The book of Galatians is one of the finest defenses of the true gospel ever written. In this letter, Paul defends the true gospel against certain agitators who had crept into the Galatian church with the leaven of false gospels that were leading many astray. Paul does not pull any punches in this letter. It is a strongly worded polemic against false gospels and false teachers.
It is essential to understand that the problems of Paul’s day were not unique to his time only. Sure there may not be a party of Judaizers running around in your home town trying to convince people to be circumcised in order to truly be saved. Yet there certainly are no shortage of cults, false teachers, and false gospels permeating the airwaves of our televisions, smiling at us on the internet, staring back at us on the bookstore shelves, popping up in our social media feeds, and seeking to engage us at our doors and in the public square.
We live in the information age, and it has likely never been easier for false gospels and bad theology to spread more rapidly and with more success than in our present-day and age.
As such, this wonderful epistle of Paul to the Galatian churches has much for us in our present day. It is a timeless epistle full of gospel truth that will benefit the church for all time until the Lord Jesus returns. This epistle is a guiding light for us to discern the true gospel from false gospel, and right theology from wrong theology.
As Christians, we are called to be salt and light and to shine as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. If we are to do that, it is absolutely essential that we firmly understand the true gospel and are able to identify counterfeits and properly warn against them.
At the outset of this epistle, Paul greets the Galatian Churches with an interesting assertion. In verse one he writes, “Paul, an apostle (not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead), and all the brethren who are with me . . .”
Most scholars agree that Paul was one of the apostles who planted the original Galatian churches. But right from the beginning of this letter, the reader is forced to ask, “Paul, why are you defending yourself like this? We know you are an apostle and had apostolic authority so why this defensive aside regarding your ministry and authority?”
In verses 11-12, Paul makes a similar statement: “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Right from the beginning, we get a glimpse of why Paul is writing to the Galatian churches. If we read between the proverbial lines, it becomes evident that some were coming into the Church and slandering Paul and seeking to undermine his authority and consequently his message.
The main problems that Paul is up against in writing this letter were certain agitators who crept into the church and sought to turn the church against Paul by slandering him. These “false brethren” sought to undermine Christian liberty and bring the Galatian Churches into bondage under the law, and Paul describes them as agitators who crept into the churches and were not straightforward about the gospel. These false teachers, rather than acting in love, were living selfishly and seeking to turn people to their cause.
The false teachers that Paul is concerned about here were confusing law and gospel and thus subverting the true gospel. This problem is definitely not unique to Paul’s day. It has always been a problem in the church, and it remains a critical issue in our present-day as well. Martin Luther once wrote, “anyone who can judge rightly between the law and the gospel should thank God and know that he is a true theologian.” Sadly, the Galatian churches had been led astray and were deceived into believing the slander and the false doctrine that was being taught to them by the false teachers. The law and gospel distinction became so fuzzy to them that they began to drift from Christ to the siren song of legalism.
So what was Paul’s solution to this great problem? Well, quite simply, Paul’s primary aim is to remind the Galatian churches what the true gospel is. He wonderfully sums up the gospel in verse three using two simple words: grace and peace. Matthew Henry comments on these two words, “grace includes God’s good-will towards us and His good work upon us; and peace implies in it all that inward comfort, or outward prosperity, which is really needful for us; and they come from God the Father as the fountain through Jesus Christ as the channel of conveyance.” He goes on to add, “but we may observe, first grace, and then peace, for there can be no true peace without grace.”
We must understand this in our present day. Satan has never ceased to assault the Church with heresy, and in the present information age in which we live, it is vital for us to get the gospel right. By setting forth the grace and peace that is ours in Christ Jesus according to the will of the Father, Paul immediately does away with all works of the flesh right from the beginning of his letter.
Salvation is all of God from beginning to end. We are saved by Christ’s perfect finished and sufficient work, not our own. Paul will go on to flesh this issue out in more detail throughout this epistle to the Galatians. But right from the outset Paul makes sure to set forth the glory of the true gospel as it is the greatest weapon against all heresy. The Roman Catholic Church of our day argues that the rosary is the best weapon to fight against sin, heresy, and godlessness. Perish the thought! It is the gospel of Jesus Christ; not a string of lifeless beads that is the power of God over sin, heresy, godlessness, and all manner of worldly corruptions. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes! And it is in the light of this true gospel that all false gospels are exposed.