Saturday, April 7, 2012

Walking with the Spirit (Considering Galatians), Introduction


I believe the title, "Walking with the Spirit," is appropriate for this message, although the apostle Paul certainly had to build his case in order to help the Christians in the Galatian region to understand this point.  In fact, as he starts his letter, it does not sound very hopeful.  Paul established churches in central Asia Minor, the Galatian region particulrly, on his first missionary journey (Acts 13:1ff).  There has long been some question as to whether these churches were in the upper, less civilized area of Asia Minor or in the lower, more populated region.  There are many arguments that can be used in support of either position, but for the purposes of this message, my simple response is that the cities mentioned in the book of Acts are in the lower region.  I believe that it is in cities such as Lystra, Derbe, Iconium and Pisidian Antioch that he ministered on his first journey, so the letter would probably have an early composition (48-49 A.D.), and would likely be the first or second letter that Paul wrote. 

Something happened in the few years of time from when he established those churches and when he writes the letter to the Galatians.  Paul had been the Pharisee of Pharisees until his meeting with Jesus.  He was faithful with regard to keeping the Law.  He understood the complexities and difficulties associated with being a Jewish religious leader.  Following his conversion, he zealously took up the cause of his Lord and went out to tell the world concerning salvation in Jesus Christ.  Peter, John and other of the apostles were first sent to the Jews  to share the message of Christ.  We do not know the precise time-frame, but many Jews would come to know Christ from the time that the church was established in Acts 2 until the time of the events in the Galatian letter. Some of these Jewish Christians were still enamored with elements of the much so that it would become a stumbling block to them and for others, as they would seek to impose Jewish traditions and regulations upon Gentile converts.  Acts 13-15 deals with much of the controversy concerning whether or not Gentile Christians would have to become Jews in order to be considered "genuine" Christians.  The answer, as revealed by the Holy Spirit in Acts 15 is plainly "no."  Gentile believers were able to come to Christ as they were and did not have to conform to any list of Jewish traditions or regulations.  Just a brief aside...can you imagine if the decision would have gone the other direction?  It would have led to utter chaos in the early church and likely would have led to the church's undoing.  Everyone would have had to abide by a consistent set of regulations in order to be considered "proper" Christians.  Then what would have been the purpose of Christ's death, burial and resurrection, if not to set us free, not only from sin, but from the Law which was binding? (I will expand on this later).  This is the point of the Galatian letter, as well as the letter to the Romans -- we have been set free to live for Christ.  It is this principle that we are going to explore.

Paul had enemies who apparently were following him from place to place and were causing trouble for him and for those he was teaching (Galatians 2:4).  These enemies were some of these cultural and religious Jewish Christians or "Judaizers," as they were known.  These brethren should have been Paul's allies, but many of them were still trusting  in the law more so than in a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Unfortunately, they were binding many of the regulations of the Jewish religion upon the new Gentile converts in the Galatian region.  The Judaizers' primary concern was circumcision, but there were also other traditional elements of the ritual law involved as well, such as holy days, feast, etc. It is these Judaizers and those they have influenced that Paul is going to address quickly.  We will examine this next -- stay tuned. :-)

Blessings, Don

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