The Epistle to the Galatians – 02 (“The True Gospel”)

The Epistle to the Galatians – 02 (“The True Gospel”)

We saw last week that Paul’s purpose in writing the Epistle to the Galatians was:

  • To defend his apostolic authority (Gal.1:11-19; Gal.2:1-14);
  • To counteract the evil influence of the Judaizers in Galatia (Gal. 3:1-4:31), and to show that their doctrine destroyed the very essence of Christianity, by lowering its spirituality to an outward ceremonial system;
  • To give exhortation for the strengthening of Galatian believers in faith towards Christ, and in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:1-6:18). He had already, face to face, testified against the Judaizing teachers (Gal.1:9; Gal.4:16; Acts18:23); and now that he has heard of the continued and increasing prevalence of the evil, he writes with his own hand (Gal.6:11 – a labour which he usually delegated to an amanuensis/secretary) this Epistle to oppose it.

We also saw that the central message from Galatians, is most probably stated in Gal.2:16 ~ “…a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.”

In today’s passage, Paul begins to elaborate the point he made in vs.1, namely, that this gospel is not “from men” but from God. This is also how we are called to listen to the message – It is not designed to please men, as if God had to cajole and entice (Afrikaans = “om iemand te probeer oortuig”) them to believe. It is “the gospel of God” (Rom.1:1), designed to promote the glory of God and of Christ Jesus.

Today, we will be looking at Paul’s calling or mission (1:15-16a); Paul’s message (1:10-14) and Paul’s meander (Afrikaans = “omswerwing”) (1:16b-24).

Gal.1:10-24 ~ “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. 11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. 18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.”

3. PAUL’S MISSION (vss.15-16a):
In the light of the distorted gospel that false teachers in the Galatian churches were proclaiming, namely that salvation must be based on faith plus works (in this case circumcision), Paul’s purpose for writing the letter to the Galatian churches were to counter these false teachers.

Paul’s problem however was that many people did not accept him as an apostle and therefore not accepting him conveying a message from God. The Judaizers claimed that Paul was not a Christ-appointed apostle, and that the gospel he preached was not the true gospel, and that the gospel preached lead to licentious living (Afrikaans = “’n losbandige lewe”). Paul therefore, had to prove his apostleship and thus the authority with which he was speaking. The gospel he proclaimed was the only true gospel. He already did that in vss.1-5, but in vss,15-16b he refers to his calling.

This mission or calling of Paul consisted of three aspects:

  • Saved by God (vs.15): First, he was saved by God’s grace – God’s sovereign grace. He is very clear about the fact that it was God who set him apart and was pleased to reveal His Son, Jesus Christ to him. Paul did not search for conversion, he did not want it, in fact he hated the gospel, to such an extent that he persecuted Christians ~ “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers” (Gal.1:13-14). God, however, sovereignly saved him on his way to Damascus ~ “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do…” (Acts 9:1-6). This was Paul’s Damascus road experience, when he was effectually called.
  • Ordained by God (vs.16a): Second, Paul compares himself to the Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah by quoting Jeremiah and apply Jeremiah’s words on himself… ~ “…Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer.1:5). Before Paul was even born, the Lord has already sovereignly ordained that Paul will be saved and converted from Judaism in order to proclaim the Good News of the gospel of grace.
  • Commissioned by God (vs.16a): Third, God the Father revealed the risen Jesus Christ to Paul and he set him apart and commissioned him to proclaim the gospel to the Gentile world ~ “But the Lord said to him (that was Ananias), ‘Go, for he (i.e. Paul) is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15).

This was Paul’s mission. Let us now look at Paul’s message.

4. PAUL’S MESSAGE (vss.10-14):
Now that Paul has set the record straight and told the Galatians that he was effectually called by the Lord – not only from Judaism, but also appointed as apostle and called as minister and proclaimer of the gospel message to the Gentiles. He therefore motivates why he is not proclaiming a “different gospel” like the false teachers or that he is teaching a message that was a mere human invention.

Paul begins by saying in vs.10 that he is not sharing the gospel message of Jesus Christ in order to receive the approval of man. We must keep in mind that Paul experienced severe attacks from the Judaizers. They claimed that Paul was not a Christ-appointed apostle. According to them, he did not speak for God when he said that the Gentiles could be made right by God without keeping the law.

He says that if he was seeking the approval of man, or trying to please man, he definitely was not a servant of Christ. If Paul had wanted to please men, he would have remained a zealous Pharisee and promoter of the Law rather than becoming a servant of Christ. In 1 Thes.2:4 Paul affirmed his purpose to please God, not men ~ “…but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.”

The Judaizers are identified by the false gospel that they preached. The “litmus test” of a man’s ministry is not popularity (Matt. 24:11), or miraculous signs and wonders (Matt. 24:23–24), but his faithfulness to the Word of God. Isaiah says in Isa.8:20 ~ “To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.” The Judaizers had substituted their false gospel for the true Gospel, and for this sin, Paul pronounced them accursed (1:8,9).

If Paul wanted to tickle his listeners’ ears, he would have preached a different gospel, a popular gospel, a false gospel, but he was proclaiming the true gospel – not man’s gospel, but the gospel of grace – Christ’s gospel, that gospel which Paul himself, before his conversion, so vehemently persecuted.

In order to defend his message, he presents his argument in vss.11-14, why this gospel is the true gospel. He says that the gospel was received by divine revelation and independently from man. The fact that Paul did not include Jewish law in this gospel that he is now teaching, does not mean that the law has been ignored or are to be ignored. Paul was previously a devoted student and master of Jewish law and if he was teaching a different gospel, he would certainly have included the law in his gospel, but the gospel that he is preaching now is not his gospel, but the gospel message that he received directly from God. It was not the result of his own thinking, but a revelation from God.

This is Paul’s message. Let us now look at his meander.

5. PAUL’S MEANDER (vss.16b-24):
In vss.16b-24 Paul continues to motivate why the gospel he received is not from man (or even the apostles), but from God. He says that, immediately after his conversion, he went away into Arabia and then returned to Damascus, where he remained for three years before he went to Jerusalem and when he arrived in Jerusalem, he only met up with James, the Lord’s brother and Cephas (a.k.a. Peter – Cephas is the Aramaic name for Peter).

During the three years between his conversion and his arrival in Jerusalem, he never consulted with anyone. In other words, no one could have influenced him and taught him a man’s gospel – a different gospel – the gospel that he received was a sovereign gift from God and God alone.

If we look at verses like Acts 9:27, we know that Paul did not only meet with James and Peter, but with others as well, e.g. Barnabas, but Paul only mentions James and Peter, because he may well be suggesting that these other “meetings” were secondary and not to be viewed as having the same degree of importance as the meetings with Peter and James.

We must keep in mind that Paul was at this stage of his ministry, almost entirely unknown to the apostles, apart from his dreadful past. He was not as yet, the famous missionary and evangelist that he would become. It is more than likely that many of the believers in Jerusalem was still deeply suspicious of Paul’s conversion, suspecting him perhaps of false motives. This is what Luke wanted to convey in Acts 9:26 when he wrote ~ “And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.”

Although Paul did not see the rest of the apostles, he spent fifteen days with Peter. During this time, he must have learnt a lot about Jesus’s earthly ministry, but apart from that, Paul received his knowledge of the gospel personally from God, as his calling to the apostleship. Therefore, Paul proves that this appointment and the message was a divine appointment and message, because it was independent of the Jerusalem Church and he seals this claim with an oath ~ “In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!” (vs.20).

After his visit to Jerusalem he went back to Arabia and again to Damascus (vs.21). The reason that he left Jerusalem was because the Hellenistic Jews (those Jews who spoke Greek and lived amongst the Gentiles – they read the Greek Old Testament, called the Septuagint”) wanted to kill Paul for the gospel message that he was preaching in Jerusalem.

The scope of Paul’s ministry from the very beginning was different from that of the other apostles. Paul brought the gospel to the Gentiles, whilst the other apostles mainly ministered to the Jews.

In vss.22-24, Paul argues that the church knew and approved of his work ~ “And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.” Paul had the implicit approval of the apostles.

Moreover, it is clear from vs.24 that even the churches in Judea approved of Paul’s work in the Gentile world. They glorified God as a result of Paul’s testimony and gospel message.

From this passage that we’ve looked at today, it stands out that there is only one gospel. The modern day and popular view is that there are many different ways to God, but Paul is not in agreement with such an approach. He insists that there is only one gospel and that this gospel does not change.

Believers in our days (maybe even some of you as well) may say, but the gospel is crystal clear, because we know that the gospel plus works is not the true gospel. Or believers might say that they know what the true gospel entails, namely (in short), something like: “The word ‘gospel’ literally means ‘good news and the gospel involves Jesus’ death on the cross as the sin offering to fulfil the Law’s righteous requirement and the gospel also involves Jesus’ resurrection on the third day, etc.” But, the false gospel is not always that clear cut and we must take note of that.

When people blame all the good on God and all the bad on the devil, they are guilty of an ancient heresy called “dualism.” Dualism basically sees God and the devil (good and bad) as two independent and sovereign powers struggling for ultimate control of this world. These “dualist Christians” earnestly hope that “their side” (God) wins the battle, but at times it does not look too good.

Now let’s apply our knowledge. We hear many a time that people would say “Praise the Lord” when a gambling casino would burn down, but when a church would burn down, they will say, “It was the devil.” Why would people credit God for burning down a “bad place,” but credit the devil for destroying the “good place”?

It is especially the Charismatic Movement and Pentecostal churches, as well as anyone else that emphasises health and wealth as the birthright of every Christian, and blames the devil for everything that hinders their “personal happiness.” Why are people doing this? Why are they doubting, or even worse than that, why are they ignorant of the sovereignty of God? Yes, because of a lack of proper contextual Biblical teaching, but it might also be that they want to “protect God” – to “protect God’s image” in a hostile world who is questioning the very existence and sovereignty of God. This is dualism and a severe form of heresy and we know what Paul says in Gal.1:8, namely that anyone who preaches a different gospel, “may he be accursed.”

If they understood verses like Rom.11:36 (“For from him and through him and to him are all things”) and Rom.8:28 (“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose”), they would have to acknowledge the hand of God in both instances.

The gospel of Jesus Christ has never changed. Since the ministry of Paul and the other apostles, the gospel is divine in origin and essence, no attempt must be made to distort it. It is the only Good News whereby men are saved, enabled to be a blessing to their neighbours, and equipped to live to God’s glory. This was Paul’s mission to proclaim and his message on his meander.

Kobus van der Walt

There is only one true gospel message: The simple message that salvation is solely by grace and through faith. Listen carefully: It is not by our own doing. It is not our own doing. It is not a result of our own works. It is a gracious gift from God! Believe it, repent of your sins and live accordingly.

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