Why the Epistle to the Galatinas?

Galatians  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 8
From the brief account we have tried to give in the last chapter, you will understand how very bitter the Jews were towards Paul, and that they hated both him and the gospel which he preached, and that they always tried to hinder him and persecute him in every possible way. If you will read carefully Acts 13 and 14 (where again we find the Jews opposing Paul), you will understand more clearly the epistle to the Galatians.
The Jews spoken of in these chapters in Acts were, for the most part, men who made no profession of Christianity, but hated Christ. But the Jews of whom we will read in the epistle to the Galatians were professing Christians and said they believed in Christ. You will see Paul calls them “false brethren unawares brought in” (ch. 2:4). Both they and those of whom we read in Acts hated Paul and his doctrines. Acts 15:55But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. (Acts 15:5) speaks of “certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed” who rose up, “saying, That it was needful to circumcise” the Gentile Christians “and to command them to keep the law of Moses” (Acts 15:55But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. (Acts 15:5)). You will remember it was the Pharisees who so constantly opposed our Lord Jesus when He was on earth, and now we find them still opposing the truth of God and His servants Paul and Barnabas.
So we see Paul was continually suffering persecution from the Jews, not only from those who made no profession of Christianity (but, on the contrary, openly hated and despised the name of Christ), but also from those who professed to be Christians. Some of these, perhaps, were real and some were certainly false.
If you have read the epistle to the Corinthians, you will have seen how these Jewish teachers were trying to turn the assembly at Corinth away from Paul. Much of the second epistle is taken up with this matter and seeking to prove to the Corinthians the reality of his commission. In 2 Tim. 1:1515This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes. (2 Timothy 1:15) we hear Paul cry in anguish, “This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me” (2 Tim. 1:1515This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes. (2 Timothy 1:15)). This meant all those in the province of Asia, at the west end of what we now call Asia Minor. It included the assembly in Ephesus, where Paul had labored for three years (Acts 20:3131Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. (Acts 20:31)), in Troas, in Colosse and in many other assemblies. When Paul writes to the assembly in Philippi, he says, “Beware of the concision” (Phil. 3:22Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. (Philippians 3:2)). This is a contemptuous name for these men who taught salvation by works.
You will see how constantly, how widely and how bitterly these Jewish teachers opposed Paul and his teaching of pure grace. You will see how successful these wicked men were in turning many Gentile Christians away from the Apostle by whose labors they had found the Lord. Paul wrote the epistle to the Galatians in order to meet an attack by these wicked men against the assemblies in Galatia. They were teaching the Gentile Christians that after leaving idolatry and heathenism, and after being baptized (so connecting themselves with the Christian assembly), then it was necessary to be circumcised and to keep the law, or else the Gentiles could not be saved. (See Acts 15:1, 241And certain men which came down from Judea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. (Acts 15:1)
24Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment: (Acts 15:24)
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These men had now come to the assemblies in Galatia, and were trying to turn away the Christians both from the Apostle Paul himself and from the truths which he taught. They said Paul was not really an apostle and that he had no authority from the apostles at Jerusalem for either his doctrine or his work.
You must clearly understand the difference between the gospel Paul preached and the teaching of these Jews who were always opposing him. Paul preached that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-43For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: (1 Corinthians 15:3‑4)). Paul preached that we are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:2424Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: (Romans 3:24)) and that “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight” (Rom. 3:2020Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20)). “A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Rom. 3:2828Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. (Romans 3:28)). Also, from the time Paul was first converted, “straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:2020And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. (Acts 9:20)). In John 5:1818Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God. (John 5:18) we read of the Lord Jesus, “Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill Him, because He not only had broken the Sabbath, but said also that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:1818Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God. (John 5:18)). The Jews, even to this day, clearly understand all that it means to teach that Jesus is the Son of God, and they hate this teaching with all their heart and soul. The deity of Christ is at stake in this truth; and we will see how Paul meets the attack in the epistle to the Galatians.
These Jewish teachers brought a very different message from that of the Apostle Paul. They said, “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (Acts 15:11And certain men which came down from Judea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. (Acts 15:1)). “That it was needful to circumcise them [the Gentile believers], and to command them to keep the law of Moses” (Acts 15:55But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. (Acts 15:5)).
You will understand that these teachings are exactly the opposite of each other. If one is true, then the other is false. Paul preached God’s Son (ch. 1:16.) He preached salvation by Christ alone, and Christ only. These men insisted that Christ alone could not save us, and that simple faith in Christ was not enough to give us salvation. You will understand that these Jews were thus attacking the Lord Jesus Christ Himself and His work on the cross. He had cried, “It is finished” (John 19:3030When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost. (John 19:30)), but these men said, “No, you must add to it circumcision and the law.” You will understand that this doctrine was attacking the very foundation of the Christian faith. If their teaching were true, no man could be saved. Christ died for no purpose. These false teachers knew well that Paul, more than any other man, was the one who taught salvation by faith alone and that he was the one who refused to allow the Gentiles to be put under law. They had watched Paul when he refused to submit even for an hour to their teaching about circumcision. They had seen the Gentile Titus come to Jerusalem uncircumcised and be received by the apostles and the assembly there, and they had watched their own false teaching manifested in its true light. Little wonder they hated Paul and were constantly attacking him, trying to undermine his authority and to prove he was not truly an apostle.
For these reasons we will find the epistle to the Galatians more stern and severe than any other epistle. It is remarkable that Paul was more troubled about the Galatians, who were putting themselves under law, than about the Corinthians, who were really behaving very badly. The one was attacking Christ and His work; the other was allowing the flesh to act. He would not go to Corinth, but he says all the good he can about them in order to call them back to a walk suitable to Christ. But to the Galatians he does not say one gracious word (except the message of grace and peace with which he begins all his epistles, and a closing message of grace). There are no greetings to individual believers. There is scarcely a word of love, but from his cry in ch. 4:19, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,” we see the love which filled his heart.
We must not think that Paul was hard or wrong to write as he did. The enemy was trying to destroy the foundations of Christianity, and the answer must be severe. We must remember that every word of this little book of Galatians was “breathed” by the Holy Spirit. God used Paul to write the words, but it was God Himself who told Paul what to say and who gave the book to us.
It cost God His only begotten Son to bring us this great salvation, and He will not allow false teachers to take it from us. Do you think God could allow a doctrine which meant that Christ had died for nothing? And, “If righteousness is by law, then Christ has died for nothing” (ch. 2:21 JND). For this reason it is quite right that the epistle to the Galatians should be severe and stern.
Many men today think it is wrong to oppose error. They say, “Preach the truth, but do not strive with anybody.” One of the most popular teachers of our day says, “Let the truth of God suffer, but let not love suffer.” This is the devil’s teaching, not God’s Word. God says, “It was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 33Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. (Jude 3)). This is exactly what Paul is doing in the epistle to the Galatians.
From the days of Cain to the present day, men have always been trying to substitute salvation by their own works for salvation by blood by the death of a substitute. Cain knew that sin meant death: but he came to God by means of a sacrifice without blood without death. Abel’s sacrifice was a lamb a lamb that died instead of him. In the world today there truly are only two ways of salvation: God’s way and man’s way. God’s way is salvation through the death of the Lord Jesus instead of us sinners. It is free, without works. There may be many forms to man’s way, but they are all alike in this: they all teach salvation by works. This is true, whether in China men and women seek to obtain salvation by burning incense and worshipping idols, by vegetarian vows, or by doing good deeds; or whether in England and America men seek to obtain salvation by keeping the Ten Commandments, by doing their best, by giving to the poor, or by confession and penance. All are works of man and one is as useless as the other. All alike bring a curse, and all alike end in hell.
Do not deceive yourselves, dear friends. Salvation by works is the devil’s way of salvation. It is counterfeit. It is false. It leads you to destruction, no matter whether you trust in the Ten Commandments or in a dumb and painted idol. We will see that for salvation God puts these together, one as useless as the other.
Do not deceive yourselves. The false teachers who led the Galatian Christians astray have multitudes of descendants today, and today they are just as earnestly seeking to lead men astray as they were in the days of old. So, beware!
But if these Jewish teachers were to read these words, they would say, “You are not fair. We do not want to trust in the law instead of in Christ. We do teach it is necessary to believe in Christ. Only we teach salvation by Christ AND the law. We believe in Christ AND circumcision.” But we will see that the Spirit of God will not allow anything to be added to Christ and His work. Salvation is by Christ alone, or not at all. Christ AND something else is not salvation at all and, we will see, brings a curse and not a blessing. The epistle to the Galatians is God’s answer to this teaching of Christ AND something else.
In our day this teaching is most common. Even as I write, a friend has put a book in my hands, attractively printed with a bright cover and offered for sale at a low price. This book boldly teaches that salvation is only by the death of Christ AND the Ten Commandments. This is the teaching of the false teachers at Galatia, and God says to all such, “Cursed be he!” ch. 1:8, 9. How many preachers and teachers in China, some even true Christian men, tell their hearers to “believe in Christ AND keep the law!” “Believe in Christ AND do the best you can!” “Believe in Christ AND DO something besides.” A friend told me only last week, “I try to keep the law to be saved AND I trust Christ to forgive me for the times I break it.”
God says to such teachers, “Cursed be he!” Again let me repeat: This is the devil’s way of salvation. This ends in the lake of fire. God’s way of salvation is this: CHRIST, and CHRIST alone. Christ has done all the work. “It is finished!” There is nothing left for me to do but accept it and give thanks to God.