Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians
This is the first of fifteen studies by pastor Murray McClellan.
It is our prayer that you are blessed through his labors in God’s Word.
Introduction (Galatians 1:1-5)
Paul’s authority (v. 1-2)
“Paul, an apostle, (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead), and all the brethren who are with me, to the churches of Galatia:” (Gal. 1:1-2)
Paul writes this epistle to the churches in Galatia, a region of Asia Minor. Paul himself was involved in proclaiming the gospel of grace and establishing these churches. As such, there was a great love bond established between this “chosen vessel” of God and the saints of Galatia. They had witnessed the sacrificial love of Paul for his Lord and the consuming desire to gather lost sheep as true worshipers, so that Jesus Christ would be worshipped as the Preeminent One among many brethren (Rom. 8:29). They had witnessed Paul’s love for them as Paul sacrificed everything, nearly his life, to bring them the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ (i.e. Acts 14:5, 19-20).
What value Paul placed on this gospel of grace and the proclamation of the truth about Jesus Christ! Indeed he suffered the loss of all things and counted them as rubbish (dung) that he might gain Christ and know Him. As a deer pants for the water brooks, so panteth his soul for his Lord.
Paul has seen Jesus Christ in a way we have not seen.
Indeed he has seen the resurrected Christ. What Paul has seen has caused him to live this way. Let us by faith “lose our life” and turn our mind from earthly things to seek those things which are above. May Christ be our life – our all and all – that we would “put to death [our] members which are on the earth; fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness which is idolatry,” (Col. 3:5) and live in such a way that testifies to our full satisfaction in Christ.
It did not take long after Paul had departed from the region of Galatia before ravenous wolves came in among the flock. Soon after God in grace had “opened the door of faith to [these] Gentiles” (Acts 14:27), “certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1 See also Acts 15:5)
Paul then, in this letter, seeks to focus them fully on the gospel of grace – the Lord Jesus Christ. With the heart of a shepherd, not simply a hireling, Paul seeks to turn them fully away from the old covenant which results in nothing but bondage and curse for a sinner, to the freedom of the gospel of grace through faith in Christ. This is not just a subtle difference, but a whole other gospel – the difference between justification and condemnation – the difference between salvation and damnation (see Gal. 5:2-4).
Paul in this epistle affirms his apostleship and the gospel of Christ.
This letter testifies against the “Judaizers” (those who added circumcision and the Mosaic law to faith in Christ) and any other group who would seek to add works to the completed redemption of Christ. Anyone who would “pick up sticks” when the Sabbath rest of Christ has come, has “fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4). “Christ will profit you nothing” (Gal. 5:2) – you who seek to be justified by the works of the law – you who seek to add to Christ’s perfect and complete work. When you, a sinner, add anything to the perfect and acceptable work of Christ, you’ll ruin the perfection of such a work – even as adding a rotten egg to twelve good ones totally ruins an omelette.
These Judaizers are more interested in bringing people into the bondage of Judaism than into the freedom of Christ. Their message was you must be circumcised in order to be saved. This is an attack on the sufficiency of Christ and His finished work. Their message was, “You are saved by grace and your obedience to the law to be saved.” What kind of gospel is that for sinners? Yet that is the destructive heresy that these Judaizers were peddling.
One way that the Judaizers attempted to deny the truthfulness of the gospel of grace as preached by Paul, was to discredit his authority. They, as many today, sought to deny the truthfulness of the message by denying the authority of the one who gives it. They attacked Paul and sought to undermine his authority. “Who is this Paul? He’s some Johnny come lately. He was not one of the twelve, nor was he sent out by the twelve. Where does he get his authority?” they challenged. They said that he was just a self-appointed apostle. Through this attack on the messenger, they hoped to steer the people away from the gospel of grace and put “a yoke upon the neck of the disciples.” (Acts 15:10).
Thus Paul begins his epistle to the churches of Galatia by affirming his apostleship.
“Paul, an apostle” as opposed to what the Judaizers said – “Paul, an impostor”. An apostle is a “sent one” – one specially sent out by Jesus Christ. Luke 6:13 states that an apostle was chosen out by Jesus Himself. In Mark 3:13-15, we learn that an apostle was appointed to learn directly from Christ and then sent out to preach what he had learned directly from Christ. Thirdly, according to Acts 1:22, an apostle must have been with Christ and been an eye witness of the resurrected Christ, and taught by Him.
How could Paul claim to be an apostle when he had not even been saved until after Jesus had ascended into heaven?
Remember his conversion? It was the risen Christ Himself who appeared to Paul, called him, taught him, and commissioned him. Read Acts 9:1-20 and Acts 26:12-20. Thus Paul says his apostleship is “not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead”. Therefore, Paul’s words carry authority, for he is indeed an apostle of Jesus Christ, the great Head of the Christian church.
Paul’s words here in Galatians still have authority for us today. Let us welcome the words of this epistle, not simply as the words of Paul, but as it is in truth, the word of God which also effectively works in you and me who believe.
Paul’s Gospel (v. 3-5)
“Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Gal. 1:3-5)
Though “grace” and “peace” are often used in Paul’s salutations, this greeting certainly gets to the very heart of this epistle. Paul needs to remind these saints in the churches of Galatia, of the very heart of the gospel. It is the gospel of grace and peace that is being attacked by the Judaizers. (See comments on verses 1 and 2 for more on this group).
It is the “grace” of God – not according to our works – not according to anything in us – through the all sufficient work of Jesus Christ, that grants us “peace” with God. Grace is the source of salvation and peace is the result. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 5:1) I would certainly have no peace – not with God, nor in my heart – if salvation were not entirely of grace. The best of my works can bring no comfort and no justification, as they are but filthy rags.
“Grace and peace” is a marvelous summation of the gospel.
From where does this grace and peace come? “from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ,”
God the Father gave His Son and, oh marvelous thought, He gave us to His Son! This is electing grace, “according to the will of our God and Father,” “that no flesh should glory in His presence.” It is “of Him” that we “are in Christ Jesus.” (1 Cor. 1:29-31) That is why it is He “to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” God “predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace!” (Eph. 1:5-6a) What grace that made us partakers of so great a salvation!
The Lord Jesus Christ “gave Himself for our sins” and thus provided all that we needed. He is the great Captain of our salvation, who has perfected us through His sufferings, and is not ashamed to call us brethren. (See Heb. 2:10-11) Christ “gave Himself for our sins” to accomplish our deliverance – “that He might deliver us from this present evil age.” Christ’s death was a substitutionary sacrifice that redeems us completely. Christ died for poor wretched sinners like you and like me. If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. He delivered us. He has rescued us from this present evil age. We were in bondage, justly condemned to everlasting torment.
We were objects deserving of God’s wrath, even as every individual born into this present evil age “in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. BUT GOD…” (Eph. 2:2-4) What a blessed interruption! Our gracious, redeeming God interrupted our “walk” and set not only our feet, but our hearts pursuing a new path. We have been “delivered from the power of darkness” and have been “transferred into the kingdom of the Son of His love.” (Col. 1:13)
We are now members of the age to come.
We are partakers of eternal life in the Son in whom there is life. But for the fact that He set His love upon us and gave Himself for us, we would still be dead in our sins and trespasses. And He has! We are citizens of a new kingdom – not of this world. We are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”
Think about it, all you into whose minds God has shone the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. Gaze upon the beauty of Him, all you whose eyes have been opened to behold the one and only Savior. Rejoice in the wonder of this salvation, all you whose heart of stone has been plucked from your breast and replaced with a heart of flesh that is alive to God. Meditate on the truth of it, savoring the taste, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious. Listen to these words of truth, all you who have ears to hear the Good Shepherd’s voice.
Before any of us ever drew a breath, it was “the will of our God and Father” that Christ would “deliver us” – that Christ would come and die “for our sins.” O, can it be? Yes, it is true – the Bible proclaims and glories in the gracious redemption of sinners who will forever be to the praise of His glory; redeemed sinners who will “in the ages to come” show forth “the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:7)
He did this for His name’s sake – to glorify Himself.
I join with God in proclaiming His wisdom and glory.
This is indeed “His salvation” and to Him belongs all the glory.
“Let all who love His salvation, say continually, ‘The Lord be magnified!'” (Ps. 40:16)
Let us, along with Paul, all “amen” that our God is worthy of all blessing and honor and glory and power!
Murray is the lead church planter and Bible teacher at Grace Fellowship Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. He and his wife Cheryl have labored in the Gospel for many years despite the many discouragements along the way. Our brother is associated with “InDepth Studies”, the Acts 29 network of church planters, and more recently the uniquely Canadian C2C church planting network. In new covenant circles Murray is a long time contributor to new covenant thought and discussion.