Reading for Wednesday, May 16: Galatians 1
Sorry I’m a day late with this post. Not having internet at the house is killing me!
Today we shift from reading ABOUT Paul in the final chapters of Acts to words FROM Paul about the nature of the Gospel in Galatians. In this letter, Paul comes out swinging against “false gospels” — narratives or ideologies that would compete with the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. The early Christians Paul addresses have turned away from Christ to embrace “a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ,” (v6-7). This sets the tone for some of Paul’s strongest statements in scripture: “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed,” (v9).
We can’t discuss Galatians without delving into at least a few of the specifics of this controversial teaching Paul opposes. We can infer from Paul’s writing that the Gospel message of justification by faith in Christ has been perverted by a group who want to “Judaize” these Gentile converts — to impose certain Old Covenant restrictions upon these who have recently come to Christ. A major issue here is circumcision, the external sign of covenant throughout Hebrew history. Paul’s presentation of the Gospel to these Gentiles could be easily summarized as an equation: Faith in Christ = Salvation. But these Judaizers are claiming this equation is incomplete, adding the following variable: Faith in Christ + Observance of the Old Covenant restrictions = Salvation. This is a bit simplistic, but it at least helps frame our reading. For Paul, adding anything to the equation is an affront to the atoning work of Christ Jesus. He addresses this heresy with some of his strongest and most colorful language, as we’ll see.
Paul knows he will surely be opposed by these false teachers as he seeks to correct the Galatians’ understanding. So he grounds his identity as an apostle in the opening line: “Paul, an apostle — not from men, nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father…”. He defends the pure gospel as God’s idea, not the product of human construction: “For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ,” (v11-12). Paul spends most of this chapter spelling out his credentials, reminding the Galatians of his identity as a Gospel-bearing apostle before launching into his full-scale attack of the Judaizing heresy. We’ll address that more in depth in the coming days.
In light of our reading, we would be wise to guard ourselves against those things that would compete with the Gospel in our own context. Perhaps we fail to embrace the fullness of God’s Gospel of grace in our lives, believing that we must also somehow “earn” our salvation through a life of good works. Maybe we subscribe to the notion that we must “get it all together” before we can come to Christ. Maybe we bring certain behaviors or positional stances or experiences alongside our encounter with Christ and, like the Judaizers, we elevate these things — either willfully or not — to a dangerous level of equality with the work of Christ as it pertains to our salvation. There are a variety of ways this might be applied to our lives. But the point we should glean from Galatians is to be on guard against the false gospels that surely threaten our faith just as they threatened our Galatian forebears.
How do we counter this? By continually remembering “the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age,” (v4).