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GalatiansLiving in Freedom and Love
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2010 Scot McKnight, Karen Lee-Thorp, and Karen H. Jobes
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Real Gospel
In 1932, the German Christian movement took control of the German Evangelical Church and declared that Christians with Jewish ancestry could be considered Christians but not German Christians. They supported the Nazi call to cleanse Christianity of its focus on human sinfulness and other supposedly non-Aryan doctrines. The Nazis found the German Christians useful as they consolidated their power.
In 1933-1934, Christians who opposed Nazi ideas in the church drew increasing wrath from the state. Some leaders of the anti-Nazi Confessing Church movement were sent to concentration camps. While some Confessing Church members continued to risk their lives to help Jews, the majority of Christians in Germany either passively tolerated or actively supported a Nazi-tainted gospel. Some agreed with the tainted gospel; others feared persecution. After World War II, many Germans became cynical about Christianity because of the churches' weak response to Nazism.
While the "gospel" of Christ plus Aryan nationalism is more obviously evil to us than the "gospel" of Christ plus Jewish nationalism was to Christians in Paul's day, any tainted gospel contains the seeds of harm. Paul's Jewish kinsmen were understandablyproud of their ethnic heritage, but when they tried to impose it on non-Jews, he responded in the strongest terms.
NOT OF HUMAN ORIGIN
Read Galatians 1:1-17.
Paul writes to the Galatians to defend his gospel, and his first point is that his gospel "is not of human origin" (1:11). He "received it by revelation from Jesus Christ" (1:12). He is Christ's "apostle" (1:1)-that is, Christ's "personal agent, representative, or ambassador." When God first gave him this gospel to proclaim, he didn't consult other humans, not even the apostles in Jerusalem (1:16-17). The Galatians need to know this, because the Judaizers have told them that Paul's gospel is incomplete or flawed and needs to be supplemented or overhauled.
1. What effect do you think Paul wanted his claim of divine authority (1:1) to have on the Galatians?
How could the Galatians know whether Paul's gospel really did carry divine authority?
How can we know today whether someone's teaching carries divine authority or is just a human invention?
If Paul's gospel really does carry the divine authority he claims, what are the implications for us today?
2. Paul doesn't completely spell out his gospel in this first chapter. However, what key elements of the gospel can we glean from 1:1-5 and 1:15-16?
The Judaizers' "different gospel" (1:6) alters the role Christ plays in a person's acceptance by God. It doesn't deny that Jesus is the Messiah, but it says that Gentiles need to both believe in Jesus as Messiah and live by the traditions of Moses as taught by the rabbis. It is Christ plus Moses, a cultural imperialism that says Jewish culture is the only possible godly culture.
3. How is Christ plus Moses a totally different gospel from Paul's?
The Galatians know their sins are forgiven, but they haven't "yet grappled enough with how potent the work of Christ was." They don't yet grasp "that this forgiveness was also sufficient to rescue them from 'the present evil age' [1:4]." They've been rescued from the age when the lives of God's people had to be dictated by the law of Moses. The law itself was good, but it was given to expose how evil the unredeemed human heart is. And the age of freely following the Holy Spirit is so good that the age of the law was, by comparison, evil because it nullified the work of Christ.
4. Paul describes how passionately he used to practice Judaism (1:13-14). How then can he say the former age-when being an observant Jew was the best available life-was an "evil age"?
Why would such a life be especially bad for non-Jews like the Galatians?
[I]f we distort the gospel in minimizing the centrality of Christ or the Spirit, we slip back into an age when Christ is not the rescuer and where the Spirit is not the one who brings us a life of freedom and love.
5. Today we're unlikely to encounter distortions of the gospel that ask non-Jews to live like Jews. However, what are some false gospels that minimize the centrality of Christ or the Holy Spirit in other ways?
Heresies are appealing because they contain not total falsehood but distorted truth. They "are transformations of the real thing. In seeking for parallels in our current world we need to see what happens when the gospel is supplemented, augmented, altered, or changed."
6. If a person claims faith in Christ, believes his sins are forgiven by grace, and shows no interest in growing in holiness or doing anything costly for the sake of Christ, how might the "gospel" he believes be a distortion of the true gospel of Christ?
7. If a person constantly tries to do the difficult things Jesus taught but struggles with feeling that she'll never measure up to God's standard, how might the "gospel" she believes be distorted?
8. If a person says Jesus Christ is the way he has found to experience God, but one could equally well find a path to God through practicing the law of Moses or the teachings of the Buddha, what would Paul say about that, and why?
9. How do you think we should deal with distortions of the gospel in our own churches or denominations?
The Judaizers' distorted gospel is often described in shorthand as legalism. It was legalism, but rules weren't the core of the problem. "[W]e must be on guard against the idea that every rule or regulation in Christian living is a necessary form of Galatian legalism. In fact, we are persuaded that rules can be educationally useful for Christian development. What we are looking for in applying the message of Galatians are rules or regulations that distort the gospel."
In fact, most of the evangelical church today is in "a post-legalistic era." The unnecessary social restrictions of the 1950s and before have largely been abandoned. Unfortunately, we haven't at the same time learned how to train Christians to listen to the Holy Spirit's guidance in ethics, which is the subject of Galatians 5-6.
10. How might rules be useful for Christian development without leading to legalism?
NOT FOR HUMAN APPROVAL
Read Galatians 1:10, 15-24.
Paul's gospel was not based on human authority. It was also not shaped to win human approval. "[I]t can be inferred that the Judaizers had tried to convince the Galatians that Paul had trimmed his gospel to the bare essentials in order to court their approval-much like a computer salesperson who cuts all the 'bells and whistles' so as to make the system affordable to a penny-pinching customer. Paul counters: 'I am not trying to win your approval; I am preaching what God has revealed to me.' They respond back: 'Paul is preaching cheap grace, grace without law, acceptance by God without submission to God. Paul preaches a gospel that does not include the cost of Judaism and the law.'"
Excerpted from Galatians Copyright © 2010 by Scot McKnight, Karen Lee-Thorp, and Karen H. Jobes . Excerpted by permission.
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