OVERVIEW OF THE BOOK OF GALATIONS
Author: Gal. 1:1 clearly identifies the apostle Paul as the writer of the epistle to the Galatians.
Date of Writing: Galatians is most likely the first Pauline epistle, written between 46-49 A.D.
Purpose of Writing: The churches in Galatia were comprised of both Jewish and Gentile converts. Paul's purpose in writing to these churches was to confirm them in the faith, especially concerning justification by faith alone, apart from the works of Mosaic Law. Galatians was written because the churches of that region were facing a theological crisis. The essential truth of justification by faith rather than by human works was being denied by the Judaizers-legalistic Jews who insisted that Christians must keep the Mosaic Law. In particular, the Judaizers insisted on circumcision as a requirement for Gentiles who wished to be saved, i.e., in order to be a Christian, you must convert to Judaism first. When Paul learned that this heresy was being taught to the Galatian churches, he composed an epistle to emphasize our liberty in Christ and to counter the perversion of the gospel that the Judaizers promoted.
Brief Summary: The fact that we are justified by grace through faith means we have spiritual freedom. We are not under bondage to the dictates of the Old Testament Law. Paul soundly condemns anyone who would pervert the grace of God and attempt to change the gospel (Gal. 1:8-10). He gives his apostolic credentials (Gal. 1:11-2:14) and emphasizes that righteousness comes through Christ not the works of the Law (Gal. 2:21). The Galatians must stand fast in their freedom and not be "entangled again with a yoke of bondage (that is, the Mosaic law)" (Gal. 5:1). Christian freedom is not an excuse to gratify one's sin nature; rather, our freedom is an opportunity to love one another (Gal. 5:13; 6:7-10). The Christian life is to be lived in the power of the Spirit, not the flesh (Gal. 5:16-18). The flesh has been crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20); as a consequence, the Spirit will bear His fruit in the life of the believer (Gal. 5:22-23). In the end, the issue is not whether a person is circumcised but whether he is a "new creation" (Gal. 6:15). Salvation is the work of the Spirit, and we must be born again (see John 3:3). External religious rites such as circumcision are of no value in the realm of the Spirit.
Connections: Throughout Paul's epistle to the Galatians, saving grace-the gift of God-is contrasted to OT Law, which cannot save anyone. The Judaizers urged a return to the Mosaic Law as the source of justification, and they were prominent in the early church (cf. Acts 15:1-5). Even Peter was temporarily confused by their pretensions (Gal. 2:11-13). The themes connecting Galatians to the Old Testament center on the critical distinction between Law and grace: the inability of the Law to justify (2:16); the believer's deadness to the Law (2:19); Abraham's justification by faith (3:6); the Law does not bring God's salvation but His wrath (3:10); and love as the fulfillment of the Law (5:14).
Practical Application: One of the main themes of the book of Galatians is found in 3:11: "The righteous shall live by faith." We must stand firm in this truth. Anything that tries to mix legalism and/or human effort with the grace of God for salvation will lead to heresy. If we could be saved through the keeping of the Law, then Jesus didn't need to die (Gal. 2:21). Moreover, If we try to save ourselves by our own efforts, we nullify grace. Not only are we saved by faith (John 3:16; Eph. 2:8-9), but the life of the believer in Christ-day by day, moment by moment-is lived by and through that faith (Gal. 2:20). Faith isn't something we can conjure up on our own but is the gift of God, not of works (see Eph. 2:8-9). Finally, it is our responsibility to demonstrate our faith so that others might see the work of Christ in us.