“Paul, an apostle, not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead, and all the brothers with me; to the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, so that He might deliver us from the present age of evil, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever, amen.”
A (Semi) Fictional Account
“Hi ________!” You turn around in the direction of the friendly voice. The panic ensues. “Hey… umm… bro! How’s it going?” you say, masking your fright with an awkward smirk. “I’m doing well, how are you?” “Good, good…” you say, making sure to keep eye contact as you wrack the recesses of your brain for this person’s name. “How’s your wife, _______, doing?” he says kindly, adding to your already massive sense of guilt. “Great! She’s doing great! Thanks for asking. Is your wife well?” “Oh, I trust that she’s doing well, though God has yet to introduce us to one another,” he says with a genuine chuckle; you are suddenly filled with a longing for Christ’s return. “How was Dr. so-and-so’s class last week?” he asks. Aha! A hint! A mischievous excitement comes over you, tempting you to rub your hands together gleefully, like Brain, the cartoon mouse obsessed with world domination. “It was wonderful and quite convicting. It reminded me of how important it is to value people and see each individual we come across as an image-bearer of God,” you tell him, noting the thick scent of irony in the air. “Praise the Lord!” he says. “I’m guessing you’ve enjoyed the course so far?” you ask. “Oh, I’m not actually in it, but you asked for prayer at the church’s prayer gathering. I just wanted to see how the Lord’s answered my prayers on your behalf. Anyway, it was good talking to you, _______,” he says, as he leaves you to continue regretting the day you were born.
Forgetting More than a Name
As we all know, it is dreadfully embarrassing to forget an acquaintance’s name. In fact, few things will spur us to the nearest exit quicker than making eye-contact with someone we know we are supposed to know. But even this severe faux pas cannot compare to the shame that the Galatians should have felt upon reading just the first five verses of Paul’s letter. You see, while the Galatians may have remembered Paul’s name, they were beginning to forget who he was and what he had taught. They were in danger of forgetting Paul’s apostolic authority and Paul’s divine gospel.
Reminding Galatia of Apostolic Authority
As he often does, Paul opens his letter by noting his apostolic office. “Paul, an apostle…” An “apostle” was basically a representative sent out in the authority of another. The term is used in different ways in the NT, and its sense depends on whose authority is being represented. While it is not uncommon for Paul to introduce himself as an apostle, in no other letter does Paul begin by emphatically clarifying the nature of his apostleship. First, he declares where his authority is not rooted: “Paul, an apostle, not from men nor through man…” Paul wants to make it abundantly clear that his authority did not rest upon a human source or foundation. He then goes on to assert the actual source of his authority: “not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead.” Paul did not campaign to become an apostle. He was not voted into office, nor was he appointed to his station by those who were apostles before him. He was personally selected by Jesus Christ and God the Father to proclaim the gospel on their behalf (Gal 1:13-16). The Galatians were losing sight of this fact, and were being lured away from Paul by newcomers who claimed to represent a greater authority. As a result, the Galatians found themselves in danger of drifting not only from Paul, but from God (Gal 1:6-9).
Friends, we too must remember Paul’s apostolic authority. Like the Galatians, we can be tempted to forget or neglect the apostle’s message. I can think of at least three reasons for this.
1. The first reason is mental laziness. Many Christians avoid Paul because he requires us to think hard. It’s no secret that Paul can be difficult to read. I mean, even Peter struggled at times (2 Pet 3:15-16). But every Christian needs to read Paul because we need all of God’s word, and that is precisely what you are depriving yourself of if you refuse to read Paul! Friend, remember Paul’s apostolic authority and commit yourself to reading his hard but immensely profitable words.
2. The second reason is the presence of troublemakers. From both outside and inside the church, troublemakers continue to pressure us to deny Paul and his gospel. Those outside the church explicitly deride Paul as a sexist, a bigot, or an unfortunate product of his time. Others who claim to be Christians will give lip service to Paul while denying what he plainly teaches. Regardless of the form it takes, antagonism towards Paul’s divine apostleship will continue unabated. Like the Galatians, we all will be pressured to turn away from the apostle’s authority and his message. Friend, remember Paul’s apostolic authority and refuse to bend under worldly pressure.
3. The third reason is misinformed reverence. Many people downplay Paul by pitting him against Jesus. After all, why bother with Paul when you have Jesus’ words conveniently highlighted in red for you in the gospels? (1) Many use this tactic specifically to dismiss teachings of Paul that they judge to be unsavory. So for example, supporters of homosexuality will often attempt to denigrate Paul’s explicit condemnation of this sin and appeal instead to Jesus’ supposed silence on the issue. This is utter foolishness. Paul wrote as an authorized representative of Christ (as did the rest of the NT authors). You cannot honor Christ while dismissing His chosen emissaries. Friend, remember Paul’s apostolic authority so you can revere Jesus rightly.
So Christian, have you settled in your heart that Paul was “an apostle, not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father”? Have you committed to reading his letters, along with the rest of the Scriptures? Have you set yourself to submit to his words, despite the opposition that will surely come? Have you embraced his authority precisely so that you might worship your Lord and Savior in a manner pleasing to Him?
Pastor, will you help your flock to be prepared to wrestle with Paul? Will you demonstrate what it looks like to carefully think through difficult texts as you preach God’s word? Will you choose not to skip over difficult sections of the Bible or rip verses out of context to support your own ideas? Will you show yourself to be willing to submit to Paul’s apostolic authority in the way you live and do ministry?
Reminding Galatia of the Apostolic Gospel
Forgetting Paul’s authority was not the Galatians’ only problem. As they drifted from Paul, they were also drifting towards an entirely different gospel (not that there is another, as Paul will say later). Because of this, Paul not only reminds the churches in Galatia of his apostolic authority; he also greets them with four central aspects of his gospel. First, Paul reminds them that Christ is risen. Second, he reminds them that Christ died for their sins. Third, he reminds them that Christ delivered them from this present evil age. Lastly, he reminds them that all of this was accomplished according to the will of God the Father. So, he says,“Paul, an apostle, not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead, and all the brothers with me; to the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, so that He might deliver us from the present age of evil, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever, amen.”
Remember the Resurrection. Paul begins by reminding the churches of Galatia that the gospel is the good news that Christ is risen. Paul makes crystal clear in his other letters that there is no gospel without the resurrection (1 Cor 15:1-19). Our justification was accomplished when God raised Jesus from the dead (Rom 4:25). Though we were dead in trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1), God gave believers new life by uniting us to a living Savior (Gal 2:20; Eph 2:4-5). And God’s kingdom in all its fullness will only come upon the return of the glorious King of life (1 Cor 15:20-28). All this demonstrates the centrality of Christ’s resurrection to the gospel. But why did the Galatians need this particular reminder at the outset of the letter? I suggest two reasons.
First, the Galatians needed the assurance that comes from embracing a risen Savior. After all, there were troublemakers among them, (mis)informing them that faith in Jesus was not enough to be justified; they needed to live under the Mosaic law to gain right standing before God (Gal 1:6-10, 2:11-21). Yet, the resurrection of Christ stands as objective proof that Jesus’ justifying work on behalf of believers has been accepted by God the Father (Rom 4:25). Furthermore, as the risen Savior, Christ continues to intercede for those who are His (Rom 8:33-34). The Galatians did not need the law for assurance regarding their justification; they needed to look into the face of their risen Lord and Savior. Christian, this is what you need to do as well. Are you feeling assured of your standing before God? Are you still trying to gauge your status before the Father on the basis of your obedience to His law? Friend, Jesus is risen. He was raised for your justification. If you have placed your trust in Him and have received Him as the Lord of your life, then as surely as Christ lives, you are justified before God.
Second, the Galatians were forgetting what time it was.(2) The resurrection marked the central turning point in human history. Prior to Christ’s coming, all humanity (Jew and Gentile alike) was imprisoned under the power of sin. Because of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, even God’s good and holy law (Rom 7:7-12) functioned to multiply transgressions and hold people in bondage (Gal 3:19, 23). But in the resurrection, God demonstrated with utter clarity that the old age under the law had been done away with. God’s kingdom had broken into the present evil age (Rom 1:4), and would provide believers with forgiveness and new life. Yet, as we will see, the Galatians were about to begin living as though Christ was still in the grave. They were considering going back to the law as their means of justification and life (2:21, 4:21), which would mean going back to the curse (Gal 3:10-14), going back to slavery (Gal 4:21-5:1), going back to idolatry (Gal 4:8-11), going back to life in the flesh (Gal 5:16-24), and going back to a life apart from God (Gal 1:6). In a sense, they were trying to turn back the clock of salvation history. The same thing can happen in our churches today. Pastor, will you help Christ’s flock understand what time it is? Will you teach believers that they are no longer under the Law as their covenant? Will you encourage them to live as those under the new covenant? And if you have questions about this yourself, then will you take time to study these issues regarding the Christian’s relationship to the law?
Remember Christ’s Death for our Sins. Not only does Paul remind them of Christ’s new life; he also emphasizes Christ’s substitutionary death. Jesus “gave himself for our sins.” Oddly, there are some scholars who downplay the importance of this truth in Paul’s gospel. They emphasize liberation from the power of Sin over against forgiveness of the guilt of sins. But what God has joined together, let no man tear asunder. Christ has died, yes to break the power of Sin, but also to deal with believers’ individual sins, that is to say, their actual behaviors, decisions, thoughts, and attitudes which offend God. Because we were born in sin and have committed countless actual sins, we naturally stand guilty before God and are deserving of His righteous wrath. Yet through His Son’s cross, God has provided the means of our forgiveness so that any who believe in Jesus may escape the curse of the law (Gal 3:13) and receive right standing before God (Gal 2:15-21). The Galatians needed to remember that Christ’s death dealt decisively with their sins, and that His work did not need to be supplemented by law-keeping.
Christian, what about you? Are you in danger of forgetting that Christ died for your sins? Do you worry about whether or not God favors you right now? Do you worry about whether He will forgive you again or for this? Believer, Jesus died for your sins.
Pastor, will you help your flock to rest in the cross of Christ? Will you consistently remind them that Christ died for their sins? And will you yourself rest in the blood of Jesus to deal with your own sense of guilt for any sins and shortcomings you may have? Remember Pastor, Jesus died for your sins too.
Remember our Redemption from the Present Evil Age. Christ’s death accomplished forgiveness and then some. He not only delivered the Galatians from the guilt of their sins, he also rescued them from this present evil age. But what exactly does that mean? In keeping with Jewish expectations, Paul understood human history to consist of two ages: the present age in which the world was held in bondage under the power of Sin and death, and the coming age in which God would do away with all trace of sin’s power, establish His kingdom, and rescue His people. Through the revelation of Jesus Christ, it was made known to Paul that there would be an intermediate step in salvation history: through Christ’s death and resurrection, believers would be rescued from this present evil age while still living in the midst of it. God’s Kingdom would be decisively established, yet not fully consummated. There is an “already” and a “not yet” quality to the Kingdom of God and to the Christian life. As one scholar has put it, “Believers have been granted grace to live the life of the age to come in the midst of the present age.” (3) What this meant practically for the Galatians was that, contrary to this new “gospel” they were hearing, they were not supposed to look to the Mosaic Law for power to overcome Sin. The Law belonged to the old age which was being done away with (Gal 3-4). It did not have the ability to loosen Sin’s grip from around their throats (Gal 2:19). But now, after believing in Jesus, they had been given new life in Christ, through which they would have the power to live lives unto God (Gal 2:19-20). They had received the person of the Spirit through faith in Jesus (Gal 3:2), and by walking in the Spirit, they would not gratify the desires of the flesh (Gal 5:16). And all of this was on the basis of Christ’s death, not on the basis of obedience to the Law.
Christian, what are you resting upon for strength in your fight with sin? Are you putting your faith in a list of do-nots? Or are you confident that Jesus died to rescue you from this present evil age? Do you know that you have been united to Christ so that you might live a godly life? Will you remember that through Christ’s death, God has given you His own Spirit to help you put sin to death? Christian, you will have victory over sin, not because of your law-keeping, but because of the deliverance you have in Christ.
Pastor, will you preach to encourage your flock to rest in the deliverance Christ accomplished for them? Will you provide them with more than a list of do-nots in their battle against the flesh? As you encourage Christians with the forgiveness they have in Christ, will you also exhort them to put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit (Rom 8:13)? And will you have hope for those in your flock who are currently mired in sin? Will you counsel them with confidence that this present evil age will not enslave those who have been purchased by Christ’s blood? Pastor, let this glorious news of deliverance impact the message and manner of your ministry.
Remember that the Gospel Accords with God’s Will. The Galatians were being tempted to turn back to the Mosaic Law as their means of justification and life before God. Presumably, the troublemakers were telling them that this was what God desired. After all, what was the Law if not the charter of God’s will for His people? But as Paul makes clear, the Mosaic covenant was no longer God’s will for His people. In fact, God had always intended for the Law to be a temporary measure (Gal 3:15-25). As a covenant, the Law’s time had come. To go back to it now would actually be to transgress God’s will (Gal 2:18). God’s will has now been expressed through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. Thus, even in the introduction, Paul is already urging the Galatians to turn away from the false gospel of law-keeping and to rest in the will of God expressed in the gospel of Christ. But there’s another reason why this truth is important to the gospel. The gospel is only good news because it was accomplished in accordance with God’s own desire. God wanted to save His people from their sins, even through the death of His own Son. God wanted to rescue enslaved sinners and to give them new life in Christ. God wanted to justify the ungodly and to give them His Spirit. No one forced God to do these things against His will. No, God desired to do this. And this desire was one that Jesus Himself shared, for He willingly “gave Himself for our sins.” This is why the gospel testifies to the great love of both God the Father (Rom 5:8) and the Lord Jesus Christ (Gal 2:20). Christian, do you know that God loves you? Do you know that He willingly gave up His own Son to save you from your sins? Do you know that He desired to rescue you from this present evil age? Pastor, will you explain to your church that the time of the Mosaic covenant has been done away with in accordance with God’s will? Will you proclaim the great love of God from your pulpit? Will you remind yourself that God loves you?
We all need reminders because we are all prone to forget all sorts of things. To forget certain things (like a name) can be pretty embarrassing; to forget Paul’s apostleship or his gospel would be downright deadly. So friends, let us all allow Gal 1:1-5 to remind us of Paul’s apostolic authority and Paul’s apostolic gospel.
1. Remember Paul’s Apostolic Authority
• Remember and Read Paul’s writing
• Remember and Refuse to bend under worldly pressure
• Remember and Revere Jesus Christ rightly
2. Remember Paul’s Apostolic Gospel
• Remember the Resurrection
• Remember Christ’s death for our Sins
• Remember our Deliverance from the Present Evil Age
• Remember that the Gospel Accords with God’s Will.
Recommended Resources on the Relationship between Christians and the Law:
Thomas R. Schreiner, The Law and Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993); Brian S. Rosner, Paul and the Law: Keeping the Commandments of God (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2013); Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom Through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012).
(1) Just to be clear, I do not actually think the “red letter” Bibles do us a great service, but this is a discussion for another day.
(2) My thanks to Dr. Jarvis Williams for emphasizing this point in his Galatians class.
(3) Thomas R. Schreiner, Galatians, vol. 9, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 77.
Richard Blaylock is currently pursuing a Ph.D in Biblical Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter @richardblaylock.