The original “Galatians” were the Gauls who invaded Greece in 280 B.C., after Alexander’s time.
Some of them crossed over into Asia Minor and settled in the western highlands.
The Roman province of Galatia was named after them, though it also extended further south.
So this letter is addressed to the region which Paul visited in Acts ch16 v6, but these might be the same churches which he founded in ch14.
The core of his gospel message had been simple and straightforward, which would have made it all the more appealing.
Faith, directed towards Jesus Christ.
Apart from the new focus upon the name of Christ, this was the same central theme of “trust in God” that fills the whole of the Bible.
This community, unfortunately, was now coming under the influence of outsiders, who wanted to make the message more complicated.
They wanted these Gentile Christians to allow themselves to be circumcised, thus conforming to the legal traditions of the Jews.
The possible consequences were appalling.
The revelation of Christ to the Galatians had given them a form of liberation.
Binding themselves to fresh commitments would have enslaved them once again to new anxieties about their relation with God.
If the Gentiles were reluctant to accept circumcision, the pressure would inhibit them from entering the church, or introduce fractures into the
church, or both.
Paul could not observe these developments without making vigorous protest.
Getting the gospel from Christ
He begins by pressing the claim of the gospel message they might be rejecting.
He explains that he received his mission and the gospel which he taught directly from Christ.
So if they turned away from that message, they were, in effect turning away from Christ himself.
And since Christ himself is the source of the message, there is no man who has the right to interfere with it and compromise what it says.
Not compromising the gospel
Paul reinforces that last point by recounting what happened when this issue arose in Antioch.
He recalls how firm he had been in refusing to compromise the simple gospel teaching.
He also recalls that the Jerusalem leaders themselves were willing to accept his approach, not insisting on circumcision. So the troublemakers who are
raising the subject again can’t even claim that human authority.
One of the themes running through this chapter is the conflict between the “liberty” offered by the gospel, and the new state of bondage which
would result from a return to the constraints of the Law.
The Cross and the Spirit
(ch2 v19 to ch3 v5)
Paul then goes on to explain why the gospel of Christ must be centred upon Faith.
His argument goes back to what made them Christians in the first place.
The anchor-point of the experience was the death of Christ on the Cross.
Through his faith in Christ, the Christian may say, like Paul, that he has died on the Cross together with Christ.
So he has “died” to the old life (including the old subjection to the law), and the form of his new life is that “Christ lives in me”.
The Galatians may know this from the testimony of the Holy Spirit, which they have experienced for themselves, and they cannot deny that this
experience came to them, by faith, in conjunction with Paul’s teaching about the Cross.
The promise to Abraham
For that matter, Faith is also the foundation of God’s covenant with Abraham, on which the traditional Jews would make their stand.
For we are told how Abraham believed in God’s promise, placing his trust in God, and by that trust
he was righteous in the sight of God.
So the righteousness of God belongs to those who share the same kind of trusting Faith, the real “children of Abraham”.
Therefore it is a mistake (though the Law is a good thing in itself) to rely
upon the Law as a means of approaching God.
For one thing, nobody is made righteous by keeping the Law, simply because nobody does keep the Law well enough to make that work.
Instead, they fall under the curse which the Law declares on all those who fail in obedience.
In any case, the Law which was proclaimed later cannot displace the covenant by Faith which was already established, for God’s covenant will not be
Nor can we rely on both at the same time, because they work on a different basis, which makes them incompatible.
The purpose of the law
The Law has not been useless, though. It has been our tutor for the period before Christ came.
The “tutor” of the time had two functions which are both relevant.
As a “custodian”, his task was to keep the child under strict discipline, almost amounting to slavery, and that is the effect of the Law’s
As a “schoolmaster”, his task was to prepare the child for adulthood, and that has been the effect of the teaching found in the Law.
The Law has prepared the way for us to become “sons of God in Christ Jesus, through Faith”.
At which point, the task of the Law really comes to an end.
Sons by adoption
In the end, Paul is obliged to run together two slightly different metaphors, in order to explain what is meant by becoming “sons of God”.
The first is about ceasing to be children and becoming adults. This one is particularly appropriate for the condition of Jewish Christians, who were
brought up under the law.
The second is about ceasing to be slaves and outsiders and becoming true
members of the family, which is particularly appropriate for the
condition of Gentile converts.
Either way, we have received the Spirit as the sign of our “adoption”.
Christ in you
This one verse concentrates our attention on the concept of “Christ in you”, which is key to understanding the gospel which Paul teaches.
[continued in next post]