Galatians is considered by most to be Paul’s first epistle. It is likely written to churches he started on his first missionary journey (Acts 13-14). The letter seems to be a response to disturbing reports about new teaching that has infiltrated the churches in Paul’s absence and misled the new converts. False teachers have told the Galatians that believers must be circumcised and follow the Mosaic Law in order to be saved. They have also apparently called into question Paul’s authority to lead and teach. Paul is angry and shocked over what he hears. He writes in no uncertain terms to address the heresy of the false teachers and to condemn and encourage the Galatians. He loves them but is incredulous that they have so quickly forsaken the gospel he preached. He is also horrified that Jesus’ work on the cross is demeaned by teaching that says it is not enough to save.
This is probably Paul’s most emotional epistle. His shock and anger and love come through in almost every sentence. Not only has his authority as God’s messenger been challenged but the redemptive work of Christ has been questioned. The false teaching erodes the very fabric of the gospel and causes the Galatians to give up the freedom of grace for the bondage of the Law. It is a complete reversal of the message Jesus commissioned Paul to teach. The gravity of what is at stake increases the urgency and intensity of the letter.
Before exploring what is in the first five verses of the letter it is interesting to note what is not. Paul does not spend any time complimenting his readers or thanking God for them as he does in other epistles (Rom 1:8-10, I Cor 1:2-9, Eph 1:15-18). He is so intensely interested in reversing the heresy they have fallen into that he cannot take time with pleasantries. Also, he likely does not see much to commend them for and so gets right to the point.
In these five verses Paul summarizes what he will spend the rest of the letter discussing. In verses 1-2 he briefly establishes his credibility and the work of God in his coming to them, and gives a synopsis of the gospel – the true gospel – in verses 3-5. He immediately lays the foundation to directly refute the false teaching the Galatians have believed. The greeting and introduction are merely vehicles for responding to the apostates. This is the message of the book condensed into five verses.
The Messenger (1-2)
Paul begins by establishing his credibility to write and instruct them. He answers directly those who say his authority is overblown. He tells them he is an apostle – one who is sent. But in Paul’s case he is not just any apostle – he is an apostle of Jesus Christ. Unlike an apostle sent by men or organizations he has been directly commissioned by the risen Christ. He is just like Peter, James, John and the rest. He is one of only 12-14 men (note that James, the Lord’s brother, is called an apostle in 1:19 – this apparently means he and Paul both joined the original group – including the one who replaced Judas) in the world (and who will ever exist in the world) who can claim this apostleship.
Thus his authority is not his own. What he is about to tell them does not come from his own authority but from the authority of Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead. He actually speaks on Jesus’ behalf. His words are the same as the Messiah’s words – the same as if the risen Son of God were speaking to them.
None of the people burdening the Galatians with teaching about the Law can make this claim. And this answers any doubt the false teachers have fomented about Paul’s authority to contradict them. Paul speaks for God and his authority cannot be questioned or ignored.
Paul also establishes here the work of God in bringing the good news to them. God not only provided for their salvation – as Paul is about to explain – but He ensured the Galatians heard about the good news through Paul. Their salvation is all of God and their knowing about their salvation is all of God. Paul came to them not because of men but of God.
The Message (3-5)
In these three verses Paul lays out a brief synopsis of the gospel. He begins with the benefits of Christ’s victory over sin and then describes the basis of that victory.
His first word is grace. He reminds them of what is the true basis of their salvation – the opposite of the Law they have been told they need. They are under grace. Jesus extends to them not what they deserve under the Law but the unmerited favor His death and resurrection make possible. The Law cannot save. Humans are incapable of keeping it and perfect obedience is the standard. Thus the Galatians’ only hope and the reason they should glorify the Father for His love is GRACE. This is why the false teachers’ heresy is so egregious – it takes the meaning out of the greatest gift in creative history. Grace is what the Galatians have and grace is what they are about to give up.
The result of God’s gift of grace is peace. The Galatians are no longer at war with God. God satisfied His justice and wrath and declared them righteous so they are at peace with Him. God has declared peace and invited them into His fellowship and care. If they choose to live under the Law there is no peace. The Law is ultimately an instrument of wrath as breaking it ends in death. Only those delivered from the Law can have peace. And only those declared righteous not by their own works but by the work of Christ are delivered from the Law.
This is why Paul says grace and peace come from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing man does or can do can put himself under grace and peace. Just as God is the source of Paul’s apostleship so is He the source and cause of salvation. Peace can only come from the One who has the strength to make war. Grace cannot be bestowed except by One who has the authority and power to punish – the One whose justice and holiness must be satisfied.
What is the basis of grace and peace? Paul answers this in verse 4. The Galatians have grace and peace because Jesus gave Himself for our sins. Jesus endured the wrath of God to satisfy the justice of God so those who believe in Him might enjoy the grace of God. It is because of Jesus’ death on the cross that God supplies grace and peace to His children. And it is only His death which provides for the salvation of those who believe. Nothing else is needed to satisfy the cosmic justice of God.
Because Christ’s death paid the price for sin it broke sin’s dominion over His followers. The power of sin to sentence all who are under its curse to death is gone if the sentence has been satisfied. If there is no death there is no power. Therefore Paul says that Jesus’ death also delivers us out of this present evil age. This does not mean we are removed from this age (Jesus specifically did not ask for His disciples to be removed from the world – Jn 17:15), but it means we are not bound by it. The power of sin to deceive and enslave us is gone (We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one – I Jn 5:19).
We are free. We still sin but we do not HAVE to sin. We still sin but we understand what sin is and no longer live in the darkness of our minds unaware of who we serve. We never get away from sin’s ramifications and are still susceptible to sickness, pain, disappointment, loss and physical death. But even as we remain in the camp of the enemy and witness enslaved people all around us we are FREE. We live with our eyes open to the horrors of the slave master. And though the slave master is powerful and scary we do not fear him because greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world (I Jn 4:4).
Since we are not of this evil age we live with minds and priorities set on the age to come. We live as aliens with our citizenship firmly planted in the age when our Master will be fully revealed. We have renewed minds and live according to what is good and perfect and pleasing to our Master (Rom 12:2).
At the end of verse 4 Paul says Jesus died according to the will of our God and Father. God did not just permit His Son to die – He willed it. God so loved the world that He sent His Son (Jn 3:16). Jesus’ death was God’s plan to satisfy His own justice and holiness and was born out of His love for His creatures and His desire to glorify Himself. Thus while Jesus gave Himself (4a), His sacrifice was according to the will of our God and Father (4b). The Father and Son were perfectly united in their desire to redeem. The death of Christ and our deliverance from the present evil age and the grace and peace we live in are all based in the sovereign will of God.
In summary, this verse teaches that the nature of Christ’s death is a sacrifice for sin, its object our rescue out of this present evil age, and its origin the gracious will of the Father and the Son.
– John Stott
Paul ends His introduction and gospel synopsis with a small doxology – to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen. Paul is so carried away with the gospel message that he cannot help exclaiming that all glory belongs to a God who would do such things for His children. God glorified Himself through the death and resurrection of His Son. A God who sends His Son and whose will is for the deliverance of His children deserves all glory for all time.
Paul in these verses lays out a case for the Galatians to consider. Jesus gave Himself according to the will of the Father so that the Galatians can have grace and peace and be delivered from evil. God then sent Paul as an apostle to deliver this message of good news to them. God has taken care of everything. It is all of God. God provided for their salvation and then provided a messenger so they knew of this salvation. Nothing is said about the actions or designs of men. God acted on their behalf according to His own will and for His own glory. They do not deserve what He has done nor can they add to it. It does not lack – it does not require completion.
So my appeal to you today is this: remember that Christ died to cover all your sins so that a holy God could come upon you with gracious power and free you from the evil of this age. Live every moment by faith in Him, and you will not think or feel the way the world does. And remember that this Jesus rose from the dead, and appeared to Paul on the Damascus Road, and commissioned him as an apostle, and today speaks to us through his letter to the Galatians. He died to free us from a mindset that leads to destruction; and He rose and authorized the writing of this book to fill us with a mindset that leads to eternal life. Trust Him. Study Him. It will be grace to you and glory to God! – John Piper
Christ died and endured the wrath of God and paid the penalty of sin. He then rose again in victory over death and rendered it powerless. Because of His death and resurrection we experience grace and peace and deliverance from the evil of the world around us. He died – we live. He endured wrath – we experience peace. He became sin – we are clothed in righteousness. He is perfect and requires perfection – we live under His grace. He died – we are free. HE died. HE rose again. HE gives grace and peace and deliverance. To Him be the glory forevermore.