Grace

Understanding Galatians – Part 1

The first step in correcting a problem is admitting you have one. In the first twenty years of my Christian walk, you never would’ve convinced me that I was in the same boat the Galatians were in when Paul chose to write to them. Yet, that’s exactly where I was. Now it’s as if a veil has been lifted and I understand that salvation – justification in the eyes of God comes from grace through faith and not my own efforts to get everything right and shun everything that is wrong. Looking back at the book of Galatians and Romans now, I think “How could I not have seen this? The scriptures are so clear on the point.”

What Galatians is All About

Narrative and context is so important in order to exegete (understand scripture) properly. We need to quit reading verses all by themselves until we grasp the narrative in which they were being given. For example, there are chapters and chapters in the Book of Job where Job’s idiot friends try to convince him he is getting what he deserves. Most of their reasoning is inaccurate so it would be just as idiotic on our part to quote a verse from one of those chapters where the friend is giving bad reasoning. The same goes for Galatians. I used to quote verses in Galatians in order to do the exact things Paul is teaching the Galatians not to do. Here’s a great example:

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.
(Galatians 1:6-7 KJV)

I used to use this verse against people who were, like I am now, teaching against the traditions I was raised with. After all, we had the truth in our understanding so anything else is a “perversion” of the gospel of Christ. Of course, the word gospel also meant something different to me back then. Back then it meant everything I believe in and every doctrine I held to, instead of simply being the good news of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection for my salvation. So what exactly then is Galatians about?

The Galatian churches were planted by Paul on his first missionary journey [1]Acts 13 and 14. However, it didn’t take long for the Jews in that area who were converting to Christianity to misconstrue how salvation (justification by God) took place. They held fast that since Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, the non-Jewish people (Gentiles) had to convert to Judaism and follow the Jewish laws in order to gain access to Jesus’ salvation. So the main issue at hand was circumcision since that was the sign of the Jewish covenant. Paul writes this letter to combat that idea.

In order to do this, Paul argues that salvation cannot come from acts of obedience but through faith in Jesus Christ. This is the entire point of the letter and why this letter is so important to those who believe salvation is obtained by getting everything right, dotting every “i” and crossing every “t”, and any variance from the group’s understanding of what is acceptable leaves the practitioner in danger of hellfire.

What Galatians is Not About

Galatians is not just about Mosaic Law and circumcision. Yet, this is how this is often taught in the group I was in. We took the scriptures that we could use and wrote the rest off as teachings against the legalisms of the Old Law. We would say we are under a New Law and of course, Galatians isn’t talking about any of that.

…but this is not what Paul says in this letter.

Paul does not say, “Galatians, you no longer have to be circumcised because that is the Old Law and now were have a new and improved set of laws to follow under Christ instead.” He never says anything like this. Instead, he argues against circumcision and the works of the law by comparing it to a new concept completely… the concept of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus.

By doing this he is teaching a principle that supersedes the mere application to Mosaic Law. Because he teaches we are saved by faith in Jesus and not by any law we think might make us right before God. To actually suggest that obedience to a strict set of rules is required in order to obtain salvation is an insult to Christ because now that salvation is not about Christ… it’s about Christ + our work. And this is the real perversion of the gospel Paul talks about in the verse I quoted earlier. All these things we usually debate about in and between Christian denominations… none of them pervert the Gospel of Jesus Christ as long as that church is teaching Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection was for our salvation. Demanding that our particular understanding of worship practices and rituals must be adhered to in order to find salvation… well that is a perversion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Expositional Analysis

So this is the beginning of a series to help us understand the meaning behind the letter to the Galatians. We will exposit the entire letter chapter by chapter to see how it is a single narrative designed to prevent us from leaning on our own strength, prevent us from condemning other Christians (directly or indirectly), and encourage us to embrace our justification through faith by walking after the Spirit.

Continue to Part 2

Notes   [ + ]

1. Acts 13 and 14

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