Study One: Introduction and overview.
This epistle was written by Paul in ~ AD57 after the third of his missionary journeys, each of which included a visit to cities of Galatia. After this last visit, he was saddened to hear that other teachers, Judaisers, had followed him, so his reason for writing was to re-emphasise the ‘gospel of grace’ and to refute the new legalism being taught.
The Galatians are the early Gauls (or Celts) of northern Europe, a stubborn people who caused the Roman armies many problems. When finally subdued, their lands became known as Galatia and among them, Paul had many converts and many churches had been established.
It is a severe letter, having no commendations, words of praise or personal greetings. It comes from the heaviness of Paul’s heart, with the same message that came from his head in his letter to the Romans, with which it has many parallels. It is a ‘fighting epistle’ – a declaration of emancipation from the bondage of legalism. It has been called ‘the Magna Carta’ of the church and was Luther’s favourite epistle. He said, “I am wed to it!” It was also the epistle that most moved John Wesley, the father of Methodism and ‘the holiness movement’, from which came the C&MA and the Pentecostal assemblies (among others). It was from the letter to the Galatians that he most frequently preached, resulting in the great revivals that accompanied his work.
Paul knows himself under attack. There is an attack on his authority (his apostleship) and an attack on his teaching (Justification by faith alone). He answers both attacks by going on the offensive.
McGee presents the following outline:
1) Introduction, Ch 1:1-10
(i) Salutation: a ‘cool’ greeting, vv1-5
(ii) Subject stated: a warm declaration, vv6-10.
2) Personal – authority of the apostle and glory of the Gospel. Ch 1:11 – 2:14
(i) Experience of Paul in Arabia, 1:11-24
(ii) Experience with apostles in Jerusalem, 2:1-10
(iii) Experience with Peter in Antioch, 2:11-14.
3) Doctrinal – Justification by Faith. Ch 2:15 – 4:31 Faith versus works; liberty versus bondage
(i) Doctrine stated, 2:15-21
(ii) Experience of Galatians, 3:1-5
(iii) Illustration of Abraham, 3:6 – 4:18
(iv) Allegory of Hagar and Sarai, 4:19-31.
4) Practical – Sanctification by the Spirit. Ch 5:1 – 6:10
Spirit versus flesh; liberty versus bondage,
(i) Saved by faith and living by Law perpetrates falling from grace, 5:1-15
(ii) Saved by faith and walking in the Spirit produces fruit of the Spirit, 5:16-26
(iii) Saved by faith and fruit of the Spirit presents Christian Character, 6:1-10.
5) Autographed Conclusion. Ch 6:11-18
(i) Paul’s own handwriting, 6:11
(ii) Paul’s own testimony, 6:12-18
(a) Cross of Jesus versus Circumcision, 6:12-15
(b) Christ’s handwriting on Paul’s body, 6:16-18
The new circumcision of the New Creation,
Study Two: Paul’s early Ministry
Paul firstly acclaims his apostleship; “not of men but of God”. He declares his sorrow at how easily the believers have departed from the truth he had taught them. His gospel was not from men but a direct revelation from God Himself (Ch1:11,12).
Ch 1:10: If Paul were seeking favour of men he would not be a bond servant (willing servant) of Christ. He carries in his body the marks of his suffering as such – does this sound like one who curries favour? Indeed, it is the one who bears ‘marks’ of his ministry who is most effective in spreading the gospel. It is still true that the blood of martyrs is the life-blood of the church!
Ch 1:13-2:14 is his account of his conversion and early ministry experience with the other apostles. After his conversion he did not go immediately to Jerusalem to consult with the apostles but went instead to the desert of Arabia (v17) – to commune with God? Following that, he returned to Damascus and immediately began to preach with fervour. (The apparent conflict between his account here and the version in Acts 9 disappears when we realize that Acts 9:19 has a new paragraph beginning in the middle of the verse – see, for example, the NASB version. Due to a growing opposition to his teaching (from Jews in Damascus) he finally fled, after a little less than three years, and made his way to Jerusalem. There he stayed for two weeks with Peter but did not see most of the other church leaders who were still suspicious of all they had heard about his conversion. From Jerusalem he went to his home regions of Syria and Cilecia (Tarsus). Consider how dangerous each of his journeys would have been – there were enemies in each location who would happily have seen him dead.
Christ gave other gifts (ministries) to the church. In Eph 4:11 we read of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. No one should claim such a gift unless it is affirmed. There can be no (divine) authority in these ministries unless there is also accountability. Indeed, authority, responsibility and accountability are “triplet sisters” – you cannot have one without the others.
Ch 2: FOURTEEN years later (during which time the experiences of Romans 7 were his???) Paul returned to Jerusalem. This is probably the account of Acts 15. The reason was to submit what Paul had been teaching to the scrutiny of the apostles. The issue was that of ‘Judaising’ the Gentile converts; ie; should they be circumcised – the ceremonial act of becoming a Jew? One should read here the full account found in Acts 15.
2:1: Titus was a Greek – a classic ‘test case’. There were some at Jerusalem who were ‘spying’ on Paul and Titus to see how they acted – and they wanted Paul to compromise and Titus to be circumcised (v4) but Paul would not yield. Consider how the ‘gospel would have been permanently undermined if there had been compromise. You and I might never have heard the good news!
2:2-10: Paul’s ‘gospel’ was submitted in private in case he was in fact preaching a false witness. It was possible that his understanding of the ‘revelation’ was not the same as the apostles had been preaching! On arrival, he noted that Titus was not compelled to be circumcised though there were some would have had it that way. However, ‘we did not yield to their bondage for the sake of the gospel’. From the leaders there was no opposition. Indeed, their gospel was the same as Paul’s – there was nothing to add! Their revelations had been the same!
Gareth Evans Victoria BC 2017 Instead, they gave Paul the ‘right hand of fellowship’ and commissioned him and Barnabus as preachers to the Gentiles. They were “sent forth” – apostles. Only one thing was requested: that they ‘remember the poor’ – which Paul was glad to obey. These would be the poor in Jerusalem who had already suffered much for their faith. Paul was glad to do this and we read that later he sent benevolence to them (see 1 Cor 16:1f). In this context also we should note the letter from the apostles to be sent to the Gentiles. See Acts 15:23-29, especially the ‘suggestions’ of v29. Paul does not mention this in his letter to the Galatians because it is not imperative to the gospel he is anxious to defend – but the injunction to ‘remember the poor’ is. See here James 1:27 and 2:14f.
2:11-14: Paul tells of a confrontation between himself and Peter. Apparently, when Peter was visiting Antioch, a church with mostly Gentiles, he sat and ate with them. This would probably be at an ‘agape’ feast where ‘forbidden meats’ (‘unclean’ according to the Law in Leviticus) would be served. However, when some Jews came, Peter withdrew from the Gentile table and began to eat ‘kosher’. Paul reprimanded him for this double standard which caused offence and division. The fellowship of the saints should never be divided in the freedom that Christ has purchased for us. (Remember, this was a major theme in his letter to the Romans, Ch14). This is to be the great theme Paul will emphasise in the rest of this letter.
Study Three: The Crux of the Gospel
Paul has had occasion to challenge Peter on his hypocrisy! Peter had visited Antioch and, while there had been happy to fellowship with the Gentiles (known to all Jews as “sinners”!) On reading Acts 15 one can see that Peter considered himself one with the (believing) Gentile and that justification was ‘by faith alone’ and not requiring Jewishness as indicated by circumcision. However, the outcome of that council in Acts 15 was bound to lead to confrontation with Paul because it was a decision of compromise. “We’ll go to the Jews (and require obedience to the Law) while you go to the Gentiles and not require it”! To Paul, such teaching shows there to be two acceptable factions within the Gospel. This he cannot accept! By Peter leaving the Gentile table to eat with the Judaising visitors, he was implying that they had something better – whether or not he believed that is unimportant; his Gentile observers certainly could have thought that was his opinion - his actions spoke louder than his words. That, to Paul, is NOT the Gospel.
In verse 15 he commences his theology of ‘justification by faith alone’ – both for the Jew and the Gentile.
V15: We (Paul and Peter) are naturally Jews – not Gentiles. The word “sinner” here must be taken in its meaning as applying to all Gentiles in the colloquialism of Judaism. It should not be taken in the same sense as we use it to speak of all men.
V16: We know that the Law could not save us – only the faith of Jesus Christ (KJ) [that prompting of His Spirit to which we respond in obedience].
V17: We therefore recognize ourselves as no different from the Gentiles as regarding our justification. Does this make us “sinners” like them? If so, do we think that Christ has made us such – God forbid!
V18: If I go back under the law which could not save me, I am a transgressor. I am receiving God’s salvation ‘by faith alone’ and then saying to Him, “This is not good enough! I will do something to merit my salvation!” This shows a lack of trust and denial of the efficacy of the cross – such unbelief is sin.
V19: Paul declares he is free from the Law. How is he free? - as a dead man is free from all that binds him during life. The Law has made me dead to the Law. How? Because the Law put Christ to death on the cross and I was “in Christ” being crucified there. And as He was raised from the dead so I am raised (in Him) to a newness of life.
V20 (my favourite verse!): I am crucified with Christ – a completed work! Now I live a resurrected life ( a ‘born-again’ life) but it is His life in me. He lives such a life in me by the ‘word or finger’ of God (faith) leading me day by day. This is ‘the just shall live by his faith’ (Hab 2:4); this is “Christ in me – the hope of Glory”! (Col 1:27); this is “walking in the Spirit – having no condemnation” (Romans 8:1).
There is no 80% justification! It is by (His) faith alone, not of any works I might do
It is available:
to the poor as well as to the rich;
to the illiterate as well as to the learned
to the mean as well as to the famous
to the foolish as well as to the wise
to the able as well as to the disabled.
V21: I will not frustrate God’s purposes by trying to some other way under the Law to justify myself. Any such attempt only shows that I believe there was no need for the Saviour to die!!
We need to note that any efforts of our doing are the same as the Law that Paul abolished – no church attendance; good works; high morals, etc., can count as much as one mite in earning our justification. The cost was great but the price is the same for every one of us – and all can afford it for even the price (faith) is given to us by the gracious Father.
Study Four: Justification and the Ongoing Walk are both by Faith
V1- 5: Paul now returns his thoughts and words to the Galatians. He has many questions for them. They had heard the gospel Paul had preached – that of “Christ and Him crucified”. Any ‘gospel’ which fails to preach the cross as central is not the true gospel. The Gospel speaks of sacrifice and death – its central theme is not of prosperity, happiness, etc. These are but the side effects that some receive as a result of the gospel. There are many today who would say “We need more preaching on the teachings of Jesus – eg; the ‘sermon on the mount’. That is what the world needs!” But they would be wrong – what the world needs is more preaching on the cross
In response to the preaching of a crucified Christ, the Galatians have come to believe – and receive the gift of God – the indwelling Spirit who brings life. Did they come to believe and receive by obedience to some Law – or through faith implanted in them? Did they hear with the hearing of the heart – that hearing which produces life in the listener when responding by faith? The answer is evidently “Yes” to this latter question.
Why then, having begun this new life by faith, do you now think you are to continue it in your own efforts? Are your own works going to make you ‘perfected’? He is dealing here with the process of sanctification. It has been imputed to us in justification; it is now being imparted to us. We cannot ever become more sanctified by our own efforts any more than a tree produces its fruit by its efforts (see Ps 1:3). There is nothing good of self in us – we are like Paul expressed himself to be in Romans 7 – ‘wretched men’. The new Gentile believers had suffered already for their faith – was that to be ‘in vain’ as they could never achieve the full fruit of their new life if they sought it in their own efforts. Does the Lord want to do His work in you by demanding of you “works” – or will He continue the same way as He has started – through faith?
V6-9: Consider the example of Abraham. All know that he was called ‘the friend of God’. Why? – because his faith was counted as righteousness. Ie; his trust and obedience. See Gen 15:6. This occurred at the start of Abram’s walk with God – before the Law (400 years) and before his circumcision (becoming a “Jew”)! Note that in Gen 15 that a covenant is made and sealed in the accustomed way – except that only God walked between the offerings though normally both parties would have walked through. The start of our walk with God is also “by faith” and required God making the covenant alone at the cross. All therefore, who come to God by faith can claim to be a descendant of Abraham, not only Jews. He is the ‘father of the children of faith’. God had told Abraham this – that ALL nations would know blessing through him. Ie; through his Son, Jesus, and by the same faith as he displayed.
V10-14: So, which will you choose? To be ‘under the Law’ or ‘walking by faith’? These are opposite to one another – you cannot be both. If you are under the Law, you must observe it meticulously – or else you will be ‘cursed’. We know that no one is able to keep the Law so no one can be justified by such means. The Old Testament declared this – “The just shall live by faith” – Habakkuk 2:4. Justification is by faith alone. Jesus has redeemed us (bought us back) from the curse of the Law for He became a curse for us upon the cross (Deut 21:23). Thus, we Gentiles might also be able to receive of His riches by faith. This is the fullness of the Holy Spirit - promised by the Father Acts 1:4; 2:39 with Ez 36:26 and others.
Just as we received the Holy Spirit in our ‘new birth’ (justification), so we are vto receive Him in His fullness for the work of sanctification. **It is interesting here to consider the teaching of James on ‘justification by works’. See James 2:21-24. Note that this is in the life of the already ‘sanctified’ Abraham. We are to ‘work out’ our own salvation – the inner root of faith must become evident in the outer fruit of the Spirit ie; our works!
V15-25: The Unalterable Covenant. God made a covenant with Abraham – through his ‘seed’ (descendant – singular) all nations of the earth would be blessed. This was made before the Law and before circumcision – man’s actions to show his side of the covenant agreement. Thus the promises of the covenant cannot be changed by later alterations – the covenant must stand and its promises were based on God’s word – a seed to bless all nations.
V18: Does the coming of the Law annul the promise of blessing through a ‘seed’? Of course not! It cannot! It was through a PROMISE that God pours grace upon Abraham.
V19: Then what is the point of the law? It was added so we might more clearly know what sin is.
V21,22: Can the Law bring life? – or righteousness? If such a law could have been given, it surely would have – for then Jesus would not have needed to die. The Law has shown everyone to be a sinner – all needing to know the blessedness given by God’s promise through the seed of Abraham, Jesus.
V23-26: Before faith came, we were all under the Law, found wanting and waiting until the promise of faith is revealed. The Law acted like a schoolmaster, showing us our sinfulness. (The word ‘schoolmaster’ is rather misleading in our way of thinking. The paidagogos was a senior, trusted servant whose role was to oversee the life of the small child in a family. The child was treated as the servant’s own child rather than as a son of the master. The paidagogos had to lead the child to school each day and collect to bring him home. It was his responsibility to instill into the child a sense of right and wrong (morals) – he had nothing to do with the actual teaching of the child.)
V25,26: However, when faith comes we no longer need the paidagogos – the Holy Spirit becomes our teacher. The Law is then written upon our hearts (Jer 31:31f).
Study Five: Benefits of Faith and Love’s Appeal
Ch 3:26 – end of Ch 4.
Now we are no longer children under the control of the slave, the paidagogos; we are SONS of the master, with full rights and privileges that that position affords. We have ‘graduated’ from the school to which the paidagogos had led us. Remember, he was not the teacher but was responsible for the moral upbringing of the lad. His work is finished.
The Jewish ‘bar mitzpha’ (age of 12) parallels similar ceremonies among the Romans (Toga Virilis)(age 14 -17) and the Greeks (age 18). The child becomes a man – the paidagogos has done his work. As sons, there is no distinction; Jew or Greek, male or female, rich or poor, etc. all are sons! All have been baptized into Christ and have ‘put on’ the new garment of Christ Himself.
V27,28: Baptism was a Jewish rite by which one became a Jew. He was clothed in a white robe recognizing his ‘righteousness ‘under the Law. Now Christian baptism has clothed the Gentile believers with Christ. I suggest this is the ‘baptism of repentence’, not water baptism in itself (see my teaching on the sacraments). Being so ‘clothed’ makes us all equal in Him. We saw in v16 that Paul considers the promises made to Abraham to be fulfilled in Christ and, as we are ‘in Christ’ we are also heirs to those promises.
v.29: Being Christ’s we have all become heirs of the blessedness promised to Abraham through his seed, Jesus Christ.
Chapter 4: The Days of Childhood. Paul outlines the differences between a slave (as all little children were treated, alongside the children of the paidagogos) and a son. Until he was declared a man, the child had no legal rights even though he might own a vast land! – He was no different from the slave.
v.1-5: Two things Jesus did for us; He redeemed us and He made us sons. He has ‘bought us back’ from Satan and made us Sons of God! Under Satan, we could only learn the elemental things of the world – an ABC rather than ‘Shakespearean literature’!! Under the Law, we were just as ignorant of God’s riches.
v.6: As sons, we have the Spirit of the Father – His character in us. This Spirit leads us to know God as “Abba” (almost Daddy!) Read as a parallel passage here, Romans 8:11-14
v.7: As sons, we are also heirs of all the riches of the Father!
V9-11: If this be all the blessings of promise, why then turn again to those things that are weak (the Law was incapable of making you righteous!) and beggarly (in comparison to the riches of grace)? Why return to rules and regulations which can never make you free or righteous?
V11: Have I taught you all this in vain?
V12 – 18: Here we have a personal appeal by the apostle. He had come to the Galatians in much weakness but they had received him with much love. There is much debate about what the ‘thorn in the flesh’ might be (2 Cor 12:7). Some suggest bad eyes (they would have plucked out their own!); others a person in opposition, etc. It really matters not except to teach that the Lord often chooses to use us in our weaknesses and does not always bring us to full victory in ALL aspects of our life. Maybe this is to keep us reliant on His strength and not our own.
V16: Have I NOW become your enemy simply because I speak the truth to you and you do not like it?
V17: Others seek to shut you out of God’s blessings of freedom.
V19 – end: The allegory of Hagar & Sarah
V19: “my little children” - a term of deep affection. Paul had travailed once on their behalf to win them to Christ; now he must travail again to see them free from another bondage – of the law.
The story of Hagar and Sarah can be read in Genesis, Chps. 17, 18, 20, 21.
Hagar – the slave Sarah – the chosen wife
Child of the flesh child of promise
Ishmael – father of the Arabs Isaac – father of the Jews (& Jesus)
Type of Old covenant Type of New Covenant
Sinai/Desert/Jerusalem New Jerusalem from heaven (Rev:20)
Cast out Heir to riches
Paul uses the allegory to show how we, as children of promise and grace, are seen in Isaac as contrasted with Ishmael, the child of bondage under the law.
Study Six: Sanctification by the Spirit
We now come to the third major portion of this letter. The first part was personal; the second doctrinal (justification by faith); this third part is practical – how we are to live by faith and walking in the Spirit.
A great saint of the past has said, “Love God and do what you like!” It is to be the power of Love, not the constraints of the Law that keeps us right – and love is always more powerful than the Law.
V1-4: Christ has died to set us free. We were once slaves to sin but now are free. Consider what this means – we are NOT free to do as we like for that is license. You can set a train ‘free’ from the restraints of its tracks but it will soon sink in the sand! Saved by Faith and living by the Law perpetrates “falling from grace” and putting oneself back in bondage! With Paul, there is no in-between position. We are totally under the Law or we are totally free from it!
At conversion, righteousness (sanctification) is imputed to us – God counts us righteous in Christ. There is, however, the walk during which the Holy Spirit imparts righteousness to us – this is the ongoing work of sanctification.
V5-6: It is through the Spirit, the author of our faith, that our hope of righteousness comes. He operates by speaking a word, by a gentle touch to our souls. This faith does its work when we obey that prompting. Our righteousness does not come by any works that we can do in obedience to any perceived or dictated Law. It is to be ‘by faith’ through the outworking of love. Our hope also is from the Spirit – that assurance we can know. – His Spirit bearing witness with our spirits that we are the children of God (1John 4:13). (Note here the three jewels of Paul – faith, hope and love.)
“I love Thee, Lord, but with no love of mine for I have none to give! I love Thee, Lord, but all the love is Thine for by Thy love I live. I am as nothing, and rejoice to be emptied, and lost, and swallowed up in Thee.” (Quoted by Spurgeon).
V7-12: Paul has some strong words directed at this ‘persuasion’ that has come upon the Galatians. If a man can be persuaded to believe something, he can just as easily be persuaded to change his mind! This has not come from God. If allowed to continue it will soon penetrate the whole church (collectively) and the whole personality (individually). Paul is persuaded also – of better things in his disciples. He would never preach circumcision anywhere even though that might deliver him from persecution. Woe betide those who would proclaim a sanctification by some law – ancient or modern! If there were something man could do, he would be glad – for that allows him some pride. That is why the gospel is a ‘stumbling block’ to so many! We can do NOTHING to produce salvation or sanctification. How dare we think that any such ability is within us!
V13-15 Jesus has died to set us free! From the Law, from self and from sin. Don’t allow this freedom to become license but allow it always to be driven by love – for the Lord, for others and for self. This is the “New Law” that Jesus proclaimed – “A new commandment I give you – that you love one another” (John 15:17).
V16-18: Walk by the Spirit - what does this mean? Surely that we allow His words/promptings to be our sole directive, rather than our own desires or the world. There is a war between the flesh (our ‘natural’ desires) and the Spirit. Our natural (worldly) desires bring us under the bondage of the Law once again for they are contrary to the Spirit’s leading.
V19-21: The deeds of the flesh are obvious – a long list! If we follow them, we cannot enjoy the blessings that are our inheritance in the kingdom. This is the carnal believer – one living a ‘wilderness’ Christianity. Indeed, if one ‘practices’ such continually, it is evident he/she is not a believer – a true disciple in whom the Spirit dwells.
V22-23: The Fruit of the Spirit – a whole study in itself! - see later
V24,25: We are called to ‘crucify the flesh’ – put it ‘on the cross’. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us put aside human, natural attitudes.
Study Seven: The practical outworking of “walking by the Spirit”
This chapter can be divided into three sections plus a closing benediction. Truly, we should start at 5:25 – “Let us walk by the Spirit”.
This means treating others in spiritual ways, not fleshly. ie; there is to be no boasting, envying or competing to be ‘more spiritual’.
Ch 6: 1-5: If another falls (slips us) we should not respond by criticism or by judging him. Instead we should work to restore him. Note that ‘meekness’ is the fruit of the Spirit by which I know my own failings and unworthiness of God’s grace so that I can truly feel for my fallen brother and say, “There but for the grace of God, go I”.
There are 14 different words in Hebrew and Greek which we translate as ‘burden’. In v2 the Gr is baros which is ‘something heavy’. Such a burden we are encouraged to help others bear, thus fulfilling ‘the law of Christ’ to love one another. We show our love by our deeds in helping others. We can suggest many such burdens – poverty, grief, worry, etc.
V4: However, we must not try to foist our burdens on another – and claim from them what they should be offering freely. Further, there is another kind of burden which we alone are to carry. In v5 the Greek word is phortion which is ‘a load to be borne’, like a soldier’s pack. No one else may carry that burden for you – (just as no one can carry the unborn baby except its mother). Are you carrying your own phortion? ie; your Christian calling or talent.
Ch 6: 6-10: Reaping and Sowing. Here we see a fundamental principle – “Whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.” If he sows of the Word, he should receive from those whom he feeds. God will be the witness of this. He has established such a principle. He who sows for his own pleasure (flesh) will reap the natural rewards of his sowing – but that is corruption and decay. However, he who sows to the Spirit (by walking in the Spirit) will reap spiritual fruit and eternal life. What are we sowing to? The harvest takes time, so do not grow weary in sowing good, especially when it is done to those of the family of God.
Ch 6: 11-16: Personal autograph. He may be writing with large letters to emphasise what is written; or because he is not used to writing (he normally used a scribe); or because his eyesight is poor (see 4:15). V12: the Judaisers want you to be circumcised for three reasons: to save them from being persecuted by the Jews, to justify their own legalistic lifestyle and to boast that they ‘won you over’. V14: To Paul, there is only one ground of boasting – the cross of Jesus. That speaks of death to self and to the things of the world. V15: the act of circumcision is not important. What is important is its overtones. It speaks of bondage to legalistic teaching whereas we are called to be ‘a new creation’ walking in liberty. To those who walk this new way, there is the promise of peace and mercy. Paul calls them the ‘Israel of God’. Israel means “Prince of God” and reminds us of Peter who writes that we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession” (1 Pet 2:9).
Ch 6:17,18: Final comments: “I want to hear no more about this”. I bear in my own body, marks far more precious than that of circumcision – I bear the stigmata of the Lord. Remember Paul was beaten many times and bore the scars. We end with no personal greetings – just a curt benediction!