I am sitting here reading over my notes for the Sunday School lesson at Southern Calvert this Sunday. We just spent the last quarter walking through part of the book of Acts. It was amazing to learn about life on a mission to be a witness, in the context of making disciples. God really motivated our church to be more intentional about being witnesses with the goal of making disciples. Now, we are moving into the Epistles in the New Testament. This week, we are looking at Paul’s epistle to the churches in the region of Galatia. A great need arose in the church causing Paul to take parchment and ink and write out his letter to them in order to give important Christian doctrine to these young, growing churches. Paul was a man who had been discipled by one of the greatest Jewish teachers of his day. After that, Paul was directly discipled by the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. Now, he has been on a mission to be a witness for Christ everywhere among the Gentiles. While on mission, he is constantly looking for people to disciple. The Galatians had been discipled by Paul and they still needed to be discipled. They needed someone to confront them, in the love of Christ, and help them get back on the right path. We all need this in our daily walk with the Lord. We have a tendency to get sidetracked by false teachings and the desires of our sin nature. We all need a Paul in our lives who will love us enough to tell us the truth, even if we do not want to hear it at the time.
In this article and teaching on Sunday morning, we are going to look at Paul the teacher, the problem among the Galatians, and then the Biblical solution for overcoming false teachings and the desires of our sin nature.
I. Paul the master teacher
Galatians 1 begins with Paul introducing himself to his audience. Many of them had seen Paul face to face and they knew him. Newer members of the churches who came to Christ after Paul had left, may have never had a chance to meet him. Like we all do, Paul introduces himself and reaffirms his calling to the ministry and why he made disciples in Galatia in the first place.
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 ), (Galatians 1:1)
Paul is an apostle. Today, we usually call apostles “missionaries”. These are people within the body of Christ who have a special spiritual gifting given to them by the Holy Spirit to take the Gospel to new territories, be a witness, make disciples, and see churches planted. Sometimes today, they are also called Church planters. Paul did not choose his position and authority. They were gifts given to him by the Lord Jesus Christ. He accepted them and began to use them to serve others. This is what our spiritual gifts are for and also our ministries. The ministries provided by God match up with the spiritual gifting, also provided by God. As I mentioned earlier, Paul was discipled by Jesus Christ.
For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. Nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. (Galatians 1:12, 17-18)
Paul knew the ways of Christ. He knew what Christ desired. He knew the three big commands that Christ had given to His disciples:
- Be a witness (Acts 1:8)
- Make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20)
- Plant Churches (Matthew 16:16-18)
During a 14 year period of mission work to Asia Minor and Greece, Paul made many disciples who formed many church plants in both territories. One of the territories within Asia Minor was the region of Galatia. After Paul left that region, he kept up with the progress and growth of the disciples. In keeping up with them, he learned of a major problem within the region of Galatia. This problem prompted him to write his letter to them.
II. The problem in the Galatian churches
In Galatians 1, Paul reveals the problem(s) that the Galatians faced.
I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! (Galatians 1:6-8)
Here is a list of the problems within the churches in the region of Galatia.
- Deserted Christ for a different Gospel. The word deserted could be switched with the word “overlay”. This is crucial to understanding the problem in Galatia. It ties in to problem number 3.
- This different Gospel has disturbed or, “stirred up” the Galatians.
- They have been deceived by a distorted Gospel preached by false apostles and “angels”. The word distorted is a word picture for what we would describe as the old “bait and switch”. One thing is presented in the presentation and then another thing is delivered in reality. It’s like the hotel that claims to have rooms for “$19.99” yet, when you arrive and ask for the room for “$19.99” the answer is always, “that room is occupied but, we can offer you this room for ___________ amount”. Has that ever happened to you?
The Galatians had originally received salvation in Jesus Christ by faith. Now, false teaching had come in via false apostles and angelic revelations to tell the people that being made right with God is not on the basis of faith in Christ. Furthermore, walking with Christ (sanctification) is not based on faith but on good works. In essence, the people were being told that they had to earn God’s favor by their good deeds and adherence to religious traditions instead of by faith in Jesus Christ. On a side note, Mormonism was founded by Joseph Smith who claimed to have special, angelic revelation about a new gospel. Islam was founded by Muhammad, a man who also claimed to have received special, angelic revelation of about a new gospel. The Seventh Day Adventists were founded by Helen G. White, a lady who also claimed to have special, angelic revelation about a new gospel. This problem has been around since the formation of the early Church. Mormonism, Islam, and Seventh Day Adventist all teach that favor with God must be earned by good deeds and adherence to strict religious traditions. The false teaching led some to believe that faith plus ________________ was required to be made right with God and then walk in a right relationship with God. It sounded like the real Gospel until examined more closely. Division was being created within the churches of Galatia. Relationships were suffering. The Galatians needed someone to intervene. God called Paul to be that person and he answered the call.
III. The Biblical solution for victory
The first part of the Biblical solution is confrontation of the problem. Paul does not ignore the problem and just hope that it will resolve itself. He meets the problem head on. He does it in love, with respect, mercy, and grace. He does it for the good of the Galatians. Paul confronts them with his letter to them. In the letter, he acknowledges the problem and addresses it. Paul uses the example of someone else to reveal the problem and then apply that to the situation in Galatia. This is very similar to what Nathan the prophet did with King David. Paul used a situation that took place in Antioch with Peter.
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. (Galatians 2)
At first, Peter was fine with walking with Jesus by faith. He had been taught a valuable lesson in Acts 10. He went to Cornelius’ house and preached the Gospel. He witnessed Cornelius’ new birth by faith in Jesus Christ. Now, when some Jewish believers came to town, all of a sudden, walking with Christ was not JUST by FAITH. He reverted back to keeping vigorous religious traditions. Paul had to confront Peter in front of everyone because Peter’s hypocrisy had spread to others. Relationships were starting to suffer and fall apart. The Galatians made the connection right away. They saw themselves in the story and the fact that their relationships were suffering.
The second part of the Biblical solution involves sound doctrine about justification (being made right with God) and sanctification (living day by day in a right relationship with God).
. . . nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no * flesh will be justified. “But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! “For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor. “For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God. “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:16-20)
Man is not justified through his own good works. Man cannot earn a right relationship with God based on his good works. Man is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ. A right relationship with God is a gift given to us through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ performed in His death, burial, and resurrection. The key here is to surrender. I surrender to Christ (faith) and I live surrendered to Christ moment by moment, day by day. I enter into a personal relationship with God via faith and I am sustained in that personal relationship also by faith. This is what the Galatians had been led astray from. They needed to be confronted and put back on the right path. Good works are not thrown out the window. Good works are still very important. A surrendered life will produce good works in and through me. This is what Paul taught to the church in Ephesus.
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
Are you walking in the good works which God prepared beforehand? The good works are not done to gain God’s approval. The good works flow from God’s approval. That makes all the difference. This is what separates genuine Christianity from all of the other religions of the world.
Let’s pray for a Paul in our own lives, a person who loves us enough to confront us for our own good. Let’s stay in tune with the Word of God so that we are not led astray by false teachings that come from a multitude of sources. Let’s live by faith manifested in our daily surrender to Christ as our Lord and Savior.