1. THE GOSPEL OF GRACE DEFENDED
He introduces himself as “Paul, an apostle — sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father”. An apostle is one who is sent on a mission with full authority as an ambassador, and in Paul’s case, he was commissioned and sent by none other that our Lord Jesus Christ .
“To the churches in Galatia”
Paul then reaffirms the gospel message that he had preached to them and to all others: “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.” ; Jesus Christ gave Himself as an offering to God, taking our sins upon Himself and bearing the judgment of a Holy God so that all who accept His sacrifice could be spared that judgment .
Paul continues to express his astonishment that they were so quickly deserting the gospel of Christ and turning to a different gospel which he says is really no gospel; “Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.” which is the basis of his letter to them. He proceeds to point out to them that such perversion of the gospel is a serious matter, so serious that he repeats the judgment twice: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” ; eternal condemnation will be the judgment!
(b). Gospel of Grace Is Given by Divine Revelation
One of the accusations by the Judaizers against him was that he was not an authentic apostle, so Paul proceeds to respond to this first by stating “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” . He was not appealing to the humanistic view of his audience by preaching a diluted gospel message thereby pleasing their interests, for by doing so he would not be a true servant of the Lord Jesus; and proceeds to say “I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” . He emphasizes that this was a personal revelation from none other than the Lord Jesus Christ at the time of his conversion and that he had not consulted with any person ; and reminds them of his previous lifestyle in Judaism. He was advancing beyond many of his associates and was extremely fanatical for the traditions of his predecessors. “But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.” . Here he reveals the first step in his conversion: “I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.”; and the scriptures are silent as to the events of this statement. His departure to Arabia is commented upon in the Wycliffe Bible Commentary: “The apostle mentions Arabia….No apostle was to be found there. No one was there who could inform him about the Lord and His saving work. It is probable that the new convert journeyed to Arabia to be alone with God, to think through the implications of the Gospel. There is no need to suppose that every aspect of the truth was flashed into his mind at the time of his conversion. From Arabia Paul returned to Damascus.” A further comment to this is found in the Believers Bible Commentary where it reads in relation to Gal.1:17 “Every servant of the Lord needs a time of seclusion and meditation. Moses had his forty years on the backside of the desert. David was alone with God while he tended sheep on the hillsides of Judea.” When the Scriptures speak of Arabia we should understand that Arabia is a vast expanse of territory “bounded by Egypt and the upper part of the Red Sea, the Land of Canaan, and Northern Arabia” [source: The Book Of Life – Historical Digest], making it very close, for Damascus is a great oasis city on the fringe of the Arabian Desert.
|ARABIAN DESERT (Pink Area)
Source: “Then and Now Bible Maps” Rose Publications)
Returning to the passage before us, it is apparent that after his time in the Arabian Desert he returns to Damascus where he spends several days with the disciples preaching in the synagogues, baffling the Jews in proving that “Jesus is the Christ (Messiah)” . After spending three years in Damascus, the Jews conspired to kill him, so his flowerers lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall, from where he journeyed to Jerusalem: “Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles — only James, the Lord’s brother. I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.” .
Paul thus finishes the defence of his authenticity as an apostle, concluding that he had met the requirements, and that the gospel he preached was the direct message from the Lord Jesus Christ.
(c). Gospel of Grace Is Approved by Jerusalem Leadership
“Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also.” There is some dispute among Theologians as to which of the two references in Acts that Paul is here referring to, but such dispute is not the issue here. The apostles in Jerusalem were having a discussion on the subject of circumcision for the Gentile believers, whether or not this was required by the gospel message; and after hearing the experiences of Peter, Paul and Barnabas it was decided that it was not necessary for the Gentiles to be circumcised “I ….. set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain. Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. [This matter arose] because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.”
Thus we see that Paul was called of God to preach the gospel message of “freedom from the demands and restraints of the Law of Moses” to the Gentiles who believed in Christ’s “finished”work in His death and resurrection for mankind, freeing them from such demands, as Paul will continue to explain in his letter to the Galatians; so he states: “We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.” He continues to express that “God does not judge by external appearance” , in reference to circumcision that the false teachers were adding to his message, for it was evident to them that he “had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.” Thus Paul concludes that his gospel message to the Galatians was approved by God and the apostles in Jerusalem.
(d). Gospel of Grace Is Vindicated by Rebuking Peter
“When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.” Peter had already been shown by God in a vision that all mankind, whether Jew or Gentile, are equal in God’s sight; “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean”….“I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” . The question of circumcision was important to the early disciples who were Jews by birth, and who were all circumcised according to the Law, by which act most or all of them considered themselves to be righteous, but this was not what the gospel message indicated; since the scriptures declare that righteousness comes only by faith in God. Abraham was instructed by God to be circumcised after it was evident that he had exercised his faith in God and the covenant of circumcision was later given as a sign of this faith .This became a contention between Paul, Peter and the Judaizers who insisted that all Gentile converts were to be circumcised, and became evident in the Church in Galatia. Here in this section of the epistle we see Paul rebuking Peter for the error in his behaviour by excluding himself from the Gentile believers because of the Judaizers who had come into the congregation in Antioch; Peter’s action had now caused other Jewish believers to do the same, and such action was not in line with the truth of the gospel .
Paul then continues to defend his gospel message to the Gentile believers, the message which states that all mankind can only be justified through faith in the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, and this is the essence of the teaching of this Epistle: “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.” ; faith in Christ being the method by which justification is obtained . We are all condemned to death by the Law and that condemnation can only be nullified by faith in Christ’s finished work of salvation. Through faith in Christ we become “dead” to the Law and the Law has no more jurisdiction over the dead ; so Paul declares that he, as well as all other believers have died to the Law . The reason we die to the Law is “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” . Thus there is vindication to Paul’s message of God’s grace to the Gentiles because “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” .