The book of Galatians is ALL about identity.
What is our identity when it is defined by God in the gospel?
What was the identity of the apostle Paul when he wrote these words?
What did he long to define the identity of the Galatian church, of our church?
Essentially, in the book of Galatians, Paul passionately reveals how finding our identity in Christ changes EVERYTHING for his church in the world.
Our identity IS Christ who lives in us.
It is only this.
The patristic fathers (the earliest Christians in the post-apostolic era) and reformational church (1600s to present) oft looked to the themes of freedom and righteousness within Galatians as being the definitive description of “essential Christianity.” Duncan called Galatians “the Magna Carta of evangelical Christianity.” Luther so loved Galatians that he called it “my own epistle, to which I have plighted my troth; my Katie von Bora” (the name of his wife!). Richard Longenecker aptly put it: “Paul’s Galatians is like a lion turned loose in the arena of Christians. It challenges, intimidates, encourages, and focuses our attention on what is really essential as little else can. How we deal with the issues it raises and the teachings it presents will in large measure determine howe we think a Christians and how we live as Christ’s own.”
Likely the earliest of the apostle Paul’s letters, Galatians was written to churches within provincial Galatia within 15 years of the cross of Jesus (AD 49). As such, the content of the letter reveals the earliest collisions and conversations amidst the church – what is our identity NOW, as Jews and Greeks, as a recipients of THIS “gospel”?
While not an easy read, Galatians yet contains the gospel in its purest and most unadulterated form. The gospel (lit. “good news”) is the message of Christ who lives in us for our salvation and transformation, now and forever (2.20)! This gospel is from God not man (1.6); it is not to be merely believed, rather it MUST become us (4.19).
In clarifying the gospel, Paul posits many questions to the Galatians,which we must ask and answer.
He engages these questions by way of CONTRAST.
How does God’s saving work in Christ work? By faith, NOT works (2.15-16); by promise, NOT law (3.21-22).
Who do we become when our identity is rooted in the gospel? We become sons/daughters of God, NOT slaves (4.6-9).
What does that mean for our daily life? It means we are free, NOT enslaved (5.1)! We are at liberty to love, NOT in bondage to legalism (5.1-13)! It means we are playing host to an internal civil war – flesh versus Spirit. While the flesh does not bend easily, it will NOT prevail over the Spirit of God in us (5.16-24)!
From the beginning of the letter, Paul writes with urgency and attitude.
Having recently delivered the simple gospel of Jesus to believers in Galatia, he was astonished that they could so quickly turn to a different gospel… a performance-rooted pursuit of God that was no gospel at all (1.6)! O foolish Galatians, who bewitched you? Did you receive the Sprit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit are you now being perfected by the flesh? (3.1-3) Paul evidently knew the Galatian people. Even more, he knew the content of the gospel he had delivered to them as being about CHRIST’S completed righteousness for our salvation. However, it appears that Paul did not know the false teachers who emerged to push the Galatians past the simple truth of Jesus to a works-based identity (from the first act of circumcision to a worldview and system of self-defined external righteousness). This piped Paul!! 5.10 – The one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is! These infiltrators had one platform – to turn Christianity into “making a good showing in the flesh” (6.12), totally challenging the essential CORE of the upside-down truth – that we boast “only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to us, and us to the world.” Our selves and our works and our “showing” have nothing to do with it at all! This led Luther to define Christian righteousness as “passive righteousness – a truth Galatians and Romans drive home with ruthless precision.
When comparing Galatians to the narrative of Acts, we understand it to likely have been written some time around the end of Paul’s journeys in Acts 14, but before the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 (AD 50). The Jerusalem Council dealt definitively with the circumcision/works/righteousness conversation as it related to Jews and Gentiles. Had that council already taken place, Paul would have surely brought it into his letter to bolster his case! Thus, the churches to whom Paul is writing are probably the churches in Acts 13-14 (in the towns of Lystra, Derbe, Iconium, etc) that were a part of the Roman province of Galatia through which Paul travelled early in his ministry. Thus the term Galatians is provincial in nature, versus ethnic (the Galatian people derived from the Gauls who had settled further north, where we have no record of Paul traversing).
Thus, in an effort to place the book of Galatians within the narrative of Paul’s journeys in Acts, it is likely that the first Jerusalem visit Paul references in Galatians 1.18 corresponds with his journey in Acts 9.26; while his second visit (Galatians 2.1-10) corresponds with the briefly mentioned visit in Acts 11.30. The Jerusalem Council was soon to happen which would BLOW these issues up for the glory of God and the IDENTITY of his church.
The outline we will use at wvpc.
1-2a the gospel – whose it is
2b-3 the gospel – how it works
4 the gospel – who it makes
5 the gospel – what it means
6 the gospel – where it works
There is no better time than now.
Your identity is always at stake, always being expressed, always being formed. Amidst all the competing influences in your life, both internal and external, what if your identity was sure? Not at risk? Not in question? Not circumstantially derived? THAT is the POINT of the book of Galatians. Your identity must be, well, not yours… It is Christ who lives in you. It is not more or less than that.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (2.20).
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