Paul and the Galatians
Paul begins the letter to the Galatians by emphasizing the fact that the gospel has its origin in God and that it is divine truth. In doing so he gives a, “contextually relevant application and summary of the gospel when he defines ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’ in 1:4 as ‘the one who gave himself for our sins, that he might rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of God and our Father.’”
It is the implication that the Galatians were listening to a different gospel, which is no gospel at all, and attempting to fulfill the Torah, that forced Paul to action in defending the theme of justification by faith alone. It was not that the Judaizers did not consider themselves Christians, but the attempted conflation of grace and works by promoting Jesus Christ plus Moses in a perverse attempt to consummate Christianity that caused the problems.
Paul, in his rebuttal to the Judaizers was attempting to demonstrate not only that fleshly effort, “works righteousness” is an attempt to be perfected by one’s own efforts but also that it is a departure from the true Gospel. In agreement with De Boer, Oakes states that at the very beginning of the epistle Paul lays particular emphasis on the divine origin and authority of his message. Using his Apostolic authority, Paul warns his readers that they are turning “to another gospel” and by implication that action leads to their adoption of “works of the law.”
To gain further understanding of the theology of Galatians, consideration of the lexical terms employed must be considered. There are five groups of words that have a very high frequency of use in the letter. The term Christos (Christ) marks the letter as being thoroughly Christian in nature, the term nomos (law) is also central to the thematic development of the letter, while the term angel develops an announcement motif that should not be overlooked. What is being announced is the evangelion (gospel) and the epangelia (promise). The final word group under consideration is pistis/pisteuo (truth/fidelity) in relationship to the law. This is all congruent with Paul’s announcement of the true gospel, the inherent promises contained therein, justification by faith, and a right understanding of the law in regards to the gospel.
As already stated, the Judaizers confused the law (nomos) with the gospel (evangelion). Their false teachings insisted upon circumcision as necessary to participate in the blessing and inheritance of Abraham, that this was consistent with the lifestyle of those in Jerusalem, and was indeed how most believers lived before Paul came along. In light of this it appears only natural that the Galatians would begin to question Paul’s gospel and authority.
Another theme crucial in the theology of Galatians is the work and person of the Holy Spirit as outlined in the middle sections of the letter. The middle portion of the epistle relates a series of dangers and warnings to the Galatians in forgetting how they received the Spirit, either by the works of the law or by faith. These dangers coattail on the previous instructions in regards to the law and faith as contrasted between Paul and the Judaizers.
It is here that Paul focuses upon the Spirit received by faith, not the law, as the basis for salvation. It is by faith that a person is declared righteous before God and that salvation by works also requires absolute obedience to the law. Since it is not by works, but by faith, then works of the law are not a prerequisite for inclusion in the inheritance and promises given to Abraham (Galatians 3). Therefore, both Jew and Gentile have equal access to this inheritance and the receiving of the Spirit. Consequently, there is no need for the Mosaic law to define members of the believing community.
This all leads directly to the practical portion of the letter in that the Spirit has set the believer free from the slavery found in adherence to the law (5:1). It is precisely because believers are to be led by the Spirit (5:18) that the Galatian churches were not under the law. Paul rounds out the epistle by bringing the focus back to Christ and Him crucified (6:14) and that the believers are a new creation in Him (6:15).
The themes of Galatians can be summarized as the believer’s dependence upon Christ and faith in Him as the foundational aspect of what Christianity is. It is by faith apart from the strictures of the Mosaic law that a person is united to Christ, becomes the seed of Abraham, receives the Spirit, and subsequently lives out the Christians life being led by the Spirit.