How Foolish Are You? (Galatians 3:1–5)

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.

Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? —Galatians 3:1, 3

In Galatians 3:1–5 Paul asks five rhetorical questions to make the folly of the Galatians apparent. When one is on the receiving end of such questions, the head is not raised and tilted in deep thought, but hung low in deep shame. These questions are not meant to be answered, save with repentance. 

We’ve all likely been on both sides of a parent asking a child, “What were you thinking?” As children, none of us find difficulty proving Solomon’s maxim that “folly is bound in the heart of a child” (Proverbs 22:15). When asked, the best response is perhaps, “No excuse sir.”

Likewise, these are chastening questions. They sting; but this folly, left unchecked, would sting far more. This is a folly our Galatia-Pelagia flesh is ever prone to. We need these kinds of words.

My hope in this little meditation is that you realize there is a place for such rebuke and that such rebuke is sorely needed today. 

Law Judo against the Legalist (Galatians 2:17–21)

“But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!” —Galatians 2:17

Paul, for his defense of his apostleship and the gospel, is now is dealt a foul backhanded in return. Paul doesn’t simply dodge the accusation, he does a bit of judo, flipping things around, slamming his perceived opponent to the ground with his own strength.

The accusation is that of antinomianism, of being anti-law, anti-obedience. People’s pride dresses up as piety, human hubris as holiness, and attacks the gospel as antinomian. Paul is basically dealing with the same accusation that follows his presentation of justification in Romans.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1–2)”

There are true antinomians, and their teaching is heretical, but the Judaizers were saying that the gospel itself is antinomian. They were accusing the gospel of freedom as frivolousness and the gospel of liberty as leading to license. The legalist will always slander the gospel as license. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones took comfort in such accusations.

“The true preaching of the gospel by grace alone always leads to the possibility of this charge being brought against it. There is no better test as to whether a man is really preaching the New Testament gospel of salvation than this, that some people might misunderstand it and misinterpret it to mean that it really amounts to this, that because you are saved by grace alone it does not matter at all what you do; you can go on sinning as much as you like because it will redound all the more to the glory of grace. That is a very good test of gospel preaching. If my preaching and presentation of the gospel does not expose it to that misunderstanding, then it is not the gospel.”

Paul demonstrates that the legalist ironically doesn’t understand the law, for if Paul rebuilt what he tore down, namely, his efforts at justification by works of the law, then he would be a transgressor of the law (2:18). It is only because Paul died to the law, by the law, in the death of Christ, that he can live unto God by faith in Christ. Herein is the paradox, if you don’t die to the law as a means of justification, all your law-keeping is law-breaking, but if you die to the law as you are in union with Christ through faith, then you live in Christ, by faith, unto God.

KO (Galatians 2:11–16)

“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.” —Galatians 1:11

Paul has already delivered a powerful one-two punch defending his apostleship and the gospel, now he finishes with a vicious uppercut. First comes the left jab in 1:10–24 where Paul demonstrates that his gospel did not come from or through men but through Christ. Paul didn’t get his gospel from Jerusalem to distort it. Second, Paul follows with the right cross of 2:1–10 showing the unity of the apostolic gospel. Paul took his gospel to Jerusalem where they recognized it. Now, in 2:11–16 he finishes with a strong uppercut for the KO. Here, Paul demonstrates that his apostolic authority stands even over another apostle when their conduct is contrary to the gospel.

Paul isn’t throwing Peter under the bus out of envy to establish that he’s the better apostle. The point in this isn’t the supremacy of Paul over Peter, but the supremacy of the apostolic gospel even over those who are apostles.

That this is so is evident in that our text opens not by contrasting Paul with Peter, but Peter with Peter. The “but when Cephas” of v. 11 is first in contrast to the “and when… Cephas” of v. 9. The contrast is between Peter as an apostle of the gospel and Peter’s behavior as a sinner saved by grace. Luther comments, “The apostles were not superior to us in anything except in their apostolic office. We have the same gifts they had, namely, the same Christ, Baptism, Word, and forgiveness of sins. They needed all this no less than we do; they were sanctified and saved by all this just as we are.”

Paul has already placed himself under the same standard in 1:8. The gospel is supreme, I don’t care who you are. And by the gospel, Paul has centrally in mind justification by faith alone. It isn’t Peter that Paul knocks out here, but the damnable teaching of salvation by works of law rather than faith in Christ alone.

Entertaining Ourselves to Hell (Galatians 2:1–10)

There were multiple apostles, but there is only one gospel. Peter was entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised, Paul, to the uncircumcised, but this speaks not of two gospels, but of the one gospel being preached by both despite distinct ministries. Phil Ryken comments, “The church can allow diversity of mission only where there is unity of message.”

Today this has been inverted. So many act as if we are all on the same mission despite the variety of messages. Paul is at pains in the first part of his letter to the Galatians to establish his apostleship and the gospel on which it was centered. In 2:1–10 he goes on to demonstrate that when the apostles compared notes, it was clear that were all sitting under the same teacher—Jesus Christ. Their gospel math was identical. Jesus is everything. Add anything to Jesus, and you lose Jesus.

There is the gospel and there are other gospels, which are no gospels. When one preaches Christ, even out of envy or ambition, Paul rejoices (Philippians 1:15–18). When one preaches a perversion of Christ, Paul pronounces a divine curse on them (Galatians 1:8–9).

The apostles didn’t lay multiple-choice foundations, but one foundation, perfectly square with the cornerstone Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:19–20). A shared name on the church sign doesn’t mean there is a shared foundation. With our eyes glued to the screens, we’ve failed to look down and see the cracks beneath and the abyss visible below. We are spectators instead of inspectors. If the crowd is big and the show is good, we assume all is well. Neil Postman was afraid that Western society was amusing itself to death. I’m afraid the western church is entertaining itself to hell. Yes, the gates of hell will not prevail against the church, but as I look at much of the modern church, judging by the foundation, she’s not the church anymore.

Autobiography or Apostleship? (Galatians 1:10–24)

“In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!” —Galatians 1:20

Galatians 1:11–2:14 forms the largest autobiographical section within Paul’s letters. Indeed, they comprise the largest autobiographical material in the entire New Testament, excepting of course Jesus Christ as both the supreme author and subject of the New Testament.

Paul is a fascinating figure. His conversion is most dramatic. His post-conversion life is worthy of imitation. It is not without good reason that he tells the Corinthians “I urge you, then, be imitators of me” (1 Corinthians 4:16). But if this is as far as you go with this passage, you have missed the forest for the trees. If you miss the gospel for the apostle, you’ve also missed his apostleship which centers on the gospel.

This text is very much about Paul and yet it is not about him at all. It is as though Paul is testifying in court before these Gentiles. Yet, though he defends his apostleship, it is really the apostolic gospel he is zealous to defend.

It is too easy to take a biographical passage like this, as we do with many Old Testament narratives, and twist them into the very kind of man-pleasing Paul so adamantly denies here. One could come to this passage and preach a “be like Paul” message in such a way that is all about Pharisaical glory-seeking before men. We must beware of preaching what Bryan Chapell calls “the deadly be’s.” “Be this, be that, be like Paul.” And when I say “preaching” I refer to what you do with yourself as you read and study the word as well. Such an approach to the text is often all sting devoid of the sweet honey of the gospel. We should indeed wish to be holy as our God is holy, but if you only come to this text only wanting to be like Paul, you’ll likely indeed be like he was, before his conversion, a Pharisaical self-righteous people-pleaser.

The central truth that should bear down on us here is the verity of Paul’s apostolicity, the veracity of His claim to be an apostle, and thus the truthfulness of His gospel. If this isn’t appealing to you, ask yourself, is it because you would like a man-centered application? If you think you’ve got no beef with Paul, you fail to realize there is a Galatian residing even in the saints this side of glory.

Curse or Be Cursed (Galatians 1:6–9)

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” —Galatians 1:6–9

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The church is like a nuclear power plant. In his letter to the Romans Paul says, “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” The church’s receiving and being entrusted with the gospel is like her being entrusted with nuclear power. To be clear, the church is not the power, but she is the authorized custodian thereof.

There are attacks against the gospel from without, and so we do well to build strong walls of defense around the church, but the greatest potential threat always lies within. It is the spy within the church, tampering with the nuclear core that can cause the greatest devastation. This is precisely the danger the Galatians find themselves on the precipice of—a nuclear meltdown of the church and their souls.

This is why Paul open this letter with rebuke instead of thanksgiving. In nearly every other letter Paul writes, thanksgiving follows greeting. Consider the following example from Philippians.

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:3–11).

That letter, Philippians, written while imprisoned, is one of Paul’s warmest letters. The tone there is the complete opposite of Galatians. You may reason that this is because there are no serious errors being embraced by the Philippian church at this time. And this is mostly true, but, then what are we to make of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians?

“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:4–9).

Is there any church to whom Paul writes that had such a diversity of problems as the one in Corinth? Among them were divisions, sexual immorality, failure to exercise church discipline, suing one another, syncretism, disorder in the church gatherings, perverting the Lord’s Supper, and a denial of the resurrection of the saints. All of this and Paul still says, “I give thanks to my God always for you.” 

With the Galatians, thanksgiving is not only absent but replaced with a scathing rebuke. Why? Because the very core is being threatened. They are on the cusp of the worst possible spiritual catastrophe, a Chernobyl of the church; and thus it is that Paul expresses astonishment at the Galatians and anathematizes the false teachers. Concerning his cursing the false teachers, no more severe statement could be made and no lesser statement could be justified. When heretics have made their way to the core, it is curse or be cursed. If false gospels are not damned, men are.

Fighting to Say ‘Grace and Peace’ (Galatians 1:1–5)

“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 who are 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 to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” —Galatians 1:1-5

In his letter to the Galatians Paul gives his typically untypical greeting untypically. Still with me?

“Grace and peace” are the standard fare of verbal appetizers to Pauline entrées. But Paul’s typical greeting is untypical. The normal Roman way of expressing epistolatory salutations was the word chairō, meaning “rejoice,” often limply “trans-interpretated” into English as “greetings.” It is used in two letters mentioned in Acts (Acts 15:23, 23:26), and James uses it in his (James 1:1). Paul, however, uses the related but distinct word, charis, and always marries it with “peace.” 

This is a distinctly Christian greeting that draws deeply on the Old Testament. John Stott writes, 

“Paul sends the Galatians a message of grace and peace, as in all his Epistles. But these are no formal and meaningless terms. Although ‘grace’ and ‘peace’ are common monosyllables, they are pregnant with theological substance. In fact, they summarize Paul’s gospel of salvation. The nature of salvation is peace, or reconciliation—peace with God, peace with men, peace within. The source of salvation is grace. God’s free favour, irrespective of any human merit or works, His loving-kindness to the undeserving. And this grace and peace flow from the Father and the Son together.”

Paul didn’t say “grace and peace” the way we say “Hello!” For Paul to say these words, Jesus had to give Himself for our sins.

The saints need rich ways to greet, bless, and speak to one another. There is nothing wrong with using the customary greetings of our day, James did, but we have the opportunity to communicate so much more. I’m afraid greetings and ways of addressing and speaking to one another like this have largely disappeared because in our childhood experience they were either a rote formality where the gospel depths underneath them were not celebrated and/or because the church didn’t want to look weird. We were told not to load our seeker services with language foreign to unbelievers. I’m glad Paul didn’t have these concerns.

When we fail to call one another saints, it’s just yet another way we fail to be the saints—those set apart by the gospel. When we fail to greet one another with “grace and peace,” we fail to enjoy God’s grace and peace as deeply and communally as we should.

But how is it that Paul gives this typically untypical greeting untypically? By all of the modifying phrases he attaches to it. Only in Romans do we see Paul elaborate so, but whereas in Romans he appears enraptured, in Galatians he is enraged. Why? Because the gospel that is the source of this grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ is being threatened in a most severe way. 

Paul viciously defends this grace and peace for there is no other. If you don’t have peace with God, you do not have peace. You may have a delusion, but you do not have peace. What peace can one have when they abide under the wrath of God Almighty (John 3:36)? The only place you can find refuge from God is in God. If you would have peace with God, you must find grace from God; and there is grace from God only as it is grace from the Lord Jesus Christ who gave himself for our sins.

May we not only greet one another with these precious blood bought words, may we fight to do so.