Friday, May 29, 2015

Introducing Galatians: The Gospel of Freedom

Galatians 1:3-5 "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,4 who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,5 to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen."

The Apostle Paul is author to nearly 2/3 of the New Testament books. As a former persecutor of the church of Jesus Christ (Acts 9); Saul of Tarsus had a dramatic conversion experience as a result of being encountered by the post-resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus. Acts 9-13 recounts Saul's conversion, call and commissioning as the Apostle to the Gentiles. As he began to minister, Saul's name was changed to Paul. He would eventually travel in circuits throughout the Mediterranean world, beginning in Jerusalem and eventually ending up in Rome by the end of the Book of Acts. Three of these circuits or "missionary journeys" are recorded in Acts, with the first being the focus in Acts 13-14. As a matter of first importance, Paul took the Gospel into the regions of Galatia in Acts 14:1-23. While some debate whether the churches in Province of Galatia to the North were intended, or whether the three principle cities of Lystra, Derbe and Iconium - all agree that Paul's letter was among his earliest or perhaps even the first one written. (See map below)
We won't concern ourselves today with which theory (North Galatian, making the letter of later composition; South Galatia, making the letter Paul's earliest), pro or con, is the best one. The point is that Galatians represents the main thrust of the preaching of the Gospel as it spread from the region of Judea and Israel to the outer regions of Syria, Cicilia and Galatia. 

The theme of Galatians: The Gospel of Freedom
The Bible Knowledge Commentary notes the purpose of Paul's letter to the Galatians: "The Judaizers in Galatia both discredited Paul and proclaimed a false gospel. It was necessary that Paul vindicate his apostleship and message, a task he undertook in the first two chapters. In this autobiographical section Paul demonstrated convincingly that his apostleship and his message came by revelation from the risen Christ. In chapters 3 and 4 Paul contended for the true doctrine of grace, that is, for justification by faith alone. Finally, to show that Christian liberty does not mean license the apostle, in chapters 5 and 6, taught that a Christian should live by the power of the Holy Spirit and that when he does he manifests in his life not the works of the flesh but the fruit of the Spirit."

There were those operating within the churches of Galatia who attempted to persuade the Galatians that circumcision and adherence to the Mosaic law were needed additions to Christ to complete their salvation. These opponents of the Gospel, the Judiaizers, receive the most blistering rebuke from Paul. Their influence led to the Galatians near renouncement of everything Paul had preached to them. Galatians is the only letter Paul wrote that does not commend the churches for any exemplarary advances in their faith. Paul cuts to the chase and tells them that the Judiaizers are attempting to steal their freedom in Christ that was broughout about by the Gospel. As one writer has noted, any attempt to "add" to Christ only subtracts from Christ. 

In reading through Paul's letter to the Galatians, this blogger submits Galatians 5:1 as the key verse to the whole epistle, since it contains the main theme. Galatians 5:1 states - "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." Galatians 5:1 summarizes the Gospel that "freed" believer's from things of their past (Galatians 1-4) and prepares the reader for explaining how the Gospel continues "freeing" believers in their progressive growth in sanctification (Galatians 5-6). 

How the theme of "freedom" is developed throughout the Epistle to the Galatians
As we saw in the opening verses of today's post, the Gospel is described by Paul as Christ's rescue operation of sinners from bondage and sin. Paul warns his readers that the Judaizers are attempting to bring them back into bondage as they spy out their freedom in Christ. (Galatians 2:4) Galatians 5:13 reiterates this main theme of freedom - "For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another." 

Other key words throughout letter suggest this key motif of "freedom" in it's expression of the Gospel. For example, Galatians 3:10 reminds the reader that for anyone trying to please God by works of the law, a curse is upon them due to the fact that anyone failing to perform the law's commands are condemned. To contrast this tendency of mankind to choose "performance-based" methods of attempted salvation, Paul states Christ came to "redeem" us from the curse of the law in Galatians 3:13. On several occassions Paul makes reference to God's promise to Abraham, the proto-typical illustration of the believer who has been justified by faith. The theme of God's promise in setting free those who trust in Christ by faith is repeated through the remainder of Galatians 3:22 and 3:29. In chapter 4 of Galatians the reader is introduced to the concept of "adoption", indicating that as adopted sons and daughters of God through saving faith, we are no longer "slaves" but "sons". (Galatians 4:7) Finally, Galatians 5-6 switches the tone from how Christ sets the believer free at the beginning of their salvation to the on-going process of freedom that is available throughout the Christian life. This process of setting Christians free is experienced as a result of the Person and work of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:5,16,18,22-23 & 25 and alluded to in Galatians 6. 

Closing thoughts
The goal of today's post was to introduce the reader to Paul's letter to the Galatians. The theme of "The Gospel of Freedom" is the point and purpose of the letter. When we study Galatians, we are shown how the Gospel sets us free from the things of the past and is setting us free in the here and now. The persistent presence of sin in the believer finds the extremes of legalism or license to sin very enticing. Religion without the cross or godlessness without Christ will always characterize sinful man untouched by saving grace. This is why we need the Gospel and the Christ of the Gospel, who sets us free. 

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