According to the book of Acts (13.14–14.23; cf. 16.6; 18.23), Paul first preached the gospel and planted Churches in the Roman Province of Galatia during his early journeys as a missionary. Paul’s letter to the Galatians was written when outside leaders came into these young congregations, after Paul had moved on to preach and plant churches in other areas, and began imposing rules and regulations that neither Christ, nor the gospel, required. The gospel they preached, which Paul calls “no gospel at all,” had nothing to do with the grace of God and everything to do with human culture and traditions.
As you read through Galatians you begin to realize that Paul was angry about it, and he writes passionately to correct the situation. His anger, however, was not aimed solely at those who came in imposing themselves upon these young Christians. Paul first directs his anger, and his words of correction, at the Galatians themselves.
“I’m astonished,” he says as he opens the letter, “that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7).
For Paul, the issue was not so much the religious leaders who were trying to impose their will on others — there are always going to be people who live to shape others in their own image — but Christians who are giving people that much sway over their lives. His immediate response is astonishment — a visceral mixture of shock and disappointment. In other words, he was dumbfounded, confounded, bewildered and downright flabbergasted. Why would any of us surrender life lived “in the grace of Christ,” for a life lived under the cultural expectations of others? This is the overarching question upon which we must meditate as we approach this week’s study.
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