Through the heat and dust of the modern battles over the Bible the true issue has become increasingly visible. The issue are merely signs of the hurt that the church has inflicted upon itself. The true assault is upon the teaching authority of the prophets and the apostles and their message, and therefore upon the authority of the Lord Jesus, the Christ of God.
The prophets and apostles that I mean are neither Charismatic leaders nor Successionist Bishops, but the authors of scripture. These are the men who delivered the Bible into our hands by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and whose authority true Christians have always accepted. Many churches today, in spite of a formal acknowledgement of the authority of scripture, have in practice bought into the liberal contempt of authority in general, the scriptures as a whole, and the apostle Paul in particular.
The result has been an understandable rejection of the church by the general public. After all, if the church is telling people either in word or deed that the Bible is not reliable in everything that it teaches, it should not be surprised that it has become irrelevant in peoples lives. Sadly, there are millions of people still in these churches who have been deceived by the prophets of unbelief. They have been taught that Paul is just an ordinary man like us, and that his opinions should not be accorded more weight than they deserve.
Another result of this arrogant rejection of apostolic authority has been the loss of the apostolic gospel that they preached. If the messenger has been discredited, then who will listen to the message? The message is of course justification by faith alone. John Calvin said that justification is the hinge upon which all true religion hangs, while Martin Luther famously called it the doctrine of the standing or falling church.
…This doctrine can never be discussed and taught enough. If it is lost and perishes, the whole knowledge of truth, life, and salvation is lost and perishes at the same time .
The truth is that where the gospel of justification by faith is lost, the church ceases to exist. A church with a false gospel and a different Jesus is not a church.
This is an assertion that does not sit well in our pluralistic age. Philosophical pluralism insists that no religious system or belief must be rejected, and that it is the height of arrogance to claim that one’s religion is exclusively true. The underlying assumption is that all religions are equally valid in principle, and in practice, equally ultimately irrelevant. Religious faith is tolerated provided it is not brought into the public square. Even so, faith without works is dead. A privatized religion is a dead and lifeless thing, and that is exactly as the pluralists think it should be.
The evangelical churches are by no means immune from this liberal spirit. Many are fully committed to the modern agenda. How interesting that the women priests measure has been passed in a Church of England that has more evangelicals in it that at any time in the recent past.
The reformers who restored the gospel to a dark and superstitious age had a very different view. They insisted that the gospel and the Bible that they proclaimed were fully authoritative and true in everything that they taught. They were no strangers to controversy, and formulated three criteria to assist believers in identifying a true church of Christ:
• Is the pure word of God being preached?
• Are the sacraments being properly administered?
• Is church discipline, meaning holiness, being practiced?
The church today, as always, needs to be brought to maturity through the discipline of apostolic preaching as recorded in the Bible.
The message of Galatians is particularly apt in these days when the whole world has gone running after a different gospel. The letter is a vigorous defence of Paul’s divine commission and the gospel that he preached. It is also a scathing attack upon false teachers, both then and now. It is a harsh medicine designed to cure a fatal disease – heresy.
The particular form that the Galatian heresy took was the belief that, for acceptance by God, namely, justification, or, the remission of sins, it was necessary for the Gentiles to become Jews by means of circumcision and obedience to the Mosaic Law. This implicitly denied the fact that the Lord Jesus, by his death and resurrection, has done everything necessary for our justification by faith alone, and, in doing so, it necessarily denied the gospel.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians is polemical. It asserts that there is something called truth and claims to be on its side. It also claims that there is something called false teaching and false teachers, with whom there can be no compromise or accommodation. This means that he is in many ways an anachronism in a modern world that devalues doctrine, abhors doctrinal controversy, and frowns upon any claim to absolute truth. Nevertheless, it not a bad thing to be out of tune with the ways of a world that expresses its rebellion against God by simply ignoring both him and his gospel. The present age is destined for destruction, together with all who refuse to love the truth, and we will escape the judgement to come only by clinging to God through faith in the truth.
This commentary therefore tries to discover what the letter meant to the author and those to whom it was addressed, and then to apply it to the situation that we find ourselves in today. Some may find many of the comments and opinions expressed in this commentary offensive. The intention of the commentator is to be as faithful to the spirit and the letter of the Galatian text as possible. This necessarily means that certain claims will be attacked and others endorsed. If the reader objects to this approach, he should not read this commentary.
The world and the church are sick with new variants of the Galatian plague, and the only treatment is fresh dose of the apostolic message of justification by faith.