This week all of our small groups are re-launching and will be going through the book of Galatians!

As we start a new season, we’re asking everyone to make a committment to a specific group and be intentional about coming every week.  Out of courtesy, if there’s a week you can’t make it, please let the leader know ahead of time (call, text, email). 

If you want to get some background and intro for the book, see below:

 

Historical Setting of the Letter to the Galatians

 

The apostle Paul was a church-planting missionary. After he planted a church and left a region, he continued to supervise new congregations through his letters. One of these letters is this Epistle to the Christian churches in the area of Galatia in Asia Minor. Most scholars agree that this letter was written by Paul around 50 A.D. (only 15-20 years after the death of Christ). It is helpful to recognize the following three things from the historical setting which will help us understand this epistle:

 

• This letter addresses a social and racial division in the churches of Galatia.  The first Christians in Jerusalem were Jewish, but as the gospel spread out from that center, increasing numbers of Gentiles began to receive Christ.  However, a group of teachers in Galatia were now insisting that the Gentile Christians practice all the traditional Mosaic ceremonial customs as the Jewish Christians did. They taught that the Gentiles had to observe all the dietary laws and be circumcised for full acceptance and to be completely pleasing to God.

 

• Although this specific controversy may seem remote to us today, Paul addressed it with an abiding, all-important truth. He taught that the cultural divisions and disunity in the Galatian churches were due to a confusion about the nature of the gospel. By insisting on Christ-plus-anything-else as requirement for full acceptance by God, these teachers were presenting a whole different way of relating to God (a “different gospel” 1:6) from the one Paul had given them (“the gospel I preached” 1:8). It is this different gospel that was creating the cultural division and strife. Paul forcefully and unapologetically fought the “different gospel” because to lose one’s grip of the true gospel is to desert and lose Christ himself (1:6). Therefore, everything was at stake in this debate.

 

• The most obvious fact about the historical setting is often the most overlooked. In the letter to the Galatians, Paul expounds in detail what the gospel is and how it works. But the intended audience of this exposition of

the gospel are all professing Christians. It is not simply non-Christians, but believers who continually relearn and reapply the gospel to their lives.

 

 

The Abiding Importance of the Gospel

 

It is very common in Christian circles to assume that “the gospel” is something just for non-Christians. We presume that the gospel is a set of basic “A-B-C” doctrines that Christians do not need to hear or study once they are converted.  Rather, they should move beyond the gospel to more “advanced” doctrines.  But the great declaration of the gospel of grace in Galatians was written to believers who did not see the implications of the gospel for life-issues confronting them. Paul solves the disunity and racial exclusivity not with a simple exhortation to “be better Christians.” but by calling them to live out the implications of the gospel. So Christians need the gospel as much as non-Christians do.  Their problems come because they tend to lose and forget the gospel. They make progress only as they continually grasp and apply the gospel in deeper ways.

 

The gospel shows us that our spiritual problem lies not only in failing to obey God, but also in relying on our obedience to make us fully acceptable to God, ourselves and others. Every kind of character flaw comes from this natural impulse to be our own savior through our performance and achievement. On the one hand, proud and disdainful personalities come from basing your identity on your performance and thinking you are succeeding. But on the other hand, discouraged and self-loathing personalities also come from basing your identity on your performance and thinking you are failing.

 

Belief in the gospel is not just the way to enter the kingdom of God; it is the way to address every obstacle and grow in every aspect. The gospel is not just the “ABCs” but the “A-to-Z” of the Christian life. The gospel is the way that anything is renewed and transformed by Christ — whether a heart, a relationship, a church, or a community. All our problems come from a lack of orientation to the gospel. Put positively, the gospel transforms our hearts, our thinking and our approach to absolutely everything.

 

The gospel of justifying faith means that while Christians are, in themselves still sinful and sinning, yet in Christ, in God’s sight, they are accepted and righteous.  So we can say that we are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope — at the very same time. This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. It means that the more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you. But on the other hand, the more aware you are of God’s grace and acceptance in Christ, the more able you are to drop your denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions and character of your sin.

 

This also creates a radical new dynamic for discipline and obedience. First, the knowledge of our acceptance in Christ makes it easier to admit we are flawed because we know we won’t be cast off if we confess the true depths of our sinfulness. Second, it makes the law of God a thing of beauty instead of a burden. We can use it to delight and imitate the one who has saved us rather than to get his attention or procure his favor. We now run the race “for the joy that is set before us” rather than “for the fear that comes behind us.”

Copyright © Timothy J. Keller, and Redeemer Presbyterian Church 2003