We’ve finished the narrative of Abraham and Sarah, and now will put Genesis on pause this week to go through Galatians. The reason for this is twofold: 1) Genesis is looooong, and it’s nice to get through a whole book of Scripture at least once a month, and 2) Paul’s letter to the Galatians gives us some unique insight into how we ought to interpret Abrahamand Sarah’s story. So…
The Galatian churches were under siege by the forces of legalism. These believers whom Paul had labored so diligently to serve, disciple, and root in the gospel are now being held captive by a gospel-corrupting religious right. Paul’s children in the faith are being threatened with spiritual death, and he comes out in full papa bear mode, swinging at anyone who would taint grace with works.
He calls curses down on anyone, even an angel from heaven who would pervert the gospel he brought to them (1:8-9). None of Paul’s other letters open with such harsh language; he even starts his letter to the divisive, immature, debaucherous, incestuous Corinthians by thanking God for them (1 Cor. 1:4). He doesn’t express gratitude for the Galatians, but begins, “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” (1:6). He dispenses with the pleasantries and calls them heretics.
The Galatians are trying to add religious good works to the grace of the gospel (see 3:1-3). But Paul wants them to understand that this is no gospel at all (1:7). Good news (gospel) is reported to us. It’s a message that is told to us about events that have happened apart from us. You can’t do news; it’s something you hear, something you receive. The Galatians were trying to do the gospel. Paul is telling them to knock it off.
He opens this letter with a brief greeting, and that greeting is as a foundational statement of the gospel the Galatians are forsaking. He writes that he is an apostle, “through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (1:1), and then greets them in the name of the Father and his Son, “who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (1:4).
Don’t gloss over this! The tense of the verbs in these sentences (raised; gave) is in the past. The Father raised Christ from the dead. Done. Christ gave himself for our sins. Finished. The Galatians are trying to do something that has already been done in history, in the past, by Christ, according to the Father’s will. We have no active part to play in the gospel. The Galatians get that wrong, and Paul comes out swinging.
Do not think there is a single thing you can add to the good news of God’s grace for you in Christ. The gospel is a message that needs only to be reported—everything about its content is past tense. We live in response to the gospel; we aren’t the gospel. We live as those who have received grace in the gospel; there’s no gospel in our works, only in Christ’s. “Christianity isn’t spelled DO; it’s spelled DONE.”