Is a person saved by faith alone or by a combination of faith and works of the law? Paul’s letter to the Galatians proclaims that salvation comes through faith alone. It also emphasizes freedom in Christ to live by the power of the Spirit, knowing that our relationship with God is not based on our performance but on the finished work of Jesus Christ. Paul began his ministry traveling through Asia Minor, stopping to speak in town synagogues. He also spoke to Gentiles, and the churches he established in the Roman province of Galatia were composed of both Jews and newly converted pagans. Let's watch on overview of the book of Galatians presented by those clever folk at the Bible Project.
Paul's missionary journey demonstrated that salvation was available to Gentiles as well as Jews only by believing in Christ Jesus. Gentiles did not have to become Jews in order to become full members of God’s family. They had only to put their faith in Jesus for their Salvation. Confrontations over their new faith were inevitable, and Paul took the Galatian church to task when he learned of certain Jews trying to reassert elements of Jewish law into the Gospel.
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Chapter One of Paul’s Epistle to the Galatian churches begins with a declaration of his authority as an Apostle, appointed personally by Christ Jesus. Paul learned some of the converts were abandoning the doctrine of justification by faith alone, reverting to elements of Jewish law. To turn them back to the one true gospel, Paul reiterated the truth in unmistakable terms, that Christ laid down his life to remove sin from human hearts, replacing it with peace and freedom from fear.
The Galatians were in danger of losing the freedom gained through their belief in Christ, so, Paul reprimanded them for turning from the gospel to ritualism, not hesitating to denounce with the curse of God any who would preach a different gospel from the one he preached. Ritualism offers salvation through rites and ceremonies, but the principle is the same whether the rites and ceremonies are Jewish or otherwise. It’s a poor substitute for the gospel of grace and Paul was astonished the Galatians turned so quickly from the gospel of grace to a gospel of ritual.
Every rite or ceremony interposed between man and God creates distance between them. Instead of intensifying communion with God, ritualism only invites superstition and puts souls at odds with Him. Salvation by ceremony is the antithesis of salvation by grace, a perversion of God's good news to man. It’s the devil's work to complicate salvation with rites and ceremonies, making it harder to approach God. There are no simpler terms of forgiveness than are offered in the gospel. Paul, as we just read, is so certain of the gospel of grace that he invoked a curse on all who preached another version.
Paul admits that although he was the most zealous persecutor of Christianity, It was Jesus himself who undertook Saul's conversion. The Holy Spirit entered him and gave him Christ's mind, heart, and compassions, making Paul a revelation of Christ to others. He passed into the solitudes of the Arabian desert soon after his conversion, where he communed with Christ and laid the foundation of his theology. He had but one Master, Christ.
Paul’s meeting with Peter and James was just a conference. Paul didn’t visit Jerusalem to receive any authority from the hands the other Apostles as his authority came directly from Christ. Paul was well known by the Judaean Churches as their arch-persecutor. They praised God for raising him to become a chief preacher of the faith he once despised. But his knowledge of the gospel and his authority in proclaiming it were not derived from men.
What the world needs now is what it needed then—men like Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, radiating the truth about Christ. The problem Paul faced with the Galatian churches remains a problem today. Many still question whether we’re truly saved by the work of Christ on the cross, or if something more is necessary. Paul’s letter to the Galatians established the completeness of the Good News—that salvation is available to all purely through faith in the Lord Jesus. It also established the unity of God’s people. No division exists between Jews and Gentiles or between classes of people. We all come to God and gain new life by the same means: faith in Christ.
Food for Thought:
Paul found nothing to praise in the Galatian church, hence his curt greeting. What amazed him about the Galatians?
Despite receiving the Gospel directly from Paul, why did the Galatians accept apostasy in their midst?
Why did Paul evoke God’s curse on anyone—even angelic beings—who preached a different gospel from the one he preached?
Why would Paul mention that he violently persecuted God’s church, that he intended to destroy it, and that his zeal for Judaism surpassed his peers?
After his conversion, why did Paul go into the Arabian desert and then to Damascus before consulting with Peter and James in Jerusalem?