Series: Best Book In the BibleEvery Christian knows the importance of reading their Bible, but many are overwhelmed with the task of devouring such a monstrous book! Often times, when Christians lose steam in their yearly reading plans, they can become frustrated and feel defeated. It is for this reason that individual book studies can be a lifesaver. In the Best Book in the Bible series, we will provide entry points into faithful study through “selling” you on why you should fall in love with the various books of the Bible.
The gospel is always the central focus when we talk about Christianity. And on the horns of any discussion is the question: How can a just God save sinful people? How religious do we have to be to enter heaven? In the face of overwhelming opposition, the apostle Paul answers. This is the most crucial question one can address. In dealing with matters of the gospel, Galatians is the best book in the Bible.
Main Themes: Justification by Faith
“But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:8)
“Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.” (Galatians 2:16)
“Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness;” (Galatians 6:1)
Paul’s letter to the Galatians is perhaps the oldest letter we have from him. While the church in Galatia was primarily a Gentile church, a number of Jewish believers began to spend time there. At some point, a group of Jewish Christians arrived from Jerusalem with a new message, that believers are justified by faith along with adherence to the Law of God. Upon hearing of this instance, the apostle Paul sprung to action and penned his letter.
After re-asserting his apostolic credentials, Paul jumps directly into the problem. In absolute shock, Paul can’t understand that the Galatian believers “are so quickly deserting Him who called [them] by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel” (v. 6). It’s clear that those who have infiltrated the church have perverted the true gospel (v. 7) and saddled the church with ungodly commands. And then, in a most bold and cutting statement, Paul pronounces a curse on anyone who preaches a false gospel (1:8-9).
After cursing the proponents of false gospel, Paul then moves into a discussion of true gospel. Paul explains that his message and authority were given to him through divine revelation (1:12). Then he gives some unique historical information about his journey from darkness to light, from condemnation to salvation.
Chapter 2 leads off with Paul’s recounting of his journey to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus to recount their ministry in Gentile lands. Even in Jerusalem, certain Judaizers (so-called Christians who demand adherence to the Law of Moses) insisted on the need for Titus–a Gentile–to be circumcised. Paul adamantly refused.
From there, Paul launches into the heart of the letter, recounting a confrontation he had with Peter in Galatia. Fearing reprisal from visiting Jewish delegates from Jerusalem, Peter began to withhold himself from fellowship with the Gentiles on the basis of their lack of law-keeping. Paul immediately confronts Peter, declaring that justification (the legal act of God by which He declares guilty sinners pardoned) is based on faith and not by accomplishing works of the Mosaic Law (2:16). Further, if salvation and justification were possible by human effort, then “Christ died needlessly” (2:21).
In chapters 3 and 4, Paul lays out the theology of justification by faith. He makes several appeals. First, he argues that it is impossible for believers to be saved by grace through faith and yet continue in the Christian life purely by human effort (3:1-5). Second, he makes the argument that even Abraham was justified by faith and not by works (3:6-9). Third, he appeals to the function of the Law (3:10-4:11), noting that the Law of God was never designed to save anyone, rather, it functioned to render sinners guilty. In fact, Paul says, “the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith” (3:24). In essence, the Law of God demonstrated His perfect character, His standard of righteousness, and His holiness, in order that we would come to realize that we are powerless to keep His Law; hence, we need Jesus Christ. Fourth, Paul pleads with the Galatians from his personal testimony (4:12-20). Lastly, he appeals to them through an allegory, employing two images, that of Sarah and that of Hagar (4:21-31).
The final main section lays out the ethics of justification. Once we understand the true gospel of justification by faith apart from works of the Law, we are able to approach life with a new understanding. Paul asserts that if justification is truly all of grace, then we are perfectly free with regards to Christian liberty (5:1-12). However, we are never to use our liberty as a cause for sin or lovelessness (5:13-15). Rather, we are to live and walk by the Spirit (5:16-26). He then juxtaposes the sinful fruit of the flesh (5:19-21) versus the godly fruit of the Spirit (5:22-23) and exhorts believers to “live by the Spirit” (5:25).
Paul then discusses how justified and godly people are to conduct themselves with regards to sinning brothers (6:1-5), as well as with generosity (6:6-10). Paul concludes his letter with a personal appeal (6:11-18).
What Makes This Book So Great:
Next to Romans, Paul’s letter to the Galatians is the greatest treatise on justification by faith. And since this doctrine rests at the core of the gospel and of Christianity, there can be no greater study with regards to understanding salvation. A hearty examination of justification frees believers from the oppressive bonds of legalism and moralism. Even Christians who are tempted to boast in their own goodness are knocked down, as all of us are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Not only does Galatians protect the church from false gospel, it also liberates the believer and puts the grace of God on full display.
This letter can easily be read in one sitting, and should be read repeatedly. As you study, focus in on one passage at a time, looking for how it connects to the overall theme of justification. Consult works of theology and memorize Galatians 2:16 and Romans 3:28, so that you may develop a working definition and understanding of justification.
- John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians. Chicago: Moody, 1987.
- David Platt and Tony Merida, Exalting Jesus in Galatians. Holman, 2014.
- Douglas J. Moo, Galatians. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013.
- John MacArthur, The Gospel According to the Apostles. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000.
A helpful discussion on Lordship, grace, repentance, and justification.
Note: Find the rest of the Best Book in the Bible series here: EntreatingFavor.com/BestBookSeries