The second blog in this Galatians series highlights the world behind the Letter, including the circumstances and concerns of Paul and the Galatian converts.
Paul set out to share the message of grace and salvation with the Gentiles, but Galatia was not a targeted area. Yet that’s where he ended up when becoming ill on his first missionary journey with Barnabas. Because of their warm reception Paul stayed in Galatia, preaching and teaching Christ. Their spiritual immaturity was revealed, however, in enthusiastic efforts to adulate Paul as a god after healing an invalid. The soil for the seed of faith by these former warriors is shallow and will get uprooted pretty easily by visiting Judaizers after Paul leaves.
When the Apostle returns on his second missionary journey three years later, the Galatians’ mercurial nature has contributed to abandonment of what they originally learned from Paul– Christ’s salvation through grace. Instead, they bought the Judaizers’ teaching that you earned salvation by following Jewish law like circumcision. Gal. 3:1 captures Paul’s frustration:
Oh foolish Galatians! What magician has hypnotized you and cast an evil spell upon you? For you used to see the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death….
To win them back, Paul’s opening two chapters declare his authority and authenticity as an Apostle of Christ Jesus, and contain some of the Apostle’s most moving autobiographical passages. How would we convey our authenticity when sharing the Gospel message to friends today? (That will be one of the themes of the third blog next week.) But asking yourself this question tees up our appreciation for how Paul structures his response.
Arguing as brilliantly as an attorney before the Supreme Court, Paul explains the Biblical basis of his teaching by showing how Abraham –the recipient of God’s grace through the fulfilled promise of heirs– preceded Mosaic Law by several hundred years. That means Abraham’s acceptance of God’s promise was by faith, not the law pushed by Judaizers. It is this same faith that Paul calls on the Gentile Galatians to have – thereby eliminating the necessity for them to be circumcized.
Continuing his defense of the Gospel in the middle chapters (three and four), Paul makes one of the strongest Biblical cases against legalism—the notion that we somehow earn our way into a right relationship with God. How subtly this creeps into our lives, as if we are justified through some kind of divine ‘brownie point’ system of works and deeds.
The final two chapters (five and six) are the icing on the cake, when Paul declares the magnificent freedom for every one who believes in Christ, both in how we use it for others and ourselves. To make his point, the great preacher again turns to Abraham, only this time bringing forward the story of Isaac and Ishmael. Wow—this is ancient Biblical exegesis brilliantly applied to a present situation. There’s no spoiler alert here – you’ll want to read it for yourself to see how he makes his point. We wonder if anyone since has made such a case for the extraordinary good that comes from embracing God’s Good News:
…The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! (Gal. 5:22)
Please be thinking how Paul’s teachings to the Galatians have relevance for you today–our next topic.