As we begin a study of Galatians, you can be assured that Rudy Ross and I will work as hard as possible to explain the letter and apply it to life today.
Reading Galatians is like mining for gold. It requires effort and patience, but our work will pay off with spiritual gold.
Who were the Galatians?
Galatia was a province of the Roman empire and was located in today’s southern Turkey.
The small churches in Galatia were comprised of Gentiles, who had left the idolatry of the Roman empire to become followers of Jesus.
These new converts faced pressure from two distinct religious and cultural spheres.
(1) Jews and Jewish followers of Jesus were one side of the divide.
Jews and Jewish followers of Jesus were intent on preserving their identity as God’s people.
The circumcision of males was God’s ordained mark of his covenant with Israel. In addition, they observed certain food laws, the Sabbath, and religious celebrations that marked them as distinct from the surrounding world.
(2) Worshipers of pagan gods comprised the other dynamic in the Roman empire.
They far outnumbered their Jewish counterparts, but the Roman government did give the Jews an exception when it came to idol worship.
That was not the case with the Gentiles, who converted from idolatry to follow Jesus.
Like mandatory attendance in class at school, the Roman authorities expected the public to participate in festivals and offerings to their gods.
If something bad happened in a village, non-practicing idol worshipers were blamed for the calamity. It was believed that they had offended the gods.
What were Paul’s message and the resulting conflict?
Paul believed that the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, along with the gift of the Holy Spirit was what designated a person as part of God’s family.
When the Gentiles heard the gospel and were filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter recognized that God had worked with them just as with Jewish followers of Jesus.
“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10.47).
The good news that Paul proclaimed included the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit. He believed that was enough to mark a person as a member of God’s family.
As a result, the Galatian followers no longer participated in pagan festivals. This surely brought the condemnation of their neighbors.
The Jewish followers of Jesus were also upset with the Galatians. They reasoned, “If they want to be part of the family of God, they need to be circumcised, follow our food laws, and observe the sabbath.”
Paul was the lightning rod for this controversy. His gospel brought him into conflict with both Jews and Gentiles.
The Jewish followers of Jesus believed that Paul was preaching an easy message that eliminated the difficult decisions of full membership into the family of God.
Paul answers his critics.
The first five verses of the letter begin Paul’s defense of the good news that Jesus gave him to preach.
— Galatians 1.1-5 – Paul an apostle — sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead –
And all the brothers and sisters with me, to the churches of Galatia:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
Who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,
To whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
At the very beginning of his letter, Paul declares that he neither volunteered nor was appointed by humans to the position of an apostle. His commission came from God.
He will further unpack the authoritative nature of his message later in chapters one and two.
The good news of the gospel for the Galatians and millions of Jesus followers is that life with Jesus sets us free from the idols of this present age.
Galatian Gentiles were attracted to Jesus because he was so different from the oppressive gods of the Roman empire. Jesus offered freedom, whereas idols enslaved their followers to burdensome rites.
At the same time, the freedom of the Gentile converts was disturbing to both their pagan neighbors and Jewish followers of Jesus.
How can we apply this portion of Galatians to our lives?
I see two applications at this point in our study.
(1) People who follow Jesus will come into conflict with their culture.
Sometimes, they will struggle with neighbors, family members, and co-workers who don’t understand their commitment to Jesus.
At other times, their opponents will be other followers of Jesus who hold different opinions.
Paul is an excellent example of how to remain faithful to Jesus in spite of conflict.
Paul exemplifies the power of having sound knowledge of the Bible and a conversational relationship with the Lord. They are God’s prescribed way to be victorious.
(2) Jesus has set us free from idolatry. Anything that is a substitute for God is an idol.
Even though Jesus has made it possible for us to be free, there will always be circumstances that attempt to draw us back into slavery to these false replacements for God.
Once we surrender to Jesus, the Holy Spirit is our companion and guide. As we surrender to his leadership, he will keep us free from the service of self and other substitutes for God.
Rudy Ross and I have produced a YouTube video on this passage. Both Rudy and I struggle to express in 10 minutes the power of Paul’s words.
We recommend that you prayerfully read Galatians and Acts 7-15. Reading will deepen your appreciation of the outstanding letter.
Please email your prayer request to firstname.lastname@example.org and the Maywood prayer team will pray for you.