The Gospel in Galatians
 by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira 

1 – The Galatian Problem

Galatians 1:1-10:

Paul, an apostle — sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead — and all the brothers and sisters with me, to the churches in Galatia:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever.  Amen.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — which is really no gospel at all.  Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!  As we have already said, so now I say again:  If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!  Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God?  Or am I trying to please people?  If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

In this series of studies, we will turn our attention to one of Paul’s most important letters that he ever penned and recorded in the New Testament.

When God sent His Son into this world, He sent Him not to condemn, but to save this world from the sin that came upon us as a result of the Fall.  When Jesus finished His earthly mission, when He had obtained salvation full and complete for all mankind, He commissioned His disciples to go into all the world and preach this gospel, this unconditional good news, to all men, to every creature.  He who believes and is baptized will be saved.

But there is one who hates the gospel, one who does not want you to understand the gospel.  He is the enemy of souls.  The Bible calls him Satan.  And ever since the birth of the Christian church, Satan has been attacking this gospel.

For example, in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, Paul tells the Corinthian believers that if the gospel is hidden, it is hidden because the god of this world — that is, Satan — has blinded the eyes of those who do not believe lest they come to the light of the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.  The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

But Satan does not stop there at the unbelievers.  The moment we have accepted the gospel and are rejoicing in Christ, he will do his utmost to sidetrack us, to sidetrack every Christian from the pure gospel that was proclaimed by the disciples.  Wherever the apostle Paul proclaimed the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established churches, Satan’s agents, the Judaizers, dogged his footsteps to undo his good work and rob Christians of their freedom in Christ.

One such church was that of Galatia.  Paul’s epistle to the Galatians is a stern, severe, and solemn letter with no commendation, no praise, and no thanksgiving.  The Galatian believers, who had accepted the false teachings of the Judaizers, were in grave danger because the very foundation of their faith was being attacked.  Hence, we can define Paul’s epistle to the Galatians as a fighting letter.

Today, many Christians of all denominations have fallen into the same trap as the Galatian Christians.  It is a subtle form of legalism, a confusion of the gospel which saves us and confusion regarding the fruits of the gospel which are the evidence of our salvation.  These fruits make no contribution to our entitlement to heaven.  Even 20th Century Christians desperately need to consider Paul’s message to the Galatians because Galatians is the New Testament declaration of emancipation or independence from any and every type of legalism.  It is the strongest document in all of Scripture in defense of this vital doctrine called justification by faith alone.  It is believed that Luther declared that the church stands or falls in its understanding of this important doctrine:  justification by faith.  It is God’s powerful discussion on behalf of the most important truth of Scripture and Christian faith:  salvation by faith in Christ alone.

In this epistle of Galatians, Paul is dealing with issues which are far from being dead.  In every age, Satan, the enemy of souls, has tried to destroy the purity of the gospel and, thus, rob God’s people of the joy and the assurance of salvation in Christ.  A true understanding of Galatians is, therefore, one of the most powerful ways to guard the purity of the gospel in our age.

Beginning now, we are going to systematically go through this epistle of Paul to the Galatians.  From the time Paul was converted on the road to Damuscus, to his imprisonment in Rome which led to his martyrdom, we have approximately 20 years.  During this time, Paul traveled widely throughout the Roman Empire as an ambassador of Jesus Christ.  On his three famous missionary journeys, he preached the gospel and planted churches in the province of Galatia, in Asia, in the northern and southern parts of Greece.  These visits to these churches were followed by his letters by which he helped to supervise the early churches that he had founded, Galatians being one of his earliest, somewhere between 48 to 57 A.D.

After Paul left Galatia, false teachers infiltrated the churches of Galatia and convinced the believers that Paul was a self-appointed apostle and, therefore, his gospel that he gave them was his own idea.  As soon as this news reached the apostle Paul, he wrote this severe letter.  Our first study of this epistle will cover the first ten verses of chapter one in which Paul touches on the two main themes of this epistle, namely:  his apostolic authority which had come under fire and, secondly, the gospel which he proclaimed.

After Paul had established the churches in Galatia, these false teachers — called the Judaizers — came to these churches and mounted a powerful two-pronged attack on Paul’s authority as well as his gospel.  These Judaizers were Jewish Christians who believed in Christ as the Messiah, so they were believers, but they rejected Paul’s message of salvation by grace alone.  To counteract this gospel, they attacked his apostolic authority and, thus, undermined his message.  They insisted that justification is not by faith alone in Jesus Christ.  “Oh, yes, it includes that, but, besides faith, we must also be circumcised,” they insisted.  “We must do good works and we must keep the law.”  In fact, this was the first major controversy in the Christian church which resulted in the Jerusalem council recorded in Acts 15:1 onwards.  There, in Acts 15, we will discover that these same Judaizers, who came to Antioch, insisted that the Gentile Christians had to be circumcised (verse 1) and had to keep the law (verse 5) in order to be saved.  Both Paul and Barnabas opposed this teaching with all their power and authority in order to undermine these Judaizers that were perverting the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now, let us begin by reading the first ten verses of Galatians 1 and then we will go step by step.  Paul says in, Galatians 1:1-5:

Paul, an apostle — sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead — and all the brothers and sisters with me, to the churches in Galatia:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever.  Amen.

The first five verses are the introduction.  Then in verses 6-10, he deals with the Galatian problem:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — which is really no gospel at all.  Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!  As we have already said, so now I say again:  If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!  Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God?  Or am I trying to please people?  If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

What is Paul saying here?  Let us look at the introduction to this epistle that is, the first five verses of chapter one.  Paul introduces himself as an apostle but then he adds in brackets “not sent from men.” Men in the plural is referring to some committee like the apostles who chose Matthias.  Nor, he says, from man, singular.  Paul is saying he is an apostle not chosen by some committee or by some church official or even himself but he is an apostle called by Jesus Christ and God the Father.  In other words, he is simply saying to the Galatian Christians, “These Judaizers are lying when they accuse me of being a self-appointed apostle.”

Read of Paul’s conversion in Acts 9:10-15 where God tells Ananias to go to this place where Paul is praying:

In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias.  The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.  In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem.  And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go!  This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.”

The Lord says, “He is my chosen instrument.”  The word “apostle” means “one who is sent forth.”  It is a term that is normally used for missionaries but it had a special meaning in the New Testament.  It also meant the twelve apostles.  You will find this in Acts 1:21-22.  I believe that Paul took the place of Judas.  When the disciples chose Matthias, they chose him before Pentecost.  They should have waited.  I believe that if the Spirit had been allowed to guide in this matter, He would have mentioned to them that His choice was the apostle Paul.

In verse 2, Paul, writing to the Galatians goes on to say that he, an apostle of God, is also being backed up by “all the brothers and sisters” who are with him:

...and all the brothers and sisters with me, to the churches in Galatia....

Now please notice that he calls his coworkers “brothers and sisters” (“brethren” in some translations) because the word “apostle” refers only to the select twelve that God has chosen to be the pillars of the early Christian church.  He calls them brothers and sisters or brethren.  He does not call them apostles even though they are coworkers with him.

Then in verse 3 he says, “Grace and peace.” 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ....

This is the formal greeting and it is the shortest greeting that Paul ever penned in all his epistles recorded in the New Testament.  Then he turns to the gospel, Jesus Christ.  Verses 4-5:

...who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever.  Amen.

Jesus is the one who gave himself for our sins.  When Christ gave Himself for our sins, He gave everything.  John 3:16 says:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

What exactly did He give?  Well, John, in his epistle, 1 John 5:11, tells us that gift was the life of Christ:

And this is the testimony:  God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

God gave His Son; Jesus gave Himself to deliver us from this present evil world.  Why?  Because this world stands doomed under the condemnation and the curse and the law of God.  But in Christ, we have salvation full and complete.  And we can add nothing to this salvation.  Salvation is not partly by grace and partly by what we do.  The moment we add anything to the gospel of grace, we are perverting the gospel and are in danger of losing salvation altogether.  This was the danger that the Galatian Christians faced.  In fact, when we come to chapter 5 of Galatians, verse 4, Paul tells the Galatians that the moment they add law-keeping as a requirement for justification, they are fallen from grace.  A clear understanding of Galatians will prevent us from falling into the same pit.

With this in mind, let us turn to the Galatian problem, verses 6-10:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — which is really no gospel at all.  Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!  As we have already said, so now I say again:  If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!  Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God?  Or am I trying to please people?  If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Paul starts with the statement, “I am astonished.”  He is saying, “I am absolutely shocked.”  Why?  Because of their overwhelming acceptance of the gospel and now so quickly deserting it.  [The phrase “so soon removed,” found in the King James Version, is misleading since the Greek is not in the passive or in the past but in the present tense, active voice.]  Paul is saying here, “you have already begun turning away from the gospel, so quickly.”  Now, if Paul wrote this letter to the Galatians from Corinth, then they were turning away from the gospel only three years after they had accepted it.  If this letter was written from Ephesus, then it was only one year from the time they had accepted the gospel that they were now turning away from it.  This is a danger that we all face.  The moment you accept Jesus Christ as your Saviour and come under the umbrella of justification by faith alone, the devil will immediately come and side-track you as he did with the Galatians.

The essence of Paul’s gospel was salvation by grace alone.  You will find this, for example, in Ephesians 2:8-9:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.

Paul tells us the same thing in 2 Corinthians 5:18:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation....

Again, the same thing in Acts 20:24:

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

Paul’s message of salvation was the message of grace alone.  The Judaizers came with a different gospel.  This gospel was salvation by grace plus circumcision, plus keeping the law, plus good works.

In verse 7, Paul makes it clear that this different gospel is not another gospel:

...which is really no gospel at all.  Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.

That word “pervert” is a strong Greek word.  The Judaizers had actually changed the gospel from good news to bad news or to good advice.  But the gospel is not good advice.  It is unconditional good news.  The good news is this:  that, in Jesus Christ, God has obtained for mankind salvation full and complete.

And so, Paul adds in verse 8:

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!

The “we” refers to himself along with his coworkers or it could refer to the other apostles, which I think is what he meant.

“Let them be under God’s curse, let him be anathema.”  That is how strongly Paul felt about those who try to pervert the gospel that God had given to the Gentile world.  Paul is using a very strong term, “Let him be accursed.”  This term, the word “cursed,” or “anathema,” means lost forever.  This term means, “May God’s wrath come upon such a person.” and verse 9 repeats it:

As we have already said, so now I say again:  If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

The repetition is to imply the seriousness of the danger of tampering with the gospel.  Do not ever try to tamper with the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ for Paul’s strong words in verse 10 clearly indicate that no one must ever be a man-pleaser but we must please God.  We are the servants of Jesus Christ.  What is the synopsis of this Galatian problem?

We saw that, first of all, Paul’s epistle to the Galatians is his reaction, his astonishment at how the Galatians could be sidetracked from the gospel so soon.  And his reaction is righteous indignation.  This is not an outburst of anger.  It is God speaking through the apostle Paul.  The “we” and the “angel” can be anyone.  It can include you; it can include me; it can include any human being; it can include any supernatural being who tries to pervert the gospel.  Such a person comes under the curse of God.  Galatianism is, therefore, a serious danger.  The Galatians were in serious danger of losing their salvation completely by turning towards a perverted gospel.

We must treat this epistle of Paul very seriously.  Paul’s strong words clearly indicate that he is not a man-pleaser but a faithful servant of God.  That is what we must be.  Paul’s epistle to the Galatians is very much applicable today as it was in his day.  The devil has not stopped sidetracking Christians from the wonderful truth as it is in Christ.  That is why I want to take you step by step through this epistle.  I want to show you that there is only one gospel for all mankind.  Whether you lived in the Old Testament times or whether you live in the New Testament times, whether you are a Jew or whether you are a Gentile, there is only one gospel that is able to save mankind.

There are some today who say that there are many roads to heaven and Christianity is only one way.  No, there is only one Mediator between a holy God and sinful man.  There is only one way that you and I can qualify for heaven.  There is only one way that we can stand legally just before God’s holy law and that is by faith in the doing and the dying of our Lord Jesus Christ.

When the Judaizers came to Antioch and tried to pervert this gospel, Paul and Barnabas did not take this lightly.  Turn to Acts 15 and read what took place.  It will show how Paul feels about anyone who tries to pervert the gospel.  These are, in my concluding remarks, Paul’s concerns about anyone who tries to pervert the gospel.  In Acts 15, we read that certain men came and taught the believers that unless they were circumcised, they could not be saved.  Acts 15:1:

Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers:  “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.”

Paul was not against circumcision.  He definitely was not against good works and he certainly uplifted the law as a standard of Christian living, but the moment we add any of these three things, the moment we require these three things in order to be saved, the moment we add the law or good works as a method or a contributing factor towards salvation, then we have perverted the gospel.

So we read in Acts 15:2:

This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them.  So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.

Friends, this was a crucial moment in the history of the Christian church.  Would the apostles agree with the apostle Paul?  I thank God the apostles in Jerusalem defended Paul for we read in Acts 15, what they said in verse 10:

“Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?”

Then in verse 11:

“No!  We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

“We” is referring to the Jews, the “they” is referring to the Gentiles.  There is only one way mankind can be saved.  It is through faith in the righteousness of Christ.  And it is my prayer that, if you are a Christian, you will not allow anyone to sidetrack you from this gospel.  If you happen to be an unbeliever or if you are being drawn by the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ but have not given your heart to Jesus Christ, my plea to you is that there is only one way you can make it to heaven:  through faith in Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  It is my prayer that as you study this important epistle, so relevant to you today, that you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free and that no one will rob you of this freedom.


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