What does it say?
Galatians are inhabitants of a geographical area known as Galatia, the southern part of which was a Roman province (all in modern Turkey). Derbe and Lystra where Paul met Timothy are in Galatia as well as other cities mentioned in Acts. Paul probably wrote this epistle from Antioch following his first missionary journey, shortly after the council in Jerusalem of Acts 15. For this reason Galatians is included at this point in most chronological reading plans.
Paul’s tone in Galatians is extremely aggressive, both toward those seeking to force Gentile believers to live under Jewish law, and those Galatians succumbing to their arguments. The first two chapters establish Paul’s credibility and defend the Gospel of grace. They include include biographical information about his conversion, his growth, the source of his divine revelations and his relationship with the other apostles. The third chapter is a thundering defense of the Gospel of grace and an attack on the Jews that would subject the Galatians to the law.
What does it mean?
Paul’s story (Gal 1-2) is one of grace. He had been a leading Pharisee totally committed to live by the letter of the law and Jewish tradition, set free by his faith in Christ. Though Paul refuses to allow the Gentile Titus to be circumcised. He confronts Peter for eating freely with Gentiles during a visit to Antioch, and then fearfully not eating with them when other leaders arrive from Jerusalem that did not share his view of Christian freedom. Paul nails this duplicity as hypocritical. His point is that one is not justified by the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. While one may choose to follow cultural traditions, even the Law of Moses is not obligatory for all believers after the finished work of Christ to which it pointed.
Galatians 3 is a powerful affirmation of salvation by grace through faith alone. Paul measures back to God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 and the missional purpose of blessing all the nations of the world in him. The bottom line is that all who put faith in Christ are the spiritual descendants of Abraham, regardless of ethnicity or whether or not they follow the Law of Moses.
How will I respond?
Are there areas of my life where I trust in tradition or take Old Testament scriptures out of context and submit myself to the Law? Do I judge others for not following my preferences or for the freedom they have in Christ? Do I truly understand what Paul is saying in Galatians 2:20-21? What specific step can I take to make this real in my life?