This Lord’s Day we are commemorating the beginning of the great Reformation of the 16th century. It is fitting, therefore, that we take this opportunity to begin our study of the book of Galatians, that great charter of Christian freedom. We need to stand fast in the liberty Christ brought to us, and we must refuse every form of sinful bondage.
“Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;) And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia: Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Gal. 1:1-5).
The letter to the Galatians was written to a collection of churches in the Roman province of Galatia—churches such as Lystra, Iconium, and Derbe. Paul had gone through this area on his first missionary journey, but no sooner had he gotten back to Antioch than he discovered that false teachers were following in his wake and disrupting the churches there. Not only this, but Peter had capitulated to the same error at Antioch, causing a crisis there. All this occurred just before the Jerusalem council (Acts 15), placing the writing of Galatians in the mid to late 40s. This is significant because it makes this classic Pauline statement of the gospel one of the earliest books of the New Testament. The view that Galatians was written to ethnic Galatia up north cannot really be sustained.
Paul, An Apostle
As we consider Paul’s argument throughout this book, we see him answering objections to his position that had been raised by his adversaries. He answers one of them in his first breath. His apostleship was either denied by his adversaries, or it was claimed that his apostleship was secondary and derivative. He was called a “second-generation” apostle, and he meets this head-on in the first verse. He was an apostle in the strongest sense of that word—not by men, not by a man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who had raised Jesus from the dead. Paul was an apostle of resurrection power, an apostle of the liberty that new life gives. He was therefore not going to submit to a “compromise” between life and death.
And All the Brethren
The letter was probably written from Antioch, and it was not just from Paul. Salutations
at the ends of letters are greetings, but people named at the beginning are those who are helping him to speak authoritatively. Paul is writing from the Galatians’ mother church, and there many brothers there who were with Paul on this issue. The letter is addressed to multiple churches, multiple congregations.
Blessing and Doxology
Despite the consternation Paul feels about what the Galatians are doing, he gives his customary blessing—grace and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ (v.3). The glory resulting from the great work of salvation is glory that will be accorded to the Father forever and ever (v. 5). Amen. The controversy at Galatia is crucial, but does not prevent Paul from blessing them, and he does not forget to bless God the Father in faith.
Before Paul gets into the particular aspects of the controversy, he sets the stage for a right understanding of that controversy in his comments of verse 4. Grace and peace come from the Lord Jesus, who gave Himself for our sins (v. 4). He did this so that He might deliver us from this present evil age (v. 4), and this was all done in accord with the will of God the Father (v. 4).
All Things New
We need to consider these three things in some detail. First, our salvation was accomplished by the will of the Father. It was not done on a whim, or a last minute thought. When Jesus went to the cross, He was submitting to the will of the Father, and, in doing this, He was securing our salvation in full accordance with that will.
Secondly, “our sins” are a significant part of what is dealt with in the work of redemption, but they are by no means the entire picture. After all, Jesus gave Himself for our sins, as it says here. But it says this was done in order to accomplish something else. That something else is the third point, which was the Father’s intention to deliver us from the present evil age. Now what does this mean? When was it done? Answering these questions rightly help us put the gospel of Jesus Christ in cosmic perspective. In other words, unless there is a new heavens and new earth, there will be no new hearts. The regeneration has entered us because we have entered the Regeneration.