At a Glance
Author: The apostle Paul
Audience: The church of Galatia
Date: AD 47–48, or early 50s
Type of Literature: A letter
Major Themes: Grace gospel, justification, the law, legalism, freedom and behavior, and Jesus Christ
Letter Opening — 1:1–10
Paul Defends His Ministry and Message — 1:11–2:21
Paul Defends His Theology and Gospel — 3:1–4:31
Paul Applies His Message Practically — 5:1–6:10
Letter Closing — 6:11–18
Heaven’s freedom! This “grace gospel” brings heaven’s freedom into our lives—freedom to live for God and serve one another, as well as freedom from religious bondage. We can thank God today that Paul’s gospel is still being preached and heaven’s freedom is available to every believer. We are free to soar even higher than keeping religious laws; we have a grace-righteousness that places us at the right hand of the throne of God, not as servants, but as sons and daughters of the Most High!
When Paul wrote his letter, the grace gospel was under attack. So too was his apostolic ministry—it was also debunked by those who wanted to mix grace with the keeping of Jewish law. Paul begins his letter to the Galatians by making it clear that it was not a group of men who commissioned him; instead, he was a “sent one” by the direct commissioning of our Lord Jesus Christ. And the message of grace that he preached was not a secondhand truth that he got from someone else, for he received it through a direct encounter with Jesus. Paul’s ministry can be trusted and his gospel can be believed.
Who was this man, Paul? He was born with the name Saul in the city of Tarsus, the once prosperous capital of Cilicia in southern Turkey. Apparently there was a large Jewish colony in that region. Yet Saul was raised in Jerusalem and tutored by the venerated Jewish rabbi Gamaliel.
Before Saul was converted through a divine encounter, he was considered one of the most brilliant Jewish Pharisees of his day. After his conversion to Christ, however, his name became Paul and his ministry began. Reaching the non-Jewish nations with the glorious gospel of Christ was Paul’s passion and pursuit. We can thank God that this brilliant man has left us his inspired letters to the churches.
What a wonderful purpose is found in this letter from heaven! Shortly after the Holy Spirit was poured out upon Jewish believers in Yeshua (Jesus), the gospel spread to other ethnicities as well. By the apostolic mandate given to Jesus’ disciples, they were sent into every nation. The first converts among the non-Jewish people needed clarity as to the “Jewishness” of the gospel. Was the gospel revelation to be based upon grace or upon keeping the law of Moses? Galatians was written by the apostle Paul to put those questions to rest.
Author and Audience
The chronological order of the books of the New Testament is somewhat certain. However, the first book Paul wrote is often debated; some say it was 1 Thessalonians and others claim it was Galatians. It is my conclusion that Galatians was the first book he penned, possibly around AD 47–48, in order to passionately defend the gospel of grace from those who would confuse and twist the truth. The apostolic burden is always for purity, both in doctrine and in practice, which is why he confronted those who were distorting the gospel of Christ and reminded the Galatian church of the true message of grace.
Grace Gospel. When Paul wrote his letter proclaiming heaven’s freedom, there were people perverting his original message of rescue from sin and death by grace through faith in Christ alone. These Judaizers, as they were called, added religious works to Paul’s gospel, which placed non-Jewish believers under the thumb of religious bondage to Jewish laws. Thanks to Paul, we are reminded that a Christ-plus-something-gospel is no gospel at all; it is Christ-plus-nothing all the way!
Justification. One of the central issues for Paul in Galatians—and throughout his “Letters from Heaven”—is the issue of how people become right with God and find a “not guilty” verdict for their rebellion against him. The Reformation leader Martin Luther said that justification by grace through faith was the belief by which the church stands or falls. He’s right! And Paul explains how it’s possible a person can stand before a holy God without being condemned.
The Law and Legalism. The message of Galatians is clear: Christ’s redemptive work on the cross prevents Jews and non-Jews alike from trying to become right with God through religious works; rescue and re-creation come on the basis of faith in Jesus alone. Through his grace, we are freed from the religious bondage that comes from laws and rituals.
Freedom and Behavior. The grace gospel brings heaven’s freedom from religious bondage. Yet while Christians are free from the law, we are not free to live as we please. Instead, we are called to use that freedom to produce fruit, the “fruit of the Spirit,” as Paul says. And it is through the Spirit of God that we not only find freedom but are also empowered to please God with our behavior.
Jesus Christ. As you might expect in a letter about salvation, Jesus Christ stands at the center of this letter. We see that Jesus is fully divine and should alone be worshiped. His cross also plays a pivotal role in Paul’s grace-letter, for it is through his sacrifice alone that believers are made right with God.