Galatians is a passionate letter. It is a book of sharp contrasts and strong emotion.
It is an illustration of the man who said in Romans 1:15, “I am eager to preach the gospel to you,” (i.e., believers in the church of Rome).
In Galatians we see both the divine authority of an apostle (1:6-2:21) and the affectionate, concerned heart of a pastor (4:8-31) laboring to bring his converts back into step with the truth of the Gospel (Gal. 2:14).
Galatians is full of zeal and rebuke (1:6-9), warmth and compassion (4:19-20). It is filled with profound theological insight and reasoning concerning the doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone (2:15-3:29). And, it is filled with practical, exhortation, which explains the implications of justification in the life of the believer (5:1-6:18).
Galatians is a vindication of the Gospel, for which Paul states that he was commissioned by Christ to preach (Gal. 1:15-16).
It is the outpouring of a man whose soul is radically possessed by the Gospel and deeply committed to bringing its truths to bear on his hearers.
There is no doubt or hesitancy in Paul’s mind that the false teachings troubling the Galatians cut at the heart of the gospel. The false teachers placed the keeping of the law along with faith in Christ as necessary for salvation. Paul saw this as an attack on the fundamental article of the Christian faith.
For Paul, it was no small evil to quench the light of the Gospel, to bring a man’s conscience into bondage, and to remove the distinction between the law and Gospel.
This was such a dangerous and evil error that Paul wrote,
“8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed,” (Gal. 1:8-9)!
In contrast to this false gospel, Paul saw the Gospel of Christ as emphasizing salvation through faith in Christ alone. The gospel emphasizes trusting Christ not reliance upon one’s own efforts (2:16).
The law, as Paul eloquently demonstrates from both experience and Scripture (3:1-25), cannot bring men to salvation. The law is not an aid to righteousness. Rather, it only puts men under condemnation and a curse. The law brings a curse (3:10-12) whereas redemption comes through the Cross (3:13-14).
“For Paul, it was no small evil to quench the light of the Gospel, to bring a man’s conscience into bondage, and to remove the distinction between the law and Gospel.”
And, so throughout this letter, Paul emphasizes the centrality of the Cross. He begins his letter by referencing the Cross of Christ (1:1-5). It is through the Cross that man is redeemed from the curse of having broken God’s law (3:13-14). As Paul comes to the end of his letter he writes, “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…,” (6:14). For Paul, the cross was the center piece of the Gospel and the Christian life.
In addition, Paul refers to “faith” in this letter 22 times, which is more than any other NT book except for Romans (40) and Hebrews (32). Considering the relative brevity of this book, this is quite remarkable and telling.
In 2:15-21, Paul sets forth his central thesis which he sought to impress upon his readers: It is through faith alone and not by works of the law that a man is justified (2:15-21). Thus, through Paul’s repeated emphasis upon the Cross and faith, we see that justification by grace through faith alone rests at the center of Christian thinking and living (cf., Gal. 2:20).
No longer slaves but sons (3:26-4:11), Paul calls his readers to stand firm in their freedom (5:1) and to resist going back to the weak and worthless elemental things of which they were in danger of being enslaved all over again (4:9).
The need for the message of Galatians is as great today as it was when Luther and Calvin recovered and proclaimed it nearly five hundred years ago during the Protestant Reformation.
“…justification by grace through faith alone rests at the center of Christian thinking and living…”
Galatians unfolds for us the truth of the Gospel (cf., 2:5, 14), the Gospel of Christian Freedom. Its truths are not meant to puff up or to impress. Rather, the message of Galatians, when rightly understood, should awaken in us joy, thankfulness, humility and worship. As Paul concludes, “…may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (6:14a).