Galatia was a Roman province in Asia Minor. It was populated chiefly by Gauls who emigrated from France in 300 B.C. They were a very impulsive, changeable people.
This probably accounts for their enthusiastic reception of Paul when he first came to them (see Galatians 4:14). “But ye received me as an angel of God, even as Jesus Christ,” and accounts no doubt for their sudden swing to “another gospel” (see Galatians 1:6).
Paul said, “I marvel that you are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel.” Paul probably had this situation in mind when he wrote to the Ephesian church four years later, “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.”
The Occasion and Object of Writing
The Judaizers were a perpetual menace to Paul’s work. They refused to accept the Gospel of pure grace and insisted that unless the believer kept the Law of Moses and submitted to the rite of circumcision, one could not be saved. These men were quick to take advantage of the weakness and immaturity of the new churches planted by Paul. Their insidious doctrine was readily accepted by some of the new converts; this caused confusion and wrecked the faith of some. Such teaching is the very negation of Christianity.
Paul wrote to the Galatians to establish at least two things: (1) that the Lord Jesus delivered his ministry to him, and (2) that his authority and message were divine. This probably puts the message of the epistle in a nutshell:
Paul defends his apostolic authority (Galatians 1:10-2:15)
Paul’s defense of old exposition of salvation and sanctification of faith alone (Galatians 3-6).
The aim of this great epistle is to show that Christianity rests on the principle of faith and Judaism is based on the “by works” principle. There can be no more fellowship between them than there was between Sarah and Hagar or between Isaac and Ishmael (see Galatians 4). The consideration of this epistle brings us to the end of what we have mentioned before as the evangelical epistles (i.e. Romans, Corinthians, and Galatians).
Read Romans to be grounded in Christian doctrine.
Read Corinthians to be guided in Christian practice.
Read Galatians to be guarded against deceptive error.
Sidlow Baxter presents a very interesting analysis. He entitles the epistle “Liberation through the Gospel.” Then he proceeds to divide it up as follows:
1. The Authenticity of the Gospel (Chapters 1-2)
A. Genuine as to its origin
B. Genuine as to its nature
2. The Superiority of the Gospel (Chapters 3-4)
A. In the new relationship it produces
B. In the privileges it releases
3. The True Liberty of the Gospel (Chapters 5-6)
A. Love-service ends law-bondage
B. The Spirit ends flesh-bondage
This epistle truly is the Magna Carta of spiritual emancipation. The truth expounded played a great part in the Reformation. Luther said, “This is my epistle.”
The Galatians were a simple, rural people and understood certain terms. Paul uses some of these to illustrate great spiritual truths. These consist of words such as:
- Fruit-bearing: the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23)
- Burden-bearing: “Bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (see Galatians 6:2)
- Seed-bearing: Whatsoever a man soweth (see Galatians 6:7). Let us not be weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap if we faint not (see Galatians 6:9).
- Brand-bearing: I bear in my body the marks (or brands) of the Lord Jesus (see Galatians 6:17).
Some of the great truths expressed:
There is no other gospel than that which Paul preached. Note the admonition in Galatians 1:8-9. Paul’s Gospel was received as a direct revelation from God, not from man (see Galatians 1:11-12).
Justification by faith is the theme against the Judaizers’ claim of “by works.” Note and memorize Galatians 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ […]”
Galatians 4 teaches that there is no salvation through the Law. Legality brings barrenness to the soul and a loss of spiritual joy.
The “works of the flesh” are contrasted with the “fruit of the Spirit” revealed in Galatians 5. [Study these carefully.]
Chapter 6 is full of instruction with regards to the following:
1. Restoring an erring believer (Galatians 6:1)
2. Bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)
3. The unalterable principle of reaping what is sown (Galatians 6:7-8)
4. The fact that our glory should be in the cross of Christ (Galatians 6:14)
5. In Christ, we are new creatures (Galatians 6:15)
One of the best and most simple outlines is as follows:
Chapters 1-2 are devoted largely to setting forth the nature of Paul’s apostleship.
Chapters 3-4 are a statement of what His gospel really is. It is a message of grace that calls you forth.
Chapters 5-6 show that after receiving His Gospel, there lies the necessity of living it out. The power of the cross and the energy of the Spirit are presented as efficacious, rather than the effects to keep the law.