Most scholars and Bibles date the writing of Galatians between 47-49 A.D. This would place the writing after Paul’s first missionary journey and was probably written from Antioch.
Paul, having only recently established the church through the Holy Spirit, (3:1-5, 4:13-15), is now writing to admonish these believers to adhere to the faith. He is concerned because they have fallen prey to false teachers who have convinced Gentile (non-Jewish) believers they must become circumcised in order to be “true believers.”
They also wanted Gentiles to subscribe to the other two tenets of Jewish (Mosaic) Law: holiday observance and dietary restrictions. Paul asserts that a return to the old divisions between Jews and Gentiles would be to deny the coming of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. In this first of many letters, Paul established the basic theology of Christianity, that it is faith in Christ, not law, which justifies us and brings us into relationship with God.
The Imperatives (The Commands)
Paul quickly and clearly tells those of the church in Galatia he is “astonished” they are so quickly deserting Christ. He uses himself as an example to them of living in faith to Christ:
- For am I now seeking the approval of man or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (1:10)
- But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. (2:3)
- We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentiles, yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” (2:15-16)
- Before Christ, we were slaves to Mosaic Law; how can you now turn back to the law of the world, whose slaves you want to become once more? (4:3,9)
- Brothers and sisters, I entreat you, become as I am. (4:12)
Stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5:1,4
Paul is not saying grace has been revoked. He is saying by following the law, they have removed themselves from the grace freely offered.
He reminds them not to use their freedom “as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love, serve one another…if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” (5:13-15) Paul urges them, “if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (6:1-2)
And what is this law of Christ? Love your neighbor as yourself. (5:14)
The Indicatives (Truths in Christ)
How were the people of Galatia – and how are we – supposed to do all this? They were, after all, only human? And how are we supposed to divorce ourselves from religious law and doctrine so we remain fully open to the freedom of God’s grace?
- God called us by grace through Christ just as he called Paul. (1:6,15)
- We are never alone, for by God’s grace, Christ lives in us through the Holy Spirit. If we deny this, then Christ died for no purpose. And we are continually being perfected, not by the law but by the Spirit. (2:20-21, 3:2)
- Before Christ, we were captive to the law; now that he has come we are no longer under the law, for in Christ we are all sons and daughters through faith. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus and heirs according to the New Covenant. (3:23-29)
- God sent his only Son to redeem those under law, so that we might receive adoption, and because we are sons and daughters, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts. We are no longer slaves but his children, and heirs of God. (4:4-7)
- Now that we have come to know and love God, and he has come to know us, how can we turn back to living our lives under the captivity of rules and regulations? It was for freedom Christ set us free. (4:8,9; 5:1,13)
Paul writes about the conflict between what we want to do and what we ought to do. As you are led by the Spirit, you are not in need of law. (5:16-18)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. (5:22-23; 6:15)
Paul wants us to understand the law does not enter our hearts; it is not the law that determines our behavior. Because we are a new creation in Christ, it is the Holy Spirit that provides the love, the strength, the power and the desire to produce this fruit in our lives as we live and abide in Him.