Paul had planted many churches in the region of Galatia. He went there on all three of his missionary journeys. He had seen many people come to faith in Christ, and he had also seen false teachers coming in behind him after he left and trying to disrupt the church and establish themselves as the true teachers so they could propagate a false gospel. There is the truth and there is falsehood that tries to deny the truth.
It has always been a battle, because Satan continues to wage war against God. And Satan is the author of lies and deceit, and he infiltrates the church to this very day to confuse and lead people astray. He operates primarily in the realm of false religions, and false forms of Christianity. Satan is the prince of the power of the air, the one who leads the kingdom of darkness; and he has been successful.
Satan always wants to do is confuse people about the way of salvation which will lead them to hell. It’s always Satan’s attempt to twist the gospel, sometimes overtly and sometimes very subtly. The Lord inspired Paul to write this letter and this letter is the word of God. Paul writes it using his vocabulary and his own experience; but every word comes from God. And that is true of every book in the Bible.
Paul wrote to establish the gospel of grace and faith. Our Lord has taught us the gospel of grace, the gospel of love in His life in ministry. The apostles preached the gospel of grace, the gospel of love and forgiveness in the book of Acts. We follow their preaching. Then comes the apostle Paul who writes all these letters explaining the essence of this glorious gospel of grace.
So we really need to go back in our thinking to what Jesus taught: “What is the way of salvation?” Is it by grace alone through faith, or are there some necessary works? Is there some necessary moral behavior or religious behavior to qualify you to receive salvation? Or can you come as a naked sinner, having accomplished nothing that gains favor with God and still be saved in that desperate condition?”
Let us look at two passages in the gospel of Luke. The first is in Luke 15, the story of the Prodigal Son. This depicts the worst imaginable sinner who turned his back on his father and taken his inheritance and wasted it on prostitutes and wild living in a foreign country. When he has spent it all, he is also in the midst of a famine. So he is in despair, no future, and no resources left. He decides to go back to his father.
The father who represents the Lord Jesus Christ in the parable sees him from afar, runs to him, throws his arms around him, kisses him all over the head, embraces him as his son; puts a robe on him, puts a ring on him of authority; puts sandals on him worn by sons; slaves were barefoot. Here Christ has fully embraced the sinner before the sinner can do anything to make things right.
That’s the gospel of grace. A penitent sinner coming to the Father (Christ) will receive such grace. Our Lord told another story in Luke 18 about two men in the temple who were praying: one was a Pharisee, saying, “I thank You that I’m not like other men, this publican sinner over here. I tithe, I pray, I fast, I do all these righteous things.” He was celebrating how good his morality and his religiosity was before God.
The other man, the sinner who wouldn’t look up to heaven, he kept his eyes downward, and he was pounding on his chest in signs of grief, and all he could utter out of his mouth was, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Jesus said, “That man went home justified rather than the other.” Here is our Lord saying, “Salvation comes to the penitent as a gift of grace, without merit, and without works.”
Paul declares that when he says, “God is the justifier of sinners.” That’s salvation. It is a gift that is not earned, it is received. It is a gift of grace undeserved, received by a simple act of faith in which the sinner says, “I believe in Jesus; save me.” That’s the gift that God gives. Paul explained that in Romans 3 and 4. It’s by faith, not by works, over and over in that passage.
He sums it up in Ephesians 2:8–9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, not of works. It is a gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast.” It’s an undeserved gift of God. It’s a gift of grace. As we read in Romans 3, we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God. We are hopeless in devising our own salvation; all we have to do is to receive it by believing in His Son.
Now that was a dramatic change from what Jews believed in the time of our Lord and the time of Paul. What the Jews believed and still believe was that God is gracious, and God will forgive; but you must contribute. There are some works that you must do. They said, “You need to be circumcised, you need to adhere to the Mosaic traditions, and if you qualify, God will take you the rest of the way.”
And, that is what every religion in the world teaches in one way or another, and that’s what every false form of Christianity teaches as well. In Paul’s day the Jews hated Christianity. They hated the idea that a Jew crucified by the Romans was designated as their Messiah; one who not only didn’t conquer Rome and their enemies, but was killed by the Romans.
They hated Christianity not only because Christ was their Messiah, but they hated Christianity because it stripped them of all their self-righteous effort and works, which they had accumulated, and by which they had adorned themselves with a kind of spiritual pride. When Jesus preached the gospel of grace through faith, He stripped them of all their self-righteousness. And they hated Him for that.
Legalistic Judaism fought against the gospel. In an amazing way, Satan began to pull into the church Jewish “converts” who believed that Jesus was the Messiah, who believed that He died and rose again, who believed that He was the Savior. But they also declared that that is not enough for salvation. You must adhere to the Old Testament covenantal Mosaic and traditional law to be saved.
Everywhere Paul went they followed his steps, and they came into these congregations declaring themselves to be believers in Jesus Christ who were there to say, “Paul has invented this message; this is not the true gospel. And you must know that you can’t be saved unless you’re circumcised and follow old covenant ancestral tradition.” They went everywhere saying this.
So they came up with a false gospel that affirmed grace and faith, but then added works. Is that really harmful? Paul answers that in the very beginning of Galatia 1:9. He says, “If we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!” That’s anathema. He is to be damned, devoted to divine destruction.
Galatians 4:9, “Now that you have come to know 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? I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.” “It was for freedom from those old rituals that Christ set us free. I, testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he’s under obligation to keep the whole Law.
Galatians 5:4 says, “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” This is a very serious issue. You can talk about grace, you can talk about faith; but if you add law to the gospel of salvation, you have nullified the gospel. You have severed yourself from Christ, and you have come under a divine curse.
Why is legalism so unacceptable to God? First of all because God is perfectly holy, and therefore what He requires is perfect righteousness. And you can’t do it; and anything less than that is to fall short of His glory. So, the law is not a means of salvation, because no one can keep it. The law is not given to save us, it’s given to condemn us so we can run to God to be saved by grace through faith.
The worst aspect of legalism is that it is foremost a lie about God. It is blasphemy of God. It is slander and a wrong view of God. The reality of legalism is that it takes away and reduces God’s glory. It is an assault on God, and that is the worst possible thing that any sinner could ever do. Legalism fails to acknowledge that God is perfectly loving and perfectly gracious.
That is the essence of Roman Catholicism. That’s the Catholic definition of God. So you better do some works. And don’t go directly God, He’s hard. Jesus is tough as well, so go to Mary, His mother. That is slander against His nature as all-loving, all-gracious and all-merciful God. That is why God hates legalism, because it fails to acknowledge the greatness of His grace.
So Paul, in Galatians, is defending the gospel. And he has to also defend himself, because there is no New Testament yet, and he’s the one preaching the true gospel. And the false teachers are coming with the false gospel. Paul has to defend the gospel, which he does in chapters 3 and 4; but to do that, he has to defend his apostleship. They have to believe him. So that’s what he does in Galatians 1 and 2.
Galatians 1:1, “Paul, an apostle not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead.” An apostle was a man who had been ordained by God, called personally by Christ, and who has seen the risen Christ. All twelve of the apostles could say that. Judas is disqualified, in Acts 1; and Matthias takes his place.
The early church knew the apostles who had been with Christ for three years. They had received divine revelation from His lips. None of them came out of the rabbinical training system in Israel. None of them were Pharisees or Sadducees, none of them were teachers. They were all working men, so what they knew didn’t come from a Judaistic source. What they knew came directly from Jesus in the three years of ministry to them.
The Judaizers accused Paul as follows, “Well, you’ve decided to be a man-pleaser. You’re floating around the Gentile world and you’re preaching an inadequate gospel that doesn’t include circumcision and the Mosaic Law. You are preaching a distorted gospel, and you have invented it on your own,” So the people in the churches are saying, “Can we believe Paul?”
He says, “Look, go back to my pre-conversion days. Go back and realize two things: I was a legalist. I was steeped in legalism as deeply as someone could possibly go. I was more zealous than everybody else around me. I was so steeped that no men could change what I believed. I was so zealous for it, that I even sought to murder the people who gave me an alternative message.”
Here’s the only explanation, verse 15-16, “But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb – when God was pleased and called me through His grace.” That’s when the change came. It wasn’t men, only God could revolutionize me that way. “He called me through His grace, and was pleased to reveal His Son to me so that I might preach Him among the nations.”
What happened after his conversion? So he says in verse 16, “I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood.” I didn’t enter into any conversations with people in Damascus. Verse 17, “nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me.” The gospel of grace without circumcision and without law, came directly to me from God. Therefore it is the true message.
Where did you go? Verse 17, “I went away to Arabia.” Nabataean Arabia it was called. If you go north from Israel into the area around Lebanon and go east, you come to Damascus. And if you go from Damascus east and south to the bottom of the Sinai Peninsula, that’s Nabataean Arabia. Paul went into that wilderness somewhere probably near Damascus. He went there alone.
What did he do in Arabia? He sat at the feet of Jesus. He was learning. Verse 18 says, “Then three years later I went to Jerusalem. Why three years? How many years had the twelve been with Jesus? Three years. This is his private, personal tutorial with Jesus for his own three years. And you wonder why his theology takes thirteen books in the New Testament to write.
And I went there to become acquainted with Peter. He was the great preacher in the early church. Now back to Galatians 1:18, “I went to Jerusalem to see Peter for fifteen days.” And then in verse 19, “I didn’t see any other of the apostles, except James, the Lord’s brother.” Why? Most likely they were scattered preaching. But he did see James, the leader of the Jerusalem church.
Paul had a brief two-week time with Peter. But the other disciples wouldn’t even accept me at first. I did spend my time preaching, and I was preaching so much and with such effect, that they ran me out of town (Acts 9:23-25). And he gives a common Jewish vow in verse 20, “Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying.”
Verse 21, “Afterwards I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.” And in verse 22 he says, “I was still unknown to the churches of Judea which were in Christ.” Outside of Jerusalem, no one even knew me. Verse 23, “they kept hearing, ‘He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.” In verse 24, “And they were glorifying God because of me.” Let us pray.