Closing Words of Galatians
By Paul Robison

 “Galatians has been called ‘The Charter of Christian Liberty’ because of its emphasis on the believer’s freedom in Christ” (Cochran).  A good two word summary of the book is “Be Free!”  It was probably written around 48 A. D. and would be the first of the apostle Paul’s letters.  It was written as a response to the news that the churches that Paul and Barnabas had planted were turning from the Gospel and were beginning to adopt the false teachings of men known as Judaizers.  The teachings of the Judaizers can be found in Acts 15:24; they were teaching that Gentile Christians must be circumcised and keep the law of Moses.  One brother correctly writes: “It should be constantly borne in mind that the error Galatians was designed to correct was that of grafting Judaism into Christianity” (Coffman).

But how could these false teachers make their case?  They might have said something similar to this: “You Gentile Christians ought to realize that Paul got his Gospel message from the leaders of the church in Jerusalem, but he hasn’t given you the complete Gospel.  The Jerusalem believers continue to revere the law of Moses, and everyone of them is circumcised too! ... If Paul told you differently, he had no authority to do so.  His gospel is alright as far as it goes, but it’s defective and is lacking what it really takes to be totally spiritual.  Join our group, and all those deficiencies will be gone (Bruce)”!  The Judaizers were downplaying Paul’s credibility and were making those Gentile Christians feel like their salvation in Christ was incomplete.  One writer helps us to better understand the situation with these words: “This letter is clearly three-sided—Paul, to the Galatians, against the agitators.  Paul is obviously red-hot (just like God in the Old Testament when His love for Israel has been spurned) [and] writes with passion and forcefulness. ... What could have inflamed such intensity?  The answer: The gospel is at stake, especially as it includes the Gentiles, law-free, in the people of God … If the Galatians cave in to circumcision, everything God has done in Christ Jesus and is doing by the Holy Spirit to include the Gentiles in the people of God will have come to nothing” (Fee).

So Paul emphasizes grace in this letter.  The freedom of grace is defended in the first two chapters, then the freedom of grace is explained in the next two chapters, and finally, the freedom of grace is applied in the last two chapters.  And the last chapter is where we want to go this morning.  These last verses give essential clarification and a summary of the letter’s real issue.  With this background in mind, we want to look at the closing words of Galatians.  Paul tells that he wrote these verses with his own handwriting; this means that he wants his readers to pay close attention to them.  In this passage, we find 3 warnings and 6 blessings

So now we come to Paul's first warning in verse 12: As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these would compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.”  The first danger is that of adaptation.  The Judaizers want to appear honorable, but they focus on outward fleshly matters, and not on inward spiritual matters.  So they try to compel or put lots of pressure on the Gentiles to be circumcised.  Now, most Gentiles viewed circumcision as sort of a savage and distasteful tattooing.  But circumcision did have two things going for it.  First of all, circumcision was a clear sign that one wanted to be a part of the Jewish race, a race that saw themselves as God’s chosen people.  So getting the Gentile Christians circumcised would cause the Jews to stop their persecutions.  Secondly, Judaism, because of its antiquity and laws, was accepted by the Roman State as a legitimate religion so it was tolerated, but Christianity was seen as something like an upstart cult that the State could use violence against if necessary.  So, circumcision caused its converts to be respected by Rome.  You see, the Judaizers wanted to get Paul’s converts to be circumcised in order not to suffer any persecution—the Jews would see them as taking the first step towards keeping the rest of the law, and the Romans would see them as a legitimate religion!  In other words, they wanted to adapt Christianity so that it would become more socially acceptable to the Jews and more culturally acceptable to the Romans.  This is the danger of adaptation.  Paul is showing that the Judaizers are really out to please men, rather than to please God.  Can we also be in danger of adaptation?  Listen to what one brother writes: “[These brethren’s] clamor for change mirrors a corresponding restless spirit in society around them.  The church simply becomes a reflection of the cultural trends and currents that swirl around her. … [These brethren] call for us to accommodate them, join them, incorporate them into our religious behavior, [watering down] biblical religion!  Instead of capitulating and ‘connecting’ with secular culture, we of all people on earth ought to be militantly endeavoring to transform culture back toward our Christian heritage” (Miller).  Aren’t brethren who want to follow cultural trends out to please men, rather than to please God?  Let’s resist our secular culture and not give in to the danger of adaptation!

The next danger is found in the next verse: “For not even those who are circumcised keep the law, …”  Paul himself, with his old Pharisaic and rabbinical background, knew personally what it took to keep the law, and these Judaizers were falling short (Witherington).  If the Jews themselves had failed to keep the law; why should they try to involve Gentiles in the same failure by persuading them to accept the rite that would bind them to keep the whole law (Cole)?  Here is the danger of inconsistency.  One commentator rightly noted: “They were false to Christ in whom they professed to believe, and to the law which they pretended to keep” (Lipscomb).  The danger of inconsistency leads to these hypocritical behaviors—preaching one thing while practicing another, seeming to push spirituality while actually focusing on the externals, seeming to really care for others while boasting about self!  Have you known any church members who have fallen to the danger of inconsistency?  Someone has observed: “[The Judaizers’] conduct has found many imitators in men who make godliness a way of gain, whose religious course is dictated by considerations of worldly minded self-interest.  … Business patronage, professional advancement, a tempting family alliance, the entrance into some select and envied circle, [or a civic club, or a lodge]—such are the things for which loyalty to Christ are bartered or traded away” (Lipscomb).  Have we been pretenders too?  You know, are you appearing to live as a Christian on the surface while really endorsing another lifestyle in your heart which is contrary to Christ’s teachings?  Let’s be careful that we do not fall prey to the danger of inconsistency!

The third danger is that of false religions.  Note what Paul writes in the later part of verse 13: “but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.”  Paul is exposing the Judaizers’ real motives here.  They are not really concerned about their converts being totally spiritual, they are focusing on the externals and only exalting themselves!  One commentator rightly observes: “Paul does not even consider the possibility that these teachers were sincere.  This outward rite was not working an inner change in the converts. ... They were merely being [trophies] added to the number of the circumcised.  Paul has charged the false teachers with cowardice [of fearing persecution], hypocrisy, and working for selfish advantage” (Johnson).  Let’s notice something important here.  Did the Judaizers preach Jesus and spirituality?  Oh yes, they did!  So what was the problem here?  Why did Paul come down so hard on them?  You see, it was Christianity plus circumcision and the law.  Listen to this good explanation: “In Paul's eyes such practices [as circumcision and the observance of special days] were religiously different, but an important issue was raised when they were imposed or accepted as matters of legal obligation.  If those who so regarded them treated them as essential elements in the gospel, then the character of the gospel was changed.  Paul's gospel proclaimed a salvation provided by God's grace in Christ and appropriated by men through faith: if in some degree salvation depended on the fulfillment of [other] legal requirements, this was quite a different gospel – in fact, [it was] no gospel at all” (Bruce).  Now brethren and those in our TV audience, this same practice of adding legal requirements is what so many religious groups do today.  They say, “Take Christianity plus our religious traditions!” or “Take Christianity plus our religious publications!” or “Take Christianity plus our disciplines, creeds, catechisms, and confessionals!”  Paul saw those people who were imposing man-made external legal requirements as teaching a false gospel, and false gospels can only lead to false religions!  Why do we think that it must be Christianity plus something else?  Why can’t we just accept Christ and His teachings found in the New Testament as enough, without any other additions?  Can’t we unite on that simple platform?  Let’s beware of the danger of false religions!

Now Paul begins to explain his Gospel again and the blessings it offers!  Look at verse 14: “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!”  Here was the blessing of God’s way!  One writer puts it this way:  “Paul had been brought up to equate religion with law, but the day came when he discovered that law-keeping was not the way to peace with God.  With his Damascus-road conversion came the assurance that his acceptance by God depended not on his own acts of righteousness but on God's grace, to be appropriated by faith [and obedience to the Gospel]” (Bruce).  The cross completely breaks with the old ‘outward and external world’ and gives both Jews and Gentiles a new perspective (Cole).  The Jews hated the cross because it allowed all people to become God’s children!  Paul had witnessed firsthand how the message of the cross was changing people as nothing had done before, nor nothing else has done since (Lipscomb)!  Jesus’ atoning death and His gift of the Holy Spirit’s transforming power show the blessing of God’s way!  Have you let the blessing of God’s way change you life?  Jesus died for you, and the gift of the Holy Spirit can still be yours through baptism!  Acts 2:38 assures you that you will receive It!

Then comes the blessing of our own crucifixion.  Paul said in the later part of verse 14: “by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”  Paul calls for a wounding which was far more severe than circumcision—he calls for crucifixion (Keener).  Yet, as we know, it is not an outward crucifixion, but an inward one.  The world was crucified to Paul so the beggarly elements no longer enslaved him (see 4:9, Witherington).  And Paul had been crucified to the world too: “He [was] changed in faith, in heart, and in life.  He [had] new purposes.  His whole being [was] consecrated to the life in Christ Jesus” (Lipscomb).  “Paul had severed his relation to those things of the world which were so imposing and attractive to the natural man; [all his Jewish pedigrees became rubbish (Phil. 3:8)].  He had learned to put all of his hope and trust in Christ” (Johnson).  Have you made a radical break with the world and consecrated your life totally to Christ?  Have you experienced the blessing of your own crucifixion?  Can you also say with Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me ...” (2:20)?

Then comes the blessing of being a new creation.  Paul then affirms in verse 15: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.”  Someone has rightly noted: “Neither circumcision nor lack of it would provide assurance that that life would be characterized by 'faith working through love' (5:6)” (Johnson).  Someone else had this good comment: “What matters is the emergence of the new creation in each person and in the community of faith: a dying to the world with Christ and rising to a new life, the life of the Spirit reforming the person, forming Christ within the believer” (DeSilva).  Here we see God's active work in transforming all people through Christ.  This affirmation is similar to another of Paul's in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new.”  Have you experienced the blessing of being a new creation?  When you rise from the waters of baptism, all the old sins of your past are forgiven and a new future lies ahead because Christ has changed your purpose for living!  This is the blessing of a new creation!

Then Paul mentions the blessing of the church.  Note verse 16: “And as many as walk according to the rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.”  The Jewish commandments were also called a rule (Keener), so Paul would be saying to his readers: “My blessing of peace and mercy is for those who live according to the new creation rule” (Cole).  Someone has noted that “’Peace be upon Israel’ is the great Old Testament blessing of Psalm 125:5” (Cole).   In contrast to the Judaizers who thought of themselves as Israel, Paul is showing that Christians in the church are really the true Israel of God!  Have you known the blessing of the church?  Do you realize that the church still remains God's new spiritual Israel?  By God's grace, Christians are God's chosen family, a holy community of people that are different from any other earthly group!  This is the blessing of the church!

Now Paul mentions the blessing of being persecuted.  Look at verse 17: “From now on, let no one trouble me, for I bear in  my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”  The Judaizers were constantly annoying and bothering Paul by trying to steal his sheep.  Now Paul makes an emotional appeal.  The marks of circumcision mean nothing while his marks of suffering are real proof of his devotion to Christ (Bruce).  Paul is saying in essence: “I am a true soldier and bear the marks of the battlefield to prove it; I’m not afraid of persecution for Jesus like your agitators are!”  Now some of those marks would have been from a stoning at Lystra, and this is one of the congregations addressed in this letter.  Jesus plainly said in John 15:20: “If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you.”  There was an Italian priest in the State Religion who was climbing in the ranks named Italo, but then he encountered something different—New Testament Christianity!  He later was baptized into Christ.  For his decision, he was excommunicated from the State Church and put on their black list.  Although he was shunned, ridiculed, and disdained by others, Italo said that he never regretted his decision to put Christ first in his life.  Yes, there can be blessing in being persecuted for Christ!

Lastly, Paul underscores the blessing of divine grace.  He states in the last verse: “Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.  Amen.”  The word “brethren” is not used in any of Paul's other closings and shows his continued affection for his audience in spite of all his frankness in dealing with them (Johnson).  One commentator noted: “The [free undeserved love] of our Lord Jesus Christ is the distinctive blessing of the new covenant. ... Of this life-giving stream, the Galatians had already tasted,” and Paul is hopeful that they will continue to taste and not accept other polluted waters.  Do you know the free undeserved love of the Supreme Ruler over all?   Someone has observed: “But if God in sheer grace assures us of our acceptance in advance [like when  the father welcomed the prodigal son], and we gratefully embrace that assurance, then we can go on to do His will from the heart ... without always worrying about whether we are doing it adequately or not” (Bruce).  Someone also has said, “We are Christ’s tenants here, and yet here, He pay our rents, not annually, nor quarterly, nor monthly, but hourly; in fact, every minute He renews His mercies” (Donne in Rowell).  We know that after we do all we can, we are still unworthy servants, but we do all things in gratitude for what God has already done for us!  This is the blessing of divine grace.

Someone rightly observes: “Galatians was written by Paul to warn his converts against certain troublemakers who were trying to persuade them to adopt a line of thinking and a course of action that would enslave them to a legalistic approach to a relationship with God.  In contrast, the gospel of Christ liberates a person to serve God out of desire, not duty.  One’s response to God should be rooted in grace, not guilt, and Christian works ought to be done in response to God’s grace, and not in order to receive that grace” (Cochran).  We are going to be studying this great book of Galatians more in depth on Wed. evenings and invite you to join us.  “Be free!”  Beware of adaptation, inconsistency, and false religions.  Follow God's way, experience your own crucifixion with Christ, let Him make you a new creation, be added to His church, suffer persecution for Him with joy, and serve Christ out of gratitude.  All these blessings are available right now.  Won't you be free?  Won't you apply God's grace?