Soon after the Galatians launched into their Christian life, they seemed content to leave their voyage of faith and chart a new course based on works—a course Paul found disturbing. His letter to the Galatians is a vigorous attack against the “gospel” of works and a defense of the gospel of grace.
Paul begins by setting forth his credentials as an apostle who received his message directly from God. Blessing comes from God on the basis of faith, not law. While the law declares men guilty and imprisons them, faith sets men free to enjoy liberty in Christ.
Liberty is not a license to sin. Freedom in Christ means the freedom to produce the fruits of righteousness through a Spirit-led lifestyle (5:16–25). Grace does not encourage believers to sin, but rather bestows upon them the power to please the Lord by living a godly lifestyle (5:13, 14).
Paul urges the Galatians to consider the utter foolishness of trying to perfect through their own efforts what they had begun only by tapping into the power of God by faith (3:3). Only by following Jesus’ example of depending upon the Holy Spirit for strength and direction can they hope to once more experience the sheer joy they felt at the beginning of the Christian life (4:15–20).
The book is called Pros Galatas, “To the Galatians,” and it is the only letter of Paul specifically addressed to a group of churches (“to the churches of Galatia,” 1:2). The name Galatians was given to this Celtic people because they originally lived in Gaul before their migration to Asia Minor.
Themes: A defense of the doctrine of justification by faith in Jesus Christ.
Authors: The apostle Paul.
Date: One theory holds that Paul wrote Galatians around A.D. 53–54 to churches in north-central Asia Minor. Another contends that he wrote the book to churches in southern Galatia around A.D. 48–49, which would make this Paul’s first biblical letter.
Structure: After a short introduction, Paul denounces any divergence from a gospel of grace and sets up the rest of his letter (1:1–9). He then defends his apostleship and core doctrines (1:10–2:21). Next he develops the themes of justification by faith and the liberty Christians have in Christ (3:1–4:31). As he winds up his letter he gives some practical applications of his teachings (5:1–6:10) and then offers some concluding remarks (6:11–18).
Charles F. Stanley, The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles, 2005), Ga.