For the next few months, we are going to focus on some of the letters found in the New Testament. The four letters we are going to focus on are: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. It will be in a Bible Study sort of style, in which we will look at themes found within each of the letters. I do not have all the answers or understanding; I would always encourage you, to do your own reading and exploration of the letters. I do hope as we study these letters, it will enable us to grow in our faith and love for Jesus.
For this blog, we are going to begin with Galatians, and we are going to focus on chapters one and two.
Let us begin with some context to the letter. Paul begins by addressing the issue of the true gospel being neglected, due to the pressure of Non-Jewish people needing to follow the law. It was coming from the situation of Jewish people and Non-Jewish people now mixing due to the rise in the gospel being spread. The Jewish people had always been following the law in order to keep themselves purified and right before God. Now, they were mixing with Gentile people who did not follow these laws and were in no way obliged to; they were justified through Christ alone. As were the Jewish people who come to believe and have faith in Christ. Paul addresses these issues so that people will not be led astray by differing beliefs.
Addressing the issue.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. (1:6-7)
The gospel message was the good news of salvation through Christ alone. Grace and redemption from our sins which could only come through the sacrifice of Jesus. The freedom of the gospel message was under attack. It was an issue Paul wanted to deal with straight away. Paul is adamant that no other gospel should be accepted other than the one which the Galatians first received. He even states that anyone who preaches a gospel contrary to the one which was first preached should be under God’s curse.
As we have already said, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! (v9)
Paul comments about his own life about not living to please people. Which is essentially where this moving away from the gospel was rooted in. These Non-Jewish people feeling that in order to be part of the community they needed to conform to the obligations of those who were adhering to the law. Instead of being free to follow Christ; they were feeling the need to take on these laws to please fellow believers. Those obligations should never have been forced on them.
Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. (v10)
Paul speaks of his own story.
I want you to know, brother and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it be revelation from Jesus Christ. (v11-12)
Paul retells his own story of how the Lord saved him and how he came to know the gospel. He highlights how much time he spent with the Lord and not around people. How he received the gospel as a revelation from Jesus Christ. Paul allowed the Lord to lead and guide the whole process; he was not influenced by any man. It was only after a period of time in which he went to the Apostles.
What needs to be remembered about Paul was how entrenched he was in tradition, originally, he was one of the greatest persecutors of the early church; he was high up in Jewish leadership. Anything which was a threat to the law needed to be removed. It was only by the Lord’s grace and salvation that Paul was set free from his old way of life. Paul’s life was used as a testimony to other believers of the Lord’s salvation. In Paul knowing freedom from the burden of the law, he does not want others to be trapped by those obligations.
Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they praised God because of me. (v23-24)
Paul’s ministry of sharing the gospel was for the Gentiles and he talks about meeting with the Apostles who were preaching the gospel for the Jewish people. He addressed issues which were arising about the obligation for Non-Jewish people to follow the law. Paul continues to fight for the freedom which comes from not being chained to the law.
For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. (2v8)
The Apostles were able to come to an agreement on their different ministry bases.
All they asked was that we would remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along. (2v10)
Controversy and Truth
In verses 11-16 we see Paul opposing Cephas (Peter) because of his actions. Cephas would happily eat with the Gentiles but when certain individuals came along who belonged to the circumcised group, Cephas then withdrew and separated himself from the Gentiles. Which led other Jews to follow him in his behaviour which then led Barnabas astray.
Paul addresses Cephas to his face.
When I saw they were not acting in line with the true gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that your force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? (2:14)
Paul challenges Cephas on his behaviour because the way he is acting within this situation is to please man, rather than God. Paul does address the way Cephas truly lives because there is great hypocrisy on Cephas’ side, on how he is choosing to behave in this situation. Furthermore, in Paul questioning Cephas in such a direct way; shows the burden which the Gentiles are being put under because of conflicting interests of the leaders.
Paul continues by saying…
“We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. (2:15-16)
Paul knows that their identity and their works can no longer be justified by the law. Let us not forget the freedom Paul knows after being so obedient and intrenched in the law. Justification comes through Christ alone, for any believer in Jesus. It is through Jesus we have been set free. Paul brings this all together in the final verse of chapter two.
“For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
This is an issue Paul will continue to address throughout the letter to the Galatians but for this week, let us end at the final verses of chapter two. As I have been studying and writing about the letter to the Galatians, it has led me to think about my own faith. I finish with an application, which is some of the questions I have been asking myself. As we carry on reading Galatians and reading the Word of God, I pray we would know freedom in Christ alone. We would be able to lay down anything which is hindering us in our faith.
- Do we live our faith knowing we are justified by Christ alone?
- Do we live our faith trying to be justified by our works?
- In taking time to read Galatians 1 and 2, what truths have stuck out to you? How can you lift them up in prayer?
- What areas in your life, do you need to surrender to the Lord to allow yourself to live in the freedom and grace offered by Jesus?
With love and prayers, Victoria. xx