Text: Galatians 1:1-9
Proposition: It is by the will of God that the gift of God in Christ Jesus has delivered us from the power of an age of evil, which is freedom indeed.
Introduction: It was Martin Luther’s favorite book in the Bible so much so that he once said, “To it I am as it were in wedlock. It is my Katherine.’ This same book has been called ‘the battle cry of the Reformation’, ‘the great charter of religious freedom’ and ‘the Christian declaration of Independence’. It’s written to a people group whose roots were Celtic, Gauls from northern Europe. It’s been thought to be one of the earliest of all Paul’s letters and it is written to a region rather than to a specific church to address an influence spreading in the churches there. It’s this book that we are about to begin our next journey together in. Turn with me to that book as we look at the first verses in Galatians 1:1-9.
I. The Erosion of Truth Begins With the Erosion of Authority.
The context behind why Paul writes this letter is that the churches recently planted in the region of Galatia, both northern and southern, were being drawn away from the fundamental truths of the gospel. This region was invaded by the Gauls in about 270 BC. J.B. Grenough in a commentary written about Rome’s wars with the Celts or Gauls writes, “The Celts had been for centuries a migratory and always a warlike people. Besides those who occupied Gaul proper, there were Iberian Celts in Spain, British Celts, Belgic Celts, Italian Celts in northern Italy, Celts in the Alps, Illyrian Celts, and the Asiatic Celts who had settled in Asia Minor and were known as Galatians.” The Gauls, which is the root word in the term Galations, were a spiritual people who had a priestly class called druids. When they came into the region of Asia Minor, modern day Turkey, they assimilated with the peoples of the region and were eventually subjugated by Rome. It was to these people who had adopted the beliefs of Rome and even the Greek gods, that Paul and Barnabas came on their first missionary journey (Acts 13, 14). Paul’s strategy on that first journey into Galatia was to go to the synagogues first and preach the gospel of Christ. So, many of the first converts to Christianity were Jews as well as the Galatian Gentiles. After Paul had left and some time had passed the Jews began to revert back to Judaism, teaching the Gentile believers that they needed to be circumcised and obey various Mosaic laws in order to be righteous and be assured of their salvation. What had begun to happen is that Paul’s authority as an Apostle of Christ was disparaged by the Jews. As that authority was weakened the ability to challenge what he had taught got easier and so there was this erosion of the truth of the Gospel happening in these very young churches, Have a look at verses 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.” In this letter Paul will take considerable effort to affirm to them his authority in Christ and the purpose behind doing that is to be able to declare to them the truth of who Christ is and the truth of who they are as His disciples. They had drifted into a syncretism, a Jesus plus view of salvation. It was Jesus plus circumcision, Jesus plus the works of the Law, Jesus plus my best efforts. So look at how Paul begins this letter as he seeks to reestablish truth in their hearts, “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ,”. The Gospel is built on the grace of God that brings the peace of God. It comes from the Father to us, from the body and blood of Jesus to us. He says in verse 4 that Jesus, “… gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,”. You could say that this verse infers three things that are at the heart of the Gospel. He gave Himself for our sins… Redemption. He might deliver us from this present evil age… Sanctification. According to the will of our God and Father…Glorification. All three of these are the works of Christ for us, in us and through us. The Gospel or Good News, is that the perfect work that salvation demands doesn’t come from our hands, it comes from the Person of God to us. In that righteousness we are meant to rest, to take shelter in, to be transformed by and to become agents of reconciliation to the world. When authority erodes then truth erodes. In this case it is the authority of Apostleship of Paul that is being eroded. What he declares and teaches in this letter is the call he has received as an Apostle of Christ. You’ll hear him talk about how he has been transformed from being dead spiritually to being alive in Christ, from being an enemy of God to being a son of God.
When the authority of the Word of God erodes, then truth erodes. This is the essence of every cult, every abuse in the church stems from this place whether that be Prosperity Gospel preaching or the Free Grace movement. The erosion of truth begins with the erosion of the authority of Scripture.
II. The Abuse of Freedom Perverts the Gospel.
I think that the reason why Galatians is referred to as ‘the great charter of religious freedom’ is because it sets before us the reality of freedom. The Galatians were free in Christ and yet were turning that freedom into an effort of self-righteousness. The intent behind the Jews demanding that the Gentile Galatians be circumcised was an attempt to get them to be under the Law of Moses as the source of their right standing with God. On the surface it looked appealing. It would require great sacrifice, it would be a mark of separation, it would spill their own blood as an effort to prove their faith. The problem is that it would pervert the Gospel. To pervert is a term that means to turn something around and change it from what it is intended to be. There is sexual perversion, spiritual perversion, perversion of speech and perversion of truth. Look at verses 6,7, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.” They were but young in the faith that called to them to freedom from sin and yet so soon they were being swayed to a Jesus plus belief, a perverted gospel.
Paul then makes a very strong statement, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.” In verse 9 Paul restates it, “As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” Any adulteration of the Gospel by anybody will cause that person or being to be accursed. ‘Accursed’, it’s the Greek word ‘anathema’ which didn’t show up in the English language until 1526. The meaning of the English word anathema meant ‘to detest or to shun.’ What Paul meant by the word ‘anathema’, translated as ‘accursed’, was something stronger than just shunned or detested. What he meant was that if they adulterated the Gospel then were separated from the church and were now devoted to the direst of woes. You’ll remember that Paul used this term before a number of times but especially in Romans 9:3, “For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:” (KJV). In this sense of the word ‘anathema’ Paul literally means to say, ‘eternally separated from Christ’, the greatest form of what it means to be cursed.
Galatians is a book about freedom, our incredible freedom in Christ. Do you remember the many verses that refer to Christian freedom in the Scriptures? Verses like 1 Pet 2:16, “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God's slaves.”(NIV) Freedom is not a license to reinvent righteousness. Freedom is a gift to be laid down at the feet of Christ alone. Freedom in Christ is like a gift, it has a ‘From:’ tag on it and a ‘To:’ tag on it. It comes from the Father and from Christ and it is meant deliver us from sin and death. It comes to us who by faith would receive it, it is to conform us into the image of His Son, it is to call us to be bond servants. Freedom is what sets us free to both love as Christ would and at the same to die to self. To throw away your freedom in Christ would be to make yourself a slave to something or someone other than God. Galatians is written so that you would know Christ and … “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36)