Galatians 1:1-2 –Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia…
Paul was the founder and spiritual father of the churches in the region of Galatia. After the churches were founded, Paul left the region and a false teacher (Gal. 3:1, 5:7, 5:10) and teachers motivated by pride (Gal. 4:17, 6:12) entered the churches to refute Paul’s authority and teaching, which split the church and discouraged people (Gal. 5:15 5:26, 6:1,3,9). These false teachers went so far as to claim that Paul was a false teacher and that they were truly more godly, using the real gospel of Jesus Christ.
Apparently, the new and largely non-Jewish Christians had become enamored by the new teaching. This false teaching taught that, to truly be saved, someone needed more than faith in Jesus and must also be a circumcised Jew who followed Jewish social customs (Gal. 2:3, 2:11-14, 5:6, 6:12-13). In this way, they were teaching “Jesus plus a movement”, which continues in our day where someone is teaching that their particular style of Christianity is the only legitimate expression of the one true gospel. This can cause the movement and its’ leaders to take priority over Jesus Christ, or when something other than solely trusting in Jesus Christ is needed to be saved. In this way, they were promoting a works salvation (as opposed to grace) that elevated man and his potential while reducing the work of God the Holy Spirit (Gal. 2:21, 3:3, 5:2, 5:4, 5:16-25). The very existence of the churches that Paul loved was at stake and prompted him to write the strongly polemic letter to the Galatians with great urgency by his own hand (Gal. 6:11). This book is a passionate plea from a worried pastor to people he loves who are being led astray by counterfeit teachers with a counterfeit gospel and counterfeit spiritual power.
The bottom line of the debate is between two very different versions of the gospel:
1) Jesus’ grace + nothing = salvation
2) Jesus’ grace + human works = salvation
The first was revealed by God and taught by Paul. The second was Satan’s counterfeit. Speaking of this conflict, the famed old preacher Charles Spurgeon says, “The Galatians were a very fickle people. They seem very soon to have left the gospel, to have adulterated it, and to have fallen into Ritualism, into Sacramentarianism, into salvation by works, and all the errors into which people usually fall when they go away from the gospel.”1 Think of it this way. The gospel of Jesus Christ is pure like a glass of clean water. But, adding any human error to the gospel is like adding even one drop of filth to the glass of water so that the entirety is ruined.
1.Charles Spurgeon, Galatians, ed. Elliot Ritzema, Spurgeon Commentary Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013), Ga 1:6.