This is a sermon that I preached at Thomasville Road Baptist on Wednesday July 15th, 2015
Good evening. It’s great to be with you tonight. We’re going to be going through the letter of Galatians, so if you would, take your Bible, and open, flip, swipe, tap — or however you do it — on over to the letter of Galatians.
The early church fathers actually wrote more commentary about Galatians, than on any other document in the New Testament, and perhaps, one of the reasons we’re sitting here in a Protestant church instead of in Mass, for instance, could be this letter. Galatians was instrumental in the Protestant Reformation.
Now, I’ve been calling it a letter, and that’s intentional. While all too often, we call everything in the Bible a “book”, it can be very helpful to talk about things with their specific types. For instance, this is a letter, and that will affect how we read it.
You all know how to read a letter, right? You go to the mailbox, you open it, you take out the letter, you go inside, you sit down, you open it, and you start reading, and you read about a paragraph, and you put it on the table. Next week, you come back, and you read another paragraph or so, and you set it on the table… Wait, that’s not how you all read your mail? Maybe that’s why my stack at home is far too tall!
So, we don’t read letters one paragraph or one chunk at a time, when they’re written to us, but frequently, that’s what we do with the letters that are in the Bible. There is so much that can be gained by sitting down, taking 30 to 45 minutes, and reading through an entire one of the letters in the New Testament, and I would encourage you, over the next week, to find just such a time, and sit down and read Galatians from beginning to end.
I’d heard numerous sermons on Galatians. I read through it all, but not in one sitting. But it wasn’t until I read it front to back at one time that it made sene to me, that it clicked, and I understood Paul’s argument and his train of thought in what he was saying.
We’re starting a 3-week series here. This week, we’re going to do chapters 1 and 2. Next week, chapters 3 and 4. Finally, Jason Pamblanco is going to take us through 5 and 6 the week after that, and so you’re going to go through Galatians faster than you have before, but I would still recommend you go through it on your own at home all in one sitting.
There are some questions we need to answer before we start any new book or letter in the Bible, and one of those would be, “Who wrote it?” Galatians was a letter written by Paul, and it’s most likely the first letter he wrote that we actually have included in the New Testament.
Recently, the majority of scholars agree that the letter to the Galatians was actually written to the geographic area of Galatia, which was in the South, as opposed to the primary theory for a very long time, the traditional theory, which said that this letter was written to churches in Northern Galatia, in the province of Galatia, the Roman province in Asia Minor. Now, why does this matter so much? It affects a few things.
The first is the date that it was written. If it were written to the churches in the South, then it most likely dates to AD 48 to 49, but if it were written to the churches in the North, it probably dates to about AD 54 to 55. Now, that’s a pretty sizable difference, but even if it had the later date, that’s not bad. Obviously, the earlier a document is to the events it describes, the better. For a variety of reasons, not just because we like an earlier date, scholars become more unanimous in dating this earlier because they think it’s written to the churches in Southern Galatia.
Why was this letter written to the churches at Galatia? By looking at the outline of the book, we can come to get a feel for this. Paul is going to start out with an introduction, and he’s going to tell us his occasion. The occasion here is that there are people who are called “Judaizers” in the church in Galatia who are saying the gospel is not just grace. It’s not just your faith. What it is, is faith plus the Old Testament Jewish regulations and laws.
Circumcision is one of the main points that Paul is going to address in his letter, and it’s also this idea that encapsulates all of the Old Testament laws, especially the ceremonial law, and so people are trying to say that you’re not just a Christian (or a good Christian) if you believed in faith. You’re not justified by your faith. You’re justified if you have faith and you add works to it.
In chapters 1 and 2, we’re going to see Paul defend his apostleship and his authority to contradict this false gospel. Then, in chapters 3 and 4, he is going to defend the true gospel of justification by faith. Ultimately, in chapters 5 and 6, he’s going to defend the liberty we have in Christ as a result of our justification.
Let’s get started.
Most of Paul’s letters start with some type of greeting or salutation, and this one is no exception. Here’s what he says in verse 1.
1:1 From Paul, an apostle (not from men, nor by human agency, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead) 2 and all the brothers with me, to the churches of Galatia.
Paul is greeting them here, but he’s, right off the bat, making the case for his apostleship. He’s saying he’s an apostle, and it’s not from men, it’s from God, in fact.
Now, what’s an apostle? Literally, the word means messenger or “sent one” perhaps, and Paul is one of these sent ones, these messengers. This is a proper title in the New Testament that refers to that very small group of people who received revelation from God, from Christ on earth and were given the authority to spread that to others, so being an apostle is a really big deal.
In fact, the early church rejected any documents not written by an apostle, and all of the documents contained in our New Testament were either written by apostles or under the authority, and direction, and supervision of an apostle. Being an apostle is really important, and Paul is making the case right here that he is one, from the very first verse in his letter.
Now, he mentioned some brothers who are with him, and these were most likely Barnabas and those others in Antioch, but he doesn’t mention their names because what we’re going to see is Paul is going to walk a fine line between saying, “I don’t need the approval of men,” but also saying, “Men approve of me.”
His authority is not contingent or based on some group of men or humans (as he would say) giving approval to him. His gospel ultimately comes from God. However, he does need to point out that the gospel he preaches is the same gospel that the other apostles preach, and we’re going to see this trend develop more as we move along.
Continuing on in verse 3. He says,
3 Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory forever and ever! Amen.
This is somewhat of a standard Pauline greeting, and in these greetings, peace always follows grace because true peace can only be found after God extends saving grace to us.
Now, you might ask, “What did this saving grace look like?” Look at verse 4, “He gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age according to the will of our God and Father.” There’s the gospel in a nutshell, a very condensed summary of it, and Paul has actually just described several aspects of our redemption by Christ.
He has described its cause: which was because of our sins. He described its means and method: Christ sacrificed himself. He described its purpose and its result: which would be the payment for our sins, and ultimately, our rescue. He talked about its origin: which is the will of our God and Father.
He actually has a very theologically loaded greeting to his message. He’s accomplished a lot in just a few brief sentences. In this one verse, we see Paul introduce by implication the main argument of his letter, which ultimately will be salvation by grace through faith, not through works. Our salvation is a work of God, not a work of ourselves.
Occasion of the Letter
Paul, like I said, usually starts out with a greeting, and then he usually has some form of encouragement or a prayer for people… He doesn’t do that here. That’s noticeably absent, and here’s what he says next.
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are following a different gospel – 7 not that there really is another gospel, but there are some who are disturbing you and wanting to distort the gospel of Christ.
This is harsh language, especially right off the bat in a letter. He calls them “deserters”, and he says they’ve left the gospel that God initially called them to, and they’ve left it for a fraud.
In Paul’s mind any distortion of the gospel is not the gospel. Gospel is not like a waffle. If you have a waffle on your plate, and you add syrup to it, the waffle just got better. If you add anything to the gospel, it ceases to be the gospel. The gospel must stand alone in its entirety without anything added or subtracted, or it is not the gospel. Paul says that what they’re following does not lead to the redemptive grace of God in Christ.
Now, I want you to remember the strength of this rejection when we actually see what this false gospel is later on. It’s important to remember. Paul continues on in verse 8,
8 But even if we (or an angel from heaven) should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be condemned to hell! 9 As we have said before, and now I say again, if any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let him be condemned to hell!
Paul is speaking very strongly here, and he’s speaking strongly first, to the individuals in the Galatian churches. They are the ones ultimately turning from the true gospel, but his harshest criticism is reserved for those who are leading these Galatian Christians astray, the false teachers. Literally, what Paul is saying here is, “Let them be damned to hell.” That doesn’t necessarily seem politically correct, does it?
An apostle, a Christian, is saying let people, or something, or both be damned to hell. You might say, “We’re just talking about ideas here,” but we’re not. We’re talking about the most important spiritual truths that could ever exist. We’re actually literally talking about life and death truths here, but not just physical life and death with our short lives on earth. We’re talking about life and death in a spiritual, God-separated, or God-relationship type of way. These are things that we should take deadly seriously.
It’s not politically correct to speak about others negatively today, but that doesn’t mean that the Christians shouldn’t speak out in defense of the true gospel, because it is not loving to let sin fester. It’s not loving to let God’s perfect gospel be distorted and others be led down a road of deception. We’re actually going to see Paul call out Peter publicly in a few verses — one apostle calling out another over the nature of the gospel — because that’s how important the gospel really is.
Here’s what Paul says in verse 10.
10 Am I now trying to gain the approval of people, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ!
Paul starts out this whole section here saying that his gospel is from God and He ends this section by saying he is indeed serving God. He knows his teaching isn’t popular, and he knows it probably won’t be received well, and yet, he does it anyways out of devotion to Christ, and also out of devotion to these Galatian Christians.
That should be a model to us to speak out when appropriate on issues that are extremely important, regardless of the social cost or the cost in the church. Standing up for truth can be very difficult, but that is exactly what God has called us to, and that is exactly the example Paul sets here in Galatians. If you think what he said so far is harsh, well, he hasn’t even really gotten started yet as we’re about to see.
Paul’s Vindication of His Apostleship
Moving on to verse 11. Paul is going to have to defend his apostleship now. These false teachers in Galatia were probably saying Paul wasn’t a real apostle, and isn’t that all too often how it goes today? When we want to discredit someone’s message, we just try to discredit them as a person. It’s so much easier to not have to deal with someone’s ideas if we can just write them off in their entirety, and so Paul is going to have to prove that he’s an apostle, so that these Galatian Christians will, hopefully, once again understand and believe the true gospel.
Here’s what he says in verse 11.
11 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 For I did not receive it or learn it from any human source; instead I received it by a revelation of Jesus Christ.
Here, Paul is expanding on his idea that he started at the very beginning, that he’s an apostle who was called directly from God. He has a heavenly message, not a man-made message, and that’s why they should trust him. It’s not because they’re his words. It’s because they’re ultimately God’s words expressing God’s truth.
In verse 13, he says,
13 For you have heard of my former way of life in Judaism, how I was savagely persecuting the church of God and trying to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my nation, and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.
Paul’s past pursuit of trying to destroy the church wasn’t a secret, and what he wants us to see here is just how zealous and passionate he was for Judaism and its traditions.
I think there’s also some element here of saying, “Look, you’re trying to say you need to be good Jews still by following the law. Well, I was a better Jew than you ever will be, and that’s pretty much known in my reputation.” Paul is also, by extent here, saying that, “Look at the shift that occurred in my life. I went from the persecutor of the church to its most ardent and passionate evangelist.” We shouldn’t see his hard tone as a fruitless anger. We need to see it as his frustration, his care, and his passion ultimately for the gospel and people believing the true gospel.
He continues in verse 15.
15 But when the one who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I could preach him among the Gentiles, I did not go to ask advice from any human being,
17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before me, but right away I departed to Arabia, and then returned to Damascus.
18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas (The Aramaic name for Peter) and get information from him, and I stayed with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.
Now, if you think about what Paul is saying here, it’s pretty obvious. He’s trying to distant himself from the other apostles. He’s pointing out just how little contact in fact he’s had with them, and Paul has a clever argument to prove that his gospel is the true gospel, and here’s how it goes.
He’s going to say that the other apostles have the true gospel. That’s probably agreed upon, and he’s going to say that he is preaching the same gospel, but he didn’t get it from them. Where could he possibly have gotten it from, if not from them? It must be the same place that they got it from, and that would be Christ.
That is Paul’s contention here, that his gospel ultimately comes from God just like the other apostles’ gospel came from Jesus. He’s saying, “I am just as much an apostle because I have the same gospel, and I didn’t get it from the other apostles. I don’t rely on them for my information or my authority. In fact, in 3 years, I spent very little time with them at all and only with one of them.”
He continues in verse 23.
23 They were only hearing, “The one who once persecuted us is now proclaiming the good news of the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 So they glorified God because of me.
With this verse, he further addresses his isolation from everything happening in Jerusalem, and more so, Paul went from being the destroyer of the church to, like I’ve said previously, its most passionate evangelist. He went from reliance on traditions in the law to a belief in the one, who we see in verse 4, “Gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age according to the will of our God and Father.”
We’ve reached the end of chapter 1, and there’s so much in there already, but in summary, what I hope you’ve seen is a few major points. One, Paul has made quite the argument so far for his authority as an apostle, and that’s necessary in order for him to move on and make the argument for his gospel. That is exactly what he’s going to do, but first, he’s going to point out that the other apostles approve of him. Not that he needs their approval because he’s an apostle called from God, but nonetheless, the other Jerusalem apostles approve of him.
Confirmation from the Jerusalem Apostles
Here’s what he says,
2:1 Then after fourteen years I went up to Jerusalem again with Barnabas, taking Titus along too. 2 I went there because of a revelation and presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did so only in a private meeting with the influential people, to make sure that I was not running – or had not run – in vain.
Now, scholars really aren’t sure if this is 14 years after the previous 3 years or 14 years after Paul’s conversion, but at a minimum, we’re looking at 9 years that Paul has been preaching or “running” pretty much on his own. He’s been preaching his gospel without any influence from the other apostles. Now, his detractors in Galatia were probably using these couple visits against him saying, “Look, he has to go meet with the other apostles. He’s got to check himself and make sure he’s saying it right.” But 2 visits in 14 years, or 3 visits maybe in 14 years? That is not much at all, at all. Paul is really demonstrating how weak the argument against him is and how weak the assertions are that he has to rely on the other apostles.
Here’s what he says in verse 3 continuing on.
3 Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, although he was a Greek. 4 Now this matter arose because of the false brothers with false pretenses who slipped in unnoticed to spy on our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, to make us slaves.
5 But we did not surrender to them even for a moment, in order that the truth of the gospel would remain with you. 6 But from those who were influential (whatever they were makes no difference to me; God shows no favoritism between people) – those influential leaders added nothing to my message.
7 On the contrary, when they saw that I was entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised just as Peter was to the circumcised 8 (for he who empowered Peter for his apostleship to the circumcised also empowered me for my apostleship to the Gentiles)
9 and when James, Cephas, and John, who had a reputation as pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we would go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
Now, there’s a lot there, and we’re actually going to stop and walk back through this sentence by sentence, so we can take it apart, so verse 3. “Not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised.” The main issue in the church in Galatia was adding works to grace, adding … For one thing, circumcision. If you weren’t circumcised, then you couldn’t be a Christian or maybe at least a good Christian, and so Titus here is Paul’s “Exhibit A.”
Titus was a Greek Christian who had not been circumcised, and when the other apostles in Jerusalem learned of this, they don’t make Titus get circumcised. Now, really, this should end the discussion. If these false teachers in Galatia are saying that the other apostles are right and Paul isn’t agreeing with them, as soon as Paul points out that they agree with him — they don’t make people get circumcised in order to be good Christians — that should end the discussion, but Paul is going to have far more to say.
Now, there’s something in this verse which is a little interesting. He says that false brothers with false pretenses slipped in unnoticed to spy on our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, or some translations might “spy out our liberty”. The issue here is circumcision, and so how would you know if someone was circumcised or not? You’d have to look, and Paul uses the word “spy” here.
To put this in a modern day context, this might be like when you’re in the locker room and there’s someone who looks a little too low… for a little too long. Right? That’s very uncomfortable, and you might think that that’s a crude way of saying it, but that’s a very crude thing to do, and Paul is mentioning it here.
That’s what these Judaizers are resorting to. They’re checking people. They’re like law enforcement officers literally. Just a different type of law. That’s what they’re trying to do, and Paul likens it to making people slaves. It’s oppressive.
In the very next verse, he says, “We didn’t even surrender to them for a moment,” and that makes it sound like a fight is going on, and there is a fight going on today, just like there was back then, and it is over important things like spiritual truths, like the truth of the gospel. We see all the way back in the very early church, just when the gospel is getting spread initially, there was a struggle over just what it was and what was required for salvation, and there is still that struggle today. So, informed Christians need to stand up, and be equipped and passionate just, like Paul, about defending the truth of the gospel because it is a fight. It’s not a fight with skin and bones so much, but of ideas, and arguments, and information, and spiritual realities.
In verse 8, he says that James, Cephas, and John, who were pillars, greatly respected people in the church. They recognized that grace had been given to Paul, and they extended the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and Paul. Now, this is an expression that shows trust and recognition, that one’s a partner in an endeavor. Paul here is pointing out that the Jerusalem apostles considered his work and his authority on the same level as that of Peter’s.
Now, once again, just remember, Paul is having to walk a line here. He needs to show that they approve of him, but he needs to continually be making it clear that his authority doesn’t rest on their approval. They didn’t somehow commission him and give him the authority that he has.
In verse 10, he says,
10 They requested only that we remember the poor, the very thing I also was eager to do.
That’s all they added to his message. That’s all they “added” to his gospel, which isn’t an addition at all, and so what’s the point here? “Look, you false teachers in Galatia, they didn’t change anything, and they affirmed my authority, so when I go on to tell you the following things in this letter, you all need to listen.” That’s literally what’s going on here.
Paul Rebukes Peter
In the very next section, starting in verse 11 in chapter 2, we’re going to see Paul rebuke Peter. One apostle rebuked another one. Now, this fits at a very well-placed section in the letter. It’s going to further reinforce Paul’s authority, and it’s going to transition us to his case about justification by faith and not the law. Here’s what he says,
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he had clearly done wrong. 12 Until certain people came from James, he had been eating with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he stopped doing this and separated himself because he was afraid of those who were pro-circumcision.
13 And the rest of the Jews also joined with him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray with them by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not behaving consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “If you, although you are a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you try to force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
This is a pretty harsh condemnation of Peter by Paul. One apostle is calling another apostle out, and he’s doing it publicly.
Now, what was so important here? Peter is just eating with some different people, right? What does that have to do with the gospel? Consider for a moment that the very way we live our lives can communicate things about the gospel. It could communicate things accurately, or it could communicate things inaccurately.
By Peter siding with the pro-circumcision group, he was giving validity and affirmation to their claim that circumcision was a necessary part of justification of being made right with God.
Who you eat with at lunch (or at least the reasons why you eat with those people), could have gospel significance. In our culture today, we have a race issue. This is becoming ever increasingly publicized. It has existed for a very long time. It’s ultimately a sin issue, but it’s coming too a head, and people are starting to care more about it. I would say to you that who you eat lunch with and the reasons for that could communicate something about the gospel.
Would you refuse to eat next to a black person, or maybe you wouldn’t, but do your friends refuse to, so you sit with your friends? What does that communicate about how God views people and how Christians should view people? It doesn’t communicate things very accurately.
Parents, how you raise and discipline your children communicates things about the gospel. For instance, when your child does something wrong, do you say, “I can’t believe you would do that.”? Does that communicate something about the gospel? It actually does.
What that says is, “Well, I just think you’re basically a good person. It’s surprising when you do something wrong,” but how would the Bible have us understand all people, including our children? They’re sinners who will sin, and that should not be surprising to us. Ultimately, what they need is grace and forgiveness. As parents and as people, our goal isn’t just to tell people where they go wrong. It’s to extend grace after there’s been repentance, but we first need to point out that, “I’m not surprised that you would do that because I know the type of person you are, because I know the type of person I am.”
Now, obviously, how you articulate that to a child depends on their age and their spiritual maturity, but nonetheless, how you talk to your children communicates things about the gospel.
The other thing of note here is that Paul called Peter out publicly. Now, you might wonder why. That seems inappropriate. We don’t call people out publicly. We don’t call them out at all today in our culture. Here’s the thing, public sin, public false teaching, publicly giving bad impressions of the gospel, all of those things require public rebuke, public correction, and public right-teaching, and we see that modeled here by Paul.
Now, we move on to our final section and the most theologically important section of the whole letter. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that because you should still come back next week and the week after! Paul is going to make a claim here in these next few verses that he’s going to back up in the following couple of chapters, and then he’s going to apply in the chapters after that. What’s this point? Jews and Gentiles are both justified by their faith.
Jews and Gentiles are Justified by Faith
This is what he says in verse 15,
15 We are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, 16 yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ. Even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no one will be justified.
Now, he uses this term “Gentile sinners” ironically and probably to get Peter’s and the other Jews’ attention because, you see, the Jews had pride about being God’s chosen people. They had the opportunity to gain God’s relational favor in a way that the Gentiles never had. However, just because they had a birth right that the Gentiles lacked, that didn’t automatically equate to righteousness before God. The Jews and the Gentiles were both on equal footing before God with respect to their justification. It wasn’t based on their merit or their works. In fact, it was based entirely in one’s faith in God.
I keep using this term “justification.” Well, what does it mean? Justification is that process wherein Christ paid for our sin and God counts us as righteous. Now, in that way, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us. It is credited to our account.
It’s not a perfect way to think about it, but consider one night, you go to bed, and you have $200,000 of credit card debt, and you wake up in the morning, and there’s a million dollars in your bank account and your debt is gone. That begins to capture the type of exchange, in relationship, that happened when we were justified by Christ. He took our sin and guilt on himself, and we gained his righteousness.
After we’ve been justified by Christ, though we’re not actually righteous in and of ourselves. We’re not suddenly transformed into good people. I think if we’re introspective and honest with ourselves, we know that, and so our righteousness is an alien righteousness. It is the righteousness of another. It’s ultimately the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Now, consider. Would you rather have your righteousness and everything you could earn, and all that would add up to on your own, or would you rather have the righteousness of the pure, holy, second person of the trinity, God himself? I’m going to go with second person of the trinity, God himself. That righteousness will make my righteousness not even appear on a chart or a graph. It will be as filthy rags compared to his. It will be shameful, and that’s the point here: we could never earn our good standing before God on our own. Honestly, if we think we do, we are fooling ourselves. In addition to the fact, the scripture is clear that we can’t.
Now, the result of this righteousness being imputed to us resulting in our justification is that when the father looks on us, he does not see our guilt, but he sees the pure, glorious righteousness of Christ, and that is something that should transform our perspective and the way we live because it’s an already transformed spiritual reality.
Let’s continue on in verse 17. Paul says,
17 But if while seeking to be justified in Christ we ourselves have also been found to be sinners, is Christ then one who encourages sin? Absolutely not! 18 But if I build up again those things I once destroyed, I demonstrate that I am one who breaks God’s law.
There are few things going on here, but the main one of interest for at least us tonight is verse 18. The Judaizers were saying that the Christians not keeping the law actually made them lawbreakers. “Yes. You may have been saved by faith, but if you don’t keep the law, you are now breaking the law”, but what does Paul say?
He says that if you’ve been saved by your faith, and you’ve been justified by God in that way, and then you try and live under the law, you are the lawbreaker. He turns it around on them. To put yourself back on bondage after being set free by grace is law-breaking, and he continues on in verse 19.
19 For through the law I died to the law so that I may live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
There’s a lot there. When Paul says he died to the law, he’s saying that he no longer has a relationship with it. Christians can’t break the law because they’re not under the law. In and of itself, it doesn’t apply to them.
Purpose of the OT Law
Now, this requires some contextualization because there is this issue on our culture today where the culture doesn’t understand the actual Christian position on the Old Testament law, those 613 legal regulations in Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, and so on. Christians, Evangelical Christians at least, are going to say homosexuality is wrong, and they’re probably (at some point) going to quote Leviticus 18:22, which says, “A man should not lie with a man as he does with a woman.” But they’re also going to say, “Well, I can eat pork, and I can eat shellfish, and I can plant carrots and jalapeños in the same bed in my garden, and my shirt has multiple fabrics in it.”
All of those other things are breaking Old Testament laws, and so the non-Christian and even the non-Evangelical sees this as a contradiction. “By what objective standard can you possibly claim to follow some laws and not others?”
So, here’s the starting position. Now, you can’t stay here, but I want to say where this starts: In and of itself, the Old Testament law doesn’t apply at all to the Christian, and this would include The 10 Commandments. None of it applies because it was part of a covenant with Israel, and we are not Israel.
Now, God saw fit to create a new covenant, and we are that covenant people. In and of itself, the old covenant regulations don’t apply to us. However, that doesn’t mean that just because something is wrong in the Old Testament law that it’s not wrong today, because there are actually 3 types of laws in the Old Testament law. There is moral law, which would be things like “don’t lie with a man as one lies with a woman”, “don’t murder”, “don’t commit adultery”, “don’t steal.” Those type of things that express God’s ever unchanging character, and the majority of which are repeated or at least referenced in the New Testament. That’s the first type, the moral law.
The second type would be the civil law or judicial law. This dealt with how to handle allegations of theft, or “I think my husband is committing adultery,” or “How do we handle servants, and property, and mortgages?” Those fall under the civil law. That doesn’t apply to us today. We are not the country of Israel. We are not that nation-state, so we don’t have its laws. We have our own laws and our own regulations and statutes.
The third category is the ceremonial law, and this dealt with animal sacrifices. It also dealt with purity codes and things like that, so don’t eat pork, don’t eat shellfish, don’t wear shirts with multiple fabrics, don’t boil a baby goat in the milk of its mother. These type of things. Now, those sound silly to us today, and so we need to understand why there were actually laws that were binding on Israel on the first place.
God wanted Israel to remain set apart and pure, and part of that was making sure that they understood that every area of their life would be a reminder to that. When you get up and you choose your clothes, and you choose a garment that doesn’t have multiple fabrics, it’s reminding you to be a pure, set apart, a person who doesn’t mix with other religions. When you don’t eat certain animals (which even now we understand may have been bad for them in their climate with their sanitary controls or lack thereof that they may have had) that reminds you that God expects you to be a separate, called about, pure people, to not intermingle with other nations, and especially their religion.
God wanted Israel to be spiritually weird. He really did! Because ultimately, God would bring Christ out of Israel. If they intermingled and adopted other religions even more so than they did, I don’t think Christ would have come the way he did, so God knew what he was doing. Is that really a surprise?
That’s a lot to say about these couple verses, but understanding the Christians’ relationship to the Old Testament law is important.
In summary, we are not under the sacrificial system or the ceremonial laws anymore. Christ fulfilled that on the cross and through his life for us, so we don’t have to. He was ultimately the sacrifice that the law required. The civil laws? We have our own civil laws. The moral laws? Those still apply today. They are rooted in God’s ever unchanging moral character and nature, and as such, are as true then as they are today.
What is Paul saying in this verse? “I’ve been crucified with Christ. It’s no longer I who live.” He’s saying that we shared in Christ’s death, so we can share in his life. Ephesians 2 says that though we were dead in sin before salvation, just like verse 20 says, we are now made alive — death to life. There’s a great exchange described here. Before salvation, we were dead in sin. After salvation, we are alive in Christ. Before salvation, we lived for ourselves. We are alive to serve our selfish desires. After salvation, we are dead to ourselves.
Dead in Sin → Alive in Christ
Alive for Myself → Dead to Myself
Made Alive by Faith in Christ
There is a shift that is larger than most of us appreciate that happened at salvation, and this concept of being made alive by faith in Christ is perhaps the central point that Paul wants to get across here. It is because of the work of Christ. Our righteousness is the work of Christ, not the result of our works. This is fundamental to the understanding of the gospel. It gets to the heart of the gospel itself.
Now, the last verse in this chapter could not be a better verse to end the night on or the chapter in Paul’s argument here, and here what he says,
21 I do not set aside God’s grace, because if righteousness could come through the law, then Christ died for nothing!
Wait, I read that wrong. “I do not set aside God’s grace, because if righteousness could come through the law, then Christ died for nothing!!”
In my Bible, there’s an exclamation point there. Now, that’s not in the original Greek, but it is helpful to us and instructive. I think all too often, we read verses in our Bible that are extremely powerful, and pointed, and convey a great deal of emotion, and we don’t read them or understand them with emotion because they’re just 2,000 words on the page to us sometimes. But here, Paul here is extremely passionate. If there’s one thing you get from me tonight, I hope I have brought some of that passion out because it’s on the page, it’s in the words, and it’s so much more passionate there than even I could portray.
Paul feels so strongly about these things he’s talking about, and this section here is ultimately the result of Paul’s argument building up to its climax, its highest point, and he basically says, “If you could earn your salvation and justification under the law, then Christ didn’t need to come and be crucified. I guess God got it wrong. I guess Christ died needlessly because you can do it on your own, right? Just keep the law. You’ll be fine. You can accomplish that.”
Is that more likely, or is it infinitely more likely that these Judaizers are actually teaching a perverted gospel? That is so much more likely than God messing up because, why would God have needed to send Christ? Why would the father have needed to send the son if we could just do it ourselves? He wouldn’t have. This is just another nail in the coffin of the false gospel that these Judaizers have been preaching.
They’ve been wrong about who Paul is. He actually is an apostle. They’ve been wrong about the gospel. He’s made that very clear, and over the next 2 chapters, he’s going to make it increasingly more clear. He’s going to support the argument he made here. It’s not enough for Paul just to make the claim, he’s going to back it up.
In chapters 1 and 2, we see Paul make the strong case for his authority and his gospel. We’ve also understood the passion he has for both these people, for God, and the truth of the gospel, and he has very clearly made the point that our righteousness is Christ’s righteousness. We are saved by Christ’s work, not our work. However, we are saved to do good work as Paul will ultimately say in Ephesians 2:10, “However, we are not saved by our works.”
There’s not a lot of application here. Paul is going to have his own application in chapters 5 and 6, and a little along the way, but there are a couple questions I would toss out for you to think about this week. Consider how you approach and think about your relationship with God.
Are you trying to earn your justification?
Are you trying to justify yourself in his eyes?
Are you trying to set aside God’s grace by your works?
Maybe not intentionally, but do you find yourself saying, “Well, look at me God. I did these things. I am now good in your sight.”
If that’s how you feel about it, you couldn’t be more wrong. You’re good in God’s sight, but because of Christ’s work, not yours.
Now, this isn’t somehow an excuse not to try because hopefully your attitude is one of, “I am so thankful for what I’ve been given that how I live and how I act will ultimately be an over-pouring and overflowing of what I’ve been given, of the work God has done in me.” Paul is ultimately going to talk about this, like I said, with his application in chapters 5 and 6, but consider how you think about your state before God, and make sure that it fits accurately in a biblically based framework.
In conclusion, there are three things I think we need to do. 1. We need to know the true gospel. That was the problem here in Galatia that Paul was trying to fix, and 2. we need to live the true gospel. This is ultimately Peter’s issue. Peter knew the true gospel. He and Paul didn’t disagree theologically. They weren’t on separate pages there, but they were on separate pages with what it looked like to live out the true gospel. Know it, live it, and 3. we need to defend it. Ultimately, that’s what Paul is doing in this letter. This is something the Galatians weren’t able to do for themselves, so Paul had to get involved.
Knowing it is one thing, living it is harder, and defending it is harder yet because a defense of the gospel includes living well as the testimony to the truth of the gospel, but it also involves knowing arguments and supports, and understanding the whole biblical narrative and how it fits together to support this claim of justification by faith and by faith alone.
I hope you’ll come back next week, and then the week after that as Jason wraps up the letter of Galatians, and I would encourage you at home to read the letter of Galatians all in one sitting, all at one time. Block off 30, 45 minutes and see just how well Paul lays out his case in a way you may not have appreciated before.