Faith, repentance, and gospel in Galatians

by Phil Olson

Why Galatians?

Perhaps as we start a new sermon series through a book of the Bible, you think, I’ve always wanted to study this book. Or, what’s in Galatians again? Or maybe even, why are we preaching this book? If you have thought any of those things, or just want a better idea of what you should be listening for, thinking about, and praying about as we look at Galatians, here are a few thoughts on what is in Galatians, and why this book is worth considering.

Galatians is a book about the gospel

I doubt many of us are strangers to the gospel. We know the good news that Jesus died on the cross to save us from the punishment we deserve, and to welcome us into relationship with God. We know that because Jesus rose again, we do not have to fear separation from God forever in hell. But sometimes we think the gospel serves as merely the kickoff to our Christian life, failing to remember that it is everything in our Christian life.  Do we remember that because Jesus died for our sins, we can also die to our sins? Do we remember that after Jesus came out of the tomb, he came to live in us? That because God’s grace brought us to him, his grace also sustains us with him? We ought to. We need to be reminded regularly that it is the good news of who Jesus is and what he has done that not only saves us, but sanctifies us. Galatians reminds us that God’s intervention on our behalf through Christ, even in our sinful condition, is not just the starting point of the Christian life. It is the only sustaining and ongoing hope that we have to live the life he has called us to.

Galatians is a book that encourages repentance

Galatians is definitely Paul at his most severe. He is terse and direct, and at times intense and harsh with the Galatians. But this is not because he is contrary or hostile to the church. He is heart broken as he sees the Galatians moving away from God. He continuously calls them to recognize their flesh, their sinful tendencies, their deceptions, their shortcomings—and to turn again and again to the gospel in the midst of those things. Paul knows that it is only as they see the ways that they have turned from God and turn back towards him that they will mature and reflect Jesus.

We are like the Galatians. We frequently turn from God because of our sin and selfishness. We are prone to trying to live the life of Christ without the life of Christ! We need to learn a posture of repentance and confession. We need to constantly turn from the sin, from the error, from bad thinking or habits, back to the truth of the gospel. Galatians is a great challenge to us to constantly evaluate our lives in light of the message of the good news of Jesus.

Galatians is a book that pushes us towards faith.

My problem in living the Christian life is rarely that I do not know what's right. Of course, there are times when I need to learn or understand biblical and gospel truth. But more often, I actually do know the right answer. God is in control. There is hope in Christ. Jesus has defeated sin. I am a new creation. I am loved by God. Jesus is enough. And on and on and on. My problem is too often that I do not actually believe what I know to be true. At least not in a way that changes my life.

How can I know that God is in control, but still worry? Why do I recite a verse about God’s power over sin, and still give in to temptation? Why am I so restless and unsatisfied even as I hum songs that say Jesus is all I need? Because even though I know these things to be true, on some level, in those moments, I am not believing them to be true. I am not trusting that God actually does what he says. I am not believing what is said about God’s grace, forgiveness, power, wisdom, love, or help. I am relying on myself rather than relying on him. I have not so much a knowing or doing problem as I do a believing and trusting problem. And Galatians addresses this as well. It tells us that we are to keep pressing into faith and trust, rather than works and law.

The book of Galatians helps us to remember that the gospel is the very core of our lives as Christians. It is not just something that a non-Christian uses to attain salvation, but is the key to our lives as Christians. And as we live lives of repentance and trust, we can see that gospel continue to transform us. Galatians also has many great passages that speak to what genuine freedom is in the life of the Christian, of dying to ourselves so that Jesus can live through us, about our identity because of our adoption as children of God, true unity and oneness in Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, the fruitfulness of the life of the Christian, battling sin, and loving others well and bearing one another’s burdens. This book reminds us that in putting the gospel into its right place in our lives, we will see our lives reflecting Christ more and more for His glory and our good.

I am excited to spend time in this book together, and pray that we will all continually encounter the liberating power of the gospel through it, so that we and those around us can be changed by that good news!