There are many who have been here a long time and we have not studied an epistle in a number of years. The book of Galatians has been called the Magna Carta of spiritual freedom. It has been called the Christian’s Declaration of Independence. It has been identified as the battle cry of the Reformation. And, of course, this is the year that we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
And, of course, the key figure in that Reformation was a man named Martin Luther, who was a Catholic monk. When he came to the study of the book of Galatians, he discovered the true gospel, the gospel of salvation by grace through faith, and he says, “The epistle to the Galatians is my epistle.” That’s a quote from Luther. It’s an incredible book, and we are going to be spending months here.
Luther’s commentary came out his teaching on Galatians, came out of his salvation experience. He was saved while he was teaching Galatians. But Luther’s commentary on Galatians became the basis and manifesto of the Protestant Reformation, and the Protestant Reformation found its message from the book of Galatians; and also from the book of Romans.
Galatians deals with the important issues: law, grace, works, the gospel, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and our Lord’s death, His resurrection, salvation, sanctification – all of these critical gospel-related realities are part of the book of Galatians. But the primary message of the book of Galatians is freedom. Freedom from sin, freedom from judgment, and freedom from spiritual bondage.
It was critical in the Reformation to set people free not only of the bondage of sin, but the bondage of false religion, which had held the Western world captive for about a thousand years. There was a thousand years of darkness and spiritual bondage in which the Roman Catholic system held the church captive. And it was the Reformation and the book of Galatians that brought the freeing gospel.
Contemporary man and women in our culture pride themselves on personal freedom. Personal freedom is a big thing. In fact, we are constantly told that we don’t have a right to encroach on anyone about anything if they deny us that opportunity. They have complete freedom to control their own thoughts as to what they think, and what they might not want to hear.
Never has there been such a confused understanding of freedom. Free people think freedom comes from being free to do whatever you want to do, and to have no one impose on you anything that you don’t want. There are no absolutes in the moral world; there therefore should be no moral restraints. There is no recognition of responsibility or judgment.
But they’re not free. There is no freedom to the unregenerate soul, because that soul is bound to sin. The only freedom they have is the freedom to choose the sin that most appeals to them. There’s no freedom from sin and guilt. Therefore there’s no freedom from fear. There’s no freedom from judgment. There’s no freedom from eternal punishment. It is a lie.
The Bible says they we are slaves to sin, free to choose which sinful master they prefer, but nonetheless slaves. People are bound in the chains of transgression and iniquity, headed for a sentence from God that will assign them to eternal punishment. Jesus said in John 8: 32, “You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” And He is talking about gospel truth, the truth of the Word of God.
The message of Galatians is the message of real freedom. Religion comes along and wants to aid man in finding some freedom from what grips him, what troubles him, what frightens him. And religion takes all forms across a wide spectrum. Some forms of religion are legalistic where you have to keep certain rules. And that’s where Martin Luther was.
That’s where monks are, and that’s what monasteries have done, and that’s what nuns have done, and many other forms of religious sacrifice, self-denial, rejection of social life, marriage, locking themselves into some prescribed form of sort of deprived living, attached to certain laws and rituals that have only to do with external behavior, because they cannot change their heart.
Every religion offers its own spin on freedom: freedom from what bothers you, freedom from what disappoints you, what causes you anxiety. And it might be the freedom offered by ritualism. If you do these rituals, they are the path to the freedom your soul desires. For some it is that rigorous asceticism and self-denial, and sometimes even inflicting pain on yourself.
For other people it’s developing a sort of self-righteous approach to life and being a good person, having a kind of morality that’s sort of generally acceptable. For some people, freedom comes in self-reliance. Freedom comes in being disconnected from anybody else’s expectations, anybody else’s inclinations or intrusion into your life. That’s more and more popular as people stay single longer.
All humanity, Scripture says, is enslaved by sin in the kingdom of darkness ruled by Satan, who is the prince of the power of the air (meaning in this world) who dominates them. They are children of the devil, and there is no freedom. The freedoms they think they enjoy are only illusions on the way to eternal bondage in a hell of punishment. There is really no freedom at all.
How do you free yourself from who you are? Your problem is not outside of you, it is inside of you. It’s aided by those around you, and the culture that defines corruption and standardizes it. But you are the problem, and you will never be free until you are a changed to become a different you. And the only thing that will do that, Paul says to us in Galatians, is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Look at Galatians 5:1, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free.” There is the summation of the book of Galatians. Freedom comes in Christ and in no other place. There is no freedom in legalism on the one hand, in libertinism on the other hand, or anything in between. Listen: as long as you are in bondage to sin you are not free; but as soon as you are in bondage to Christ, you are set free.
Your bondage to Christ is freedom from sin, from its power, from its consequences, and someday from its presence. Christians talk about joy, peace, love, satisfaction, hope and fulfillment, because they have been set free from the bondage which dominates all people: the bondage of a sinful nature. We are free forever: free from the power, the penalty, and one day the presence of sin.
That’s Paul’s message. What an incredibly significant message it is, because every human being in the world experiences constantly the bondage to sin, the fear of death and judgment that is in every heart. Now this is no cool treatise of an academic nature. It is a hot, volatile, righteously angry presentation. The apostle Paul writes this under tremendous distress. He is righteously angry.
So what is he defending? He is defending the gospel which is under assault; and the people in the churches that he has established who are being exposed to lies and legalism. So he writes as one who is angry. You see that in the beginning of the letter. Verse 1, “Paul, an apostle, not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead.
Verses 2-6, “and all the brethren who are with me, to the churches of Galatia: 3 Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. 6 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel.”
Verses 7-9, “which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.”
Notice here, there is no commendation. He wrote 13 letters in the New Testament; this is the only one that does not have some commendation. There is a fury burning in his heart, because the gospel is being attacked; and therefore the people to whom he has preached the gospel are in danger. He writes as one who fights against the intrusion of false teachers, and for the defense of those he loves. And he is mad.
Paul along with Barnabas, had started these churches in southern Galatia on the first missionary journey. They started their first missionary journey in Acts 13 and 14. They go into this region called Galatia. Galatia is not a city, unlike Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, and others that have the names of the other epistles. This is a region, and there are a number of towns in that region.
There are these towns called Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. And on the first missionary journey Paul went to all those places to preach the gospel and established a church. These were the people dear to his heart. He went back on his second missionary journey to Galatia. And he went back on his third missionary journey again to Galatia. He made a huge investment in them.
According to Acts 14:19, when he came to the town of Lystra, the Jews were so furious with him that they stoned him. So he had incredible opposition. When he went into a Gentile town he would go first to the synagogue, because as a Jew he had a connection; and because the gospel came to the Jew first and then the Gentile. He would go there to see if the Lord would save some Jews.
Some Jews would believe; but the rest would persecute him and whoever was with him, and then persecute the church that he established. So in Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, you have these little new churches. Paul has now left after the first journey, left after the second and the third, and through it all, they are always persecuted by the Jews who reject the gospel.
External persecution is one thing; but when Paul finds out that there are false teachers there who claim to be Christians who have gotten inside the church and are perverting the gospel, he is furious. They are disguised as angels of light; that’s how Satan disguises himself. So in these churches made up of Jews and Gentiles. The believing Jews along with the Gentiles are persecuted by the local Jews.
And then there are other Jews who claim to be Christians called Judiazers. They believed that you could only be saved by circumcision and adherence to the Mosaic ceremonies, observance of the Sabbath, etc. So they were trying to Judaize Christians, both Jew and Gentile. They came in with their false gospel, and Paul went right to the point. He is stunned because they are listening to the Judiazers.
He says in verse 8, “If we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.” Now that kind of preaching you would never hear today in an evangelical church. False teachers seek souls to convince them that they are shut out of the kingdom of God, but that they have a way in. That is what all false religions and false Christian cults do.
Galatians 5: 10, “I have confidence in you, in the Lord, that you will have no other mind; but he who troubles you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is.” Certainly this persuasion didn’t come from Him who calls you. This is a little leaven that’s going to leaven the whole lump of dough. Verse 13: “For you were called to freedom, brethren. You were called through love to serve.”
Galatians 4: 9: “Now that you have come to know God,” he says to them, “or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?” You’re going backwards. All of those rules and rituals were shadows. And now the substance of Christ has come, the shadows are useless.
Galatians 3:1, “O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you,” Who has tricked you, who has deceived you, who has seduced you? “before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly crucified? You’ve been to the cross. You’ve seen the gospel. You know where your salvation lies. Verse 3, “are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you going to be perfected by the flesh?”
Now in Galatians Paul has three tasks. His first task is to defend his apostleship, because they have to trust him. It’s not as if there are other people preaching what he’s preaching. Paul goes to the Gentile world and essentially he is the only preacher, the speaker. They even acknowledged him in pagan places as the chief speaker. There isn’t anybody else preaching the Gospel.
And that is why at the very beginning of this letter, he stressed: one is his name and the other is his title, “Paul apostle,” “Not sent from men nor through the agency of man.” So Galatians 1 and 2 are a defense of his apostleship. Galatians 3 and 4, are the establishing of salvation by grace alone; Galatians 5 and 6, showing Christians that their walk is a walk in grace, not in law.
So heresy had hit these churches, and each little congregation was troubled, and even begun to believe it, so that they began to depart from the gospel of grace into legalism, to go from the new age in Christ and the New Covenant back to the old age. And Paul wants them to know that grace alone saves. Grace frees and empowers holy living. True freedom comes through grace. Let us pray.