Martin Luther took a lover. She was, he explained, the book of Galatians. He came to be enchanted by its message of grace, freedom, hope and resolve. Galatians, like the best of loves, is not one which will leave us unchallenged or unchanged. This letter will make demands and call for commitment. This much is good.
Paul wishes his readers grace and peace (v.3), but he hasn’t got an easy message for them. He is “astonished that you are so quickly deserting the One who called you” (v.6). God and His Gospel used to be their delight, but they’re handing over the grace of God for a poisonous works-based religion. Paul, a man commissioned by the Father and the Risen Son (v.1), has a word for those who think they can casually wander off from his Gospel to “a different Gospel – which is really no Gospel at all” (vv.6-7).
To some ears, this might sound like a religious leader sliding into a authoritarian stance, and even, into an aggressive one. Paul does have authority. The authority he’s been given he’s entirely comfortable with. In fact, he wants the Galatians to be clear about his commission as a servant of the Gospel. If they grasp that, maybe they’ll have a change of heart about the Gospel he has brought to them. So he tells his story, which lasts from 1.11 all the way to 2.21. His own story is a struggle to grasp and contend for the Gospel. Now by grace he has it, and he won’t allow either himself or anyone else let go of it. Here are three essentials in our chapter:
1. The Gospel comes from heaven, is God’s gift to the world, and has been revealed to Paul (vv.11-12).
2. The Gospel saves persecuting zealots (vv.12-17). Paul’s life, career, goals and wisdom were all turned upside-down by the grace of God in Christ. So shattering was this Gospel to him, that he needed to search out a wilderness place in order to put his life and theology straight in the light of the Gospel (v.17).
3. The Gospel is shared truth. Paul was anxious to check that his convictions were those of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem (vv.19-24). He was saved on his own, but didn’t want to be a lone ranger, nor did he want to have been deceived. He discovers what he was already sure of: he is a trophy of grace. He really was saved by the grace of Christ alone. “They praised God because of me” (v.24).
Paul’s experience as he recounts it, matched with the false Gospel of other teachers so-called, gives us a simple but essential lesson: know your leaders. Know that they have a story of conversion, and of commission. Don’t entrust the needs of your soul casually to anyone. Don’t believe what you hear, just because the speaker occupies a pulpit, likes to have a title, or reminds you of his theological degrees. The best false teachers have often been the most educated – and popular. The best true teachers are those who have met and been taught by Christ. they are the ones who are willing to risk everything for His sake. Stick with them, and their Gospel.
A Prayer to Pray
Lord, how precious Your Gospel truth is. Yet how casual my grip on it is. Teach me to love more deeply what I know to be true. Teach me to be truly faithful to Your Gospel, since the One who called me is faithful. Keep me believing, loving, sharing, sacrificing and challenging others to do the same, all the way til the end. Amen.