed them by showing that the law can’t save anyone.
IMPORTANCE: We can’t be saved by keeping the Old Testament law, even the Ten Commandments. The law served as a guide to point out our needs to be forgiven for us. We must turn to him to be saved. He alone can make us right with God.
EXPLANATION: We are saved from God’s judgment and penalty for sin by God’s gracious gift to us. We receive salvation by faith – trusting in him – not in anything else. Becoming a Christian is in no way based on our initiative, wise choice, or good character. We can be right with God only by believing in him.
IMPORTANCE: Your acceptance by God comes through believing in Christ alone. You must never add to or twist this truth. We are saved by faith, not by the good that we do. Have you placed your whole trust and confidence in Christ? He alone can forgive you and bring you into a relationship with God.
EXPLANATION: Galatians is our charter of Christian freedom. We are not under the jurisdiction of Jewish laws and traditions, nor under the authority of Jerusalem. Faith in Christ brings true freedom from sin and from the futile attempt to be right with God by keeping the law.
IMPORTANCE: We are free in Christ, and yet freedom is a privilege. We are not free to disobey Christ or practise immorality, but we are free to serve the risen Christ. Let us use our freedom to love and to serve, not to do wrong.
EXPLANATION: We become Christians through the work of the Holy Spirit. He brings new life; even our faith to believe is a gift from him. The Holy Spirit instructs, guides, leads, and gives us power. He ends our bondage to evil desires, and he creates in us love, joy, peace, and many other wonderful changes.
IMPORTANCE: When the Holy Spirit leads us, he produces his fruit in us. Just as we are saved by faith, not deeds, we also grow by faith. By believing, we can have the Holy Spirit within us, helping us live for Christ. Obey Christ by following the Holy Spirit’s leading.
©Kingsway International Church, 1973.