How Paul defined his Gospel in Galatians


This is part of the series blogging through Galatians. You might want to start with part 1.

The Martyrdom of Paul

The Martyrdom of Paul

In the letter to the Galatians Paul is defending the gospel that he proclaimed.This was a gospel that Paul preserved in content (2:1-5) and through conduct (2:11-2:14). But what is the “gospel”? What does Paul mean when he uses that term. For most of us the gospel message is found in the “Roman Road” or the 4 spiritual laws.

Throughout the book The King Jesus Gospel, Scot McKnight takes on the task of  differentiating between the terms “gospel” and “the plan of salvation”. Without changing  the answer to the question – how does one get saved? – Scot McKnight puts forth a strong case that the term gospel (from the Greek εὐαγγέλιον) was not so limited in its meaning when it was used in the first century. In the book he explores the fullness of the term “gospel” defining it as “the Story of Jesus as the completion of Israel’s Story”.

[the gospel is] the salvation-unleashing Story of Jesus, Messiah-Lord-Son, that brings to completion the Story of Israel as found in the Scriptures of the Old Testament. (61)

He goes on to show that the gospel is not about a “plan” as much as it is about a “Person”.

There is a Person at the very core of the gospel of Paul, and until that Person is put into the center of centers in Paul’s gospel, we will not comprehend his – scratch that – the apostles’ gospel accurately. The gospel Story of Jesus Christ is a story about Jesus as Messiah, Jesus as Lord, Jesus as Savior, and Jesus as Son. (55 emphasis in original)

These key points are evident in the letter to the Galatians.

As we look at this letter we must remember that Paul has already preached the gospel to the Galatians (on the 1MJ) and is trying to discourage people from abandoning it. The content of the gospel proclamation that was made in Galatia (and addressed to Jews and Gentiles) can be found in Acts 13. In this gospel proclamation Paul shows that the good news centers around Jesus the Messiah who is descended form the line of David just as God promised through the prophets. The Messiah was put to death but the good news is that God raised Him from the dead and announced a victory over sin and death to all that believe.

With that as the backdrop let’s examine the letter to the Galatians. At the outset of the letter Paul makes it clear that the gospel of Christ centers on two important facts. These facts correlate with the what Paul told the Corinthians was of primary importance as well.

  • Jesus was raised from the dead (1:1; 1 Cor 15:4)
  • Jesus gave Himself for our sins and to deliver us from this evil age (1:4; 1 Cor 15:3)

The crucifixion and death of Jesus (1 Cor 15:3-4) is a third central fact that is emphasized throughout the letter, for without it there could be no resurrection.

  • Christ was crucified, died, and gave Himself for me (2:20-21; 3:1)
  • Christ redeemed us from the curse by being hung on a tree (3:13)
  • the cross is an offense to those advocating circumcision and the Law (5:11)
  • the cross is the reason those who trust in it are persecuted (6:13)
  • the cross is the basis for casting aside worldly desires and living for Christ (2:20-21; 5:24; 6:14)

In the opening of the letter Paul pin points the problem with the Galatians following a different gospel. It is not just abandoning a “plan” – it is deserting a “person”.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are following a different gospel – not that there really is another gospel, but there are some who are disturbing you and wanting to distort the gospel of Christ. (1:6-7 NET)

The gospel Paul preached was proclaiming the good news about the Son Jesus and His victory over this evil age:

the gospel I preached is not of human origin … [God was] pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I could preach him among the Gentiles (1:11,16)

Paul not only points to the Person of Jesus as the core of the gospel, he roots the gospel of Christ in the story of Israel by showing that this gospel was preached beforehand to Abraham.

And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, proclaimed the gospel to Abraham ahead of time, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.”  … Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (because it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”) in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles, so that we could receive the promise of the Spirit by faith. …

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his descendant. Scripture does not say, “and to the descendants,” referring to many, but “and to your descendant,” referring to one, who is Christ. … For if the inheritance is based on the law, it is no longer based on the promise, but God graciously gave it to Abraham through the promise. (3:8,13-14,16,18 NET).

This gospel story that started with the covenant promises made to Abraham, the father of the nation Israel, was completed by Jesus.This is emphasized again in the next chapter of the letter. The Messiah – God’s Son – was sent into the world as an Israelite (under the law) to redeem people and send the Spirit into their hearts just as God promised in the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 35:25-27).

But when the appropriate time had come, God sent out his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we may be adopted as sons with full rights. And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, who calls “Abba! Father!” (4:4-6 NET)

A core part of the gospel is that these blessings and promises come to us through faith, just as it did to Abraham the man of faith (3:9):

yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified …  because if righteousness could come through the law, then Christ died for nothing! (2:16, 21 cmp Acts 13:39)

But Paul’s gospel of Christ is about more than being forgiven of our sins. It is also about our freedom in Christ (5:1, 13).

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery. … For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another.

This freedom is from being enslaved by this evil age to live for Christ (1:4; 2:19-21; 4:9), to have Christ formed in us (4:19), to love and serve others (5:13-14), and to walk in the Spirit and not the flesh (5:16,24; 6:14). The freedom to wait for the hope of righteousness and the inheritance of the kingdom (5:5,21) that will be ours because Jesus is the Messiah, Son, and Savior. May Paul’s gospel be ours! To Jesus be the glory forever. Amen!

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