“God is good! You are being very, very silly!” That could be a very quick summary of the early part of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. He wrote in verse 4 that Jesus in His love had given Himself over to suffer death to release the people in Galatia from the present evil age. They had responded to His love by listening to the words of false teachers and rejecting Him in their sin, rebellion and stupidity. Unlike most of the other epistles where Paul praised his readers for their faith and love, in this epistle he does not do so. Rather He gets straight to the point in saying, (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–.
The Galatians has been seduced by false teachers who had come into the church. They brought with them false teaching which insisted that believers had to become real Jews first before they could be seen as true Christian believers. That meant that they had to undergo circumcision, observe Jewish rites and ceremonies and also observe various seasons. Paul saw that as a desertion of Christ. The false teachers were insisting on “Christ AND” by adding the necessity of observing aspects of the Jewish religion. Paul saw that Christ alone (who He was and what He had done) was sufficient for the salvation of any person who put their trust in Him.
These false teachers tried to lead the people away from Paul and from the gospel message he had brought to them. Thus in this first chapter Paul affirms his God-given authority as the apostle to the Gentiles (non-Jews) and also affirms that the message he preached to the Galatians was the message God Himself gave him to preach to them.
We could summarise Chapter 1 in the following way:-
1). THERE IS ONLY ONE AUTHENTIC GOSPEL MESSAGE
It was the message Paul had already brought them.
- Paul could not change it. Nor could any supposed angel from heaven. Verse 8.
- To change it would bring a curse from God. Verses 8 and 9.
- The gospel Paul preached came directly from a revelation from Christ Himself. Verses 10 to 12.
2). PAUL WAS AN AUTHENTIC MESSENGER OF THE GOSPEL MESSAGE
i). The Persecutor Had Become The Preacher.
- He had persecuted the church and tried to destroy it. Verse 13.
- He had been extremely zealous in his quest to advance in Judaism. Verse 14.
- But something happened. (On the road to Damascus when he met the risen Christ). Verse 15, But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, (16) was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles,
ii). The Preacher Had To Get His Message First–Hand From God And Not Second Hand From Others. I did not immediately consult with anyone;
- He didn’t immediately confer with the apostles. Verse 17.
- He spent time with God in Arabia and Damascus. Verse 17.
- He eventually went to Jerusalem but spent time only with Peter and James the Lord’s brother. Verse 18-19.
- He went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. Verse 21.
- He remained unknown to the churches of Judea. Verse 22.
iii). The Persecutor Now Become A Preacher Was Recognised As A True Messenger Of The Gospel By The Churches In Judea. (23) They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” (24) And they glorified God because of me.
We will see in later chapters that Paul continued to stress his credentials as an apostle and as a messenger from God. But we leave that for future studies.
What we do note however is that Paul’s words are relevant for today. There is always a tendency among humans to fail to grasp the meaning of grace (God’s unmerited favour towards His creatures). Many try to add some other condition necessary for people to become “real” Christians”.
For some, anyone who does not speak in tongues has not been baptised with the Holy Spirit and therefore is not a real Christian. So for them it is Christ AND tongues. For others it is necessary to have the correct form of baptism. This it becomes Christ AND believer’s baptism with total immersion, or some other form of baptism.
For a small group it is Christ AND using the right translation of the Bible such as the King James Authorised Version which some adherents assure us was the Bible used by St Paul. (Pity though that Paul died around 67-68AD and the King James AV was put together in 1661!)
There are numerous other conditions that people try to place on folk so that they can become “real” Christians, such as having the right brand of theology or following a particular teacher. But as Paul showed here in this chapter, if one’s religion becomes “Christ AND” anyone or anything else, it ceases to be Christian. He is the one and only Saviour and His death made salvation, forgiveness and eternal life available for the people of God in every generation. Paul will go on to emphasise that in the later chapters of Galatians. As one hymn puts it in describing the person and work of Jesus, “Halleluiah, what a Saviour!”
Blog No.083. Posted on Monday 20th August 2012