Galatians 1:1–5 (ESV) — Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2 and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
“What must I do to be saved?”
One of the most important questions that was ever asked, and the most important question that you can ask is this: “What must I do to be saved?”
How you answer that question is of vital importance. If you ask me what you must do to go to Santo, and I tell you to get on a ship and go south, you will never make it to Santo. If I tell you to go east or west, you will never arrive in Santo. There are many wrong answers to life’s most important question. If someone gives you the wrong answer, and you follow those wrong directions, you will be lost.
Wrong answers to life’s most important question.
In the history of the church and in the world today, there are many wrong answers to life’s most important question. What must I do to be saved?
- You must be baptized in the name of Jesus only.
- You must speak in tongues.
- You must faithfully keep the Sabbath.
- You must join our church: Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Latter Day Saints…
None of these answers were being given in Paul’s day, but the church had clearly been troubled by similar answers.
- You must be circumcised according to the law of Moses.
- You must observe our food laws.
- You must observe our feasts and special days.
The specific demands required by various groups today will be different from what the Judaizers were demanding of the new Christians of Galatia, but the principle is the same. Whenever someone gives you a list of things that you must do to be saved, they are preaching a different gospel, a gospel that does not save but rather condemns.
What is this gospel that we preach?
- The gospel of law? Do we follow Jewish food laws? Do we avoid shrimp and lobster and pork? Do we avoid red meat? Lori and I went into a small grocery store in the state of Michigan. There were cans of sausages. On the can was a message for Seventh Day Adventists: “Looks like meat! Tastes like meat! But it’s not meat!”
- The gospel of works? “And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”” (Matthew 19:16).
- The gospel of prosperity? God is the magic ATM machine. You put in the right card and the right code and you can get whatever you want.
You won’t find those descriptions in the Bible. You will find these phrases:
The Apostle Paul also calls it “the gospel of the grace of God.” At the end of his third missionary journey, in speaking to the Ephesian elders, Paul summed up his ministry:
Acts 20:24 (ESV) — But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
This, by the way, was my father’s favorite verse. Paul calls the gospel, “the gospel of the grace of God.”
“What must I do to be saved?”
Grace. God’s grace.
The word “grace” is found in the New Testament 124 times. The Apostle Paul begins and ends every letter with a blessing of grace. The gospel that we preach is “the gospel of the grace of God.”
Paul’s life mission, his single motive, the driving force of his life was “to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
How this had changed from his early days! He describes his life before his conversion on the way to Damascus in Galatians 1:14 “And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.”
According to his own testimony, he was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” (Philippians 3:5-6)
But what had happened to him? He had been transformed by the grace of God. In his first missionary journey, he travels through the cities of Galatia preaching the gospel of the grace of God. Luke gives us a lengthy sample of Paul’s preaching in in Galatia, at Antioch of Pisidia in Acts 13:38-39:
Acts 13:38–39 (ESV) — Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.
It was through the preaching of the gospel of the grace of God, that the Galatians had been saved, churches had been founded in Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. Disciples had been made. Elders had been appointed in every church. And Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch of Syria to the sending church:
Acts 14:27–28 (ESV) — And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they remained no little time with the disciples.
Perverting the Gospel in Galatia
But it was not long before news arrived in Antioch of Syria: Paul and Barnabas had been followed by false teachers. False teachers had come along behind them and added requirements.
Already in Acts 11, before the first missionary journey, we see that there was a “circumcision party” that claimed that the Gentiles had to be circumcised:
Acts 11:2–3 (ESV) — So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 3 “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
Paul will confront them again in Acts 15. They were claiming that Gentile believers were obligated to keep the law of Moses. They had gone to Galatia and they had arrived in Antioch of Syria, in the church that had sent Barnabas and Paul.
Acts 15:1 (ESV) — But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
By now, Paul has already written to the Galatians, but the problem continues and is debated in Jerusalem:
Acts 15:5 (ESV) — But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”
The Apostle Peter reminds the believers in Jerusalem that God had used him to open the door to the Gentiles and that they were saved by faith in Christ:
Acts 15:7–11 (ESV) — And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
Paul will mention how the circumcision party intimidated even Peter and Barnabas:
Galatians 2:12 (ESV) — For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.
Again toward the end of his ministry, the Apostle Paul warns Titus about the circumcision party:
Titus 1:10 (ESV) — For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party.
In these opening verses, Paul lays the foundations of the gospel of the grace of God.
1. The Father and the Son achieved our salvation at the cross.
Galatians 1:4 (ESV) — who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,
Galatians 1:1 (ESV) — …God the Father, who raised him from the dead—
Our salvation was accomplished jointly by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Paul does not specifically mention the Holy Spirit in these verses, but he does make that truth clear elsewhere:
Romans 8:11 (ESV) — If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
1.1. Christ’s death was voluntary.
Our salvation was accomplished by Christ’s work on the cross. As we have seen before, Christ’s death on the cross was voluntary: “the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself.”
This was not a tragedy. It was not some terrible accident or misunderstanding. The Lord Jesus Christ “gave himself.” This is the consistent message of the New Testament.
Mark 10:45 (ESV) — For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
John 10:15 (ESV) —…I lay down my life for the sheep.
Galatians 2:20 (ESV) —…Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Ephesians 5:2 (ESV) —…Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Ephesians 5:25 (ESV) —…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
1 Timothy 2:6 (ESV) — who gave himself as a ransom for all…
Titus 2:14 (ESV) — who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
1.2. Christ’s death was substitutionary — he gave himself for our sins (v. 4).
Romans 3:23 (ESV) — for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Romans 6:23 (ESV) — For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 4:25 (ESV) — who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
1 Peter 2:24 (ESV) — He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
1 Peter 3:18 (ESV) — For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,
1.3. Christ died to deliver us from this present evil age (v. 4)
Galatians 1:4 (ESV) — who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,
Galatians 4:3 (ESV) — In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.
Galatians 4:9 (ESV) — But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?
So what are these elemental spiritual forces? Clinton Arnold argues that the term “includes the meanings “spirits,” “angels,” and “demons.” 1
In Christ Jesus, the kingdom of God has invaded this present evil age.
Matthew 12:28 (ESV) — But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
Colossians 1:13 (ESV) — He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,
Hebrews 6:5 (ESV) — and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come,
1.4. Christ’s death was according to the will of our God and Father.
Galatians 1:4 (ESV) — …according to the will of our God and Father,
Acts 2:23 (ESV) — this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
Acts 4:28 (ESV) — to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
Isaiah 53:5 (ESV) — But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
Romans 8:32 (ESV) — He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV) — For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2. God announced the message of salvation in Scripture through his chosen apostles.
Galatians 1:1 (ESV) — Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—
There are some terms that can be applied to all Christians. Every true Christian is a believer. He or she is a brother or sister in Christ. The Bible says that we are saints, those who have been made holy by the offering of Christ on the cross.
But not everyone is an apostle.
It was a special term reserved for the Twelve and for one or two others whom the risen Christ had personally appointed. There can, therefore, be no apostolic succession, other than a loyalty to the apostolic doctrine of the New Testament. The apostles had no successors. In the nature of the case no-one could succeed them. They were unique…
He leaves us in no doubt about the nature of his apostleship. In other Epistles he is content to describe himself as ‘called to be an apostle’ (Rom. 1:1) or ‘called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus’ (1 Cor. 1:1). Or, without mentioning his call, he styles himself ‘an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will (or ‘command’) of God’ (cf. 2 Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 1 Tim. 1:1; 2 Tim. 1:1). Here, however, at the beginning of the Galatian Epistle, he enlarges on his description of himself. He makes a forceful statement that his apostleship is not human in any sense, but essentially divine. Literally, he says that he is an apostle ‘not from men nor through a man’. That is, he was not appointed by a group of men, such as the Twelve or the church at Jerusalem or the church at Antioch, as, for instance, the Jewish Sanhedrin appointed apostles, official delegates commissioned to travel and teach their name. Paul himself (as Saul of Tarsus) had been one of these, as is plain from Acts 9:1, 2. But he had not been appointed to Christian apostleship by any group of men. Nor even, granted the divine origin of his apostolic appointment, was it brought to him through any individual human mediator, such as Ananias or Barnabas or anybody else. Paul insists that human beings had nothing whatever to do with it. His apostolic commission was human neither directly nor indirectly; it was wholly divine. 2
The New Testament makes it clear that the church was Ephesians 2:20 “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,”
Ephesians 2:20 (ESV) — built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,
God’s eternal plan was “revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” Ephesians 3:5
Ephesians 3:5 (ESV) — which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.
1 Corinthians 3:11 (ESV) — For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Romans 16:25–26 (ESV) — Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—
The Roman Catholics teach that, since the Bible authors were churchmen, the church wrote the Bible. Therefore the church is over the Bible and has authority not only to interpret it, but also to supplement it. But it is misleading to say that the church wrote the Bible. The apostles, the authors of the New Testament, were apostles of Christ, not of the church, and they wrote their letters as apostles of Christ, not of the church. Paul did not begin this Epistle ‘Paul an apostle of the church, commissioned by the church to write to you Galatians’. On the contrary, he is careful to maintain that his commission and his message were from God; they were not from any man or group of men, such as the church. See also verses 11 and 12. 3
Galatians 1:11–12 (ESV) — 11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
J. Gresham Machen published Christianity and Liberalism in 1923. The message was simple but profound: Christianity was once and for all defined by Christ and his apostles. No one has the right to redefine it: Seventh Day Adventist, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or the Assemblies of God.
3. God bestows salvation upon believers today.
Galatians 1:3 (ESV) — Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
How are we to experience grace and peace? How are we to be saved?
We come back to the question: “What must I do to be saved?”
“From the beginning to the end, the Christian is founded on “the gospel of the grace of God.”
That question was asked in Philippi. Paul and Silas had been beaten and imprisoned, but at midnight, the prison was shaken and the chains fell off. The jailer, fearing for his life, cried out, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul and Silas gave the answer.
Acts 16:31–34 (ESV) — And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.
What must you do to be saved? Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.
What must we do to be saved? Here is how the Apostle Paul will answer the question in Galatians 2:16.
Galatians 2:16 (ESV) — yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
Paul concludes this letter to the Galatians as he started it, with an accent on grace. From the beginning to the end, the Christian is founded on “the gospel of the grace of God.”
Galatians 6:18 (ESV) — The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.
1 Clinton Arnold, The Colossian Syncretism, p. 78.
2 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians: Only One Way, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 13–14.
3 Ibid., 16.
See also “Galatians Series“: