There are several theories concerning what appears in our New Testament as the "Letter to the Galatians". Some say it was written to churches in the North; others believe that it was written to the churches that the apostle, Paul, had visited on his first "missionary journey": Lystra, Derbe, Iconium and others. It was probably written very soon after he arrived back at Antioch, before the "Jerusalem Council" - a meeting of church leaders as described in Acts 15:1-41. It is generally agreed that it was written by Paul himself, probably from Antioch in Syria in 48 or 49 AD, just less than twenty years after the crucifixion. To a large extent, the various arguments about when and to whom it was written are not relevant, if we simply want to understand what Paul was saying to the churches then and what it means for us today.

The Bible

The entire Bible was written so that we can learn and understand. If we do not read it seriously, then how are we ever going to get to grips with the purpose for which God made us? And how will we be "equipped for every good work", if we ignore the help that God has given us? (2 Timothy 3:16-17) Indeed, what is the point of becoming a Christian if we then vegetate, doing nothing and learning nothing. God wants to have a personal, intimate relationship with us. His entire purpose in creating people is to have fellowship with them. His deepest desire is that we should share with Him and learn from Him. There is nothing that He will withhold from those who are His friends. (John 15:15-17)

It was the discovery of the basic message of Paul’s letter to the Galatians (and his letter to the Romans) that brought about the Protestant Reformation – the re-discovery that we are saved by grace, through faith. This letter to the Galatians is often called "Luther’s Book", because Martin Luther relied on it so strongly in all his preaching, teaching and writing against the prevailing theology of the day. It is also referred to as the "Magna Carta" of Christian liberty. (Galatians 2:15-16) It is fair to say that Paul loved all those who were part of the churches that he and his fellow travellers had planted and established. He loved them as you and I would love our own family and as Jesus had instructed husbands to love their wives. (Ephesians 5:25-27) So when people came and tried to lead them astray, Paul was righteously angry. The people who had become Christians had just been set free from bondage to sin. Now, people were coming along behind Paul, claiming that the good news about Jesus that he had preached was insufficient. They said that these new, baby Christians also needed to follow the Jewish religious law, from which they had just been set free! This is the reason that Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians.

Map showing GalatiaIt is also relevant for us today as an amazing book of the Bible that will help us to understand our basic Christian beliefs.

Paul begins his letter as folows: "Paul an apostle, sent not with a human commission, nor by human authority, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead – and all the brothers and sisters with me. To the churches of Galatia. (Galatians 1:1-2)

A choice of priorities?

Although written to the churches of Galatia, this letter comes directly to us down the centuries. It comes from Paul - a man who knew what his life’s work was and who had commissioned him to do it. He knew very clearly the difference between his own desires, what other people tried to persuade him to do and what Jesus had commissioned him to do. Do we know definitely what we have been commissioned to do?

Each one of us has things that we absolutely must do - our obligations. These are the things that are obvious: relationships, work in various places, earning money to live and looking after our families. However, we can often become confused about our priorities and they may vary, depending on our age and season in life. As human beings, we tend to listen to (and give priority to) our own desires and to the persuasive demands of people. We know that the things that can easily take the highest priority in our lives are those things that we want to do. They feel right; they are not hard for us and we enjoy doing them. So, we do them first and, sometimes, we do them to the exclusion of our obligations. Then again, we can find ourselves in a position where we feel that we must respond to the desires of others for our lives and the things that they think we should do. In other words, their priorities for our lives and, sometimes, what they say seem to make absolute sense.

Neither of these situations is necessarily wrong, but the thing that should motivate your life and mine is what God has called us to do. Paul was a human being and probably enjoyed the company of his friends, just like we do, but he was under no illusion as to who had called him and commissioned him and what that commission was. He was compelled – there was a real "drive" in him – to tell others about what Jesus had done for them. He saw life on earth as the entry point to eternity.

The road to eternity now

Nicodemus was a pharisee and a member of the "Sanhedrin" – the Jewish Ruling Council. He had listened to what Jesus of Nazareth was saying and was puzzled. Jesus was teaching some radically new things that challenged the very foundation of Nicodemus’ own religious beliefs. So, he secretly came to Jesus by night to ask some questions. “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no-one could perform the signs You are doing if God were not with Him”. Jesus said: “You’re absolutely right. Take it from Me: unless a person is born from above, it’s not possible to see what I’m pointing to – to God’s kingdom.” (John 3:1-3 - The Message version)

Nicodemus was still puzzled. “How can anyone be born who has already been born and grown up? You can’t re-enter your mother’s womb and be born again. What are You saying with this 'born-from-above' talk?” (John 3:4) Jesus’ reply must have come like a thunderbolt to Nicodemus. “You’re not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person submits to this original creation – the ‘wind-hovering-over-the-water’ creation, the invisible-moving-the-visible, a baptism into a new life – it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. When you look at a baby, it’s just that: a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch – the Spirit – and that is what becomes a living spirit." (John 3:5-8 The Message version)

How was Jesus created in Mary? "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy." (Luke 1:35) We are "born of God" when Father God chooses us. The power of the Holy Spirit draws us and we respond by receiving Him. Jesus then lives His life through us by the Holy Spirit.

So, Jesus Himself has told us that we must be "born again", not of human parents, but by the Spirit of God. It is this event, this union of the Holy Spirit with our spirits, that enlivens us. We then become the sort of people that God intended us to be – whole and complete. Faith in Christ means true freedom. That brings us to an interesting situation. Until we became believers, we were running our lives from a strictly human point of view. We could do nothing else, because we were controlled by our own individual wills and emotions. We did what was natural. But now God has changed us and our new-born spirits are beginning to control and direct our lives.

The problem

This will cause us problems just as it did for Paul. He wrote about it in Romans 7. "It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel and, just when I least expect it, they take charge." (Romans 7:21-23 The Message version) The battlefield is in the mind. The old nature – our emotions and senses – battles with our new nature (the spirit) for control of the will. It takes a choice of the will to overcome the old nature and to allow the spirit – the "real" you – to have its way. Here lies the rub: it will always be a battle to do what God is asking us to do! But God doesn’t expect us to win this battle in our own strength. He gives us His Holy Spirit to be our helper, comforter and counsellor. The more we overcome, the easier it will be, as we train our mind always to accept exactly what God's word tells us.

But the real key to being born again is that, the instant we become a believer, our eternal destiny is changed: from hell to heaven. Every person whose spirit has not been enlivened by the Holy Spirit is effectively choosing to be separated from God, even if that person doesn't see it in such bald terms. That is what God says in His word. Paul was aware of God’s love for all people and His unwillingness that any should perish. (Matthew 18:14) God has given everyone free will to accept or reject His free gift of salvation. Paul was equally determined that no-one that he could possibly speak to would leave this world, ignorant of the choice that must be made in life – the choice that determines a person's eternal and individual destiny.

Choose today whom you will serve

The big question is this: "What choice have you and I made?" Have we asked Jesus to come into our life, to take control of us, to be "born again", to have our spirit come to life and, as a result, to have our eternal destination changed to heaven? Indeed, have we yet made such a choice? Making no choice at all means that, by default, our eternal destination will be separation from Love Himself Perhaps you are asking yourself: "What’s so bad about that?" or "What’s so good about heaven, that I want to make a choice to go there?" Let me describe the difference in the way that the Bible does. Heaven is where God lives for ever – eternally. If we have become believers – Christians as some call us – then our eternal destination will be where God lives. In that place, there is no sorrow, no death, no pain, no crying, sadness, crime, hurt, or many other things that we can well do without. What we shall find there is LOVE Himself, together with joy and peace. There will be "life in all its fullness". All our needs will be provided and we shall know the everlasting presence of God.

By contrast, hell is a place where God is not! The Bible teaches us that, in hell, there will be darkness and torment, with no love. There will be only time to remember lost opportunities that we had on earth to make the choice that would change our destination! (Romans 1:18-23; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9) The Bible makes it quite clear that, it is only in God that all things make sense; that all things hold together, visible and invisible. This is very clear in Colossians 1:15-23. (Read this in as many versions as you have available.)

I made my decision to ask Jesus into my heart in September, 1973, when I was pregnant with my second baby. At that time, I was in Australia, working alongside a lovely girl who contracted German measles. I was offered a test to see if our baby could be affected and, as a result, was given two weeks to decide whether or not I wanted an abortion. My husband had already become a Christian believer before this happened. We made the choice not to abort. Our GP was very supportive and Dave (my husband) really wanted to trust God. After several ups and downs and words of doom from the medical profession in the hospital, she was born perfect.

Previously, whilst living in the UK, I had been a churchgoer (always saying that I was a Christian) but now, as a safety measure, I wanted to get my new baby christened. As it happened, we had started attending a new church. People were very welcoming and, one day, a couple invited us for Sunday lunch. Judy recognised that I had no living relationship with Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, so she invited me to join a bible study fellowship in the church. "How boring!" I thought but, to be dutifully polite, I agreed. They were working through John’s gospel and, as is typical of our Father's plans, they were on John15:1-17. The session began with a talk - all about "counterfeit Christians". The speaker described people who say that they are Christians but, whenever they go through a trial, they do not have Jesus in their heart to help and support them. They try to be good in their own strength, thinking that this is what being a Christian is all about. In that light-bulb moment, I saw myself and my behaviour over the previous months to be exactly that. The printed notes I took home from the study had a very clear description of a counterfeit Christian and included a prayer to say if this described you. I had to repent of trying to make myself right with God and recognise that it is actually all about trusting Him and what Jesus has done on the cross. I went back to the bible study the following week and told them that I had become a real Christian. I then continued with the group for a further five years, which really helped to build my foundation in the word of God. Study is great, but it has to be accompanied by action based on truth.

This is precisely what Paul was saying to the Galatian churches. Do you have a story that you can tell someone, about how you know that, if you died tonight, you will be with the Lord for ever?

Celebrating our eternal future

"Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to Whom be glory for ever and ever." (Galatians 1:3-5)

We are spiritual beings. (1 Thessalonians 5:23) We have a spirit, a soul (mind, will and emotions) and a body. When we are born into this world, our spirits are dormant and our lives are governed by our minds (our ability to reason and make human decisions), our wills (what we determine to be or to do) and our emotions (how we feel and respond to internal and external stimuli). Our lives are also governed by our bodies as we respond to the sensory stimuli – taste, touch, smell, sight and hearing. We are perfectly capable of living passable and even exciting lives using our mind, will and emotions and we all know people who do just that. However, if we ignore our spiritual well-being, we do so at our eternal peril. (Psalm 51:4; Galatians 6:8)

The "present evil age" refers not just to the time in which these Galatians and Paul were living; it refers to the age in which we are living in contrast to the age that is to come, which is the "climax of the Messianic age". In other words, eternity is where believers, who have placed their trust in Jesus, will be with Him in Heaven for ever. The Galatians had fully accepted this, under Paul's tutelage and were excitedly focused on their eternal future. But the whole letter was written by Paul to warn the Galatians (and all new believers today) that the pure gospel (good news about Jesus) is what matters. There is so much false and dangerous teaching around today, that we need to claim His discernment. This is why we are warned to guard our hearts. (1 John 5:21)

Let us pray for ourselves and anyone else studying this course, that we may receive revelation about any traditions or false teaching that we are holding on to, but which go against what God says in His word. Let us repent for having agreed with any lie of the enemy. Pray for complete in-filling of the Holy Spirit and His revelation of the truth. Pray that we may receive that truth into our hearts to protect us, by meditating on His promise to us. (Proverbs 4:20-21; Joshua 1:8)

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