3 Reasons You Should Preach through Galatians
If the apostle Paul was a city bylaw officer, then the book of Galatians is a “cease and desist” letter. This letter was Paul’s serious warning that the Galatians constructed “weak and worthless” (4:9) trappings around the gospel that were not merely oppressive (think ‘forced circumcision’ 6:12) but also dangerously unstable (1:6-7). The Galatians were constructing an unsafe spiritual house and Paul rebuked them for building what he had once torn down (2:18).
Many churches build up structures around the gospel that end up undermining the foundations of the gospel itself. This is why Galatians is an excellent book to preach from. If your church needs a major doctrinal cleanup, or if you’re concerned about a cracking foundation, Galatians can be the cautionary tale which your church needs to hear.
Here are three reasons why you should preach through Galatians:
1) GALATIANS TEACHES US TO BUILD OUR LIVES ON A RIGHT UNDERSTANDING OF THE GOSPEL
Adding to the gospel corrupts the gospel, and a corrupted gospel is like building a house with walls placed one foot away from the cement base. The Galatians found themselves in this situation. They had been hastily running after every demand of the Judaisers, and they didn’t even realize that they had stopped aligning with Christ. They were putting the load bearing weight of their lives on “a different gospel” (1:6).
Paul had to draw them back to the basics. Along with every good pastor, he could take out his Bible and, like a measuring stick, he could see that their conduct was not in line. He had to rehearse justification by faith alone for them (Gal 2:16). They needed to be reminded of this basic truth because they were thinking that law-keeping was foundational. And that was spiritually dangerous.
This is also why Luther called Galatians “my letter.” Galatians cleared away all of the additions and adjustments to the gospel created by the medieval church. By returning to justification by faith alone, Galatians offered evangelical clarity to Luther which he applied to his own context.
Perhaps in your own church you need to clear away some Roman Catholic-style works righteousness just like Luther. Or maybe you need to confront people’s preferential relationships. Could it be that how people are being inclusive or exclusive is actually undermining the supernatural community built on justification by faith alone? If you want to build your church on the foundation of the gospel, then you should consider preaching through Galatians at your church.
2) GALATIANS CONFRONTS OUR DRIVE TO COMPARE OURSELVES TO OTHERS
Galatians addresses one of the biggest problems in ‘church culture’, namely comparisons. People compare their experience with others: their prosperity, their sufferings, or their ethical practices. Often this comparison can move from simple observations to a conscious measuring of our own worth against others.
Paul confronted Peter about his hypocritical actions when he compared his Gentile-like practice with the Jewish-style practice of the “men from James” (2:12). As someone said, “Comparision is carnality.”
The Galatian problems were wrapped up in this carnal “comparison culture.” Paul perceptively said of the Judaisers, “they make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them” (Gal 4:17).
C. S. Lewis described it as the problem of the “inner ring”—everyone wants to get into it, and once they are in, they want to exclude everyone else. The default response is comparison. And the underlying sin is pride.
Often maturing churches get off track by developing a comparison culture. They are not content to simply follow Jesus (John 21:22) but are constantly comparing what others do or don’t do. If your church is developing a comparison culture, then it might be time to address that carnality by preaching through Galatians.
3) GALATIANS TEACHES US THE SIGNIFICANCE OF OUR IDENTITY IN CHRIST
When I grew up on a farm, there was a neighbour who was burning his leftover crop stubble on a dry windy day. It was really dangerous. But when he was asked why he was doing it, he said, “this is how we do it in the old country.” Unfortunately, our neighbor’s sense of pride in his heritage was threatening to burn down everyone’s farm!
The Galatians were operating in much the same way. They were Gentiles who embraced Jesus but had felt like second-class citizens compared to the Jews. So they plunged into an identification with Judaism that swapped one tribalism for another. They were going to do things like they did in the old country.
Realigning our identity is a further step than simply confronting comparison culture. Churches need to think deeply about whether they are more Christian or more tribal.
Such questions of identity are not easy to tackle and require great care. But Paul is not afraid to address them. He can even say radical things like, “you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28), or “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything” (Gal 5:6).
It doesn’t mean differences are non-existent, but they are ultimately relativized by union with Christ.
So if your church is getting fired up about all of the differences between Christians (ethnically, politically, culturally, etc), then you should consider getting their identity realigned by preaching through Galatians.
The sheer number of commentaries and monographs on Galatians can be quite intimidating. The New Perspective on Paul became popular in the late 20th century, and a steady flow of monographs and journal articles spilled out in its wake. So how can pastors manage their reading time?
I suggest looking at one contemporary commentary that is aware of and corrects the New Perspective on Paul (such as the commentaries by Tom Schreiner or Doug Moo). Then pick another commentary from an older author, such as J. B. Lightfoot (19th century) or Calvin or Luther (16th century). Finally, reference doctrinally sound Pauline theologies. These briefer explorations of Galatians will keep your eye on the main themes in the letter and help you navigate the scholarly debates.
A mix of Timothy George, J. B. Lightfoot, and Tom Schreiner is what I mainly used. Or you can switch it up with Stott, Calvin, and Ridderbos.