Galatians 1–3: Law, Grace, & the Gospel

Read the Bible in 2011–2021* ◊ Week 22: Sunday

Paul, an apostle (not sent from men nor through the agency of 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:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen.
Galatians 1:1–5

Today’s Bible reading is Galatians 1–3. Before you read, ask God to teach you from this letter and to give you understanding about His grace.

Over the years there has been debate over when and to whom this letter was written. In Who Were the Galatians? Ligonier Ministries gives a brief summary of differing views, and why many today favor the South Galatian Theory and consider that Galatians was probably the earliest of Paul’s letters in the New Testament. Here’s a map of Paul’s missionary journeys if you’d like to trace the cities. As is noted, however:

“While such an exercise might be valuable, we must be careful to insure that the issue of the book’s original audience does not obscure its meaning to us, its current audience.”1

This is the letter that Martin Luther claimed as his own:

“The epistle to the Galatians is my epistle. To it I am as it were in wedlock. It is my Katherine [his wife].” Thus spoke Luther, who considered Galatians the best of all books in the Bible. It has been called “the battle-cry of the Reformation,” “the great charter of religious freedom,” “the Christian declaration of independence.”2

Paul’s greetings to the different churches he writes to are fascinating tailored as they are to the churches or individuals to whom he writes. Even before Paul begins to write about his concerns, he describes who sent him as an apostle in verse one, and then summarizes the Gospel in verse four. William Hendricksen writes:

“…here is an Introduction that really introduces, for the words not from men nor through men, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father can only mean: “My apostleship is genuine; hence so is the gospel which I proclaim, no matter what the Judaizers who disturb you may say! I am a divinely appointed emissary…

“Not only had he received his office from the historical Jesus, who is at the same time the Anointed One, but that very Jesus Christ in person had invested him with this high distinction. Hence, Paul is an apostle through—not only from—Jesus Christ…

“The implication is clear: since Paul and his message are backed by divine authority, those who reject him and his gospel are rejecters of Christ, hence also of the Father who sent him and who raised him from the dead.”3

Hendricksen shares his thoughts on Galatians 1:4.

“Everywhere else the opening salutation proper is very brief. Having read the words “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” [1:3] the addition here [in 1:4] of a modifier to the title of the second person of the Holy Trinity comes as somewhat of a surprise. Clearly, in keeping with the occasion and purpose of the letter, there must be a reason why Paul here adds: who gave himself for our sins, that he might rescue us out of this present world dominated by evil. The reason is that the atmosphere continues to be loaded. The greatness and magnanimity of Christ’s act of self-surrender is stressed in order to underscore the grievous sin of those who teach that this supreme sacrifice must be supplemented by law-works.”4

Having established his authority as an apostle, and the crux of the Gospel, Paul quickly moves on to why he is writing to them. In Galatians 1:6-7, we have the four “D’s” of Galatians.

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ.
Galatians 1:6–7

What are the Galatians doing? They’re deserting Christ for a different gospel.

What are some doing? They’re disturbing believers, wanting to distort the gospel.

Paul had brought the gospel to the Galatians. They received him with great gratitude and love. They had suffered for the gospel and had seen God do great miracles in their midst—yet they were deserting the gospel of grace for a different gospel as they were disturbed by those who declared circumcision and becoming a Jew was necessary for salvation. Having been saved by grace, they were now living by a distorted gospel, thinking they now were to complete making themselves righteous before God by their works under the Law.

Paul goes on to write of his conversion and relates later events in his life to demonstrate:

  • The gospel is God’s, not man’s. (Chapter 1)
  • The gospel never changes. (Chapters 1, 2)
  • The gospel’s truth has been defended by him. (Chapter 2)
  • The very nature of the gospel: Christians are justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law.  (Chapter 2)

In Galatians 2:19-21, Paul writes:

For through the Law I died to the Law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.
Galatians 2:19–21

Paul says his relationship with the Law is one of death.  In his later letter to the church in Rome, he further elaborated:

Or do you not know brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? For the married woman is bound by the law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law regarding her husband. So then if, while her husband is living, she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress, though she is joined to another man.

Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.
Romans 7:1–6

In Christ we die to the Law and through Him we are made a new creation to live and serve in the newness of the Spirit.

In chapter 3, Paul moves on to Abraham. There are parallels to this chapter in Romans 3 and 4. In fact, if you don’t understand everything Paul is writing in Galatians, go to Romans 1 and start reading. Let Scripture interpret Scripture.

In Galatians 3, Paul explains:

Even so Abraham BELIEVED GOD AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.
Galatians 3:6–9

Paul comes to the crescendo of the truth of the Gospel:

Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”
Galatians 3:11

Paul is quoting Habakkuk 2:4. This verse from Habakkuk is also quoted in Romans 1:17 and Hebrews 10:38. Years ago I heard a pastor divide the emphases of these verses this way:

Romans 1:17  ——The righteous
Hebrews 10:38 shall live
Galatians 3:11  by faith

Paul now comes to the purpose of the Law and what it became to us.

Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made. Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one. Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:19–26

The Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ. Compare these verses with Romans 3 and Romans 7:7–12. The Law closes our mouth if we try to justify ourselves before God. Through the Law the Holy Spirit teaches us God’s standard of righteousness, convicts us of sin, shows us our utter helplessness before God to make ourselves righteous in His sight and our great need of a Savior to redeem us and deliver us from our sin. The Law leads us to Christ.

Paul closes the chapters with verse that have been grossly misinterpreted today:

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.
Galatians 3:19–26

Through this entire letter Paul has been explaining why Gentiles do not need to become Jews to be just before God. He has been at pains to explain that Abraham was made righteous by his faith, and that all who are of faith are sons of Abraham—they are not excluded by not being Jewish. These verses summarize that: those who believe in Jesus are all sons of God. There are no distinctions as to who you are by birth or station in life. These verses do not say or mean there are no different roles between the sexes. See my post, 1 Timothy 2:9–15: Creation, The Fall, & Women, for more on this topic.

Don’t get sidetracked here and miss the importance of what Paul has said about the Law, grace, and the Gospel. Look again at these verses:

For through the Law I died to the Law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.
Galatians 2:19–21

John MacArthur writes,

“In both Romans [7:1–2, 4; 6:1–14] and Galatians, Paul is referring to the fact that when a person exercises faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, he is placed in a transcendent spiritual union with Christ in the historical event of His death and resurrection, in which the penalty of sin was paid in full…

“Legalism’s most destructive effect is that it cancels the effect of the cross. I have been crucified with Christ, Paul testifies, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. To go back under the law would be to cancel one’s union with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and therefore go back under sin.

I died to the Law, Paul explains, because I was crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live. The old man, the old self, is dead crucified with Christ, and the new man lives (cf. Col. 3:9-10). Now I . . . live to God because Christ lives in me (cf. Rom. 8:9) The live I received by faith I now also live by faith. The Greek verb behind live is in the perfect tense, indicating a past completed action that has continuing results…

“All of this saving work is the gift of God’s sovereign grace.”5

Always remember we came to Christ by hearing with faith.

This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
Galatians 3:2–3

John MacArthur applies this verse:

“Like the Judaizers, many groups and movements today want to introduce special conditions or requirements that supposedly add blessings to the finished and perfect work of Christ—such as a greater fullness of the Spirit, speaking in tongues, or a complete salvation. But all such things are forms of works righteousness, adding things that man can do to what Christ has already done and that only He could do…

Having begun by the Spirit,” Paul continues, “are you now being perfected by the flesh? How could you think that your weak, imperfect, still sinful flesh could improve on what the divine Spirit of God began in you when you first believed?” Drifting from the provisions of grace into the efforts of law is ludicrous…

“The validity of good works in God’s sight depends on whose power they are done in and for whose glory. When they are done in the power of His Spirit and for His glory, they are beautiful and acceptable to Him. When they are done in the power of the flesh and for personal recognition or merit, the are rejected by Him…

“Even the best and most acceptable works do not increase our standing before God or elevate us to a higher status. How would it be possible to be more than a child of God and fellow heir with Jesus Christ, who is the Heir of all things (Rom. 8:17; Heb. 1:2; cf. Gal. 4:7; 1 Pet. 3:7)?”6

Legalism is such an easy trap to fall into. Sometimes we are crushed by it, and sometimes in self-righteous pride we are deluded by it. We came to Christ by hearing the Gospel with faith. Throughout our lives we have remind ourselves we live by faith.

Gratitude and humility go hand in hand in keeping us from legalism. Remembering all God has done for us in Christ Jesus buries our pride, and lifts our heart in joy.

Think over what you have read in Galatians, and spend time in prayer with God.


Isaiah 42 Photograph: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications. (Site has been deleted since posting).
Cross at Sunset: FreeFoto.com. (Site has been deleted).
1Who Were the Galatians?” Ligonier Devotionals, Copyright 1992 by Ligonier Ministries.
2Martin Luther as quoted by William Hendricksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Galatians (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids MI: 1968) 3, 30.
3,4William Hendricksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Galatians (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids MI: 1968) 30, 33–34.
5,6John MacArthur, Galatians (The Moody Bible Institute, Chicago IL: 1987) 59–60, 67–68.

*In 2011 I started a year-long series of posts, “Read the Bible in 2011.” You can find the other posts in the navigation menu in the header. If a day doesn’t have a link to a post, the post was simply a brief reminder about the reading. I’m filling in some of those gaps with new posts with “Read the Bible in 2011 Redux” as a category.

Copyright ©2011–2021 Iwana Carpenter

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