Galatians 01(01–05)


Today we’re beginning a new series of sermons on Paul’s letter to the Galatians. All of God’s word is important, because it is God’s word which we’re to receive and believe and obey. However, Paul’s letter to the Galatians is particularly important, because in it Paul was engaging in a battle for the gospel. Paul was writing to contend for the truth of the gospel and for the good news that sinners are justified — that is, we’re pardoned and accepted by God — through faith alone.

As we’ll see, some people were confusing the Christians in Galatia and misleading them, teaching them that faith in Christ was not enough; faith in Christ was not sufficient; that sinners needed to add something else, something more, to their faith before they can be justified. And so, Paul had to write to contend for the gospel and to remind the believers that no, it’s not faith plus, it’s faith alone. We’re justified — pardoned and accepted by God — through faith alone in Christ alone. What does it take for a guilty sinner to stand before a holy God without being condemned? The false teachers in Galatia were saying it’s through faith and our works; Paul made clear that it’s through faith alone.

And as well as fighting for the gospel, Paul also had to defend himself and his own calling as an apostle. It seems the false teachers were questioning his credentials as an apostle. And so, not only were they attacking the gospel which Paul preached, but they were attacking Paul’s authority to preach and to teach. And so, Paul defends himself in the course of this letter by making clear that God called him to be an apostle of Christ Jesus. He didn’t take on this role himself; he wasn’t self-appointed. He was a true apostle of Jesus Christ, appointed by Christ to make known the good news of salvation.

And in the course of the letter, Paul contrasts faith and works; and he contrasts God’s promises and God’s law; and he contrasts bondage to the law and freedom in Christ; and he contrasts the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit; and he begins the letter by referring to this present evil age from which Christ rescues us and he ends the letter by referring to the new creation to which we belong by faith. This is a remarkable letter and it’s my prayer that the Lord will enable us to understand these things and to benefit from them.


You’ll see from verse 1 that the letter was written by Paul. He also refers in verse 2 to all the brothers who were with him. That could be a reference to fellow believers who were with him when he wrote this letter; or it could refer to his co-workers, fellow preachers of the gospel. In any case, though Paul mentions them here, the letter is really Paul’s letter. And it was a letter written to the churches in Galatia. That’s in verse 2 as well.

Galatia was a Roman province. There’s some disagreement among the Bible commentators whether Paul is referring to churches in northern Galatia or to churches in southern Galatia. If you read the Bible commentaries, you’ll find arguments for one or the other. I’m more convinced by those who argue for southern Galatia. If that’s right, then he’s writing to the churches in Pisdian Antioch and Iconium and Lystra and Derbe. You can read about Paul’s visits to those cities in Acts 13 and 14. There we read how the Holy Spirit communicated to the church in Antioch that they should set aside Barnabas and Paul for a special work. The believers fasted and prayed and set Barnabas and Paul off. They travelled first to Cyprus and then to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath Day, they went to the synagogue and they preached the message of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection as the fulfilment of God’s promises to his people in the Old Testament. And they taught the people that whoever believes in the Lord Jesus is justified. On the next Sabbath, almost the whole city gathered to hear them preach, but the unbelieving Jews were jealous and abusive and stirred up trouble against them, so they were forced to leave, but not before many had believed. Then they travelled to Iconium where they preached the good news and a great many Jews and Gentiles believed. Once again, the unbelieving Jews stirred up trouble and they had to flee. They travelled next to Lystra and preached there. In that city, Paul healed a man who had been lame from birth. The people who saw it thought Paul and Barnabas were gods who had come down to them in human form. Paul and Barnabas therefore called on them to turn from their worthless idols and to worship the living God who made all things. But then some Jews arrived and persuaded the crowd to stone Paul; and afterwards, they dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But he was still alive and he and Barnabas left that place and continued their missionary journey to Derbe where many believed the good news. And then they returned to Lystra and Iconium and Pisidian Antioch to strengthen the new disciples and to encourage them to remain true to the faith.

In other words, Paul visited these cities in southern Galatia and planted churches in them; he then went back to encourage them. But even though he encouraged them to remain true to the faith, it seems that false teachers had come after him and had confused the believers and led them astray. And so, Paul was writing to convince them of his own authority as an apostle and to convince them of the truth of the gospel: that sinners are justified — pardoned and accepted by God — through faith alone.

And, of course, before I go any further, let me say to you that you too must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. All of us are sinners who have broken God’s laws and commandments. All of us deserve to be condemned and punished by God for what we have done wrong. But the good news of the gospel is that whoever believes in the Lord Jesus who died for sinners receives forgiveness and the free gift of eternal life. So, will you believe in him? Will you confess your sins to God? Depending on Christ alone, will you ask God to forgive you and give you eternal life? Will you do that? — because unless you believe in Christ, you will be condemned on the day of judgment and sent away from God’s presence to suffer forever. But if you believe, you will not be condemned and can look forward to everlasting peace and joy in the presence of God in the life to come.

Verses 1 and 2

Having said that, let’s turn to today’s passage which contains Paul’s greeting to the churches in Galatia. In verses 1 and 2 Paul refers to his calling to be an apostle. And in verses 3 to 5 he refers to the gospel message. Now, remember: he wants to defend his authority as an apostle and he wants to defend the gospel. And he addresses both of these things right from the outset.

And so, in verse 1 he refers to himself as an apostle. What’s an apostle? Well, they were the official eye-witnesses to Christ and his resurrection. I say ‘official’ because they were appointed by Christ to this special office in the early church. The Lord Jesus appointed twelve while he was on the earth. Then — after Judas betrayed the Lord and killed himself — his replacement was chosen by lot and he joined the other eleven as the Lord’s official witnesses to his resurrection.

But, of course, Paul was not one of the original twelve; and he was not an eye-witness to the resurrection in the same way that the others were eye-witnesses to the resurrection. The others had seen the Lord after he was raised and before he ascended to heaven. Paul, though, was different. Yes, he too saw the risen Lord. But he saw the Lord after the Lord had ascended to heaven. Do you remember the story? Before he believed, Paul was on the road to Damascus to persecute the church. But then there was the bright light from heaven and the Risen and Ascended Lord Jesus spoke to him and made clear to Paul that though the Lord had died, he had been raised and exalted to the highest place. And when the Lord spoke to Paul, he appointed Paul to be an apostle, one of his official eye-witnesses. And just as the Lord gave authority to the other apostles, so he gave authority to Paul to preach in his name and to bear witness to his resurrection. Just as he gave the Holy Spirit to the other apostles to equip them for their work, so he gave the Holy Spirit to Paul to declare with power the message of his death and resurrection.

And so, here in verse 1, Paul tells his readers that he was an apostle, sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father. So, his apostleship did not originate with men. It wasn’t as if he had been appointed by the other apostles, or by the church in Jerusalem, or by the church in Antioch where he began his missionary journey to Galatia. And it wasn’t as if one of the other apostles personally appointed Paul. No, he had received his appointment from the Lord Jesus, and from God the Father.

And it’s interesting that whereas Paul refers to himself as an apostle in verse 1, in verse 2 he refers to those with him as ‘brothers’. So, he’s happy to distinguish himself from them, because while they’re all brothers in the Lord, he alone in that group of Christians was an apostle.

And, of course, the reason Paul needed to defend his apostleship wasn’t because of personal pride. You know the way we are sometimes? Our pride gets hurt if we’ve not given the respect we think we deserve. But Paul wasn’t motivated by personal pride. That’s not the reason he had to defend his apostleship. The reason he had to defend it was because if they didn’t accept his apostleship, then they could reject his gospel. If he wasn’t really an apostle, sent from God, there was no reason to listen to him. If he was an imposter, then they didn’t need to accept his gospel. And so, Paul had to make clear that he was indeed an apostle, sent from God. And therefore they ought to listen to him and his message, because not only he, but his message, was from God.

And, of course, since Paul received his apostleship from the Lord, then we too ought to listen to Paul and to his message. Paul — when he preached and when he wrote — was not preaching and writing by his own authority. He wrote as an apostle, called and sent by God, equipped with the Holy Spirit, in order to declare the word of the Lord. So, what we’re reading in these pages is not the word of a man only, but it’s the word of God. And since it’s the word of God, you ought to receive it and believe it and obey it, because it is the word of God.

Gave himself

But let’s move on now to verses 3 to 5 where Paul pronounces a blessing on his readers:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The word ‘grace’ refers to God’s kindness to sinners in providing us with salvation and in providing us with the help we need each day to obey the Lord and to persevere in the faith. We all need God’s gracious help each day. And God’s grace, his kindness, leads to peace: peace with God who no longer treats us as our sins deserve, but who pardons us; and peace with one another, because God helps his people to love one another.

And then Paul adds that the Lord Jesus Christ gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age. In these words, we have a wonderful summary of the gospel.

The words ‘gave himself’ recall the words of the Lord when he said that he did not come to be served by us, but to serve us by giving his life as the ransom for many.

In Old Testament times, if a man had a bull which got loose and killed another man, the owner of the bull could be punished with death if he was responsible for what happened. However, the owner of the bull was entitled to pay a ransom to save his life from death. In the eyes of the law, he was guilty and deserving of death. However, it was possible for him to pay a price, a ransom, in order to spare his own life.

Well, in the eyes of God’s law, we’re all guilty sinners who deserve to die and to suffer eternally for our disobedience to God. We stand condemned before the Lord. And there’s nothing we can give to God to make up for our disobedience. What could we give to him to make up for a lifetime of disobedience? Even our best deeds are spoiled by sin. But the good news of the gospel is that Jesus Christ gave his life as the ransom price to set us free from condemnation so that all who believe are not condemned, but spared.

When Paul says the Lord gave himself for our sins, he means that the reason the Lord Jesus gave his life was because we’re sinners. If we had not sinned, there was no reason for the Lord to give his life for us. But because we’re sinners who deserve to die, he gave his life for our life. So, I say to you today that no matter what you have done wrong, no matter how far you have fallen, no matter how many times you have sinned, if you trust in Christ, God will never condemn you, because Jesus Christ gave himself for you.

Present evil age

But Paul doesn’t stop there. Not only did the Lord Jesus give up his life to pay for our sins, but he did so in order to rescue us from the present evil age.

Think of the way the Lord God Almighty rescued the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt in the Old Testament. Their lives were miserable at that time, because they were oppressed by the Pharaoh, who abused them terribly; and they were powerless to save themselves. But the Lord God sent Moses to rescue them from Egypt and to bring them to the Promised Land.

And whenever we’re born, we’re born in bondage to sin and Satan and death. Or, as Paul puts it here, when we’re born, we’re born into this present evil age. One reason it’s called an evil age is because the god of this age is the Devil who rules over sinners so that they do his will. Another reason it’s called an evil age is because it’s marked by sin and shame and by weakness and death. But, of course, Paul also calls it this present age to indicate that this age will not last. It’s destined to perish. In fact — as I’ve said before — since the Lord’s resurrection, this present evil age is in its last days; and all who remain part of it and who have not been rescued from it will perish with it when Christ the Lord comes again to judge the living and the dead.

But just as God sent Moses to save the Israelites from Egypt, so he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to rescue his people from this present evil age. And as we’ll discover later in this letter, the Lord Jesus rescues us from this present evil age, not only by giving up his life to pay for our sins, but also by giving us the Holy Spirit who works in us to renew us and to transform us.

So, outwardly, you’re wasting away like everything else in this fallen, broken world which is destined to perish. Outwardly, you’re wasting away; but inwardly, you’re being renewed and transformed by Christ’s Spirit, who has been poured into your heart, so that instead of living in conformity to the ways of this present evil age, you’re able to live more and more in conformity to the age to come. The Spirit helps you to display his fruit in your life, so that more and more you’ll show forth love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control. And whoever lives like that, whoever displays these qualities in their life, demonstrates that they no longer belong to this present evil age, but they belong even now to the age to come which is perfect and everlasting.

However, and this is important: for the time being we live in two ages at once. We live in two ages at once. While we belong by faith to the age to come, we still live in this present evil age. We don’t belong in it, but we live in it. And that means for the believer that your present life is a life of conflict, isn’t it? Your present existence is a fight and a struggle. It’s a battle. But it’s a special kind of battle, because it’s a battle and a struggle against sin and temptation and against our weakness. You have to battle against the ways of this present evil age; and you have to battle against the wicked schemes of the Devil who wants to drag you back under his control. You have to battle against your own weakness: your natural frailty and illness. Your present life is a struggle, isn’t it? But God has given you his Spirit to help you; and when you come to church on Sundays, the Holy Spirit uses the preaching of the gospel and he uses the sacraments and he uses the prayers we offer to strengthen your faith and to strengthen you for the fight. That’s why it’s always so important that you’re here on Sundays, because the Spirit will use the things we do here to strengthen you for the battle.


And, finally today, Paul tells us in verse 4 that Christ gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age ‘according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever.’ It was the Father’s will for the Lord Jesus to save his people. Before you loved God, he loved you. Before you loved God, he loved you and sent his Son to save you. And so, because of his kindness to you in sending his Son to rescue you from this present evil age, you ought to give thanks to him; and you ought to live your life, not for your own glory, not to make a name for yourself, not worrying about your own name and reputation, but you ought to live your life for his glory. Will you do that? Will you forget about yourself? And will you dedicate yourself to live every day for Christ your Saviour and for God the Father who loved you and who sent his Son to rescue you?