Galatians 1:1 – 10 ESV
What makes you Christian? The evangelical world of Christendom, on many occasions, has boiled down Christianity to mere moralism which expounds on a list of do’s and don’ts rather than the work and person of Jesus Christ. Following Christ has come down to what you can do to appease your way up to God rather than embracing the atoning work of Christ on the cross. Western Christianity has defined itself more on the self rather than about the selflessness of the One whose death, burial, and resurrection paid the full bill of iniquities for the world. Christianity has become everything in our current post-modern area except the Good News which was given by Christ and relayed by the apostolic ministry. Christianity, in its simplest term, has become moralistic therapeutic deism.1 For the local church this is worrisome for the reason that “by taking the cross out of the functional equation, moral therapeutic deism promotes the wrong-headed idea that God probably needs our help in the work of justification and most certainly needs us to carry the weight of our sanctification, as well.”2 Within the leadership and teaching of the church “mere conservatism must not be confused with godliness, mere discipline with discipleship, mere assent to orthodox doctrine with wholehearted delight in the truth.”3 This type of gospel, which is not a gospel, is being taught across the globe to a people that are putting their faith in a non-existent Jesus. If the church’s understanding of Christianity has this kind of perception then the question remains; what makes you Christian?
Not only is the modern church fighting the greatest war of its lifetime — the authenticity of the Gospel — but is continuing the battle that was president in the time of the early church in Galatia. After the proclamation of the Gospel by the Apostle Paul Judaizers came into the body of Christ and reestablish the Jewish customs that, in their mind, would solidify the church’s devotion to Yahweh. These corrupters of the Gospel “were apparently quite effective in persuading the Galatians of the necessity of circumcision, if not the need to embrace the Jewish law as a whole.”4 As the Galatians began to buy into the misconceptions of the ideologies from these false teachers they began to add onto the Gospel principles that it did not need. The Gospel the Galatians obtained no longer resembled the Gospel preached to them by Paul. It is imperative to see that “a difference in your understanding of doctrine leads to a difference in your understanding of who Jesus is — and means it’s questionable whether you really know Him at all.”5 So, in Paul’s mind “to desert the Gospel of grace that [he] had taught them was not simply to desert a doctrine but to desert Him, the God who had called them to salvation.”6 Apparently the war was prevalent in the day of the early church and is still very much alive today within evangelicalism. The church’s grasp of the true Gospel of grace will be the most significant battle it fights until the day He returns.
The Judaizers put into question the Gospel presented by Paul because they questioned the validity of the office of his ministry. The authority to which Paul ministered was being looked upon with great skepticism and apprehension.7 Because, in their minds, if Paul had no authority to minister, the Gospel that he preached had no authority to save. These false teachers “not only attacked the validity of the message but also that of the messenger. Apparently the Judaizers had convinced some of the Galatian church members that Paul was a self-appointed apostle with no divine commission.”8 The Judaizers “insisted [Paul’s] converts were only half-baked and needed to go all the way to get circumcised, if they were going to shore up their status of children of God.”9 Consequently these Judaizers sold a false gospel to the Galatian church and the believers bought in hook, line, and sinker.
To this reason Paul engages the letter to the church of Galatia with great resolution and zeal. Paul cements His apostolic ministry, not for his own reputation “but in order to reassert the legitimacy of his gospel.”10 He is insisting that he is a genuine authentic agent of grace and that “the point of his apostleship [is] to extend grace to others on God’s behalf!”11 He does this from the very get go by iterating that his office of ministry is “not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead” (Galatians 1:1 ESV). An apostle is “a man who has been sent with immediate divine authority.”12 Now in Christ Jesus all of the church is to be sent to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). Through the gifting of the Holy Spirit men and women can obtain astounding spiritual gifting that can incorporate apostolic tendencies. Though all belonging to the faith family are “sent” there is a difference between the “capital-A” apostleship of Paul and the “lower case-a” apostleship of everyday ministers of the Word. So, what is the difference between Paul’s apostolic ministry and, say, the next persons? The difference is that the “‘capital-A’ Apostles had, and have, absolute authority. What they write is Scripture.”13
Consequently, Apostle Paul’s opening statement affirms his apostleship while implying that the Judaizers are commissioned by mere mortals, or the agency of men. Paul’s claim to having Jesus Himself anoint his ministry stresses the fact that “no human means of any sort was involved in his apostolic commissioning. No human source, no human ceremony, no laying on of hands by any group in Jerusalem, Antioch, or anywhere else was involved in his call to apostleship, though the elders at Antioch were a part of the sending process of his special mission tour to evangelize.”14 Ultimately, “Paul’s authority was not man-given or self-given but God-given, and his right to instruct the Galatians was grounded in that divine prerogative.”15
The Empowerment of the Apostle Paul:
We see the Apostle Paul enter into the biblical narrative through the book of Acts, the second edition to the Gospel of Luke, as a zealous Pharisee whose sights are set on destroying Christianity and the church. Paul, otherwise known as Saul, stood against the progressive work of the church and was personally responsible for the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:54 – 60). The fall of the first Christian martyr emboldened the determination of the young Pharisee to pursue the church of Christ with greater zeal and tenacity. The unregenerate Paul was “ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3 ESV). Though Paul had become the chief accuser of the church God had other plans according to His infinite sovereignty.
During Paul’s attempt to excavate the believers in Damascus he encountered an experience that would transform the trajectory of his life. As Paul approached Damascus “suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him” (Acts 9:3 ESV). The Lord Jesus Christ intervene in the scope of history to engage the passionate Pharisee who had made his life’s work in destroying the church of Christ. Jesus, without hesitation, proclaimed, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city and you will be told what you are to do” (Acts 9:5 – 6 ESV). Paul would be told what to do? This man who had taken initiative in crushing Judaism’s opposition? This Pharisaical valedictorian? This Hebrew of Hebrews? This descendant of Abraham through the tribe of Benjamin? Really? Yes, really! Listen to God’s commission for Paul.
Go, for [Paul] is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my house (Acts 9:15 – 16 ESV).
Paul, who once was an enemy of the church, became a humble servant through the inner workings of the Holy Spirit in Christ. Not only is the phenomenal work found within his conversion but the call to ministry toward a people group which was sociologically unwarranted to the Jewish practice. Yet the sociological shift embodied in Paul not only communicated God’s call but Paul’s transformation. A man who once was exclusive in loving His kinsmen now was open to the grander of God’s divine plan to draw all people to Himself.
Galatians 1:6 ESV, “6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different Gospel –“
A Horrible Exchange:
Once Paul solidifies the authority by which he ministers he waste no time engaging into the conflict the region of Galatia finds herself in. We find him aggressively peeling back the rhetoric in pursuit of the core issue of the church. The region of Galatia’s reality is that they “are so quickly deserting Him who called [them] in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6 ESV). The church was inclined to leave the sufficiency of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and reestablish themselves under the yoke of the law. The Judaizers had distorted the Gospel of Christ by adding onto it and in so doing stripped the saving work of Christ from its power. Within Pauline theology “any such change to the Gospel means it becomes ‘no gospel at all.’”16 For this reason the “false teachers were accountable for their corruption of God’s truth, but the Galatian Christians were also accountable for being so easily misled by it to pursue legalism.”17
The Free Gift of Grace:
Paul’s reference to “called” indicates an implied reality that God is the initiator of salvation. In the midst of our sinful state God, by His love, instigates a redemptive plan to restore humanity back into right relationship with God. In humanity’s depraved state “we did not ask for rescue, but God in His grace planned what we didn’t realize we needed, and Christ by His grace came to achieve the rescue we could never have achieved ourselves.”18 Theologians call this spiritual inability. Contextually Galatia has left the free gift of grace in Christ Jesus to pursue a salvation that is dependent upon a merit based achievement — an achievement that can not be obtain through the law. The Judaizers had come and “[distorted] the Gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:7 ESV). The greek term of distort, which is metastrepho, “carries the idea of turning something into its opposite, of reversing the thereby perverting it. The least bit of law that is added to the Gospel of Christ reverses its character and turns it into that which is contrary to God’s gracious provision of salvation and sanctification based entirely on the merits of His sinless, sin-bearing Son.”19
Ultimately the body of believers were tempted to leave the Gospel of Christ, which, by definition, is Christ’s substitutionary atonement. Contrary to the Judaizer’s merit based gospel which positions mankind to chase after God, the atonement is God pursuing mankind in Christ Jesus to pay the penalty of sin on the cross. Because the due penalty was laid upon Christ there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 ESV). This means that because the debt was paid “we can never fall back into condemnation. Why? Because God would then be getting two payments for the same sin, which is unjust!”20 Yet because Galatia was not putting their full trust in the work of Christ they were tempted to leave the fulfillment of the cross to chase what they had already received. They were on the edge of exchanging the Gospel for a false gospel.
The Curse of a False Gospel:
In light of the distorted gospel, Apostle Paul reiterates repeatedly that “if anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9 ESV). The implications of Paul statement directs us to comprehend the seriousness, truthfulness, and necessity of the Word of God in the life of the church. That our understanding of the Gospel must be rooted and directed by Scripture. Authoritatively His Word, which is illuminated by the work of the Spirit, is to guide and protect the standards of the Gospel in the life of the believer. Within the life of the church “truth outranks anyone’s credentials, and every teacher or preacher must be evaluated on the basis of what he says, not who he is.”21 Paul even places himself and his fellow servants of Christ under the authority of the Gospel truth by saying, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8 ESV). Angels, who were carriers of God truth within the Old Testament, are to be understood under the standard of the Gospel. Within Jewish tradition “the divine law came through angels, and the Judaizers may have made the point that this made the Old Covenant and its attendant ceremonies and traditions binding.”22 Contrary to their beliefs Paul is solidifying his Gospel message through his God-given apostolic ministry.
Therefore, in Paul’s mind the pursuit to fall back into the law is nothing more than a desire to fulfill man’s legalistic tendencies. The false teachers are merely lording over the church to be the standard rather than allowing Christ to be the fulfillment of righteousness for the church. Paul has no intentions of catering to the Judaizers desires rather to pursue the truthfulness of the Gospel which is founded in the work and person of Christ. It is clear that “Paul knows that the crisis in Galatia is not simply a theological crisis, but a moral one. The Galatians aren’t simply confused; they’re being people-pleasers rather than servants of Christ.”23 The Judaizers, by nature, are people-pleasers as well due to the fact that they want to “make a good showing in the flesh who would force [the Galatians] to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have [the Galatians] circumcised that they may boast in [their] flesh” (Galatians 6:12 – 13 ESV). They seek not to please God rather their own personal pursuit toward spiritual fame.
When we boil down the Gospel to moralism we communicate an insufficiency in the work and person of Christ. We feel a necessity to add unto our salvation rather than to place our faith in the faithfulness and fulfillment of Christ. When this devious act occurs we are running away from our salvation and trusting in our own ability to obtain what Christ has already purchased for us by His death and resurrection. For this reason it is imperative that the Gospel is central and foundational in being the message of the church. The Gospel must be “the A to Z of the Christian life. It is not only the way to enter the kingdom; it is the way to live as part of the kingdom.”24 The Gospel is to transform our entire being in how we think, love, and live.
The early church of Galatia struggled with the same battle the modern evangelical church is struggling with today. The church has distorted the Gospel in putting the self at the forefront of salvation. Society, in its individualistic sale, has shaped and molded the church into her own image. The remedy to this misfortune is to reestablish the church, by the grace of God, back to the Word of God. Fundamentally, “what it means to go back to grace, then, is to go back to the Bible, where the message of grace can be found.”25 For the glory of God and the joy of the church the Word of God must be the standard which “judges the church; the church does not judge the Bible. The Bible is the foundation for and the creator of the church; the church is not the foundation for or creator of the Bible.”26 It is essential to see that in the Scriptures everything that humanity needs, wants, and desires is founded in the work and person of Christ. To run from that would be to run from our own joy, life, and eternity.
1 Scott Thomas and Tom Wood. Gospel Coach: Shepherding Leaders to Glorify God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 41.
2 Matt Chandler and Jared Wilson. The Explicit Gospel (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 209.
3 DA Carson. Collected Writings on Scripture (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 107.
4 Todd Wilson. Galatians: Gospel-Rooted Living (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 20 – 21.
5 Timothy Keller. Galatians For You (The Good Book Company, 2013), 22.
6 John MacArthur. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians (Chicago: Moody, 1987), 13.
7 Martin Luther. Commentary on Galatians (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012), 1.
8 John MacArthur. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians (Chicago: Moody, 1987), 1.
9 Todd Wilson. Galatians: Gospel-Rooted Living (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 20.
10 Ibid., 21.
11 Ibid., 22.
12 Timothy Keller. Galatians For You (The Good Book Company, 2013), 14.
13 Ibid., 15.
14 John MacArthur. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians (Chicago: Moody, 1987), 3.
15 Ibid., 3.
16 Timothy Keller. Galatians For You (The Good Book Company, 2013), 18.
17 John MacArthur. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians (Chicago: Moody, 1987), 13.
18 Timothy Keller. Galatians For You (The Good Book Company, 2013), 16.
19 John MacArthur. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians (Chicago: Moody, 1987), 15.
20 Timothy Keller. Galatians For You (The Good Book Company, 2013), 16.
21 John MacArthur. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians (Chicago: Moody, 1987), 16.
22 Ibid., 16.
23 Todd Wilson. Galatians: Gospel-Rooted Living (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 35.
24 Timothy Keller. Galatians For You (The Good Book Company, 2013), 9.
25 Todd Wilson. Galatians: Gospel-Rooted Living (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 22.
26 Timothy Keller. Galatians For You (The Good Book Company, 2013), 22.