The Letter to the Galatians
July 1st, 1956 @ 7:30 PM
THE LETTER TO THE GALATIANS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-1-56 7:30 p.m.
Now let us turn to the Book of Galatians, and when we come to this book, we enter a little different world. There’s a great deal of the polemic, and you’ll see why in the time we have for the message tonight. And I thought it would not be too much for us to read the entire first chapter – you can get a good idea of the tone of the epistle by reading this first chapter – and then we’ll go through. The message tonight is an introduction to the whole letter, the whole book. So let’s read the first chapter: "Paul, the apostle, to the churches of Galatia" [Galatians 1:1-2]; now, do you have it? Galatians, the first chapter; now let’s all read it together:
Paul, an apostle (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead),
And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia:
Grace be to you and peace from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ,
Who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father,
To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
I marvel that ye are so soon removed from Him that called you into the grace of Christ, into another gospel,
Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you and would pervert the gospel of Christ.
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.
For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.
But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.
For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.
For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God and wasted it.
And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.
But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me by His grace,
To reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the heathen, immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood,
Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again into Damascus.
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.
But other of the apostles saw I none save James, the Lord’s brother.
(Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not.)
Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.
And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ.
But they had heard only that, "He which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed."
And they glorified God in me.
I wish we could read the whole epistle. Now, as you look at it, does it strike you as being unusual that the letter is addressed to a nation of Gauls? What is that? All of you students, you scholars, you intellectuals who studied Caesar, what is that? Omnia Gallia . . . Omnia Gallia in tres partes’ divisa . . . sup, sup, sup . . ." [The Gallic Wars, by Julius Caesar, 58-47 BCE]. Is that it? Oh, I took it and read it, but thanks, I’ve forgotten it. The beginning of Caesar’s memoirs started like that about his campaign in Gaul. Well, when you read it, it’s the campaign of Caesar against the tribes in France.
Yet you have here a letter of Paul addressed to the nation of Gaul, to the churches in Gaul, but they’re not over there in France. They’re over there in the middle of Asia Minor on the other side of the civilized world. So I say, to begin with, it looks unusual to find such a thing as that. Well, you don’t notice it for one thing because of the form of the substantive Galatia, Galatians. Well, as you transfer words from one language to another, it’ll be Gaul; then it’ll be Gauli; then it’ll be Galatai; and finally, anglicized, Galatia.
But the word is Gauls, the people who are now your modern Frenchmen. How come them over there was this? All of your migrations – the advance of racial conquest is always from the east to the west: the pouring hordes of the Teutons, and those before them who lived in central Asia, always migrating to the west in conquest seeking other homes, seeking other lands, seeking food and prey, all going toward the west.
Just once in a while, there’d be an ebb tide. All of these tribes and these families that are warring to the west – just once in a while one will turn toward the east. Now that’s what happened to this segment of the Gaelic nation. Some of them living in the west, having come to the Atlantic Ocean, finding an inhospitable clime or impenetrable forest, or the lack of fertility in lands, some of them turned to the east; and this group did.
In about 300 BC they turned to the east and came into Greece and sought to subdue the Greeks, but they were not able. They were repulsed by the Greek people. So they crossed the Hellespont into what we now know as Asia Minor, and there they made conquests of the country and in 280 BC settled down in the heart of Asia Minor and built a Gaelic nation right in the heart of the ancient civilized world. Now in about 180 BC, the Romans conquered them, and in 26 BC, they were organized into a Roman province called the Roman province of Galatia.
Now these churches that Paul organized in the Roman province of Galatia are the churches, I think, are the churches that he organized on his first missionary journey [Acts 13:1-15:35]. They were his first love. Those little sections of country in which those little cities belonged, like Pisidian Antioch, and the Lycaonian Iconium, and Derbe – those cities – they belonged in the greater geographical province of Galatia, and those are the churches to whom Paul is writing.
Now, the tenor of the letter is oh so different from what Paul usually writes. This letter was written in a passion. It was written in a white heat, and the apostle is greatly perturbed! He has no word of commendation for them whatsoever. Every letter you’ll find Paul writing, he’ll start off with a compliment – with a word of commendation. He thanks God for their faith [1 Corinthians 1:4-8; Ephesians 1:15-16; Colossians 1:3-4; Philemon 1:4-5] or their great example as spoken of throughout all the civilized world [Romans 1:8; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, 7; 2 Timothy 1:3-4]. Oh, he’ll start off with a gracious word, commendatory word [Philippians 1:3-5; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4].
Well, he doesn’t here. He just starts off: "Paul, an apostle (not by man neither by man, but by God) . . . to the churches of Galatia" [Galatians 1:1-2], and then what he has to say. You look at what he has to say:
I marvel that ye are so soon removed from Him that calls you into the grace of Christ, unto another gospel,
Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you and pervert the gospel of Christ.
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we preached unto you, let him be damned.
As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that you have received, let him be damned
– let him be accursed; let him be anathema; let the wrath and fury of God rest upon him.
I’ll tell you, any time you think that the Christian faith is a weak-kneed, pusillanimous faith and that the men who promulgated it were weak-kneed and pusillanimous, brother, you ought to read the Book. You ought to look at it again; ought to look at it again. Those little ol’ pictures you have of Jesus – long, skinny, bony, anemic, hangin’ up there on the cross – my soul! I suppose of all of the vigorous lives that ever lived, the most vigorous and the most virile was that of Jesus. When the other apostles were down and out and asleep because they couldn’t stand the terrible – the work and labor and toil of the ministry of the Lord – when they were out, He was still praying all night long [Matthew 26:37-44; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 6:12].
Don’t you ever think you have an anemic Savior or that He was that long, bony, skinny thing that they’ve pictured there on the cross. He was a tremendous man with tremendous life and energy, and so was the apostle Paul. And when they spoke the truth, man, they said the truth! And it wasn’t apologetic. It wasn’t soft. It was done in love and in a passion for the souls of men [Acts 26:28-29; Romans 9:1-3, 10:1], but brother, it was done! And it was done in great power, and in truth, and in unction! They were persuaded of the great message and its truth, and they delivered it like that [Romans 1:16].
Well, you go on and look at this. You should look at that: Paul, as he writes, "O foolish Galatians" [Galatians 3:1], here in the third chapter now:
O foolish Galatians! Who hath bewitched you that ye should not obey the truth, before whose very eyes Jesus Christ was set forth crucified?
This only would I learn of you:
– you smart people over there –
Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect in the flesh?
Have you suffered so many things in vain – if it be yet in vain?
He therefore that ministered to you the Spirit and worketh miracles among you, doeth He it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
How did this great power of Christ come upon you – by observing dead commandments or by believing in the power of the Holy Spirit? How’d it come? Turn the page again. He says here in the fourth chapter:
But now after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?
Ye observe days and months and things and years.
I’m afraid of you, lest I bestowed upon you labor in vain.
Now there’s one little tender passage in the whole book – just one. But in that one tender passage, he ends it like this: "My little children" – this is in the middle part of the fourth chapter:
My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,
I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I am perplexed about you. I stand in doubt of you.
That’s the only tender passage in it: "My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you, I wish I were with you and could change my voice, for I don’t understand you! I am perplexed about you. I stand in doubt of you" [Galatians 4:19-20].
Well, just all through the epistle, well, something riled him up! Isn’t that right? I tell you, something was happening over there in the churches of Galatia to make him write like that. Well, what was it?
Well, this is it. This is it: Paul had preached the gospel of Christ [Galatians 3:1, 4:13]. We are to repent; we are to look in faith to Him; we are to receive the Holy Spirit, our hearts open to Him by faith – all of the rich gifts of God coming to us by faith, not by the obedience of laws and commandments, not by the observance of rites and rituals and ceremonies but by the commitment of the heart in faith to Christ [Galatians 3:6-14, 22, 24-29; 4:4-7]. That was the gospel that he preached, and they turned out of their heathenism, and out of their idolatry, and out of their pagan temples, and they turned in faith to Christ and received Him as their Savior [Acts 13:42-43, 14:1, 21; Galatians 4:8-9]. And they were gloriously, wonderfully blessed [Galatians 4:15].
Then, while those churches were happy in the Lord just trusting Jesus and by faith looking to Him – while they were doing that, there came brethren and said, "Why, you have been listening to a renegade. You’ve been listening to a pseudo-apostle. You’ve been listening to a false emissary of Christ. He’s not one of the Twelve. He’s not a real genuine minister of Jesus [Galatians 4:10-17]. For a man to be saved," said these Judaizing teachers, "for a man to be saved, he’s got to do something else than to believe in Jesus Christ. He’s got to observe these rites," and they gave them, "and these rituals," and they established them, "and these ceremonies," and they outlined them. "You can’t be saved by trusting Jesus. The blood of the Son of God itself and alone doesn’t suffice to wash a man’s sins away. You must also do this, and you must add that, and you must observe the other . . ." [Galatians 1:7-9, 3:1-5, 4:17, 5:7-12, 6:12-13]
That’s what they preached over there in Galatia and those people listened to them: "Well, I guess, they’re right. I guess they’re right. Well, I couldn’t be saved just by trusting Jesus. Why, the blood of Christ alone is not enough to cleanse a man of his sins. Surely, surely, these men are right, I must do something else!" So they added to their faith these rites, and these rituals, and these ceremonies, and these observances [Galatians 1:6, 3:1-5, 4:10-11].
And when Paul heard of it, he turned into a white flame [Galatians 1:6-10, 2:21, 3:1-4]. Now, the letter to the churches of Galatia was written hot off the anvil. That’s the reason the tone of it’s as it is. You’ll find the same thing in the Book of Romans, but Romans is the quiet, studied treatise on the gospel of Christ. Galatians is a hot, passionate, burning, flaming answer to the false teachers that were subverting the faith of the churches, and the studied treatise of it is called the Book of Romans – the letter that he wrote to the church at Rome.
Now in Paul’s answer, there are three parts to the letter: The first part is personal. It’s about himself. The second part is doctrinal – what is the gospel message of Christ. And the last part is hortatory, an appeal to them to be true to the faith.
Now I say the first part is personal, and he writes things in here that astonish you. They amaze you. The first part is Galatians 1:2 and down to about the fifteenth verse of the second chapter, and it’s personal. Now, why so much of the personal in these letters of Paul? I have said before and I have to repeat it because we run into it so much as we preach through these letters of Paul – why Paul speaks so much about himself. Well, it was because when the people to whom he was making appeal – when those people would listen to the enemies of the cross and the enemies of Paul and the enemies of Paul would say, "This man, Paul, this man, Paul – why, he’s not a true revealer, mediator, of the truth of Jesus. He’s not one of the Twelve. He’s not an actual apostle. He’s a false prophet, and what he tells you isn’t the Word of God!" [Acts 13:45, 50; Galatians 4:12-17].
Well, before Paul could get the people to receive the message that he had, first he had to establish his own authority, his own apostleship, and that’s the reason that so many times in these letters, you’ll find him speaking of himself [2 Corinthians 11:1-33; Galatians 1:11-2:21; Philippians 3:2-8]. He is trying to present his call, his apostleship, the truth of God in him. Then if he can establish himself as a true emissary of God, then what he says can be received as the truth and the revelation of God.
So he starts off here in this letter to the churches of Galatia, and he’s talking about himself. They said, "He never saw Jesus in the flesh. Everything Paul knows he learned from Simon Peter or he learned from one of the other apostles. He doesn’t know anything himself. He doesn’t have the whole message. He never saw it; he never heard it; he never listened to it, and what he does say, he perverts! If you want to get the real message," they said, "well, you get one of those apostles that live in Jerusalem – one of those Jews there who observes the Law, and worships at the temple, and gives sacrifice, and all the rest – you hear one of them. But this man, Paul, he’s not one of the Twelve, and he’s not a real apostle."
So the first thing Paul starts out here is about where he got that message that he preached. Where’d he get it? Where’d he get it? All right, listen to him:
I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which I preached is not after man.
I neither received it of a man, neither was I taught it by a man, but it was showed me by a personal revelation of Jesus Christ.
You’ve heard about my life – he says – in times past how I persecuted the Christian people, how I excelled in the Jews’ religion above measure.
But God, who made me in my mother’s womb, called me
To reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among many brethren.
And when that call came to me, I didn’t go up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me in time. They were apostles before I was. I never went up there to Jerusalem. But I went to Arabia – I went in the opposite direction – I went into Arabia. And then when I came back, I didn’t go to Jerusalem. I went to Damascus and there I preached the gospel of the Son of God.
Then after three years, after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him just fifteen days.
And I never saw another apostle in my life until then, except just James, the Lord’s brother, the pastor of the church at Jerusalem.
I say the truth – Paul says – before God, I lie not.
And then after that little brief stay in Jerusalem, I went away into Syria and Cilicia and preached the gospel unto them.
[From Galatians 1:11-21]
Then after fourteen years I went up – there’s your second chapter – then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and I had Titus, a Greek convert, with me. He was exhibit A – this Greek convert. They said that Greek convert couldn’t be saved – Titus couldn’t be saved. He was a heathen Greek! He couldn’t be saved just by trusting the Lord, just by believing in Christ Jesus.
And I took Titus along with me and I sat him there in the midst in that Jerusalem controversy [Acts 15:1-35] when they were saying a man can’t be saved by blood alone. He can’t be saved by trusting Jesus alone, but he’s got to observe all of these rites and these rituals and these ceremonies. And I put Titus in the midst, right in the midst.
[From Galatians 2:1-3]
And he stood there, and when James, and Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship that we should go unto the heathen and they unto the circumcision.
They were going to stay with the Jews, but we were going to preach the gospel to the whole world. And they gave us the right hand of fellowship. And not only that, not only that, but the chief of those apostles, Simon Peter, when Peter came to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed;
For before that certain came from James, these false teachers, why, he fraternized with the Gentiles and ate with them; then when they came, he separated from them and said, "I can’t eat with you anymore," and stood over there on that side of the church while all the other people were on this side of the church.
[From Galatians 2:9-12]
That was Simon Peter.
Brother, Paul’s laying it on the line. Why’d he do all that? He was telling them that the message he received, he didn’t get it secondhand! He never got it from Simon Peter, but when Simon Peter was in error, Paul stood up and pointed his finger at the chief apostle and said, "Simon Peter, you digress. You pervert the pure gospel of the Son of God" [Galatians 2:11, 14].
That’s the reason in a minute when we have the Supper [Lord’s Supper] – that’s the reason that you have it like this. And I’ve read it so many times, I’d think all of you could remember it by heart. Listen to the way he began it:
For I received of the Lord that which I delivered unto you
– I never got it from man. I wasn’t taught it by man. I never went up to Jerusalem to listen to it, but I got it direct from Jesus Christ. He told me –
For I received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you: that the Lord the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread;
Gave thanks and brake it and said, "Take, eat; this is My body . . . "
And the cup, and He gave thanks and He gave it among them and said,
" . . . All of you, drink of it in remembrance of Me."
[From 1 Corinthians 11:23-25]
"I got it from God. I got it from God." And that’s the reason when you pick up the Book and you read the page and the gospel that Paul is preaching, you’re reading something that came from heaven itself! It was a direct revelation to Paul like God Jehovah spake to Moses on the top of Mount Sinai – face-to-face – and Moses wrote down the great ordinances and commandments for Israel [Exodus 33:11, 34:1-10, 29]. Paul says:
The Lord Jesus Christ by direct revelation made known unto me the gospel that I preach. And if any man preach any other gospel than that which you heard from my lips, let him be accursed. I say again, if any man preach any other gospel than the gospel I have preached, let him be accursed!
[From Galatians 1:8-9]
If a doctor prescribes the wrong medicines for you, and you die physically, you’ve just lost your body; that’s all. But if a man prescribes the wrong medicine for us spiritually, and we die spiritually, we are in hell. We’re lost forever, and that’s why it is so important – preaching the Word, preaching the truth.
Now, I must stop. Just one little word so you’ll get the doctrine that Paul was preaching and then in these future services, we’ll go through the Book.
What is this message? The second part, I said, was doctrinal. The first part was personal and the second part is doctrinal. Almost to the last chapter is the doctrinal part of the epistle. What he says is this. He takes two texts. One of them is in the third chapter of Galatians in the sixth verse: "Even as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness’" [Galatians 3:6]. And then in the eleventh verse: "As it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith,’" [Galatians 3:11].
Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us . . .
That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
For there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you’re all one in Jesus Christ.
And if ye be Christ’s
– if you belong to Him –
then are you Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
I ought to quit. What is the gospel of the Son of God? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness" [Galatians 3:6]. His faith was counted for righteousness. What is the gospel? And the Lord said: "The just shall live by faith" [Galatians 3:11].
Oh, foolish Galatians [Galatians 3:1, 3], if you turn again to the beggarly elements of rites, and rituals, and ceremonies, then Christ hath been crucified for you in vain.
Verily, I say unto you, you who observe the rite and the ritual, Christ is become of no avail, of nothing, of emptiness, of vacuity; it’s a void. There’s no message; there’s no gospel. If we can be saved by the rite and the ritual, then Christ hath died in vain [Galatians 2:21].
Let’s turn to the rite.
Let’s turn to the ritual.
Let’s turn to the obedience of the commandment to be saved.
Let’s join the church and let it save us.
Let’s be baptized and let it wash our sins away.
Let’s observe the mass and be accounted a part of the mother church of God.
Oh, Paul, Paul, Paul: nay, nay, nay. I might observe the breaking of bread forever and ever and ever, and I might be baptized every day of my life, and I might join the church again and again and again, but if I’m ever saved, it must be a personal commitment of my life in faith to Jesus Christ. That’s the gospel. The rest – these things are to preserve for us great spiritual truth.
As I said this morning, as a dipper holds the water, so the rites and rituals of the ancient Jewish faith held the great revelation of God. And so in our own church, these ordinances that we have – baptism that you saw tonight, the breaking of bread that now we observe – they hold the truth of God as a dipper will hold the water. But they themselves are not the truth; they are pictures of the truth. They are dramatic presentations of the truth.
The truth is: "That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. That He was buried. That the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures" [1 Corinthians 15:3-4]. And those who look by faith and trust to Him shall be saved from their sins [John 3:14-16] and someday shall see the face of God [1 John 3:2].
We must sing our song, and while we sing it, while we sing it, somebody you, somebody you, give your heart to the Lord; trust in Him; put your life in the church; as God shall make appeal, as the Lord shall say the word, while we sing the song, you come and stand by me. "Pastor, tonight, here I am, and here I come, trusting Jesus: looking to Jesus, just Jesus, just Jesus – not my own righteousness. My righteousness, it’s as filthy rags [Isaiah 64:6]. Not looking to me; looking to Jesus, trusting Jesus. Not looking to the church, not trusting in the ordinance, but trusting Jesus."
"The just shall live by faith" [Galatians 3:11]. "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted" – it was placed on the ledger – "for righteousness" [Galatians 3:6]. He trusted God. "For in Christ, there’s neither Jew nor Greek, nor bond nor free, nor male nor female; but in faith we are all the spiritual children of Abraham – those who come by faith to Him" [From Galatians 3:28-29]. Would you so? Would you now, while we stand and while we sing?
THE LETTER TO THE GALATIANS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Written to the Gauls in Asia Minor
B. The severity of the epistle(Galatians 1:6-9, 3:1-3, 4:8-11, 19-20)
C. The trouble
1. In danger of apostatizing – heresy that faith in Christ not enough
2. Violently opposed Paul as an apostle of the Lord
II. The answer is this burning letter to churches of Galatia
A. First part is personal – verification of his apostolic authority
1. Received gospel directly from God; not from man or the twelve(Galatians 1:8, 11-12, 18-19, 1 Corinthians 11:23-25)
B. Second part is doctrinal
1. Not by works, but by faith Abraham was justified(Galatians 3:6, 11, 13-14, 28-29)
C. Third part is hortatory, an appeal
1. They turned aside from the gospel, seeking a way to save themselves(Galatians 5:4, 6:14)
2. The rites and rituals, ordinances are pictures of the truth
3. The truth is those who look to Christ in faith will be saved (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)