GALATIANS Galatians chapter 1
Paul had visited Galatia on his first missionary journey and is now writing to encourage the churches that he established there. But he also writes to correct some wrong teaching that has crept in. The letter was written about 20 years after the death of Christ, so these were young Christians who needed to be reminded of the fundamental truth of the gospel, at a time when very little was written down; hence the importance of Paul’s letter. Read verses 1-5: Paul makes quite clear from the start that he is preaching the gospel that Jesus Christ revealed to him, that is, the gospel of Justification by Faith in Christ alone. Because of false teaching by Judaisers, some churches were in danger of becoming religious sects.
Judaism in the early church was the religious system held by the Jews, based on the Law given to Moses and the rite of Circumcision. Many Jews had accepted Christ as Saviour but were still bound by the Law. They insisted that gentiles could not become Christians unless they first became a Jew by following the Law and being circumcised. They were preaching a gospel of works rather than a gospel founded on faith in Jesus Christ.
In contrast, Paul defended the gospel of grace – we are saved by faith in Christ and not by what we do. Paul had been chosen by God to bring this message, and were it not for the bravery of Paul, the Christian message would have been seriously corrupted. And so, as if to endorse his right to bring the message, Paul begins the letter with his qualifications: He was an Apostle – one sent out by Jesus with a commission. He had founded the churches in Galatia – his ‘spiritual children’ He had a clear, simple message – based on faith in Christ’s grace His purpose was to glorify God. Read verses 6-10: The Jewish believers allowed their ‘world view’ (that is, the way they were brought up and their inherited framework of belief) to dominate their thinking. Many people today of different faith or no faith still have that problem. Even today, some Christians would teach that the gospel is about being good and living the right kind of life and doing the right things. In other words, they omit grace. But Paul is adamant that the gospel is not about what we do, but about what Christ has done for us. In verse 7 Paul says that without clear teaching there is confusion; and so he is writing this letter to help the reader to really understand what is meant by the terms Justification and Grace. 1
Justification The meaning of this word Justified is sometimes described as ‘Just as if I’d’ never sinned. It means we are vindicated – acquitted, cleared, absolved, and freed from our sin - and made right with God. Justification is gifted to us by God in his grace. There is no way we can justify ourselves before God, in the terms of making ourselves worthy – however good we are. We are justified (made righteous) when, by faith, we receive God’s forgiveness and come into relationship with him. We come in faith and He does the work. Justification means we are free from sin AND free from the penalty of sin. The result of justification is that we can come into God’s presence now, and will be in his presence for eternity.
Grace Grace means undeserved favour; something given, but not earned. Grace is necessary for justification because the penalty for sin still has to be paid by someone. It is like the judge in a courtroom sentencing the criminal and then paying the fine on his behalf. This is the ultimate act of grace – Jesus Christ paid the penalty for us by becoming a sacrifice to atone for our sins. God’s grace makes it possible for us to be reconciled to him, but it is also God’s grace which should underpin our Christian life and walk.
Read verses 11&12: Paul received his calling, his intimate knowledge of Jesus and the gospel message directly from Jesus Christ - in revelations and visions: Acts 9v10-12; Acts 16v9; Romans 16v25; Galatians 2v2; Ephesians 3v3. Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road and in time alone with God was so profound that it was as if he did actually meet Jesus. Q. Is this opportunity open to all of us? Read verses 13-17: Paul gives his testimony and makes several points: The Past/verses 13&14: (corroborated in Acts 9, 22 &26) Paul had been a Jewish Rabbi. He was very learned and zealous for the cause of wanting people to adhere to the Law of Moses. Any Jew found to be disobedient was persecuted and punished. Jews who became Christians were heretics and sentenced to be stoned. We read that Paul himself watched the stoning of Stephen. (Acts 7v54 - 8v1) and caused great worry amongst the Christians. Paul’s Conversion/verses 15&16: On the Damascus road Paul had a direct and personal revelation from Jesus Christ where he realized that God, in his grace, had set him apart at birth and called him for a specific purpose, which was to pass on this message of grace to the gentiles. Q. How do you think Paul felt when he thought about his misplaced zeal in persecuting the Christians?
What did Paul do? He took time out to take stock of things; to get to know Jesus; to study the Old Testament scriptures; to allow the Holy Spirit to give him the correct teaching. He didn’t consult anyone else. Personal Study/verses 17&18a: Paul didn’t talk with the other disciples, but went to Arabia for three years; and although he doesn’t say where or what for or why we can surmise that it was to study the Scriptures in the light of what he now knew about Jesus. It was like a retreat, a Bible College study period, and a spiritual preparation rolled into one. Q. Have you ever done, or thought about doing, any one of these things? What would be their value? Read verses 18-23: Paul went up to Jerusalem and spent some time with Peter and James (both leading figures in the Church) but he was unable to stay long because the Jewish leaders now considered Paul an enemy, and the Christians were suspicious and frightened of him. (Read Acts 9v23-30). So, for his own safety, Paul went home to Tarsus in Cilicia (now South-East Turkey). Read verse 24: What an amazing testimony Paul now had! The Christians in Tarsus did not know Paul and received him with rejoicing. It appears that Paul spent quite some time in this area witnessing to gentiles and building up the church. He knew that this was to be his ministry – Peter was already working amongst the Jews, and Paul would take the message of Jesus to the gentiles. His message was that irrespective of their background or learning they could hear that they could have peace with God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Q. Can you think of any times in your life where you have had Moments of revelation? Time for reflection? Time for preparation? Specific events which helped shape your ministry? God’s calling to do a particular thing? Praise God He works all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. Romans 8v28
Galatians chapter 2 Read verses 1-5: It appears to have been 14 years since Paul’s conversion, during which time he had spent time apart from others seeking God, and then several years preaching the gospel of salvation to the gentiles in Tarsus. His previous visits to Jerusalem were difficult because the Jewish leaders hated him and the Christians were afraid of him. But now Paul was ready and confident of his calling. He knew he must stand up for the doctrine of justification by faith through the grace of Jesus Christ. So he took with him Titus. Titus was a gentile Christian who had not been circumcised, but clearly he was genuinely saved. Titus was an example in 3
Paul’s defence against the Judaisers (see chapter 1). The enemies of Paul’s doctrine were always trying to add something to the gospel of grace. Q. How might we be guilty of that today? (e.g Good works, religious rites and rituals. If we depend on these things then we look to ourselves for salvation and not to God.) Read verses 6-10: Paul respected those in high position in the church and, rather than just ‘doing his own thing’ he had discussion with them and clearly explained the revelation that God had given him; and this they recognized (verses 7&9). In fact when they saw the grace of God at work in Paul’s life they (led by Peter) agreed that Paul would be an apostle to the gentiles and Peter to the Jews. Their message would be the same and they agreed also that helping the poor was of paramount importance. Q. What is the link between sharing the gospel and helping the poor? Read verses 11-18: Despite Peter’s vision in Joppa (Acts 10), where God showed him that Jew and gentile were equal in his sight and all could be part of His Kingdom, Peter had slipped back into legalism – that is, he had allowed others to persuade him that circumcision was necessary and had begun to separate himself from the gentiles. Paul was prepared to stand up for the revealed truth of the gospel and challenge Peter openly. He accused Peter of inconsistency (v14), and reiterated his belief in justification (v15) and salvation by grace alone. Peter’s message had become one that said we also need the Law. Read verses 19-21: Paul’s words here conclude his argument and there is no room for further discussion or doubt. “If righteousness could be gained through the Law, Christ died for nothing!” The epistles of Peter show that he agreed with this teaching. How about us?
The following questions have been taken from W.W.Wiersbe’s commentary on the New Testament, page 557 (titled The Believer’s Response) Have I been saved by the grace of God? Am I trying to mix law and grace? Am I rejoicing in the fact that I am justified by faith in Christ? Am I walking in the liberty of grace? Am I willing to defend the truth of the gospel? Am I “walking uprightly according to the truth of the gospel”?
Galatians chapter 3 Read verses 1-5: Paul had been a missionary to the Galatians when they trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation; so he knew that they had accepted Christ by faith and had been filled with the Holy Spirit. But since that time, Judaisers had come along and convinced them that they needed to do more. Paul held that the evidence of conversion was the presence of the Holy Spirit in the believer (see Romans 8v9). The Spirit came into their lives as they trusted in Christ, not as they obeyed the Law. o The Holy Spirit convicts the sinner o The Holy Spirit brings new life in Christ o The Holy Spirit seals the covenant between the new Christian and God o The Christian’s response is to walk in the Spirit Paul’s point is that if Christians begin with the Spirit, why should they need to add to it? Q. How can we be guilty of replacing the work of the Spirit with other things? Read verses 6-14: Paul now changes tack and argues from the Scriptures. Abraham was saved by faith (v.6) because he believed God’s Promise (God’s Covenant). The Jews believe they are children of Abraham, so do the Muslims. But God had said ALL nations will be blessed through Abraham. This is the true meaning: we are not Abraham’s children by descent, but because we have trusted in Abraham’s Seed – Jesus Christ. It is faith that makes us righteous and right with God in the same way that it made Abraham righteous. Paul talks about the curse of the Law (the Law is there to direct, and even bring punishment) and no-one can attain perfection under the Law, apart from Jesus. Faith in Christ can make us righteous, and give us life and liberty. Q. Why is it that we fall into the trap of becoming religious? (Think about pleasing the flesh, pride and esteem, motivation) Read verses 15-18: The promise to Abraham came 400 years before the Law was given to Moses. Abraham’s covenant of righteousness by faith was not meant to be superseded by the Law of Moses. The Judaisers said that the Law changed things, but God’s Covenants are immutable. Paul explains that God’s promise was fulfilled in Jesus – the Seed (v.16) and that it was a covenant based on grace (v.18).
k Faith m Abraham Jesus 400+ years 1500 years m Moses k (The Law)
Read verses 19-22: So the Law came after the covenant. It did not replace it and it did not better it – in fact it was inferior – but it also pointed to Jesus when viewed with the eyes of faith. The Law was but a temporary addition until Jesus came, it was only given “until Jesus came” (v19). It was given to direct life and to direct us to Christ, grace was given to provide spiritual life. That is the reason Christ had to die on the Cross – so we could receive that which Abraham had promised. Read verses 23-29: The Law was merely a guardian, but through Jesus Christ we can have a relationship with our true Father (24). The Law created differences but the gospel of Jesus Christ unites us whether we are rich or poor, Jew or gentile, black or white, man or woman, slave or free. All this is by grace! Q. Do we appropriate the grace that we have in Christ Jesus or do we just take it for granted?
Galatians chapter 4 Read verses 1-3: Here Paul talks about what we were before we became Christians and what we are now. Before we became Christians we lived according to external standards – e.g: society’s norms, the law of the land, our parents expectations etc. We measured ourselves against those standards. But Paul was trying to teach us that we only need to please Jesus and find our value in him, rather than being proud because we meet the expectations of others. Q. How can conforming to the expectations of others harm our Christian walk? Read verses 4-7: To become a Christian we need to be born again spiritually and at that point we become children of God. But God has more for us because he doesn’t want us to remain as children. Here Paul introduces the idea of adoption, which means “to place as an adult son” or “to confer Sonship”. Sonship means that (both men and women) we can claim all the privileges of an adult child, including having access to our Father’s wealth and a guaranteed inheritance. We are joint-heirs with Jesus Christ. Paul’s point is that if we remain as children we are more like slaves (v1) and won’t enjoy the full privileges of an adult son. And those who rely on the Law (Judaisers) are being robbed of their inheritance and freedom. Q. What privileges do we have when we trust in the Grace of Jesus rather than depending on the rules of others? Read verses 8-11: Paul said that the Galatians had given up their freedom and were bound by the Law by observing special days (v.10). The outward observation should never be a replacement for an inward experience of Christ. 6
Read verses 12-20: Paul reminds the Galatians of their love for him and how, despite his illness, he ministered to them (on his first missionary journey). He points out that Christ had made them sons and heirs but they had regressed to being children again – and they hadn’t realised. Q. Is it worth considering our own walk with Christ at this point, in the light of our Church Aim for this year to go Forward in Faith? N.B - If we slip back in our Christian walk or if we lose our enjoyment of salvation, it doesn’t mean that we are no longer Christians. We just deny ourselves the full experience of joy and liberty that we can have through faith in Christ alone. Paul, and all Christians Pastors and leaders dearly long to see the Christians in their care growing in the Will and Grace of God. Read verses 21-31: Paul now uses the two wives of Abraham as an example of how Law and Grace do not mix. He is basically saying: You cannot expect Hagar and Ishmael to live at peace with Sarah and Isaac. Sarah was the first and real wife of Abraham. She represents Grace. She bore Isaac who was the son of promise and who represents the Spirit. He was the true son and heir of Abraham. Hagar was a servant, bonded to Abraham. She represents the Law. She provided him with a son- Ishmael, who represents the flesh - whom he loved, but he was not a legal heir. His future was with Hagar, but not with Abraham in the line of Promise. We, as Christians, are the Children of Promise by Grace. The nation of Israel had been in bondage by the Law until Christ came. When Isaac came of age, Ishmael had to go. When we become Christians our old frameworks of standards have to go and we begin to live under the Grace of Jesus Christ. Practically, this means that Judaism/Legalism is: being in bondage to other people’s/church’s standards and judging people on the basis of them and not according to the grace of Christ.
Galatians chapter 5 In chapter 4 Paul said the Law was like a guardian and that it was like a master; so that while we are under Law we remain as children and slaves. He now goes on to describe it as a yoke, a hindrance in a race, and a batch of yeast. Read verse 1 The sight of a yoke is no longer common in these days of mechanisation. A yoke was a burden – something that had to be carried on your shoulders. It was also a method of control. When we come to Jesus he says we can take His yoke which is light in exchange for our heavy one (Matt 11v28-30) because he gives us grace in exchange for Law. Our lives are still under his control but there is nothing onerous about it. He gives us freedom to live out our lives for him without being enslaved. Q. Why is it then that some Christians feel insecure with, or frightened by, liberty? 7
Read verses 2-6 Paul is saying that we devalue what Christ has achieved for us on the Cross when we trust in our works, rather than in him. When we give our life to Jesus he pours his grace on us and makes us spiritually rich. We need to be careful that we don’t allow legalism to rob us of those riches. We must decide to be completely free in Christ or to be bound by the whole Law (v3). We can’t pick and choose. The only thing that counts for anything is faith based in love (v6). Read verses 7-12 We start our race well when we depend on Christ for our salvation – so we should not let obstacles obstruct us in our race. And we shouldn’t put them in the way of others. Sometimes we can do this without realising. We might say to an enquirer or a new Christian, “make sure you come to this or that meeting” (making it sound like obeying the rules of church attendance is an integral part of their salvation) instead of encouraging them to read their Bible and spend time with God, or to gather with Christians when and where they can. It’s not wrong to have standards as long as people don’t rely on them for salvation. Paul says it only takes a small thing to grow into something bigger and uses the example of yeast, a familiar reference to evil in the Old Testament. As for the rite of Circumcision for Christians, Paul makes no bones about what he thinks about that! Read verses 13-18 Q. If the Law cannot make us good, and we can’t do it of ourselves, what can? Liberty can lead to licence, that is: freedom to do what we want, to go our own way. So Paul says don’t abuse your liberty or let it lead to immorality but use it to serve one another in love. And you can do it by living in the strength of the Holy Spirit (v16). It’s not just a case of throwing out the Law, but rather, replacing the Law with the Holy Spirit, the presence of God. The Spirit will highlight areas where there is conflict with our fleshly desires. Being led by the Spirit is the antidote to being bound by the Law. And verse 13 stresses that everything should be done in love. Love is God’s substitute for Law. In his commentary WW Wiersbe puts it this way: Liberty + Love = Service to others Liberty – Love = Licence to do what you like (slavery to sin) Read verses 19-21 The acts of the flesh, or in other words – our sinful nature, basically fall into three categories: 1. Sins where we put our desires and ourselves before God: Sexual immorality, promiscuity, self-indulgence, debauchery 2. Sins where we put other things or people before God: Idolatry (anything that takes God’s place) and witchcraft Invoking any spirit other then the Holy Spirit 8
3. Sins against others and against society: Jesus said, “Love your neighbour as yourself” – these sins do the exact opposite: hatred, disunity, envy, temper, selfish ambition, no control, arguments etc. We are all aware of our shortcomings (v17) and Paul is saying that, by God’s grace, we can be people who are changed by the Holy Spirit growing the fruits of righteousness in our lives. Read verses 22-26 The fruit of the Spirit will give us a Godly, changed character. We are still individuals with our own personalities and shortcomings (we cannot separate ourselves from the flesh) but as we are led by the Spirit we should become more and more Christ-like and then be less likely to let the sinful nature take over. These verses tell us: •
To help us be more like Jesus God gives us the Fruit of the Spirit (and this hasn’t got anything to do with the Law, v18)
To make way for the fruit we are to ‘crucify the flesh’, in part symbolised by our baptism (v24)
To keep going in the right direction we are to keep in step with the Spirit (v25)
THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT – Galatians 5v22&23 Some general thoughts Are we content with who we are? If we are honest we have good days and bad days. In fact, we feel different every day and this is because events happening around us have an effect on us, both good and bad. Paradoxically, when things are running smoothly we can become apathetic about our Christian life, but when we hit difficulties we call out to God for his help. And it’s in those times that our faith develops. But God wants the best for us at all times. He wants us to depend on his Holy Spirit so that we will have his resources inside us. We were born to grow, to be fruitful and productive. That is our purpose in life, both in the flesh and in the Spirit. Fruit and obedience In the Old Testament there is an association between fruit and obedience. “If you do this ... I will bless you” (e.g. Deut 28 v1-14). And Paul is saying that the fruit of the Spirit is a direct result of being led by or being obedient to the Holy Spirit, in other words: walking in his ways. The fruit of the Spirit is not like the Gifts of the Spirit (as listed in 1 Corinthians 12) – it is not a gift, but something that grows over time as we walk in obedience. Philippians 1v9-11 says that the fruit comes from Jesus and is not for our glory but for the glory of God. A fruitful person will promote Jesus and not themselves. First Fruits The Bible instructs us to give our first and best to God in every aspect of our lives. The fruit of the Spirit should help us to fulfil that aim. Literally speaking it should lead us to give of 9
our time in prayer and meeting together; it should lead us to give of our money for God’s work; and it should lead us to put God first in every event of our lives. The Fruit of our lips A fruitful character will not only walk righteously but the fruit will also be seen in what we say. It should cause us to be encouraging and build people up. It should cause us to be inspiring others to faith. The absence of fruit in our lives will be seen by criticism or discord. Impure fruit In the natural realm we get impure fruit: maggots, wasps, scabby fruit, mould, greenfly etc. This happens when the fruit is not quite as healthy as it should be and succumbs to outside influences. And then remedial work is needed – spraying, cutting out the bad bits and pruning back. Maybe we let impurities taint us (TV programmes, bad attitudes, gossip etc) and we don’t realise our fruit isn’t quite up to scratch. Sometimes, when we feel as though we have been ‘sprayed and cut down’ it is because God is wanting to grow better fruit in our lives. He, the loving Gardener, is there all the time tending us and mending us in order to make us more fruitful for him. Plants (most of them) naturally turn to the sun because the sun is vital for growth. We have noticed on our walking holidays that trees and plants growing on cold, windy, north facing hillsides are usually very tiny and not fruitful – they are stunted without much sunlight. We may still survive as Christians, but unless we turn our faces to the Son of God and be led by his Spirit, then we will remain stunted and unfruitful. The Fruit of the Spirit We will go on to look at these one by one in the study entitled, “THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT”, but notice, these are referred to in the singular – the fruit. They come as a bountiful package, sent by the Spirit, to grow in our lives. We all have the seeds of the fruit. All we are asked to do is to be led by the Spirit and watch it grow. A fruitful tree is witness to good weather and good care. A fruitful life is a witness of God’s love and care. Read Galatians 5v22-26 We are reminded that when we trusted in Christ for salvation we “crucified the flesh”. In other words we said goodbye to our old nature including its passions and desires. And our new nature began a walk which is in tune with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit grows Christ’s nature in us – this is known as the fruit of the Spirit. Verse 23 says, “against such there is no law”. What does this mean? We can obey the law but still not experience the fruit of the Spirit. Conversely, if we have the fruit of the Spirit, we will obey the law anyway; but we won’t be bound by the law. Paul encourages us to live by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit; and that way we will keep to the spirit of the Law of Christ (Gal 6v2) rather than being bound by the letter of the Law of Moses. In other words, we can walk in liberty! 10
So, the nine-fold fruit of the spirit • Grows Christ’s character in us • Frees us from the Law of Moses • Helps us to live in unity with each other • Helps us to bring glory to God
Galatians chapter 6 Read verses 1&2: Q. What do we understand by “communion”? Paul is describing life in communion with one another. Perhaps a more familiar word is “fellowship”. If we are in communion or fellowship with someone we share our thoughts and emotions. We may also share our possessions and work together on tasks. We have the opportunity to practice all the fruits of the Spirit! The term “communion of the saints” refers to the spiritual fellowship of all believers. As Christians we are a spiritual community within our own communities wherever we live. And so Paul says we should watch out for one another, encourage one another on the right road and share each other’s burdens. Q. What does Paul mean by “The Law of Christ”? Paul is still continuing his argument here for the rule of love and grace over the rule of the Law. We are to forgive each other and gently help each other, rather than judging and punishing – we are to show the gifts of the Spirit and act as Jesus would have done. Read verses 3-5: Q. Which phrase appears to contradict what was said in verse 2? In fact, in the original Greek, two different words are used for our word “burden”. So that although we must help each other with heavy burdens (v2), we still have duties and work to do that we must take responsibility for ourselves. And each of us is also responsible for our own actions and behavior. Read verses 7-10: Even in the New Testament this principle holds true: We will reap what we sow. This is the law of cause and effect. What we do, or don’t do, will have an outcome. The harvest depends on what has been sown. We cannot change the outcome if we leave it too late. All that we do is an investment in the flesh or the Spirit (v8). Praise God, when we come to him for salvation he gives us a new start and he makes us a new creation, but we will often have scars from our old life, which are a reminder of what we have sown. When we sow in the Spirit, it might be a hard slog at times, but Paul encourages us to not grow tired, because we will reap in due time. Therefore we are to do good to all people (v10).
Read verses 11& 17: It is likely that Paul had a scribe who wrote the bulk of this epistle for him; he would just add a few words in his own hand at the end. Why is his writing large? The likely reason is that Paul had problems either with his eyes or his hands. This is probably connected to his “thorn in the flesh” and may have been the result of either the blinding light when he first met Jesus or some harm suffered during one or many of his beatings. This is also probably what he meant by “the marks of Jesus” in his flesh. Read verses 12-18: Paul returns to the main theme of his letter: the pressure from Judaizers for the early Christians to be circumcised. And he exposes their motives, having already dealt with the subject earlier in his letter. And although Paul himself was circumcised he said it was nothing to boast about, it no longer held any meaning – it was all about the cross of Christ. Interesting, here he refers to the church – the uncircumcised fellowship of true believers – as the Israel of Christ. The church is a chosen people just as was Israel; saved not by Law and circumcision but by Grace and Mercy and the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross. Paul started his letter with Grace (1v3) and fished it with Grace (6v18) in accordance with the theme of his letter.