The seven great words of Galatians (1)
Drew Craig, Belfast, N. Ireland
References from the Revised Version
The seven great word themes of Paul’s letter to the Galatians open up the whole of this epistle to us. They are as follows:
1. Revelation: 1. 12, 16; 2. 2.
2. Liberation: 2. 4; 5. 1-13.
3. Justification: 2.16.
4. Crucifixion: 2. 20; 5. 24; 6. 14
5. Unification: 3. 28.
6. Transformation: 4. 19.
7. Identification: 6. 17.
Paul’s missionary work in Galatia
The apostle Paul travelled through Galatia on his second missionary journey, recorded in Acts chapter 16, and again on his third journey three years later, recorded in Acts chapter 18 verse 23. He refers to his first preaching the gospel with them when he wrote subsequent to those visits. It seems that on his second meeting with them something quite alarming had happened to his facial appearance, possibly to do with his eyes and it obviously caused him great concern. He was thankful that the new converts did not despise or reject him because of it, Gal. 4. 12- 15. There is a practical lesson here and it is that God can overrule in blessing despite seeming setbacks. It is also evident that he detected a change in atmosphere and commitment to the truths as he had taught them, 1. 7. He refers to the preaching of ‘another (different) gospel’, perverting or twisting around the gospel of Christ. In chapter 3 verse 3 he speaks of ‘works of the spirit done in the flesh’. He is concerned about their emphasis on the law, the observance of days, months, seasons and years, 4. 10, and in chapter 5 verse 2 their reliance on circumcision. All of this he summarizes in his comment, ‘O foolish Galatians, who did bewitch you before whose eyes Jesus Christ was openly set forth?’, 3. 1. The apostle therefore sets out to correct this deviation from the true gospel by establishing his apostolic authority. This takes up practically the whole of the introduction to his letter.
The key word to this is revelation. He refers to it in chapter 1 verses 12 and 16, and in chapter 2 verse 2. In the three accounts of his conversion in the Acts there is no suggestion of his receiving any instructions about the gospel from Ananias. In Ephesians chapter 3 verses 3 to 6 he speaks of ‘the mystery of Christ given by revelation’. If we understand by the term ‘gospel’, the death, burial and resurrection of Christ then he received this by revelation, ‘I received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you’, 1 Cor. 15. 3, 4. The apostle Paul, therefore, stands out uniquely apart from the other inspired writers in this underscoring of direct revelations from God. We know, too, of his account of the ‘in or out’ of his body experience in 2 Corinthians chapter 12 verses 1 to 7, which may or may not be directly connected to these references in Galatians. It was upon this solid and incontrovertible foundation that he challenges and sets in order the errors that had been espoused.
The second great word is embodied in the truth of liberation. In chapter 2 verse 4 he speaks of ‘our liberty in Christ’. He continues the theme in chapter 5 which commences with the word ‘freedom’, defending it in a most robust way: ‘Stand fast therefore . . . and be not entangled again in a yoke of bondage’; ‘Who did hinder you?’; ‘But he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be’, vv. 1, 7, 10. The first three verses of this chapter are in one sense the key to understanding the main message of his letter. In a nutshell it is a matter of ritual versus faith. Faith in the Son of God and their incorporation into Him, through His death, burial and resurrection was the basis of the new Covenant and there could be no thought of reverting to the rites and restrictions of the old one, Hebrews chapter 3 verses 1 to 6 teach that ‘Christ as a Son over his own house’ is superior to ‘Moses as a servant in his (God’s) house’. And so, in chapter 5 verse 13 there is the call to ‘liberty’, to serve God not according to the letter of the law but in the energy and fullness of the Spirit. We remind ourselves of the injunction of the apostle to the Roman believers, ‘But now, we have been discharged from the law, having died to that wherein we were holden, so that we serve in newness of the spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter’, Rom. 7. 6.
Our third word is justification. The great truth the apostle expounded to the Roman believers he now takes up in writing to the Galatian churches, ‘Yet knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law: for by the law shall no flesh be justified’, 2. 16.
Justification is an objective truth. It originates in God, and rests on His immutability and unchanging character. It is the act of God in removing from the believing sinner the penalty of death due to his sin and imparting to him His righteousness. In other words God sees us perfect and complete in Christ. Twice over, in Acts 22 verse 14 and in 1 John chapter 2 verse 1, the Lord Jesus is called the ‘Righteous One’ and the apostle Paul tells the Corinthian believers that ‘Christ Jesus was made unto us wisdom from God and righteousness’, 1 Cor. 1. 30. The truth of the matter is that God in Christ has forgiven all, has cancelled all, and remembers no more our sins! This is the ground of the believer’s triumph. The saving work of Christ closes every mouth, dismisses every accusation and ignores every threat that can be brought against us. There is no other standard by which saved sinners can stand before God. In no sense can salvation be ‘of works’ on account of the fact ‘lest any man should boast’. The performing of good works results from the workmanship of God in the believer’s life and a demonstration that you possess salvation not that you are earning it! Eph. 2. 9-10.
The fourth word is crucifixion, ‘I have been crucified with Christ’, 2. 20. What a statement! What did he mean? In Romans chapter 6 verse 8 Paul says, ‘If we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him’. The tenses indicate something that happened in the past and would be completed in the future. But how far back do we go? Some go to their baptism and that they say makes us inheritors of the Kingdom of God, but that surely contradicts the teaching of this epistle. Some believe that it happened at the moment of conversion when eternal life was imparted. I think, however, that the apostle went farther back - back to Calvary! When the Lord Jesus cried, ‘It is finished’, He meant this in the fullest possible sense. It encompassed all those who had and would trust Him by faith. He looked back and forward down the ages and saw it all accomplished. He called it His baptism, Luke 12. 50, and in that baptism all believers are included. To personalize it; when He died, I died in Him; when He was buried, I was buried in Him and when he was resurrected so was I! By this one act God put away under His judgement all that I ever was as a sinner, never to be raised up again. And if this is so, it means that when I trusted Christ and commenced to walk in ‘newness of life’, Rom. 6. 4, I came into the good of all that He accomplished in His death, burial and resurrection. My baptism by immersion in water was my public identification with Christ in His death, and as an act of obedience to Him; I did as He had commanded. Finally, the apostle sees this crucifixion as having important on-going implications. In chapter 6 verse 14 he sees not one but three crucifixions; His Lord’s, his own and the world’s. What a challenge to us who are united to Christ.
To be continued