Galatians, Chapter 1, Part 3

Galatians 1:13-14 – For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.  And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.

Paul planted several churches in the region of Galatia, preaching the gospel message of justification by faith in the shed blood of Christ. 

But after he moved on to strengthen the other churches, false teachers came and began to teach/preach a false gospel to the Galatians.  These Pharisees insisted that grace was not complete in itself; that a combination of works (circumcision, food laws, observing the Sabbath, etc) and the blood of Christ were required for salvation. 

The Galatians are now faced with a dilemma – who is teaching the truth? 

The Pharisees insisted they were teaching correct doctrine.  They went so far as to cast aspersions on the apostleship of Paul by saying that his position was given to him by church leaders and therefore he had no real authority.  If that were true, then his doctrine was false. 

Paul refutes those claims proving to the Galatians that his commission to preach the gospel and the gospel itself were not given to him by man, but by Jesus himself. 

His first proof is his former conduct as a Jewish religious leader, and his hatred of Christians. 

When Paul mentions his ‘former life in Judaism’, he was referring to publicly known facts:  He was a Jew with a provable lineage in the tribe of Benjamin.  In other words, he was not a Samaritan (half Jew), or a proselyte.  He spent his life observing the Mosaic Law to the best of his ability.  He had decided to become a Pharisee.  He vigorously pursued this office, and he was on the fast track to be a high-ranking religious leader. 

Notice that Paul makes a special point that he is ‘zealous for the traditions’ of his fathers.  What does that mean?

The Jews believed that the Law of God as given to them by Moses was sacred.  This Law was contained within the first five books of the Old Testament, also called the Pentateuch.  When the Jews broke or disregarded the Law and turned away from God they were sent into exile.  Obviously, they didn’t want that to happen again.

So when they returned from the exile, the leading men of the nation began to make a series of rules and regulations that were originally meant to create a hedge around the law.  The theory was that if you kept the rules, you would never be in danger of breaking the law. 

That sounds like a good idea, but it didn’t work.  The traditions of the elders eventually wound up contradicting the very laws of God they were originally meant to protect! 

Matthew 15:2-6 – Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?  For they wash not their hands when they eat bread.  But he [Jesus] answered and said unto them [the Pharisees], Why do you also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?  But you say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift devoted to God, whatsoever you might have received from me; and honors not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have you made the commandment of God void by your tradition.

There were literally hundreds of these traditions/rules.  In the beginning, they were largely oral in nature.  They would have been passed down from father to son, and from the older Pharisees to newer recruits (like Paul).  To learn all of these largely oral rules would have taken a great amount of time and study.  You would have to be really, really dedicated to the law to take the time to learn and practice them.  (Later, around 200 AD these rules were eventually written down and became a Jewish book called the Mishnah.)

Being ‘zealous for the traditions of his fathers’ is further proof of how dedicated and committed Paul was to the Jewish law.  It is easy to see that Paul had fully and completely invested his entire life in Judaism. 

A further proof of his dedication to Judaism was his persecution of Christians.  He was relentless in his pursuit of those he judged to be blaspheming the Law.  His goal was to waste away or totally annihilate the church of Jesus. 

Acts 8:3 – But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

What kind of an event could possible make a man like Paul suddenly abandon Judaism for Christianity?  What could change him from a persecutor to the one who endured persecution himself?  What could make him give up his position as a rising star in the Jewish religious hierarchy (along with all of its political, social and financial benefits) and become a man hated by his fellow Jews? 

A sudden, dramatic change like that would only occur if God had intervened to cause the change.

Galatians 1:15-16 – But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone;

Paul recognizes that God had called him for an important kingdom role (to be an apostle), before he was even born! I believe this is true of every Christian.  God has plans and purposes for each one of us from our very birth. 

Because Paul was so steeped in the practice of the law and knew so much about the traditions of the Jews, he was uniquely qualified to argue for grace as the fulfillment of the law.  In like manner God equips and trains us too.  He gives us the right talents and the exact amount of intelligence we will need to fulfill our purpose.  He allows circumstances into our lives which will further be used to train or shape us. 

There is a very important point to be made here.  Even though a person is a vile sinner today, blaspheming God and persecuting the church, it does NOT mean that God has not called him/her to an important work for his service.  Once they allow Jesus into their lives, anything is possible!  

Jeremiah 1:5  – Before I [God] formed you [Jeremiah] in the womb I knew you; and before you came forth out of the womb I sanctified you, and I ordained you a prophet unto the nations.

This also means that we should pray for the lost all the more, so that they too will have an encounter with Christ and be totally changed just as Paul was. 

The second important point to be made is that this conversion experience occurs according to God’s perfect time.  God did not call Paul until after he spent years attaining the knowledge he needed.  God did not call Moses until he had been educated and equipped by the best minds in Egypt.  God didn’t call Peter to fish for men until he had learned to fish for fish!  So don’t give up praying for your loved one.  Even though they seem far from God, they may just be getting ready for service!  

Galatians 1:17 – nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

Paul’s third point regarding his calling as a true apostle is his actual conversion experience.  On the way to Damascus to further persecute the church, God spoke to Paul and revealed to him that Jesus was the true Messiah.  During that encounter, Jesus himself called Paul to the office of apostle and qualified him to preach the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles.

The significant thing is what Paul did NOT do after his conversion.  He did NOT go up to Jerusalem to consult with the other 12 disciples.  He did NOT go to them to be trained in the gospel message. In other words, he did NOT receive his authority or his doctrine from these men.   

Instead, Paul withdrew from public scrutiny to the region of Arabia/Damascus for three years.  It is generally agreed that Holy Spirit further revealed the wisdom and truth of the gospel message to him during that time.  And again, because Paul knew so much about the law, he was especially prepared to argue the finer points of the law with his fellow Jews.  He was able to debate in a manner that uneducated fisherman could not.

It should be noted that no disrespect is intended towards the other apostles; Paul was appointed to his office by the same authority that appointed the other twelve.  Paul’s point is merely that they were not his teachers.        

Galatians 1:18-19 – Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.

Let’s talk about the time frame for a moment.  As we learned in our study of the book of Matthew, the Jews reckoned time in a slightly different manner than we do. 

Let’s suppose that a Jewish person began a task in December 2020, the last month of our year.  The task was completed in seven months – it was over the final day of June, 2021.  In our culture, we would say the task took 7 months. 

But in the Jewish culture, if the task began in December of one year (2020) and continued on through June of the next year (2021), then technically it happened in two separate years.  They would commonly have said the task took two years.

There’s a pretty big difference between 7 months and two years, yet both calculations are accepted ways of marking time.   So when Paul says he was away from Jerusalem for three years, it could have been much less than 36 full months. 

Regardless of the actual time frame, we know that Paul began to preach Jesus in the synagogues.  He confounded the reasoning of the Jews, proving through the law that Jesus was the Messiah. 

Acts 9:22 – But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt at Damascus, proving that this one is the very Christ.

In fact, his message was so logical and irrefutable that the Pharisees decided to kill him, just to shut him up.  His followers resorted to lowering him over the city wall in a basket so he could escape (Acts 9:22-25).

Only after this period of learning from Holy Spirit and functioning in his apostolic office, did Paul go to Jerusalem to meet/visit Peter.  The root meaning of the Greek word for ‘visit’ is ‘to become personally acquainted’, which is consistent with a visit of 15 days.  Clearly, Paul was not there to receive religious training from Peter.  In truth, Paul knew as much about the Jewish religion as Peter did (if not more), and he had received the doctrine of grace from the same source as Peter – Jesus Christ. 

Paul also admits to meeting another apostle in Jerusalem – James.  As we know, there were two apostles named James (Matthew 10:2-3).  There was James, son of Zebedee and brother of John.  This James was the first of the 12 to be martyred.  He was killed by Herod (Acts 12:2).  

There was also James son of Alphaeus who was a cousin/kinsman of Jesus.  The majority believe it is James son of Alphaeus, who is referred to in this passage of scripture.  He is also sometimes referred to as ‘James the less’ probably because he was younger than James son of Zebedee.  

Galatians 1:20 – (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!)

Here Paul is making an oath before God that the facts he has relayed to the Galatians are true. 

Oaths are not something that should be generally used by Christians.  Jesus advises us to let our ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ simply be ‘no’, because anything else stems from evil (Matthew 5:37). 

However, in this particular case, it is needful. Paul has asserted that he had a direct encounter with Jesus in which he received his apostleship.  He also says that he spent time in Arabia/Damascus being taught by Holy Spirit and operating in his apostolic ministry.  He further claims that he spent only 15 days with Peter and James. 

Do you see the problem?  There were no witnesses to what had transpired between God and Paul.  The witness of Peter or James (or any of the believers in Damascus) would also be somewhat difficult to acquire, because in those days you would have to travel from Galatia to Jerusalem (or Damascus), find the person/witness and have him either write a letter or travel back with you to Galatia.  That was not likely to happen.   

So appealing to God (or making an oath) was the only way for Paul to affirm the truth of what he was telling the Galatians.

Further, the importance of the truth Paul was affirming (his authority and doctrine) was critical to the message he was preaching.  So in this particular case, the oath was necessary.       

Galatians 1:21-22 –Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.  And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.

Paul traveled from Arabia/Damascus to Jerusalem.  At first the believers were afraid of him, but Barnabas vouched for his true conversion and he then went about freely in Jerusalem preaching the message of the gospel. 

But he quickly encountered resistance to the gospel message – once again some Jews rejected his message and eventually tried to kill him.  When the church found out, they sent him to Tarsus of Cilicia to preach the word in that city (Acts 9:22-30 and Acts 1:25-26). 

The end result was that he was virtually unknown to the churches in Judea (the region around Jerusalem).  This shows that his gospel message was not influenced by any teachings of these churches either; the gospel was given to him directly via Holy Spirit.   

Galatians 1:23-24 – They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”  And they glorified God because of me.

Paul didn’t just reject Christianity and walk away.  He diligently and purposefully worked to destroy the Christian faith by persecuting anyone he could find that professed belief in Jesus as Messiah.  It is clearly evident that the change in his life (from persecutor to apostle) could only have been made by the grace of God. 

This indeed is cause for rejoicing and giving praise to God for his mercy and grace.  If a sinner like Paul can be saved, then we have hope that our loved ones can be also be changed by that same grace.  As the old hymn says, the blood will never lose its power! 

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Do you have a friend or loved one that seems diametrically opposed to the gospel message?  Besides rejecting the gospel, do they also persecute or mock Christianity/Christians? 

If so, don’t give up hope.  If the gospel can change Paul, the ‘chief sinner’ of his day, it can also change your loved one.  Sometimes we pray and pray for an individual and it looks like nothing is happening, but we can be assured that God wants to save them.  With his infinite wisdom, Holy Spirit will bring godly conviction upon them at the exact right time. 

Let me offer you some relief and some strength:

Paul acknowledges that God had called him to be an apostle from birth.  What has God called you to do? 

Sometimes, we think that we must be involved in religious ministry in order to be used of God, but that isn’t true.  God has ordained Christians to excel in all walks of life, like teaching, science, politics, art, music, sports, etc.  So find the talents God has given you, and use them for his glory, no matter what category they fall into!

    

Galatians, Chapter 1, Part 2

Galatians 1:6 – I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel –

As we noted in our last post, Paul is writing to correct some errors that have crept into the churches of Galatia.  Specifically, false teachers have been claiming that Christians must also follow the Mosaic Law in order to receive salvation.  These same men have also called Paul’s apostleship into question.  This was done in an attempt to discredit him.  If they can convince people that Paul’s authority came from men and not from God, then they can cast aside his doctrine of justification by faith in the blood of Christ.

In the opening part of his letter, Paul expresses astonishment that the Galatian Christians have turned aside or deserted “him who called you in the grace of Christ”.  Who does that refer to?

Some suppose that it refers to Paul himself, who probably first preached the gospel message to the Galatians.  However, that seems to be an awkward interpretation because the main point of this letter is not to show that these people broke relationship with Paul – it was to show that they abandoned the gospel.

It makes more sense to interpret ‘him’ as God in the person of Holy Spirit.  Elsewhere in scripture we find that the work of calling men to repentance is normally attributed to God.

2 Timothy 1:9  – [God] Who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,  

Christians are called by God into the grace of Christ, which refers to justification by faith in the blood of Jesus, apart from works. 

Therefore, when the Galatians begin to embrace a system of grace plus works, or the mingling together of the gospel and the ceremonial law, Paul refers to it as ‘a different gospel’. 

Notice the somewhat subtle difference – they did not reject Christianity in favor of another religion.  They didn’t even deny the blood of Jesus.  Yet, by adding circumcision and other Mosaic Laws to the gospel, they perverted its true nature.

Paul is astonished and concerned that they had so quickly departed from the simplicity of the true faith.  

He will go on reprove their actions in love, in an attempt to restore them to the true faith and their first love to God.  This is a good example for all of us.  We tend to shy away from offering godly correction to those who need it.  I suppose we are afraid of offending them.  But correction done in love is one of the best things we can offer to one another.

Galatians 1:7 –not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.

There is only one true gospel message.  It was the one that Paul introduced to the Galatians.

While other false teachers called their message ‘the gospel’ it was a different religion, one which taught an entirely different method of justification before God.  It was a distortion or perversion of the truth. 

It was also very dangerous – under this distorted gospel careful observance of religious rites and ceremonies would replace dependence on the blood of Christ.  Instead of being set free from the law, Christians would once again be burdened by an expectation of obedience that they could not keep. 

In our generation, we find a belief that is no less perverted or dangerous – good works will get us into heaven.  Many people believe that they don’t need to trust in Christ for salvation; if their good deeds outweigh their bad deeds, they will get to heaven.  When you bring up the subject of salvation, they will often respond with “I’m sure I will go to heaven because I’m a good person.”

In that situation, it is often impossible to convince the person that they have sinned before God.  Arguing won’t help.  Perhaps the best thing is to pray that Holy Spirit will bring conviction upon them, and convince them of their need to repent.   

Galatians 1:8-9 – But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again:  If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

Paul now proceeds to defend the authority of his doctrine.  He is confident that the gospel he shared with the Galatians was the one and only true gospel.  He is so fully persuaded of this fact that he pronounces an “anathema” or a curse upon those who pretended to preach any other gospel message.

In that anathema he includes ‘we’.  This may refer to Paul and those who were traveling and ministering with him, or it may be a reference to Paul and the other 12 apostles. 

In either case, there can be no doubt about the word ‘anyone’ –  which certainly includes the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders.

He goes so far as to declare that even if an angel from heaven should bring another gospel, it should be rejected and the angel cursed!

We can’t help but notice that Paul knew and understood the gospel message.  He wasn’t vague or unsure about what he believed.  What about us?  Are we fully confident in what we believe?  If not, we could be swayed into believing false teaching just as the Galatians were. 

It’s good to listen to sermons and read Christian materials (including this blog!), but there is no substitute for reading the bible for yourself. 

2 Timothy 2:15  – Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

Become acquainted with the principles and laws that Christ set down in the gospels.  Discover for yourself how Paul (and others) expound them in the New Testament.  Know what you believe – and why you believe it.

Galatians 1:10 – For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?  Or am I trying to please man?  If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

The use of the word “now” implies that Paul has changed.  It implies that there was a time when he sought the approval of man.  Is that true?

Absolutely!  Before Paul’s conversion to Christianity (when he was still called Saul), he was Jewish in every way – circumcised at the proper time, a man who knew and could prove his lineage, and a man who was ‘blameless’ concerning the law (Philippians 3:5-6).  

He studied to be a Pharisee under Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), one of the most respected Pharisees of his time.  Gamaliel was president of the Sanhedrin during the reigns of Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius.  He was an eminent doctor of the Law, well known for his wisdom and great knowledge of the Mishna.   

At that time Saul was violently opposed to Christianity.  He made it his mission to persecute Christians.  He even went to other cities and attempted to put women and children into prison for their faith – and the Jews loved it! 

There is no doubt that he was on the fast track to becoming one of the major religious leaders of his time; his fellow Jews no doubt held him in high esteem. 

However, that all changed when he had an encounter with Jesus (Acts 9).  After that, he lived only to please God.

Philippians 3:7 – But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.

So here is the point he is making to the Galatians:  People who seek to please other people will often corrupt their message/doctrine to please the hearers.  This corruption of doctrine springs from worldly ambition, greed, pride or any other sinful passion that the speaker has in their heart.

This describes the Pharisees who preached a message of works mixed with faith, so that they might please or at least pacify the Jews.  By keeping their fellow Jews happy, they hoped to avoid persecution, keep their standing in the culture, and continue being recognized/respected as spiritual leaders.

But Paul is not preaching to please men.  He now preaches the gospel with a heart that is committed to pleasing God alone.  Therefore, he will not change, alter, distort or corrupt the true gospel message.  His chief goal was to promote God’s glory by bringing sinners to Christ.  To do anything different would be an insult to God.

When you look at the life of Paul and see the many persecutions and hardships he endured for the sake of the gospel, it is easy to see that he was indeed serving God, not man.

What’s in your heart?  Are we motivated to do the right thing at all times because of the relationship we have with Christ?  Are we fully committed to righteousness, or has sin crept into our lives?  

Galatians 1:11-12 – For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.  For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Paul now goes on to further prove his case by giving an in-depth account of his spiritual life.

His first point is that his revelation of the gospel did not come through another human being.  If it had, there was a possibility of corruption in the message.  But since his knowledge/revelation of the gospel as well as his authority to preach it came directly from the risen savior Jesus Christ, it could NOT be man’s gospel.  (You can read his conversion experience in Acts chapter 9).

When we read of his conversion on the road to Damascus, we can’t help but notice that it was a fairly brief encounter.  Did God pour a complete revelation of the gospel to him in that short amount of time?

Most scholars don’t think so. 

What he received on the road to Damascus was a life changing encounter with Christ.  In that encounter, he became acutely aware of the Messiahship of Jesus.  Once he realized that Jesus was the Son of God and that his sacrifice fulfilled/superseded the Law, things began to logically fall into place.

Almost immediately Paul retreated to the desert of Arabia.  Scholars believe that during that time he received the gospel in its complete form, through reflection and extended revelation from Holy Spirit.   

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Paul’s understanding of the Law (which took him years and years to acquire) was crucial to understanding the full impact of the gospel.  This shows us that God uniquely equipped Paul to fulfill the true purpose of his life. 

The same is true for you and me.  Our everyday experiences, our education, our upbringing, even our relationships will all be used to prepare us for the divine destiny God has for us.

Let me offer you some relief:

Paul spent a good portion of his life on the wrong track.  He persecuted the church of Jesus.  He whole heartedly approved the stoning of Stephen.  But when he repented of his sin, all his guilt was washed away.  It was atoned for by the precious blood of Christ. 

The same is true for you and me.  No matter what we have done God will wash our guilt away with the blood of his Son.

 Let me offer you some strength:

Paul had a strong grip on the absolute truth of the gospel message.  Because of this, he could not be swayed by false teaching. 

What about you and me?  Are we so confident in our understanding of the word that we cannot be fooled by any of the false teachings of today?  Take some time this week and strengthen grip on the absolute truth of the gospel.

     

 

Galatians, Chapter 1, Part 1

Who:  The ancient people of Galatia were of Celtic descent. They were the relics of a Gaulish invasion which swept over South-eastern Europe and poured into Asia Minor in the early part of the third century before Christ.

These tribes governed themselves until they were subdued by Rome and made one of their colonies.  This occurred under the reign of Augustus Caesar, approximately 26 years before the incarnation of Christ. 

Historians tell us that they retained much of their ancient language and manners, while picking up a good bit of Greek culture as well.  Generally speaking they were very intelligent, impulsive in feeling and action, vain, fickle and quarrelsome.  They have also been described as impetuous, impressible and perpetually engaged in strife. 

They practiced a very superstitious religion; they are said to have worshipped the mother of the gods under the name Agdistis.  Prisoners captured in war became human sacrifices to this pagan god.  But eventually Jews settled among them in considerable numbers.  Their presence prepared the way for Paul to come into the region with the gospel.    

It should be noted that ‘Galatia’ refers to a territory or province, not a single city.  There were several major cities within the region of Galatia.  The exact number of churches is unknown, but it is not improbable that a church had been established in each of the larger cities, and that the churches were in relatively close proximity to each other.  The letter to the Galatians was directed to them all.

Why:  What is the main reason for writing this letter?  It seems that the churches of Galatia had some of the same difficulties we find in other early New Testament churches – Jewish Christians attempting to bring Jewish Law into the church and compelling Gentile converts to fulfill the Mosaic rituals.  These rituals included circumcision, food laws, keeping the sabbath, etc.  

In other words, they wanted to make the Gentiles into Jews, before they could become Christians!  This was a tendency of many new churches, and Paul worked diligently to remove these errors from the body of Christ.  Hence, justification by faith apart from the law is a main focus of this book, as it is in the book of Romans.  

Another topic covered extensively in this letter is the apostleship of Paul.

When:  The date of this letter is very uncertain.  Scholars generally fall into one of two categories – those who favor an early date of 52-53 AD and those who favor a date as late as 57-58 AD. 

Where:  Part of the ‘where’ question would be answered by the ‘when’ question.  If the letter was written at the earlier date (52-53), then the most likely place of writing was Ephesus.  If the letter was written during the later period (57-58), it must have been penned in Corinth.  (Although, honestly, it really doesn’t matter.)

Galatians 1:1 – Paul, an apostle – not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead –

Paul declares clearly and emphatically at the very beginning of this epistle that he has been made an apostle by God himself. 

Why was that so important?

In order to get the full picture, we need to look back at the state of the early church.  Paul and Barnabas had been called by Holy Spirit to go forth and preach the gospel, planting new churches wherever they went (Acts 13:1-3).  As they did so, they preached a doctrine of faith in Christ.  Salvation was a free gift, available by the blood of Jesus.

However, there were other teachers (Pharisees) traveling from church to church preaching a different doctrine.  They were trying to circumvent the freedom of the gospel by teaching that men must observe the Mosaic Law in order to be a Christian.  Particularly, they were very insistent that anyone who intended to become a Christian needed to be circumcised.  

This was no small issue – it was a fundamental difference which prompted the Jerusalem council of Acts chapter 15. 

Acts 15:1-2 – But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”  And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.

So we find this grievous doctrinal controversy going on in the early church.  Things could not continue on this course, or the church would be divided against itself and it would fall.  A decision had to be made.  The church must either stand upon salvation by works through the law, or it must embrace grace – salvation by the sacrifice of Christ alone. 

Fortunately, Holy Spirit worked through the apostles at the Jerusalem council to set the record straight.  In the end, Christians were admonished to abstain from sexual immorality, things sacrificed to idols, from blood and from anything strangled.  That was it.  The Mosaic Law was officially put aside.  Salvation is obtained through the blood of Jesus; men/women are justified by faith – a free gift that has nothing to do with the works of man.

But that did not stop some men from continuing to preach a message of works.  They slandered Paul and undermined his doctrine by calling his apostleship into question.  Their reasoning went something like this: If they could convince the people that Paul wasn’t really an apostle appointed by God, then the authority of his message vanished and there was no reason for people to believe it or live by it.  They were then free to preach their religion of works.   

The false teachers proceeded to claim that Paul’s apostleship was the result of mankind.  They may have been making a reference to the apostleship of Matthias, who was chosen by Holy Spirit through via lot to replace Judas Iscariot (Acts chapter 1).  They may also have been trying to assert that Paul’s apostleship was simply a title awarded to him by the council in Jerusalem.  In either case, their intentions were the same – to discredit Paul’s authority in Christ.   

But Paul doesn’t waste any time setting the record straight.  He is not only an apostle, he is an apostle ‘through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead’.  What higher authority could there be?

Eleven of the apostles were called by Jesus during his earthly ministry, and no one questioned their authority.  One was chosen by Holy Spirit through a lot, and no one questioned that either. 

How then, can they question the apostleship of Paul who was miraculously called by Jesus when he was seated at the right hand of God, after being raised from the dead?   Clearly, Paul’s claim to apostleship was every bit as valid as the other twelve.  

He received an inward and immediate revelation of Jesus and the gospel during his commission.  He was instructed to go to both the Jews and the Gentiles and preach the remission of sins through the blood of Jesus.  Therefore, his authority should not be challenged; his doctrine (justification by faith) was of God.

How do you view the role of works in the Christian life?  What do you believe?

I believe the bible makes this distinction:  Mankind is saved solely by accepting the blood of Christ as payment for sin.  If a person confesses Jesus as Lord with their mouth and believes in their heart that God has raised them from the dead, they are saved (Romans 10:9).  Works do not contribute to salvation.

However, once a person has been forgiven by Jesus they become a new creature.  They have a new nature and part of that nature includes doing righteous things, including good works.  In fact, scripture also tells us that God has good works set aside for each one of us to perform (Ephesians 2:10).  As a result of doing these good works, God sets aside treasures for us in heaven. 

We are not saved because we do good works.  We perform good works because we have been saved (justified) by our faith in God!     

Galatians 1:2 – and all the brothers who are with me.

Paul did not travel alone.  The majority of the time, he had others with him.  He sometimes refers to them as ‘fellow laborers’ in the gospel.

Philippians 4:3 – And I entreat you also, true yoke fellow, help those women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other of my fellow laborers, whose names are in the book of life. 

Although Paul is the only author of the epistle, there are other Christian men who acknowledge his authority and are in agreement with his doctrine.  This either refers to the fellow laborers who traveled with him, or to prominent men within Galatia who were no doubt gravely concerned about the false teaching of others.

Either way, these men provided further proof that Paul’s doctrine was not some heretical nonsense, but acceptable truth from God.   

Galatians 1:3 – Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,

This is a typical Christian salutation, which Paul uses in his other letters.  It expresses a desire for the best blessings of God towards his people. 

Let’s talk about blessings for a moment.  Jewish fathers always blessed their children.  They did so by laying hands on them, and speaking words of blessing over them.  A good example of this can be found in Genesis chapter 48, where Israel blessed his two grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh just before his death.

The blessing was always given to the children by their father (or grandfather), because he was the one in authority over them.  He had the power to declare life and blessing or death and hardship.  

And that is not all.  When God brought the Hebrews out of Egypt, he gave them the law and instituted the priesthood.  The priests had spiritual authority over the children of Israel.  Therefore, they were in a position to bless the Jews. 

Sure enough, God gave the priests a specific blessing that was to be spoken over his children.  You can find the whole blessing it in the book of Numbers chapter 6, verses 23-27.  

Numbers 6:23 – Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, In this way you shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them…

So… are you a parent?  If so, you occupy a position of authority over your children, and you have the capacity to speak blessings over them.  Are you doing that?  It’s not too late to start. 

If your children (or grandchildren) are younger, you can easily lay your hands upon them and speak a blessing as you tuck them in at night.  If your children are older, you can bless them as they leave the house for the day.  In either case, lay your hands on your children and speak words of material, physical, mental and spiritual blessings upon them.  If you have never done this before, it may seem a bit awkward at first, but don’t let that stop you.  After a few times, it will be very natural.  Don’t miss the opportunity to bless your household because of fear or pride! 

Now back to the apostle Paul.  Since he has been made an apostle by Jesus, that puts him in a place of spiritual authority, just like the priests of the Old Testament.  So when he speaks the grace and peace of God upon the reader, it becomes a viable blessing.

The blessings he speaks over us are those of grace and peace, as bestowed upon us by God the Father and Jesus his Son.  Grace includes God’s favor and goodwill towards us, as well as the mercy he shows us.  It implies a relationship between us and God.    

We must have mercy before we can experience peace.

Peace includes both inward comfort and outward blessings of prosperity.   Both come from the same source – God the Father.  Both are made available to us through the shed blood of Jesus the Son. 

Galatians 1:4-5 – who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever.  Amen.

What does Paul refer to when he speaks of the ‘present evil age’ that we have been delivered from? 

Well, he wouldn’t be referring to fallen created nature (the literal earth), because we wouldn’t be able to live without the earth.  At some point God will redeem the earth, but not until the end of time.   

He also can’t be referring to sinful men, because we need them too – the church is made up of former sinners!  In fact, that is the task we have been charged with – to preach the gospel in every corner of the world, so that people can be saved.  We don’t need to be delivered from sinners, we need to go find them so they too can be justified by faith in Christ!

The present evil age refers to the adherence of some Jews to the old Mosaic Law.  In other words, Paul was instructing the Galatians that God has done an astonishing thing – he has completely fulfilled the Law.  Since it has been completely fulfilled by Jesus, there is no longer any reason for mankind to cling to it.  To try and hold onto it is sinful.  To try and earn salvation by keeping the law is futile.

Just to be clear, the Law itself was good because it pointed out the sin and guilt of mankind, but it NEVER had the ability to permanently redeem us.  Only the blood of Christ could do that.  

So the period of time in which certain Jewish leaders refuse to allow the law to pass away becomes an evil age.  It is evil because these beliefs and traditions actually prevent people from entering into a life giving relationship with God which was opened up by the blood of Jesus.  

Clearly, it was only by the will of God that Jesus laid down his life for us.  Since that is the case, we cannot continue under the law; neither can we mix the law with grace.

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Don’t be an old wine skin (Mark 2:22)!  The Pharisees just couldn’t let go of the old Mosaic Law and customs, even though they knew perfectly well that Jesus had fulfilled them and established a new order. 

Are there customs or traditions that you are holding onto that prevent you from experiencing freedom in your relationship with God?  For instance, you may have grown up in a church that held the belief that miracles were only for the time of the apostles. 

Right now I would encourage you to search the scriptures with an open mind, allowing Holy Spirit to speak to you.  Listen to the testimony of other believers.  Then see if you need to let go of this (or other) old beliefs!       

Let me offer you some relief:

Are you part of a religious system that stresses rules and regulations?  Do you feel condemnation when you fail?  You might be relieved to know that what God really wants from you is not perfection in keeping rules.  He is primarily interested in having a close relationship with you.  After all, that is why he sent Jesus – so you could be in fellowship with him once again.  

In the midst of that relationship, you will find that it is natural and simple to do the things that please God.  You will also find that condemnation is gone; when you fail God will graciously call it to your attention so it can be forgiven and forgotten.   

Let me offer you some strength:

There are times when we enter into earthly relationships only to find that people let us down or fail us.  For that reason, we sometimes tend to hold back from fully committing ourselves to God.  We have this nagging suspicion that he will let us down too.

But there is no need to worry!  God loves you so much, he was willing to let Jesus die for your sin.  He is the only one who will never leave you, desert you or hurt you.  So don’t be afraid to fully commit your life to him.  You’ll be glad you did.