Guest post by Rob Tims
In Acts 13 and 14, we read of Paul and Barnabas’ missionary/church-planting activities through (in part) southern Galatia. As they started and established churches, the two would move to other communities to do the same. Years later, Judaizers or other false teachers (there’s some disagreement in scholarship regarding the precise nature of these false teachers) came behind Paul and Barnabas, specifically discounting Paul’s identity as an apostle or his theological authority, as well as the very Gospel itself. The churches in southern Galatia swallowed this false teaching hook, line and sinker. With news of their demise reaching Paul, he quickly fires off a letter to the churches in hopes of recalibrating them back in line with the true Gospel.
Given this context, it is no surprise that Paul establishes his identity as an apostle in community with other like-minded believers in the first 2 verses of Galatians – “Paul, an apostle–not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead–2 and all the brothers who are with me ….” Rather than resting on the laurels of his man-centered achievements, Paul simply writes on the authority of the God who appeared to him after he had died for him. But he is not alone in the world either. Though he finds his identity solely in Christ, he also writes from the strength of community found in doing “life together” with other brothers and sisters.
Then, vv. 3-5 – “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” Having re-established his identity in Christ with the Galatians, Paul then reestablished the gospel. This simple confession had been twisted by the false teachers to include adherence to the Mosaic Law, specifically circumcision. What can man add to the work of Christ on the cross?
Which is why Paul speaks so strongly in vv. 6-9: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” To lose sight of Paul’s authority is one thing: to lose sight of the gospel entirely is another. A works + faith righteousness is no righteousness at all. To believe anything different than the simple gospel is more than a nuisance: it is heresy worthy of anathema.
As one who found his identity solely in Christ, and as one who stood firmly in favor of believing and defending the gospel, Paul could not be found to be seeking popularity with man above all. Therefore, we see v.10: “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.“
This all raises a very important and personal question: where do you find your identity? Are you enslaved to the idea of a works righteousness? Are you a defender of the gospel, even to the point of losing credibility among man?
These are great questions to consider in light of Galatians 1:1-10.
Rob Tims is husband to Holly and father to Trey, Jono, Abby Jane and Luke. He’s the author of Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt, and manages the team behind smallgroup.com at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville. He writes regularly at RobTims.com and blogs every Friday at Forward Progress.