There is a struggle for freedom that is taking place today that affects the lives of every man, woman, boy, and girl. There is a cry for freedom that rings out from the human heart all across the planet. If you will listen quietly then you can hear the cry coming from the plains of Africa, it can be heard in the Outback of Australia, in the jungles of Southeast Asia, flowing from the mountains of Central and South America, swirling in the desert of the Middle East, and ringing out from the countryside and cities all across America. And yet, even as the cry for freedom rings out, there are many voices urging us down dead-end roads that will never lead to the righteousness that God intends for those who live in freedom.
Even as men and women from our nation are fighting side-by-side with those from other nations who are seeking the liberation of the nation of Iraq there is another battle being waged. The battle I am speaking of has not received a moment’s notice on CNN or the Fox News Network. The war that has taken a greater toll upon lives than all of the world’s wars combined has never been mentioned by Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, or Dan Rather. The battle that I am referring to is not being waged in the theatre of the desert or urban settings, but in the human heart. The battle for freedom is taking place in this very sanctuary this morning in some of our hearts. I pray that by the time we end this study that the Lord will open your eyes to the path to freedom and bring about your own liberation.
Today we are beginning one of the greatest journeys that any follower of Jesus can ever take. The journey that we will take over the next few months is a journey that, the pages of history reveal, has been taken by many who have gone before us. Our journey can be a freedom march for you and for me. If we will approach this little book with the utmost reverence, read it as if our lives depended upon understanding and implementing its truths, and if we will refuse to surrender to the world’s cry to abandon its foundational truth that freedom is found in Christ alone — then we will see the gates of captivity swing open wide and we will be free at last! With every step we take through the pages of this powerful little book we will experience more and more of the precious freedom that only Christ can bring.
Wherever the book of Galatians has traveled a line in the sand has been drawn and people have been confronted with the truth. In Galatians there is no middle ground, there are no focus groups to “work out” a compromise, and human efforts, accomplishments, and aspirations are deemed worthless in the quest for freedom. Those who have chosen to reject the truths of Paul’s letter to the Galatians have continued to try and free themselves from the shackles of sin. They have sought to please God by their own good behavior, by keeping the Law, and by following legalistic paths to righteousness, but they have without fail, failed.
The only path to freedom runs directly to the cross and crown of our glorious Savior and King! Wherever this glorious truth has been proclaimed and claimed, freedom has flourished, and in its wake societies, the Church, and many human hearts that were shackled in the chains of Church tradition, legalism, and the Law have been freed! Let freedom ring!
Let me warn you, this is not a journey for the faint of heart. Throughout history there have been numerous debates, Church battles, excommunications, and even the loss of lives for those who chose to cling to Christ alone rather than traditionalism, legalism, or the good works of human hands and hearts to try and please God and gain a right standing before Him. To cling to Christ as our sole justification means that we must renounce all human effort and aspirations to justify ourselves in the sight of God.
As we begin this journey it is important for us to know that freedom comes with a great price. Our freedom does not come cheaply. Our liberation does not come by means of human effort. Our freedom is not to be taken lightly for it comes at the highest cost the world has ever known – the sacrifice of God’s own Son. We cannot, will not, nor has anyone ever won his or her own freedom. Our freedom was won at the greatest cost, but it can’t be bought or negotiated. It comes as a free gift from the gracious and Sovereign hand of Almighty God.
If you have fought battle after battle to try and free yourself from the shackles of guilt and shame then this study is for you. If you have tried to measure up, but constantly feel that you fall short of the so-called saints who parade their legalism before you, then this study is for you. If you feel that you could never be the man or woman that God wants you to be, then this study is for you. Paul’s words to the Galatians are meant for all of those who continue to plod along in their legalistic leg irons searching high and low for the path to freedom. Paul wrote,
1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 NIV)
This message of freedom has revolutionized the lives of men and women throughout history. It has led to the revolution of entire societies, sparked the Protestant Reformation, and lit the fires of revival around the world throughout history. Dr. J. Vernon McGee has written in the introduction to his commentary on Galatians,
In a sense I believe this epistle has been the backbone and background for every great spiritual movement and revival that has taken place in the past nineteen hundred years. And, my friend, it will be the background for other revivals. I would like to see the Spirit of God move in our land today. I would like to hear the Epistle to the Galatians declared to America. I believe it would revolutionize lives. (J. Vernon McGee, Galatians, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991, page X.)
Another great Bible teacher, Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe, the outstanding past pulpit preacher at Moody Bible Church in Chicago, Illinois, has written about the freedom march of Galatians in his wonderful little commentary called, “Be Free.” Dr. Wiersbe writes,
The Galatian letter is not a book to be taken lightly. Galatians was Martin Luther’s charter of liberty during the Reformation. Luther’s writings, in turn, brought the truth of salvation by faith to John Wesley’s heart in that little meeting at Aldersgate Street in London on May 24, 1738. It was Wesley whom God used in such a remarkable way to spearhead revival in the British Isles, leading eventually to the founding of the Methodist Church. And that revival positively affected the entire English-speaking world. As we study Galatians, we are participating in a tremendous spiritual chain reaction that even today could result in another revival. (Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Free, Chariot Victor Publishing, 1975, page 22.)
Do you hear the voice of freedom calling you to join the ranks of those enlisted in the King’s army? Those who have chosen to renounce their pedigree, position, prominence, and preoccupation with fulfilling legalistic requirements loaded on them by society, the Church, and the Pharisees of their day have found in Christ alone the freedom to live, fully live alive to Christ.
In the time that we have left this morning I want to share with you some of the background information that we need to gain a good vantage point for understanding what is at stake for you and me.
A few weeks ago I shared with you some important questions that we can bring to any Scripture to gain a better understanding. The questions are: Who, What, Where, How, When, and Why. Let’s ask some of these important questions and seek some answers.
Question number 1: Who wrote the book of Galatians? There is no question that the Apostle Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians. Paul’s name is mentioned only twice, but first person pronouns are used over 100 times in the little six-chapter letter.
Another “who” question that needs to be asked is, “Who was the letter written to?” In verse 2 we read, “To the churches in Galatia.” This little phrase has sparked a lot of debate throughout history, but let me sum up the discussion by simply saying that there has been a debate about whether or not the churches addressed by Paul, the “churches in Galatia,” were located in southern Galatia or northern Galatia.
If we read the book of Acts then we can see that Paul founded several churches in southern Galatia on his first missionary journey. From Acts 13-14 you can find four cities located in southern Galatia where Paul’s first missionary journey led him. Paul and Barnabas set up churches in these cities and Paul visited them again when he made his second and third missionary journeys.
What led to Paul becoming a missionary and setting up churches is an interesting turn of events that is recorded in Acts 13. Paul and Barnabas were worshipping with those in Antioch when the Holy Spirit impressed upon the hearts of those present to set apart Paul and Barnabas for the work that He was giving them. There was no prior notice, no trip to mission school, or an appointment with a mission’s board – it was a move of the Holy Spirit. Take a look with me at Acts 13 and let’s read together.
1In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. 4The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. (Acts 13:1-4 NIV)
From Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas continued their journey on up to Galatia, or modern-day Turkey, and visited the synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:14-50). The people gathered from all over the city on the second Sabbath that Paul and Barnabas preached in the synagogue, but by the end of the chapter they were planning to stone them to death.
They escaped the threat and went on to visit Iconium after they were run out of Pisidia. Paul and Barnabas visited the Jewish synagogue, as was their usual practice. When they shared the Good News of Jesus some believed, but some were livid and wanted to kill them. Read along with me in Acts 14.
1At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed. 2But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders. 4The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. 5There was a plot afoot among the Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. 6But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, 7where they continued to preach the good news. (Acts 14:1-7 NIV)
We just read in verse 6 that after Paul and Barnabas learned of the plot to stone them they went on to Lystra and Derbe, other cities located in southern Galatia. In Lystra, Paul was nearly stoned to death. When he recovered, he and Barnabas gathered up their things and traveled to Derbe to share the Good News. This is how the founding of these churches came about.
Now let’s ask another question: “When was the letter written?” We have followed Paul and Barnabas around on their first missionary journey so we know that the letter must have been written after their first visit to the area and the establishment of the churches. If you will remember, Paul and Barnabas traveled from Antioch, across the Mediterranean Sea to Cyprus, and on by boat up into Galatia where the Gospel was preached and churches were established in the cities of Antioch in Pisidian, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe.
There is some discussion about when the letter was written, but for the sake of our study and our limited time I will tell you that I believe the letter was written after Paul’s first missionary journey, after he arrived back in Antioch. The date of the writing was probably around 49-50 A.D.
Let’s ask another question: “Why was the letter written?” When you read Paul’s letter you notice that something is different. In all of his other letters Paul commends the people for something – he thanks God for them in the letters. In this letter there is no such thanks offered. He get right to the point and the point is found in Galatians 1:6,
6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-7which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. (Galatians 1:6-7 NIV)
Paul can’t believe that the Galatians were turning away from the truth and abandoning the teaching that Paul had shared with them about the path to freedom. Paul doesn’t say that the people are turning away from Paul – he says they are turning away from God.
Paul is all too familiar with the false teachers who had come in to the churches he had established after he had left. He had dealt with them before and he would deal with them again. Those who constantly tried to discredit Paul’s authority as an Apostle and his teaching as a spokesman for God were called Judaizers. John MacArthur writes in his commentary on Galatians,
The Judaizers who plagued the early church claimed to be Christians, and much of their doctrine was orthodox. They must have recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah and even acknowledged the value of His sacrificial death on the cross-otherwise they would never have gotten a hearing in the church. They claimed to believe all the truths that other Christians believed. They did not purport to overtly deny the gospel but to improve it by adding the requirements, ceremonies, and standards of the Old Covenant to the New. But anything added to grace destroys it just as surely as does anything taken from it. When law-even God’s own law-is added to His grace, His grace ceases to be grace (cf. Rom. 11:6). (John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians, The Moody Bible Institute, 1987, page 13-14.)
The descendants of the Judaizers are still with us today as teachers and followers of Jesus try to improve on the biblical doctrine of justification by faith. Salvation comes as the free gift of God. It is not earned, it can’t be bought, and it has never come as a reward for good behavior. It has always been bestowed upon those who are undeserving, unworthy, and unlikely in the world’s eyes to receive such a gift.
Just as Paul battled the Judaizers during his lifetime, so we must constantly battle the Judaizers of our own day. The most important doctrine of the Christian faith is this one single teaching, “The just shall live by faith.” Faith not in themselves, nor their ability to live a godly life by their own efforts, or their ability to adhere to legalistic requirements of the Law, but faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ and Christ alone.
Let’s take a look at another important question: “What kind of people were the Galatians?” The folks in Galatia were easily swayed, inconsistent, and very impulsive. Their convictions could turn on a dime and their faith swayed with the wind wherever popular opinion pulled them. In Lystra, we get a good feel for the inconsistency and instability of the Galatian’s understanding of biblical faith. Take a look with me at Acts 14:8-13.
8In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked. 9He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk. 11When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 13The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them. (Acts 14:8-13 NIV)
Just a few verses later Paul makes an impassioned speech seeking to correct the folks in Lystra in their misunderstanding. Paul makes it perfectly clear that it is God who is to be worshipped and not he or Barnabas. Even after Paul’s great sermon the Scriptures tell us that it was hard to keep the people in Lystra from sacrificing to them.
A little later in the same chapter we read about a radical turn of events. Turn with me to verse 19 and let’s read together.
19Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. 20But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe. (Acts 14:19-20 NIV)
Along with these unstable characteristics the Galatians were also argumentative and obstinate. Paul writes in Galatians 5:15, 15 “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” (Galatians 5:15 NIV)
With the lack of a solid commitment and understanding of the truth of the Gospel it is no wonder that the Galatians were prone to arguing, backbiting, and fussing with one another over any number of things. At the same time that these characteristics are highlighted by Paul, he does take the time to reminisce about the wonderful generosity the Galatians had shown him and wonder out loud how their joy had disappeared since his departure. Paul writes in Galatians 4,
14Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. 15What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. (Galatians 4:14-15 NIV)
As I have been reading about the people of Galatia I have recognized how much they seem like us. Inconsistent? Does instability and fickleness characterize your faith, your daily walk with the Lord? Do you find your faith vacillating and shifting with the changing events of your life? Do you find yourself gravitating towards what is popular rather than Scriptural? Does charisma in a teacher draw you more than content? For the Galatians all of these aspects of daily life drew them away from solid biblical teaching.
There is a great need in the Body of Christ today for solid biblical teaching. There is such a need for the Body of Christ to turn around and go back to the basics of our faith — Christ alone! Our sufficiency is found in Christ alone! Our salvation is found in Christ alone! Our redemption, justification, sanctification, and freedom are found in no other place than Christ, and Christ alone!
The Scottish minister, P.T. Forsythe, said, “The secret of the Lord is with those who have been broken by his cross and healed by his Spirit.” Galatians shines a spotlight on two essential truths: the cross of Christ as the only way a person can get right with God, and the Spirit of Christ as the only way a person can walk with God. Anything added to this truth diminishes the beauty and all-sufficiency of what happened on the cross of Christ.
Merrill C. Tenney wrote of Galatians:
Christianity might have been just one more Jewish sect, and the thought of the Western world might have been entirely pagan had it never been written. Galatians embodies the germinal teaching on Christian freedom which separated Christianity from Judaism, and which launched it upon a career of missionary conquest. It was the cornerstone of the Protestant Reformation, because its teaching of salvation by grace alone became the dominant theme of the preaching of the Reformers. (Merrill C. Tenney, Galatians, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957, page15.)
We must not go back. We must not stray from the heart of the Gospel. We must cling to the free gift of grace that God has so gloriously and graciously lavished upon those who will cling to Christ alone for their sufficiency. Paul was so passionate about defending the core of our faith because he had seen firsthand how legalism can paralyze and how the Law condemns. The Law condemns, but Christ sets us free. Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20,
20I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 NIV)
The great theme of Paul’s letter to the Galatians is freedom and liberty found in Christ alone! Paul, and all those who desire to come to God, must first die to themselves so that the glorious Savior can resurrect us to the newness of life found in Christ alone. The life we live after coming to Christ is not lived by human effort or self-righteousness, but by faith alone in the sufficiency of God’s only Son.
The great founder of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, preached a sermon in 1528 called, “On Faith and Coming To Christ.” There are few individuals who have ever lived who better knew the futility of seeking to gain righteousness through human effort like Martin Luther. Luther writes in his sermon.
And in the light of it all, they must become fools who have taught us other ways to become godly. All that human ingenuity can devise, be it as holy and as luminous as it may, must tumble to the ground if man be saved in God’s way–in a way different from that which man himself plans. Man may forever do as he will, he can never enter heaven unless God takes the first step with his Word, which offers him divine grace and enlightens his heart so as to get upon the right way. This right way, however, is the Lord Jesus Christ. Whoever desires to seek another way, as the great multitudes venture to do by means of their own works, has already missed the right way; for Paul says to the Galatians: “If righteousness is through the Law,” that is, through the works of the Law, “then Christ died for naught” (Gal. 2:21). Therefore I say man must fall upon this Gospel and be broken to pieces and in deep consciousness lie prostrate, like a man that is powerless, unable to move hand or foot. He must only lie motionless and cry: Almighty God, merciful Father, now help me! I cannot help myself. Christ, my Lord, do help now, for with only my own effort all is lost! (Martin Luther)
If the sin of your heart has you lying broken in a heap or setting your jaw with greater resolve to do better, then I urge you, I plead with you this morning to surrender your brokenness to the One who has died to set you free. Won’t you receive the grace that God desires to shower upon you? Won’t you say, “Yes!” to the Savior and watch the gates of freedom swing open wide?
An Introduction To Paul’s Letter To The Churches in Galatia