Lesson 295:

Galatians 1:1 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

Paul began his letter to the Galatians with a strong assertion of his authority. He felt this was necessary to combat the heresy of legalism, which the churches in that region were beginning to embrace. Legalistic teachers were telling the Galatians that they had to keep the law of Moses, including circumcision, in order to be saved. This was an attack on the gospel, and brought a fierce response from the Apostle Paul. This letter was likely written around AD 48, from Paul’s home church in Antioch, Syria. 

Galatians 1:8-9 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!

Everyone who preaches something other than the true gospel of Jesus Christ is under this curse. Some think all religions are equal, but Paul insisted there is only one religion that saves, and that it must be protected from every attack. Since the gospel is a matter of heaven or hell, it is crucial to get it right. 

This is a warning to preachers everywhere to know what they are talking about. If they do not understand the gospel (John 3:16) they may be doing a great disservice to their listeners, as well as to themselves. 

Galatians 1:10 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

False teachers accused Paul of trying to be popular by preaching an easy religion, free from the Law of Moses. Paul insisted he was not trying to win people’s approval, but God’s approval. He was not free to adapt the truth to whatever people wanted to hear. He could only proclaim the truth as God revealed it. 

Some people want their preacher to make Christianity easier; others want him to make it more demanding. But the preacher’s job is to proclaim the gospel as it is found in the Bible. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3), wrote Paul.

Preachers should resist the desire to be popular, and should communicate God’s truth without apology. They should be gracious, of course, but they must never compromise God’s word. Preachers will give an account to Christ, and we who teach will be judged more strictly (James 3:1), wrote James. Christians should pray for their minister to contradict them whenever necessary, since this will lead to spiritual maturity.

Galatians 2:16 [A] person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ

Jesus Christ is the toughest teacher who ever lived. [T]hose of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples (Luke 14:33). Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily (Luke 9:23), he said.

There are at least three reasons Jesus talked this way. First, he always told the truth, no matter what people wanted to hear. Second, he wanted to separate the sheep from the goats, since most goats will not tolerate this kind of teaching. Third, he wanted to destroy all confidence in ourselves, so that we would look only to him for our salvation. This is known as the law/gospel distinction.

The law is any verse in the Bible that commands us to obey. When Jesus said the greatest command is to Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37), he was not making a suggestion. If we only love God with ninety-nine percent of our being, we fall one percent short. To that degree, we are under the just condemnation of God. 

When Jesus said the second greatest command is to Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39), he was equally serious. If we are even slightly less concerned with our neighbor’s health, wealth and happiness than with our own, we also fall under the just condemnation of God. This is the bad news of the law, which makes us receptive to the gospel. 

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 (John 3:16). Jesus Christ is the only person who fulfilled the law perfectly, including the law’s penalty for sin, which is death (Roman’s 6:23). His perfect life and sacrificial death were for our sins, and for our salvation. The purpose of the law is to reveal our spiritual need, so that we will flee to Christ and be saved.

It must be stated plainly that we are saved by faith—not by works; and that we stay saved by faith—not by works. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith . . . not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9), wrote Paul. 

God does not give with one hand, and take away with the other. He gives us the law to reveal our sin, so that we will depend on Christ, and not on ourselves. God’s standard is perfection, and Jesus Christ is the only perfect person who ever lived. We are not saved by being good, but by believing in the one who was good for us.

Due to a stroke, a man lost most of the feeling on his left side, which should have made him sad. But he also lost the part of his brain that normally feels sadness, so he was very happy. The law tells us that we have a serious problem, which ought to make us sad. The gospel tells us that we have a Savior, which makes us very happy.

Reflection and Review
Why is it important to understand the gospel?
Do you prefer sermons that are easy or demanding?
What is the difference between the law and the gospel?