in Christ (Introduction to Galatians)
The apostle Paul
his recipients as “the churches of Galatia” (1:2). The traditional
view holds that Paul was writing to the churches in central and north Galatia, which
Paul probably visited during his second missionary journey. However, most
expositors today believe that the epistle was addressed to the churches in the
southern part of Galatia,
which Paul evangelized during his first missionary trip with Barnabas. These
would include churches in Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe.
The dating of the
epistle depends in part on whether Paul’s visit to Jerusalem
in 2:1-10 was also the visit for the Jerusalem
meeting as recorded in Acts 15. If so, the epistle must have been written after
meeting, between 51 and 57 A.D. If, on the other hand, Paul wrote to the
Galatians before participating in the Jerusalem
meeting, then this epistle would have been written in 48-49.
When the gospel
began to spread to the Gentiles, some Jewish Christians insisted that
observance of the law of Moses, and in particular,
receiving circumcision, was necessary for salvation. These Judaizers
from Judea infiltrated newly established
churches and taught the Gentile believers the false doctrine of salvation by
works (Acts 15:1). In an effort to discredit Paul’s preaching, these advocates
of the Mosaic law even claimed that Paul was not a
Soon after Paul
had brought the gospel to Galatia,
these Judaizers came to the churches in this region
and preached a different message. Consequently, the Galatian
believers began to turn to this other “gospel,” which Paul called a false
gospel (Gal 1:6-7). Seeing the grave danger that the believers were facing,
Paul wrote them this urgent letter to guard their faith and liberty in Christ.
In defending the gospel of Christ, Paul stressed that he had received his
apostolic authority from the Lord, not from man, and hence, the message he
preached was the true gospel. He did not hesitate to condemn preachers of a
gospel that was different from what the apostles had preached, fearing that the
Galatians would fall from the grace of salvation.
This is a letter of strong
warnings and powerful apology. Unlike Paul’s other epistles, there is no
commendation or thanksgiving. He went straight to the heart of the matter to
address the crisis facing the Galatians. For the sake of the gospel of Christ,
Paul was not about to give in to the legalists, and he even called down curse
upon preachers of a false gospel.
This is the only epistle by
Paul that was addressed to a group of churches.
Paul makes use of numerous sets
of contrasts in his teachings.
The letter contains much of
Paul’s autobiographical information.
“Stand fast therefore in the
liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a
yoke of bondage” (5:1).
Survey of Philippians
Read the entire epistle once
for general impressions. Then go through each section as listed in chart A and
record a heading using a key phrase in that section.
For an overview
of the main themes of this epistle, read the verses under each of the following
themes and summarize what the verses have to say about their respective themes.
Law and Grace
grace, faith, promise, free, liberty/bondage, gospel, Holy Spirit, flesh.
Paul’s epistle to
the Galatians reinforces the foundation of the Christian faith. Because of
Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross, we are justified freely by grace
through faith. Christ is the only way of salvation, since no one can be
justified by observing the law. Today, many of those who reject the Lord Jesus
believe that they can reach God by good works. Many confidently claim that they
are “good enough” to go to heaven. But the Scriptures unequivocally teaches us that no one can come to God except through our
Savior Jesus Christ. All of our merits and efforts crumble under God’s perfect
standard. Christ has set us free from the works of the law so we are no longer
under the bondage of futile attempts to reach God. Rather than turn to human
endeavors or self confidence, we need to humbly accept and depend on the grace
of our Lord.
Since we have
accepted the Lord Jesus as our Savior, we have received liberty in Christ. But
such liberty should not become an opportunity for indulgence (5:13).
Unfortunately, many professed Christians who uphold the doctrine of
justification by faith have misused their freedom in Christ as a license for
sinful lifestyles. Assuming that confession of the Lord has guaranteed them of
salvation, they walk in the lusts of the flesh. That is why even among
Christians, there is much immorality and ungodliness. But Paul tells us in this
epistle that true freedom in Christ does not mean living in a manner that is
contrary to God’s commandments. Rather, it means walking in the Spirit, letting
the Spirit guide our steps so we may bear the fruit of righteousness.
Thus, if we are
true to the gospel of grace, we would neither depend on our own righteousness
nor indulge in sin. We would trust in the saving works of Christ and submit to
the work of the Holy Spirit to reap eternal life.