1. Galatians defends Paul’s gospel as being from Christ.
Some readers may not know that Paul’s Apostolic legitimacy was attacked by opponents in Galatia. They claimed that Paul was not truly an Apostle. After all, he wasn’t a follower of Jesus during His earthly ministry. Furthermore, they asserted that Paul’s gospel contradicted the gospel taught in Jerusalem by Peter, John, and James. In other words, the agitators said that Paul’s gospel was dependent on the Jerusalem Apostles, but there’s more: they also accused Paul of distorting the gospel taught by the Apostles in Jerusalem.
In the first two chapters, therefore, Paul defends the legitimacy of his gospel. He emphasizes that the gospel he proclaimed was revealed to him supernaturally on the road to Damascus by Jesus Christ Himself. Paul’s gospel can’t be ascribed to his own thinking but was given to him independently by Jesus. But that’s not all—when Paul traveled to Jerusalem fourteen years later, the Apostles Peter, James, and John ratified Paul’s gospel. They acknowledged that Paul’s gospel was the true gospel, the same gospel that they preached. In fact, Paul even reproved Peter when the latter compromised the gospel in Antioch (Gal. 2:11–14). In the first two chapters of Galatians, then, Paul shows that he received his gospel directly from Jesus and that he did not distort the message taught by the Jerusalem Apostles. They all taught the same gospel.
2. Galatians teaches that we are justified through faith, not by works.
Galatians is the first letter in which Paul trumpets the truth that believers are justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. His opponents insisted that one must keep the law and be circumcised to obtain salvation (Gal. 5:2–4; 6:12–13; see also Gen. 17:9–14; Acts 15:1–5). What these adversaries did not understand was that the new covenant had dawned with the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Believers were no longer under the stipulations of the Mosaic covenant, including circumcision. Of course, believers were always saved by faith, as Paul points out using the example of Abraham (Gal. 3:6–9). Now that the Messiah has come, it is clear that one is saved not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus.
The good news is that we are justified—that is, declared to be in the right before God—not by achieving but believing, not by performing but by resting in God’s grace in Jesus Christ. If righteousness could be obtained through the law, then Christ died for nothing (Gal. 2:21). Righteousness could never come through human obedience since God demands perfect obedience, and a curse impinges on all who fail to do everything God commands (Gal. 3:10). The curse is only removed through the death of Jesus who took the curse for us when He was hung on a tree (Gal. 3:13). Galatians, then, stands out as the first letter that declares that believers are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone.
3. Galatians highlights Spirit-directed obedience.
Paul also emphasizes the importance of obedience in Galatians. Such obedience is not the basis of our justification or of our right relationship to God. The only basis of these things for believers is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who forgives us of our sins and whose righteousness is imputed to us. It would be a mistake, however, to conclude from this that obedience is inconsequential.
Paul emphasizes in the strongest terms that those who practice the works of the flesh will not inherit God’s kingdom (Gal. 5:19–21). Similarly, those who sow to the flesh will reap corruption, but those who sow to the Spirit will reap eternal life (Gal. 6:8). The new life of believers, however, is not self-generated, nor does it contradict the gospel of grace. Believers need supernatural power, and that power comes from the Holy Spirit. Thus, Paul exhorts believers to walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16), to be governed and directed by the Spirit (Gal. 5:18), to produce the fruit that comes from the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23), to march in step with the Spirit (Gal. 5:25), and to sow to the Spirit (Gal. 6:8). Paul doesn’t fall into legalism, for the obedience of the believer is all of grace.
Three things stand out in Galatians. First, Paul was called by the grace of Christ on the road to Damascus to be an Apostle. Second, the gospel teaches us that we are justified by faith alone, not by works, and that our justification rests on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who died in our place, taking the curse we deserved. Third, believers live a new life not on their own strength but by the power of the Spirit, not to gain merit before God but because of God’s gracious work in their lives.
This article is part of the Every Book of the Bible: 3 Things to Know collection.