Sunday, June 28, 2015
Pastor Joe Wittwer
The Gospel of Grace in Galatians
Ch. 1—The One and Only Gospel


This summer, we are going to explore 3 different books from the Bible: Galatians (NT), Jonah (OT), and 1 Peter (NT). We’ll cover a chapter a week in Galatians and 1 Peter; we’ll cover all of Jonah in one Sunday.

Why are we going to study these books of the Bible? I want you to be people of the Word: I want you to learn it, love it and live it! For Christians, the Bible is God’s Word. The Bible defines what we believe and how we live. Christians who learn it, love it and live it tend to be strong; those who don’t tend to be weak. I want you to be strong. So let’s roll up our sleeves and study God’s word together.

By the way, it would be helpful to bring a paper Bible with you this summer, and have it open to the book we’re studying. That way, you can look back at the verses even when they’re not on the screen. And if you’re still getting familiar with the Bible, I recommend using a paper Bible—it’s better than digital because you have more visual markers to help you and it’s easier to see where you are in relation to the whole.

We’ll start with Galatians. This little letter (only 149 verses) helped launch the Protestant Reformation in 1517, when Martin Luther rediscovered in it the doctrine of justification by faith. It has been called “the Magna Carta of Christian liberty” and “the cornerstone of the Protestant Reformation.” Luther loved it so much that he jokingly referred to it as his wife, and preached on it often.

The apostle Paul most likely wrote this letter around 48-49 AD, making it the earliest of Paul’s letters that we have. He wrote it to the churches in Galatia, widely thought to be an area of modern south central Turkey, where Paul planted churches in Derbe, Lystra, Iconium and Psidian Antioch. The story of Paul’s first missionary journey in this region is told in Acts 13-14.

What prompted this letter? Evidently, some Jewish Christians had come after Paul left and attacked Paul’s authority, denying that he was an apostle. They told these new believers that to be saved you must believe in Jesus and keep the Jewish law. They needed to be circumcised, keep the Sabbath and follow the Jewish food laws.

This issue—do you have to follow the Jewish law to be saved, or is Jesus enough—prompted what is known as the Jerusalem Council. The story is told in Acts 15.

Acts 15:1–2 Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.

After much discussion, Peter said,

Acts 15:10–11 “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

After more discussion, they all agreed with Peter and wrote a letter to be sent to all the churches settling the issue. We are saved by the grace of Jesus, not by keeping the Jewish law.

This was the issue in Galatia. The gospel of grace was being replaced by a different gospel that was no gospel at all. These new Christians were deserting Jesus for the law of Moses. Paul wrote this passionate letter to defend the gospel and call them back to Jesus. He probably wrote it before the council in Jerusalem; if he wrote it after, we would expect him to mention the Council and their decision and he doesn’t do that. So this letter was probably written during the “long stay” in Antioch mentioned in Acts 14:28, just before the Jerusalem Council.

Here’s the Big Idea in Galatians:

The Big Idea: The gospel is the good news of what God has done for us in Christ, not what we do for Him. We are saved by His grace through faith.

Today, we’re going to read an unpack chapter 1.


  1. The true gospel. 1-5.

In his greeting, Paul introduces the true gospel.

Galatians 1

1 Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—2 and all the brothers and sisters with me,

To the churches in Galatia:

3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Paul opens the letter, “Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father.” Here, in the opening words of this letter, he defends his apostleship and claims that his calling is from Jesus and God the Father. He claims divine authority. His opponents had probably been saying, “Who is Paul? He’s nobody special. He isn’t one of the twelve, so how can claim to be an apostle? Who made him an apostle anyway?” Paul answers: “Jesus did!”

Why is this important? The apostles hold a unique place in the Christian faith. The twelve lived with Jesus, heard his teaching, and witnessed his life, death and resurrection. The Christian faith is built on the “foundation of the apostles and prophets.” (Ephesians 2:20) Their unique witness to Jesus is recorded in the New Testament. Paul was not one of the 12, but became an apostle when the resurrected Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9) and called him to be an apostle to the Gentiles. Later in this chapter, Paul will claim that he received the gospel by direct revelation from Jesus—like the 12, he got it straight from Jesus. Other “gospels” popped up in the first couple centuries after Jesus, but these were rejected because they didn’t come from the apostles.

ILL: It would be like me making up a story about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whom I never met and didn’t know. When you compared my story to the stories of those who knew Dietrich, like those of Eberhard Bethge, his best friend, relative, co-worker and biographer, it’s very different. So who will you believe: me or Eberhard? Easy call!

The early church rejected these other gospels as spurious because they weren’t from an apostle who knew Jesus. As Christians, we believe the apostolic faith. We “devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching.” (Acts 2:42)

So Paul claims divine authority for his calling and his gospel, and these are the two things he will defend in this letter. The reason he defends his authority as an apostle is because it’s the basis for the authority of his gospel. Discredit Paul and you discredit his gospel. It’s the gospel that matters to Paul; his authority only matters because it supports the gospel.

In this opening greeting, Paul states the core of the gospel: Jesus gave Himself for our sins, and God raised Him from the dead. Compare:

1 Corinthians 15:3–5 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.

Here is the core of the gospel: Christ died for our sins and was buried; Christ was raised on the third day and appeared to many. Here’s how Paul says it in these verses.

First, Jesus gave himself for our sins. v. 4 Jesus was not a martyr, He was a sacrifice. No one took His life from Him (John 10:18); He gave Himself for our sins. Theologians call this “substitutionary atonement”—it means that Jesus took our place. The penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23); Jesus paid my penalty. He died in my place, paying the penalty for my sins.

You are a sinner, and the penalty for your sin is death—eternal separation from a holy God. You have two choices:

  • You can pay for your sin yourself—this means eternal separation from God.
  • You can accept the free gift of God—that Jesus paid your penalty for you—and enjoy eternal life with God.

Those are the options.

Jesus gave Himself for our sins. Martin Luther said, “these words are very thunderclaps from heaven against all kinds of (self) righteousness”. When we recognize that Christ ‘gave himself for our sins’, we realize that we are sinners unable to save ourselves, and we give up trusting in ourselves and trust completely in His grace. We move from DO to DONE.

Second, Jesus died to rescue us from the present evil age. v. 4 The gospel is a rescue message. Jesus came on a rescue mission.

Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

The word “rescue” translates a Greek word that is used in several other places in the New Testament.

  • It is used in Acts 7:34 of God rescuing the Israelites from Egyptian slavery.
  • It is used in Acts 12:11 of God rescuing Peter from prison and certain death at the hands of King Herod.
  • It is used in Acts 23:27 of Paul’s rescue from a mob that wanted to kill him.

Jesus died to rescue us from the present evil age. Have you ever been rescued?

ILL: I was praying last week and thanking God for saving me when He did. I was overwhelmed with gratitude as I thought about my life. Every good thing in my life is a result of Jesus rescuing me: my marriage, my family, my ministry, my health, my happiness—all of it is because of Jesus. I think about where I was headed before Jesus, and I know that if He hadn’t rescued me, my life would be very different. My sister texted me yesterday, “We have the best life with Jesus!”

Christ died to rescue you—to rescue you from this evil age and give you abundant life.

Third, Christ died according to the will of our God and Father. v. 4 Why is this important? Some people believe that God is angry but Jesus placated Him. They want to drive a wedge between the Father and the Son: angry God, nice Jesus. But Paul (and the rest of the New Testament) makes it clear that Father and Son were united in this. It was God’s will that Christ die to rescue us. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son…” Christ’s death expresses God’s great love for us.

Fourth, who raised him from the dead. v. 1 The gospel is that Christ died for our sins to rescue us, and that He was raised from the dead. It was the resurrection of Jesus that changed everything! Who is this man who conquered death? The resurrected Jesus still changes everything. I said the past two weeks: if Jesus could conquer death, He can handle whatever you’re facing. We follow a risen and living Savior. You can know Him! He’s alive! The living Jesus offers us a new life, an abundant life as we follow Him.

Paul opens this letter to defend the gospel by stating the true gospel in the first few verses. Christ died for our sins to rescue us according to God’s will and He was raised from the dead. Be clear about the gospel: it is what God has done for us in Christ.


  1. The only gospel. 6-10.

Paul goes straight to the issue: there is only one gospel and they have abandoned it.

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

In most of his letters, Paul follows the greeting with a prayer of thanksgiving and praise for the people. There’s none of that here. This is a crisis and Paul goes straight to the point:

“You are deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.”

There is only one gospel.

By thinking that Jesus wasn’t enough, that they needed to add their good works to Jesus’ work, they were deserting God. For Paul, deserting the gospel equaled deserting God. You don’t mess with the gospel! It’s God’s message, God’s power to save us. Paul wrote:

Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.

Mess with the gospel and you mess with our salvation. This is why Paul is so passionate—he knows what is at stake here. It’s not just a secondary point of doctrine—it’s our relationship with God and our eternal life! There are lots of secondary issues about which Christians can disagree. But we had better be clear on the gospel: it’s Jesus plus nothing. It’s DONE, not DO. It’s salvation by the grace of Jesus through faith. Nothing less than our salvation was at stake.

This is why Paul calls down God’s judgment on those who are preaching a different gospel.

8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

If anybody—even me, even an angel from heaven—preaches a different gospel, they are anathema. That’s not very nice! That’s harsh! He says it twice! Where’s the love?

Here’s the love. Love is doing what’s best for others no matter what it costs you. Paul wants what is best for God and what is best for the Galatians. Jesus had saved and changed Paul—He was a Jesus man through and through. Paul has a passion for Jesus and doesn’t want anyone or anything to reduce Jesus—and this other gospel reduced Jesus. It said that Jesus wasn’t enough; His death and resurrection wasn’t enough; His grace wasn’t enough. You need to add your own good works to Jesus to be saved. Paul loves Jesus too much to see Him reduced like this. The gospel is Jesus. It’s not Jesus plus anything; it’s just Jesus.

Paul also loves the Galatians and he knows what’s at stake here. This other gospel will take them away from God. Their eternal life is at stake, and Paul loves them too much to let them go. So his curse on these false teachers is really born out of a heart of love for God and people. He knew what was at stake.

This really spoke to me. It made me ask, “Do I love God and people this much? Enough to stick my neck out and fight for them? Do I have the same passion for the gospel that Paul does?” If we truly love God and love people, we’ll have Paul’s passion for Jesus and the gospel.

And we need it! We live in an age of pluralism. There are lots of options out there. It was true in Paul’s day and it’s true again in ours. There are lots of other gospels that are no gospel at all.

There are legalistic versions of Christianity that add something to Jesus. Try this: Ask Christians, “Why should God let you into heaven?” How would you answer that? Lots of Christians will answer, “Because I’m a good person, or I did my best, or I tried hard.” That’s another gospel; that’s the gospel of DO. That’s making the gospel about you and what you do, rather than about Jesus and what He’s done. The truth is, you can’t do enough. God’s standard is Himself—perfection. No matter how good you are, you’ll never be good enough.

ILL: Let’s illustrate it this way. Imagine a scale from 0-100. Zero represents pure evil; 100 is pure goodness. God is 100—perfect goodness. Now, where do you fall on the scale? To help you, let’s use some well-known people as a reference point. Adolph Hitler—where would put him? Around 5 or 10. Mother Teresa—where would you put her? Around 80 or 90. She would never put herself that high, but we’ll go with that. Hard to imagine anyone better than Mother Teresa. How many of you would put yourself above Mother Teresa? Below Hitler? Whew! How many of you would put yourself somewhere between them? None of us is 100—only God. None of us is good enough to deserve to go to heaven, to live with God.

Only one human being is 100: Jesus. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that God made Him who had no sin (Jesus, the perfect 100) to be sin for us, so that in Him we can become the righteousness of God. In other words, Jesus takes your score and gives you His. Jesus takes your 65 or 50 or 40 and gives you His 100. It’s not that He makes up the difference—that’s still Jesus plus something. (See Philippians 3:4-9) It’s not what you do; it’s what He’s done!

So if God asks you, “Why should I let you into heaven?” what will you answer? Because of Jesus. That’s the only answer that will fly.

But shouldn’t we be good? Shouldn’t we try? Of course, and Paul will get to that in the last two chapters of this book. But let’s not get the cart before the horse. We do good because we are saved, not so we can be saved. We do good because we love Jesus for what He’s done for us, not to get Jesus to do something for us. A changed life is the result of what Jesus has done, not what we try to do.

There are lots of other options out there—other religions that are offering a way to God. But in the end, all of them rely on DO, not DONE. They all rely on human effort, on trying harder and being good enough.

There is only one gospel. There is only one way to God: the way that God Himself made.

ILL: Let me use a picture I’ve used before. Who would like to go to Hawaii? Me too! So let’s imagine that we’re all on a beach on the beautiful Oregon coast. We want to get to Hawaii, so we set off swimming. How far will you get? The strongest will get a few miles—at best. Some of us will barely get off the beach. But none of us will make it to Hawaii—or even close. We can’t do it. We’re not good enough.

But then we look down the beach and a huge cruise ship is parked there. It’s the SS Jesus! And it’s going to Hawaii and it’s free! Now, how many of us are going to make it to Hawaii? As many as get on the boat! It’s a done deal!

Here’s the astonishing thing: some people are still trying to swim. They are still relying on their own effort, on DO, rather than on what God has DONE.

Can you see why Paul said, “I’m astonished that you’re deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ”? It’s astonishing to see people flail in the water when the cruise ship is waiting.

We could never get to God on our own; all of our efforts will always fall short. So God made a way: Jesus. And God’s way is not one way among many. All the other ways are human efforts—they’re all DO; they’re all other gospels. This is why Jesus said:

John 14:6 “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Jesus is the way—not a way, not one of many ways, but The Way. There’s only one ship docked at that pier—everyone else is just swimming.

There’s only one gospel.


  1. The divine gospel. 11-24.

Paul wants them to know that the gospel isn’t something he made up; he received it directly from Jesus. It’s the divine gospel, not made by man.

11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

To show that he did not receive this from man but from Jesus, Paul tells his story, starting with his life before Jesus.

13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.

Paul was a terrorist—he was the first-century Osama bin Laden. He hated Jesus and Christians and did everything in his power to destroy them. A man with that mindset doesn’t change easily. Only God could change a man like that—and God did.

15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being.

In describing his life before Jesus, it was all about Paul: “I persecuted, I tried to destroy, I was advancing.” Then Paul meets Jesus and the emphasis shifts to what God did: God set me apart, God called me by his grace, God revealed His Son in me. Paul’s conversion was clearly an act of God. But how did he get his gospel? He didn’t consult any human being, but got alone with God.

17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.

18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.

21 Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they praised God because of me.

Paul insists that his gospel is divine, that he received it from a revelation from Jesus, not from any man. He documents this by writing that after his conversion, he didn’t go to Jerusalem to see the apostles for at least 3 years. Instead he went into Arabia; we don’t know what happened there, but many scholars believe Paul was alone, meditating on the Scriptures, what he knew of Jesus and his experience with Jesus. It has been suggested that those three years were a compensation for the three years of instruction the other disciple had from Jesus, which Paul missed. It was probably there that he received his revelation of the gospel.

After 3 years of solitude, Paul finally went to Jerusalem, but for only 15 days, and he met only Peter and James. Then he left and wouldn’t return for another 14 years (Galatians 2:1). The point is that Paul didn’t get the gospel from the other apostles, although in the next chapter, he makes it clear that he eventually presented his gospel to them and they affirmed it.

Paul wants them to have confidence in the gospel he gave them, so he shows that he got this message from God, not man. This is God’s gospel, not Paul’s. It is God’s activity and God’s message and God’s revelation, start to finish. To reject the gospel is to reject God.

I want you to have that same confidence. The gospel you believe is not something that man made up; it is the divine gospel, the power of God to save all who believe what God has done in Christ. The Christian faith is under attack in our increasingly secular society. We’re told that the Bible is not God’s word, and that the Christian faith is false. If Paul was here, he’d tell you that there is only one gospel and that gospel came from God. You can have confidence in the gospel.