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Overview: Galatians

May 30, 2021
Paul's letter to the Galatians. It was addressed to some churches in the region of Galatia, where Paul had traveled on one of his missionary trips. You can read the stories in the book of Acts. He wrote this important letter in a state of deep passion and frustration. Here's the background: Christianity began as a Jewish messianic movement in Jerusalem, but its message was for all of humanity. So it quickly spread beyond Israel. In Paul's time as a missionary, there were as many Gentiles as there were Jews in the Jesus Movement, and this sparked a heated debate, which we know from the book of Acts, chapter 15.
overview galatians
Historically, God's covenant people centered on a ethnic group, Israel. They were set apart for practices mandated in the Torah, such as male circumcision, kosher eating, and keeping the Sabbath. And there were many Jewish Christians who believed that in order for all these Gentiles to truly become part of the family of God, they had to obey the laws of the Torah. Some of these Jewish Christians began to come to the Galatian churches. They were undermining Paul and demanding that all Gentile Christians be circumcised, many of whom were circumcised. And when Paul heard it, he was hurt and angry; this letter is the result.
overview galatians

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First he challenges Galatians with his summary of the gospel message of the crucified Messiah. He then argues that this gospel establishes the new multinational family of Jesus and Abraham. And then he shows how this gospel is what really transforms people through the presence of the power of the Spirit. He begins the letter by expressing his bewilderment that the Galatians have embraced another gospel, which is being promoted by these Christians, who speak ill of Paul and demand circumcision. Thus, Paul first defends the authenticity of his message and his authority as an apostle. He had been sent by the Risen Jesus himself to go to the Gentile world; he recalls the story from the book of Acts.
overview galatians
Paul says that only after this did he go to Jerusalem to consult with the other apostles, such as Peter and James. And when he told them that he wasn't asking Gentile Christians to get circumcised or eat kosher food, they fully supported him. But this tension deepened. Peter had come to Antioch to visit all these Gentile Christians and he ate and mingled with them. But when some of these opposing groups came to Antioch, Peter fell under his pressure; he stopped eating with these uncircumcised Christians and was avoiding them. So, Paul confronted Peter and accused him of hypocrisy, of being unfaithful to the gospel.
overview galatians
For Paul, asking these young Christians to get circumcised and keep Torah was wrong for many reasons. First of all, it is betrayal of the gospel, or, in his words: "People are not justified by the works of the Torah, but by faith in Jesus, the Messiah. And we believe in Jesus, the Messiah. To be justified, or literally “declared righteous" is a rich term for Paul in the Old Testament. It is when God declares that someone is in right relationship with Him, is forgiven, is given a place in the Family of God, and is being transformed with the grace of God.
And Paul's conviction is that no one can be justified by keeping the commandments of the Torah, but only by faith in Jesus. This is a complex statement, and it may refer to the faithfulness of Jesus himself who lived and died for us. Or it can refer to our faith and devotion to Jesus. However, the implication is clear: people are justified only by faith in what God has done for them through Jesus, not by what they do for us. themselves. E. At the heart of Paul's gospel is this statement: that when people believe in the Messiah, Jesus, what is true of Him becomes true for them.
His life, death and resurrection become his, or in his own words: "I have been crucified with the Messiah, and it is not I who have come back to life, it is the Messiah who lives in me. And the life that I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me, then, the reason why someone can say that they are right with God, or that they are part of the Covenant Family of Jesus, It is not because they obey the laws of the Torah, it is only because of what Jesus did for them that they could never do for themselves.This deep understanding of what Jesus did has implications for big questions about who can be included in the covenant of God's family and what it means to live as a member of that family Therefore, Paul first turns to the stories about Abraham in Genesis, how he was justified, or declared righteous before God simply by having faith, believing in God's promises. , s and one day all nations would find God's blessings through through him and his posterity.
God's purpose has always been to have a large multinational family of people who are connected to him based on faith, not Torah laws. But this raises an important question: "Why then did God give the laws of the Torah to Israel?" Here Paul offers a very brief and complex explanation, which he will later complete in his letter to the Romans. He notes that the laws of the Torah were given to Israel on Mount Sinai long after God's promise to Abraham. "And if you read the Torah carefully," he says, "you'll see that God always intended the laws to be a temporary measure." He says that the laws had a negative and a positive role.
Negatively, the laws acted as a magnifying glass on Israel's sin: they exposed how Israel participated in man's sinful condition, continually rebelling against God's laws. So the Law, which is good, ended up convincing Israel and all humanity with it. Or, in his words: "The laws imprisoned every man under the power of sin." But the laws also had a positive role. They acted like a rigorous schoolteacher, who kept Israel in the groove, until the arrival of the heir promised to Abraham: the Messiah. And when the Messiah came, he fulfilled the purposes of the laws for Israel. Jesus was the faithful Israelite who truly loved God and neighbor and, as King of Israel, he died to take the curse and the consequences of Israel's failure upon himself and bring about redemption.
So now, through Jesus, the descendant of Abraham, God's blessing can reach all people, regardless of their nationality, social status, or gender. For Paul, demanding Torah observance from Gentile Christians makes no sense. It is acting as if Jesus did not keep God's promise, or did not take care of our sins. It neglects the new freedom won for us through Jesus and the gift of the Spirit, and limits God's promise and blessing to one ethnic family. But opponents of Paul might argue: "The laws of the Torah are a proven guide to living according to God's will. How can Gentile Christians teach this?" Paul responds in chapters 5 and 6, describing how the key is the transforming presence of Jesus, through the Spirit. “The laws of the Torah are good, they are wise,” says Paul. "In fact, they can be summed up, as Jesus did, in the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself." But the laws, however good, do not give Israel the power to obey them.
But the good news is that Jesus fulfilled the law for us and now lives in us through the Spirit, transforming his people into new law-abiding, loving people. Thus, Paul continues to compare the old and the new humanity. The expressions of ancient humanity are evident; these are behaviors that dehumanize people, destroy relationships and entire communities. And although the laws of the Torah prohibited these behaviors, Jesus killed them on the Cross. Thus, when a person believes in Jesus and lives in dependence on the Spirit, his life becomes his and produces what Paul calls "the fruit of the Spirit." This is the lifestyle of Jesus, which He wants to reproduce in his Family, so that they may be people of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness and self-control.
But Paul says that this fruit is not automatic. It requires cultivation, just like true fruit. Or, in his words: "If we live by the Spirit, we must stay connected to the Spirit." This requires intentionality. We must learn to prune our old habits and cultivate new ones. And in doing so, we find ourselves being influenced by the Spirit as Jesus shapes our minds and hearts and transforms us into people who love God and others. And in this way, God's people fulfill what Paul calls "the Torah of the Messiah." In the end, Paul concludes that this requirement for Christians to be Torah observant, or circumcised, is an adventure to miss the point.
What really matters is the new creation of God, this new multinational family of the Messiah, people full of faith in Jesus, who are learning to love God and others, in the power of the Spirit. And this is what the letter to the Galatians is about.

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