The New Testament book of Galatians is one of the two books of the Bible that fueled the Reformation—and is the basis of what today is termed the Protestant Work Ethic—two phenomena that profoundly shaped the development of our nation and culture.
Every public servant should have a working understanding of the connection between Galatian theology and manifest personal and cultural significance. Such knowledge would indeed impact policy decision-making as well.
This small New Testament book not only contains large walloping implications for cultural formation, but it also holds critical truths relative to our personal growth in Christ— truths that are unsurpassed in terms of importance! I will pinpoint three of them as we work through an overview of this wonderful epistle.
The Apostle Paul planted many churches on his various missionary journeys throughout Asia Minor (now Turkey). One region was called Galatia (cf. 1:2; 1 Corinthians 16:1). This epistle containing some very important lessons is addressed to more than one church, having been passed on from one church to another. As such Galatians is called an encyclical epistle and ostensibly is still being passed along today to us.
II. AUTHOR AND DATE
The epistle claims to have been written by Paul (1:1; 5:2) and given his style (as revealed here and elsewhere), there is no questioning this. The great apostle was born not too far from Galatia in another region known as Cilicia. There he was raised in strict Jewish orthodoxy as a Pharisee (cf. Acts 23:6) striving to please his peers (Galatians 1:10). His life drastically changed, however, when confronted by the risen Christ on the road to Damascus (cf. Acts 9). There he was converted and given his marching orders as a missionary by Jesus’ surrogate messenger, Ananias (9:15). Of special interest to the public servant is the fact that his calling specifically included reaching for Christ political leaders (cf. 1 Timothy 2:1–4) as well as Jew and Gentile.
Christianity only included a small sect of Jewish converts at the start of his ministry—and by the end it of it, the faith had become a Roman Empire phenomenon! It is no stretch to say:
Paul was the greatest missionary in all of history.
Paul’s life, in one sense, is a strong testimony to perseverance and the simultaneous empowering of the Holy Spirit. There is no limit to the influence a man can have when He walks with the Lord. Like a Lincoln or a Wilberforce, you too, as a humble persevering public servant, can alter the direction of your town, state, or nation.
The date of his writing the letter to the Church of Galatia is shortly after the meeting of the Jerusalem Council as recorded in Acts 15, around A.D. 49.
The Galatian region had been a Roman province since 189 B.C., and Paul had worked hard on his first missionary journey to found many churches in the region, including Antioch, Derbe, Iconium, and Lystra. The main purpose of the book is to put an end to the false teachings of the Judaizers. As such, it is a polemic epistle, meaning a strong refutation.
Since the founding of these churches, the Judaizers had infiltrated and gained control of them, corrupting the doctrine of salvation—specifically, justification by faith alone—instead preaching “faith plus works.” The distillation of Paul’s counter to their teaching is recorded in 2:21b: “if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
IV. EMPHASIS AND THEMES
A. SALVATION BY FAITH ALONE
Previously warned to “stand down” from preaching this heresy by the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:23–29, the Judaizers had nonetheless persisted. They taught that Gentiles (and ostensibly people today), in order to be saved, must first become Jewish proselytes and submit to the judicial and ceremonial Mosaic Law of the OT in addition to faith in Christ. Paul clearly summarizes in the epistle the proper purpose of the Mosaic Law in 3:24:
Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.
The Mosaic Law, as always intended by God, was to be an instrument whereby a conscientious individual would measure himself and quickly determine that he or she lacked sufficient righteousness (cf. Deuteronomy 27:26; Matthew 5:20; James 2:10) and was therefore in need of the imputed righteousness of Christ.
The Mosaic Law can be likened to an MRI machine: it does not intend to cure, its purpose is to diagnose.
In this analogy, Jesus is the pharmacist who freely provides and fulfills the prescription to an ailing patient who is hungering for spiritual healing.
If it weren’t for the strong polemic, or refutation of error as stated in this epistle, Christianity could have become a subset of Judaism. Lest we today think this thought farfetched, Galatians 1:6–9 informs us that the whole church was already duped! In this line of thought, Paul adds in 4:11, I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain. Interestingly, this is the only epistle that Paul wrote that does not begin with, or in some way include, a positive beginning note to its readers; this absence underscores the serious tone relative to the dire consequences to the primitive Christian Church as a whole—if there was to be no immediate course correction.
B. SANCTIFICATION BY FAITH ALONE
In addition to correcting the doctrine of salvation, Paul carries the economy of “by faith alone” forward and incorporates it into the doctrine of sanctification. Sanctification in the life of the believer is also achieved by faith alone! In 5:25 he summarily states in this regard, If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. This instruction is also an important aspect of the book. If the Holy Spirit does indeed dwell in the life of the believer (after being saved cf. Romans 8:9), then it stands to reason that He will mature the believer by His internal guidance and conviction of sin in His own way and timing. Galatians 3:3b in this regard adds, Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
Related to both salvation and sanctification by the economy of faith alone, the OT states that Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness (Galatians 3:6; cf. Genesis 15:6). God’s economies of salvation and sanctification have always been by belief versus works. Paul reasons here that even in the OT, belief has always been the means of salvation and sanctification versus keeping the Law. And in the epistle to the Galatians, he adds yet another very convincing argument in this regard: we need keep in mind that the dispensation of the Law does not occur until 430 years after the Abrahamic Covenant/The Promise (cf. Galatians 3:17). Accordingly, if keeping the Mosaic Law was God’s intended way of salvation, then what about all those who lived before the Mosaic Law was given?
What goes through your head
when you think about why you
should or should not go to heaven?
What goes through your head
when you think of achieving
personal growth and self-improvement?
Should this Bible book
shape your thinking?
V. UNDERSTANDING CHALLENGING PASSAGES
The contents of Galatians should be mastered by every public servant who is serious about using his office to influence others and the nation for Christ. Why? Because you will find that some of your colleagues will think like the Galatians did prior to Paul’s penning this timeless epistle. Herein is a course correction for those who are misled into believing that faith alone is not God’s formula for salvation. In addition to correcting extremely aberrant and heretical thoughts on salvation and sanctification, at least three passages in this letter are used by others to propagate confusing theological viewpoints. You need to have a clear understanding of them, and I will attempt to provide you with a proper contextualized explanation of each.
A. IS REGENERATION VIA WATER BAPTISM (3:27)?
For all of you who were baptized into Christ.…
The fact that immersion does not save is indicated clearly in 1 Peter 3:20–21; in no way does this passage in Galatians contradict that one. First Peter therefore guides us into understanding what Paul is communicating here in this Galatian passage via the use of a metaphor. This passage is not a reference to a physical water baptism in that Paul is using the phrase baptized (baptizo meaning “to place, immerse”) into Christ to communicate that the believer has been closely placed in the sense of being united with Christ. In a similar sense, Paul is incorporating this literary genre, or device, in Galatians 2:20, wherein he states he has been “crucified with Christ.”
We therefore reason he is speaking metaphorically in this passage; Paul wasn’t literally dead when he wrote those words. If salvation is by faith alone (a truth replete throughout Scripture), then baptismal regeneration (if that were the way to interpret this passage) would negate the oft-repeated-elsewhere idea of salvation by faith alone. Such a form of salvation would be equivalent to works (contr. Ephesians 2:8–9). Paul is not teaching baptismal regeneration neither here nor elsewhere.
The concluding phrase of Galatians 3:27 could also be easy to misunderstand but instead serves to buoy the aforementioned interpretive approach: Paul says, [You] have clothed yourselves with Christ. What does he mean? You should understand this second stanza as a parallel thought, an additional beautiful metaphorical facet associated with the same diamond of truth: the believer, upon placing his faith in Christ, is clothed…with Christ. Again, this language is not intended by the author to be interpreted with wooden literalism. (Our Lord doesn’t expect us to wear certain underwear!)
The picturesque prose of this Pauline passage is intended to vividly illustrate the believer’s positional and practical unity with his Lord.
B. ARE ROLES THE SAME FOR MEN AND WOMEN (3:28)?
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
The Evangelical feminist movement has based much of its egalitarian theology on and from this one passage. But properly understood, Paul is stating that all believers are one in Christ, be they Jew or Greek, slave or freeman, male or female. The ground is level at the foot of the cross.
God’s Word is replete with the fact that there is impartiality in Christ. But simultaneously God’s Word clearly, repeatedly, and distinctively teaches that by God’s design, there are differing roles in life. This uniqueness in roles includes governing authorities versus the citizenry (Romans 13:1–8); elders versus congregants (Hebrews 13:17); bosses versus employees (I Peter 2:18); parents versus children (Ephesians 6:1); and husbands versus wives (1 Peter 3:1). A whole cadre of passages replete throughout Scripture, attests to role differentiations. Although positions vary, Galatians 3:28 serves to make it abundantly clear that no one is more significant or important than another in God’s eyes—nor should that be the case in our viewing of others!
Paul further elaborates on impartiality in 1 Corinthians 12:13–26, and James 2:1–9. In harmony then with the whole of Scripture, Galatians 3:28 fits with the principle of those passages: equality of value simultaneously exists with diversity in function.
C. IS THERE NO ETERNAL SECURITY (5:4)?
You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.
Does this Galatians passage indicate that a person can lose his salvation? No. In the corpus of this epistle, the reader throughout is ensconced in a front-row seat, witnessing the cataclysmic clash between a salvation by faith alone versus a supposed salvation by faith plus works (aka, keeping the Mosaic Law in addition to subscribing to God’s grace) economy of salvation. In that repeated context, Paul is saying in this particular passage that those who are seeking to be justified by the law are severing themselves from an economy of salvation by faith alone. The Greek word for sever (katargeo) means “to be estranged.”
Accordingly, the message being communicated here is: those who side with the Judaizers estrange themselves from God in rejecting what Paul had preached earlier, so clearly and vehemently (cf. Galatians 1:6–9). Taken in the context of the whole of Scripture, this passage does not tamper with or contradict the myriad of passages that teach the eternal security of the believer (cf. Romans 8:31–39). In this way of understanding the passage, it follows that, for you to estrange yourself from what Paul had previously taught signifies that you have fallen from a grace-alone understanding of the economy of salvation.
Salvation by faith alone via the grace of God is a critically important tenet of Biblical Christianity and the Galatian Epistle.
This particular passage in no way negates all the other clear and strong NT passages regarding the eternal security of the believer.
In summary of this portion of a survey of Galatians, these problematic passages are easily understood to harmonize with the remainder of Scripture.
VI. APPLICATION TO GOVERNING AUTHORITIES
A. TO THE PERSON
What follows are three takeaway points from Galatians that should forever shape the public servant’s life, making this NT book an important one to master.
1. Possess the Zealous Commitment of Paul
In Galatians 1:10 the great apostle states,
For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still striving to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.
Prior to his conversion, Paul had murdered Christians in his attempt to please the most ardent Pharisees. After coming to Christ, his singular ambition was to please Christ. How about you? If “Jesus paid it all,” does not “all to Him I owe” follow?
In 2:20, Paul underscores the theological reality that breeds such zealous devotion of a man to his Lord. He writes:
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
Paul saw his old nature as dead. He himself, with his selfish ambitions were now no longer a priority; in fact, he reckoned them dead—rather, Christ lived in him! Such single minded devotion to our Lord can only stem from our adoption of a similar biblical understanding as spelled out here in Galatians. Meditate on this passage. What idols in your heart eclipse this singular focus that we need possess in serving the One to whom we owe our very life?
2. Prevent a Legalistic Spirit
Legalists are self-righteous people who possess pharisaical attitudes. Such a perspective always stems from a works-based theology of salvation. If you want to be in the “A” club, you will adhere to the legalist’s extrabiblical standards. But legalists are hard to be around, and they evidence little joy. They convey attitudes of spiritual superiority and are often condescending. But if you are saved by the grace of God, it follows that you will extend grace and mercy to others. Remember 5:1:
It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.
Christ came to set believers free from an economy of works-based salvation and sanctification (per the culture of the Pharisees and the Judaizers). Christ came to set you free from a performance-based economy—one where you never know if you’re good enough. Paul confronts such ensuing condescending attitudes in 6:3:
For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
Don’t be a holier-than-thou public servant. Be characterized as someone who grants to others what they may not deserve. Don’t believe, think, or come off as though you are spiritually or morally superior! In fact, some church congregations and elder boards come off this way; they need to study this book!
Avoid thinking of others as oxygen-deficient climbers from your summit perch.
Be gracious and merciful toward others in the same way that God has been abundantly patient, gracious and merciful to you!
3. Progress by Walking in the Spirit
We may inquire, in an economy of grace, “How then do I mature in Christ?” If we remain sensitive to God’s indwelling Holy Spirit by confessing sin whenever He convicts (1 John 1:9) and remain short-roped to His Word (Colossians 3:16), then we are walking by the Spirit per 5:16b:
walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
If you walk by the Spirit, you will grow, and you will not carry out the desire of your sinful nature.
Notice the following two passages related to this same question: in 1 Corinthians 4:3b–4, Paul states, I do not even examine [anakrino] myself…but the one who examines [anakrino] me is the Lord. But later in the same letter, he says that when a believer comes to the communion table, he needs to examine (dokimazo) himself (1 Corinthians 11:28). These two passages seem to be contradictory in the English translation of the NT, but they are not. Importantly, it is to say this: relative to the first passage above, there is a need to walk in the Spirit (versus quenching the Spirit, cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:19), to enable the Spirit to examine [anakrino] me per the first passage listed. This first passage indicates that, as a result, I don’t have to be here examining myself all the time. When I walk in the Spirit, I can depend on Him to prompt my heart—to judge me—relative to specific areas of needed growth.
But to the second passage listed, even though God the Holy Spirit is prompting, piquing, and stimulating my heart to grow in certain areas (and He uses the Word as well as others to achieve this intention), I nonetheless need to continually examine (dokimazo) “analyze and approve” of my actions in the sense of “Am I being personally responsive to what the Holy Spirit is prompting me to repent of and change in my life?”
This seeming conundrum serves to illustrate the less exacting nature of the English language in comparison to the Greek language. Examined in its usage in I Corinthians 4 relates to God’s judging your heart, whereas the usage of a different Greek word in 1 Corinthians 11 relates to my analysis and approval in the sense of taking responsibility for my actions relative to what the Holy Spirit has convicted me about! The passages are not saying the opposite.
All three passages then inure to the personal, guiding power of the Holy Spirit versus a rigid set of extrabiblical outward standards that supposedly connote that I am godly to others. Trust the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide and convict moment by moment! Therein is the achievement of intimacy with God! In the sense of personal growth, Christianity is an intimate relationship with God more so than a bunch of rules and regulations to perform outwardly. In this same construct of thought, Paul concludes in 6:4:
But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another.
In summary, Galatians provides the means by which the public servant can become increasingly intimate with God and therefore effective in public service.
B. TO THE POSITION
As stated in the introduction, the theological truths of this book fueled the Reformation, giving birth to what is commonly referred to as the Protestant Work Ethic (cf. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber, Eng. trans. 1930). How exactly are they connected? Follow me on this: when we are empowered and walk by the Spirit (5:16), we increasingly manifest the fruit of the Spirit as listed in Galatians 5:22 and 23:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
As a result, we become increasingly self-governed. The promise and the munificent implications of the manifest fruit of the Spirit to any given society are enormously large! As you can imagine, a culture of indwelt-by-the-Holy-Spirit individuals will shape its DNA in a myriad of positive and profound ways!
Exactly how does this empowering manifest itself ? The resident Holy Spirit when reigning in the heart—in contrast to being continually grieved or quenched— controls and dominates the actions of the individual (Galatians 5:18), enabling him to overcome the oft proclivities of an otherwise overriding sin nature. This sin nature, among many other manifestations, includes slothfulness (cf. Proverbs 12:27) in contrast to a work ethic. Thus, the connection to the idea of Galatians being the book of the Bible that fostered the Protestant work ethic.
Several of the additional manifestations and benefits of an individual and ensuing culture being indwelt by the Holy Spirit are as follows: (1) being led into all truth ( John 16:13); (2) a sensitized and empowered conscience (Romans 2:15; contr. 1 Corinthians 8:7); and (3) an active, victorious, overcoming nature ( John 16:33). These three are but a few. The point is that huge societal benefits are achieved from the manifestation and practice of these character qualities! What great things happen in a nation when citizens and governmental leaders are characterized by the magnanimous fruit of the Spirit!
It follows that Spirit-indwelt leaders rise above the effects of surrounding, otherwise self-dominating oppressive sin, to influence, shape, and aid their fellow man and country! How astoundingly significant this Galatian truth is to the prosperity of a nation!
What results from the Galatian teaching of God’s design for a self-governing individual (and citizenry) equates to there being much less of a need for a dictator and/or police state to alternatively quell the inherent sin nature of man by outward force. Galatians then, in one sense, is about how to govern a nation most effectively! Summarily, the cultural implications of Galatians are this:
When believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they will be governed from within.
The comparative cultural results stemming from the individual’s ability to victoriously govern self are both munificent and magnificent: more societal liberties! More freedom! More prosperity! And more opportunity for everyone to reach his full potential as a human being! Conversely, there is less need for outward forms of restraint, i.e., governmental controls.
This cultural application is reflected in Paul’s summary words found in the concluding portions of Galatians (6:9–10):
Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people.…
These profound personal applications and professional implications detail how the book of Galatians relates to a governing authority. These truths and blessings flow from the study and manifestation of this profound six-chapter NT book.
As a believer appointed by God to public office, make sure to live according to the truths heralded in Galatians! Remember the personal applications of the book: to possess the zealousness of Paul, to prevent developing a legalistic spirit, and to progress by walking in the Spirit!
Lastly and professionally, what follows from the profundity of the Galatian truths is the necessity to uphold the constitutional tenet of freedom of religion if for no other reason than to further the churches’ capability and calling to create indwelt-by-the- Holy-Spirit citizens both now and in the future. These powerful God-indwelt individuals will affect a nation for good via their personal and multiple manifestations that stem from walking by the Spirit, i.e., the fruit of the Spirit.
Read this epistle through several times this week. You may not realize it, but the America we all know and love was greatly shaped by Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia! It follows that you should know its message forward and backward—and live and legislate accordingly to its profound precepts!