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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 ...”
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)”
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
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
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
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.
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.
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?