Setting the scene…
The opening of Galatians pointed to Paul, the Apostle, as its author; also, it was addressed to “the churches in Galatia.” There is some debate about which churches in Galatia received the letter and when the letter was written, but these issues do not take away from the message or purpose for which Paul wrote.
Paul had a very specific purpose in mind when he wrote to the churches in Galatia. It was more than another letter of encouragement or teaching, this letter to the Galatians was written to a specific situation. We need to remember that, at this point, the Church, as a whole, was still quite young, roughly 30-years old. As such, the Church was still developing its understanding of their faith and practice as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Side note: Christianity, in the early church, was still connected with Judaism. It was seen as another group of believers who believed that Jesus Christ was the Messiah and allowed Gentiles to join them. This connection didn’t last long and the persecution of Christians began and Paul (previously Saul) went around persecuting Christians as seen in the early chapters of Acts.
During the early stages of the Church, there was a group called the Judaizers. They were Jewish Christians who believed that some Jewish customs were still required as a sign of faith and salvation. An example of this was that believers still needed to be circumcised. They argued that, firstly, Paul was not a real apostle and, secondly, the gospel that Paul preached had been changed to make it more appealing to Gentiles. For those reasons, Paul wrote to the Galatians.
The opening verses of Paul (1:1-5) do not waste any time in addressing the issues and problems that were happening in Galatia. The very first words, “Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead,” highlighted that Paul was a genuine apostle. This issue will be further expanded in the next article exploring the apostleship of Paul (1:11-24).
The greeting that follows his introduction was unusual, normally Paul writes, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (such as those found in Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:2; Col. 1:2), but, here, Paul wrote an extended greeting (1:3-5). Paul reminded his readers, the Galatians, of the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ. There are some key points that should be highlighted about this salvation work: (1) Jesus Christ gave Himself willingly, (2) He gave Himself for our sins, (3) salvation is a present reality as Paul says, “to rescue us from the present evil age,” (4) it was according to the will of the Father God, and finally, (5) it was for the glory of the Father.
Paul got straight down to business (1:6), “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you…turning to a different gospel.” This different gospel, as mentioned earlier, was a serious issue in the early church. There was a group of Jews who still believed that the Mosaic Law was applicable and ritual practices, such as circumcision, still needed to be carried out by believers—Jew or Gentile. These Jews confused young Gentile believers about what it meant to be a Christian.
Side note: There are two incidents involving Paul that take this matter further. Paul had allowed for Timothy to be circumcised, however, Paul had denied Titus to be circumcised. Without going into detail, we should understand that Timothy was a Jew by birth (Jews defined heritage through the mother, so even though Timothy had a Gentile father he was still considered a Jew.) Titus, on the other hand, was a Gentile by birth and Paul explains his reasoning for this later in his letter (2:1-10) and we will leave it for further discussion.
Likewise, in our day and age, there are all sorts of ideas that seek to confuse Christians and what they believe. In the last decade, we have seen works such as “The Da Vinci code” by Dan Brown, “God is not great” by Christopher Hitchens, “The God delusion” by Richard Dawkins, challenge people about their faith and the truth of the gospel. It isn’t religious rituals, but it is the challenge of a false gospel—the gospel of evolutionary science, the gospel of post-modernism, etc.
As believers of Jesus Christ, we are called to stand for our faith and the gospel; furthermore, we are called to be messengers of the gospel. With all these false gospels, continually, coming out and getting people’s attention we must be all the more urgent in sharing about “Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age.” Most of us are not called or gifted to stand on street corners evangelising to all the people, but we can, at least, live each day expressing our faith through what we do and what we say around others. Let us pray that God will give us opportunities in our daily lives to share the truth and the light of the gospel to our family, our friends, our classmates, our workmates, even, the people we walk past in the streets.
These words of Paul, “If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned,” should make us realise how critical and how important the truth of the gospel is. In these verses (1:8-9), Paul makes the point that there is only one, true gospel and it is critical enough that he includes, not only people, but the angels also. The truth and integrity of the gospel never changes that any messenger, human or angelic, should be condemned for preaching a different gospel.
There are a number of different sects/cults associated with Christianity, the Mormons, the Jehovah’s witnesses and various others. It raises the question of how they got so far off track from the truth. What is our response to these false gospels? What about when we share the gospel with others, should we be concerned about the truth of what we share? This concern is a valid concern, but let us be encouraged that we have the Holy Spirit and Jesus said (Jn. 16:13), “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”
As believers of Jesus Christ, let these words be an encouragement to us. If we, who have the Holy Spirit of God within us, truly desire to be faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ then, in faith, believe that we are guided by the Holy Spirit. It is when we seek to promote our own beliefs, our own desires, and our own ideas out of pride then we are looking for trouble—let us then “be eternally condemned.”
What about our response to false gospels? This issue, no doubt, is a difficult area and believers should stand firm. Indeed, we would all desire to stand up for our faith and proclaim we are hearing a false gospel; however, it is, also, a dangerous and risky step to take. It is not to say that we sit there and let the false teaching continue, however, we must remember that we are dealing with more than just people; behind a false gospel is, also, a false god. Satan will use whatever tools and methods that he can in an attempt to draw people away from the truth. To fight a spiritual battle with physical words will not do any good, for Paul reminds us (Eph. 6:12) that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” This truth should cause us to fall onto our knees in prayer to our God, a God that is over earthly realm and the “heavenly realm.” More practically, we should seek those of spiritual maturity, such as pastors and elders, and ask them for their advice and aid.
In the end of this section (1:10), Paul asks a question that each one of us, who call themselves Christians, need to ask ourselves, “Am I now trying to win th
e approval of men, or of God?” Who do we live for? Really, who? Personally, there are times, when we come to a place of comfort and complacency where we forget who we live for. We are so used to living a particular way, doing certain things and having particular roles that we forget whom we truly live for. Paul’s words are challenging, “If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” We should be constantly re-evaluating and seeking to have our focus in the right place, that is, on the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is hard. It is hard to live for Christ. Our human nature demands attention and, so often, we seek the attention of the people around us. Without much thought, we can find ourselves doing and living for the people around us rather than for the God who has given us life and saved us from this “present evil age.” Let this be your challenge, that each morning when you wake up, to give God recognition that He alone is your only audience and the One whom you seek to please.