No Other Gospel
This is the first lesson in our GEPC series, and specifically the book of Galatians. Like Romans, the book of Galatians was instrumental in bringing about the Protestant Reformation. As a matter of fact, Galatians was actually Martin Luther’s favorite book as reflected in his words, The Epistle to the Galatians is my epistle. To it I am as it were in wedlock. Like Romans, Galatians in an extremely important book because it identifies who we are in Christ and identifies the role to which we have been called. Christianity is not just a “me too” or “I think I’ll do that” religion. Christianity is to be lived by those who have been called and can only be lived by those who are called.
As we are seeing today with false teaching from the pulpits across America, false teachers (called Judaizers) were troubling the Christians in Galatia. They were insisting that the Gentile Christians had to be circumcised and abide by the ceremonial Jewish laws in order to be saved. The false teachers communicated that faith in Jesus alone was not enough to save the Gentile Christians. They must add their own works of the law to be saved. This false teaching of the Judaizers threatened the true gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Jesus. Paul wrote the epistle of Galatians to clearly communicate the message of the true gospel: we are justified by grace through faith alone without the works of the law or any work of man. In Galatians 1 Paul identifies the issue at hand and conveys to the readers why he has the authority to write such a letter.
Freedom in Christ
There are two great dangers that have always existed within the church: licentiousness and legalism. In one regards they appear to be completely opposite by the fruits they produce; however, at their core they are identical. For you see, both licentiousness and legalism are rooted in self. The former seeks to gratify self, while the latter seeks to glorify self. Within the church it is essential that Believers be allowed to live with freedom in Christ. On one hand it is Biblical for us to hold one another to high standards through encouragement and exhortation (Hebrews 3:13), while on the other hand it is completely unacceptable to create an environment where Believers feel judged and are constantly under the microscope of the Big Brother faction within the church. We can all identify churches that espouse the “anything goes” mentality that borders on hedonism. At the other end of the spectrum is the church that speaks of nothing but the wretchedness of man and where God’s grace seems to have almost no place. The great irony in the legalistic church is that on the outside these churches look like they have it all together, especially when it comes to Biblical knowledge. However, for some reason these churches seem uncomfortable with the concept of grace and allowing Christians to experience freedom in Christ. It has been my observation that within these types of churches there might be some type of inferiority complex that exists within the Body or leadership. Another option is that they do not have enough faith to believe that God really can transform people’s lives. These churches overcompensate by trying to convince the world that they are more holy than everyone else. The only hope that we all have is the love of Christ and to be changed by the Holy Spirit. Being coerced by legalists within the Body who see themselves as the protectors of “all things Holy” never produces sustained transformation.
Living by faith, not by works
In last week’s lesson we discussed the differences between licentiousness and legalism. The former seeks to gratify self, while the latter seeks to glorify self. In Galatians 3 Paul continues the theme of freedom in Christ; however, he specifically addresses issues relating to salvation by grace through faith in Christ (Galatians 3:8). At the very core of this issue is God’s grace towards us. The default for every human is eternal separation from God, but for those of us who know God through Christ we have been rescued from this state of existence. Paul is clearly addressing with the Galatians warnings against returning to the works of the law. For you and me the principal application is this. As you and I seek to develop a greater understanding concerning God’s grace towards us, the response on our part is a deeper level of commit towards the things of God and to break down those strongholds that prevent us from becoming all that Christ has called us to be.
Living as adopted sons and daughters
The concept of adoption is one that Paul presents 5 times in the New Testament on the books Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians. These happen to be three of the more theologically-intense and important books in the Bible, and certainly with regards to the Reformation and our understanding of salvation. Webster defines adopt as to take by choice into a relationship; especially to take voluntarily (a child of other parents) as one’s own child. For you and me this is critically important in understanding the unique relationship that we have for God. For me the first question that comes to mind is this – why would God choose us to be His people? As is often the case, the Bible has the exact answer to our questions. Ephesians 1:4 tells us that God chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.
The Fruit of the Spirit
Galatians 5 is one of the greatest application chapters in the Bible. A dilemma that faces most Christians is the need to overcome patterns of sin and addiction. This challenge is not limited to Christians; however, Christians are the only ones who have the power of the Holy Spirit to bring about a true and lasting transformation. At the core of this subject is not so much the how, but the why. Our desire and ability to live a holy life should be rooted in our appreciation towards the Lord for what He has done for us. A holy life demonstrates to God that we value Him and that we understand and appreciate what He has done for us.
Once again Paul makes it very clear for us in answering the question – how can I not sin and live a holy life? In verse 16 of Galatians 5 Paul states: So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. As Paul continues this dialogue he helps us understand that the barometer of success is reflected in the often quoted, but rarely lived Fruit of the Spirit: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Fruit is a by-product of a healthy tree. When you and I walk with Christ and focus on sacrificially living for Him, the Holy Spirit gives us the power to bear fruit and overcome sin.
Doing Good to All and Closing Exhortations
Galatians 6 is the final chapter in the epistle of Galatians. As in any good book, Paul leaves his readers with some parting words of wisdom. There are at least two major thoughts that Paul is trying to communicate. The first point is that as Christians we need to get along. I continue to be amazed at how Christians can sometimes treat one other. Some Christians have a tendency to be petty and critical in their dealings with fellow Believers. If I was watching from the outside, I have to admit that this would be one of the main reasons that I would hesitate to become part of a church. It is essential that we get along, especially when Christ told us, By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:35). The second point is that we need to take our relationship with Christ seriously by not taking it for granted. Part of this idea involves encouraging and exhorting our brothers and sister in the Lord to live for Christ as well. At a certain point in our maturity it is not enough that we should only be concerned with our own growth, but that we should begin to look towards the interest of others (Philippians 2:3-5 …not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others).
My encouragement and challenge to you is to live for Christ and challenge others to partner with you in your growth experience. The Christian life is so much richer and meaningful when lived among other Believers.
Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events;
small minds discuss people.