Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Galatians - Introduction

Have you ever wondered about what the requirements are for being a Christian? If you're like most Christians, you started out by responding to a simple message: you heard that your sin had separated you from God, and Jesus Christ died to forgive that sin. You knew in your heart that the message was true, and so you prayed and asked Jesus to forgive your sins. But things got much more complicated after that, didn't they? You met other Christians who seemed to know more about this whole thing than you did. Some of them told you that if you were a Christian, you had better be in church every Sunday, and at least once during the week. Others told you that real Christians woke up early in the morning to pray and read the Bible for at least an hour. Some other folks told you that if you wanted to be a real Christian, you had to vote Republican, home school your children, and take herbs instead of prescribed medications. They told you what real Christians did, and told you what they didn't. Suddenly you realized that there are rules to follow, regulations to adhere to, and rituals to practice. And you understood that the Christian message was far more involved than you had been led to believe.

An old poem writer put it like this, "What must I forsake?" a young man asked. "Colored clothes for one thing. Get rid of everything in your wardrobe that is not white. Stop sleeping on a soft pillow. Sell your musical instruments and don't eat any more white bread. You cannot, if you are sincere about obeying Christ, take warm baths or shave your beard. To shave is to lie against him who created us, to attempt to improve on his work." Quaint, isn't it -- this example of extra biblical scruples? And perhaps amusing. The list has constantly shifted over the 1,800 years since this one was actually recorded.

This book of Galatians is mostly a stern warning. It does not correct conduct as the Corinthian letter did, but it is a book of correction. There is not one word of commendation, praise, or thanks anywhere to be found in this epistle. This book has been called the “Declaration of Emancipation” from legalism.

Martin Luther said of this book, “This is my epistle. I am wedded to it.” As a matter of fact, Galatians 3:11 started the Reformation. It is the strongest declaration and defense of the doctrine of justification by faith in the Bible. This is the book that moved John Wesley. He came to America to convert the Indian, but he made a startling discovery upon the reading of this book; he wasn’t converted himself. He said, “I came to America to convert the Indians, but who is going to convert John Wesley?”

Let’s start by taking a look at vv.1-2: “Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;) And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia:” The writer of Galatians is Paul the apostle. The word apostle means "one who is sent out." And we know that Jesus sent out the original twelve guys, who were called apostles. It’s interesting as you read the Scriptures, you will see that this group is called "the twelve" about two dozen times. However, after Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus., "the Twelve" became known as "the Eleven" (Matt. 28:16; Mark 16:14; Luke 24:9; Luke 24:33; Acts 1:26; Acts 2:14).

On another interesting note, in Revelation 21:14 it says, “Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” My question is, “Whose names will be on the twelfth foundation?” It will not be Judas Iscariot who betrayed the Lord into the hands of the religious leaders!

The Bible says in Acts 1:24-26, “And they prayed and said, "You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place." And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” No doubt about it, the twelve apostle was Matthias. From that point onward, they were once again always referred to as “the twelve.”

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