The Galatian Fiasco

Paul’s words in his letter to the Galatians have been similarly interpreted out of their context. The result has been the distortion of the gospel, the very thing that Paul was hoping to correct in his letter to the Galatians.

The entire theme of Paul’s letter to the Galatians is “Salvation by faith, and not by works of the Law.” But did Paul intend that his readers would conclude that holiness was not necessary to gain entrance into God’s kingdom? Certainly not.

First, we note that Paul was once again combating Jews who had come to Galatia and were teaching the new converts that they could not be saved unless they were circumcised and kept the Law of Moses. Paul mentions the particular issue of circumcision repeatedly in his letter, as that seems to have been the primary emphasis of the Jewish legalists (see Gal. 2:3, 7-9, 12; 5:2-3, 6, 11; 6:12-13, 15). Paul was not concerned that the Galatian believers were becoming too obedient to Christ’s commandments; he was concerned that they were no longer placing their faith in Christ for their salvation, but in circumcision and in their own feeble efforts at keeping the Mosaic Law.

As we consider the entire context of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we note that he writes in chapter 5:

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:18-21; emphasis added).

If Paul wanted to convey to the Galatians that they could be unholy and gain heaven, then he would have never written such words. His message was not that unholy people could go to heaven, but that those who nullify God’s grace and Christ’s sacrifice by trying to earn their salvation through circumcision and the Mosaic Law cannot be saved. It is not circumcision that brings salvation. It is faith in Jesus that results in a salvation that changes believers into holy new creations

For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation (Gal. 6:15).

All of this, again, shows how vital it is to consider context when interpreting Scripture. The only way that the gospel can be distorted by means of the Word of God is by ignoring context. We can only wonder about the hearts of “ministers” who do this in such a blatant way that it cannot be anything but deliberate.

For example, I once heard a preacher declare that we should never mention God’s wrath when we preach the gospel, because the Bible says that, “it is the kindness of God that leads you to repentance” (Rom. 2:4). Thus, according to him, the proper way to proclaim the gospel was to speak only of God’s love and goodness. That would supposedly lead people to repent.

But when we read the context of the solitary verse that preacher quoted from the second chapter of Romans, we discover that it is encased by scriptures about God’s judgment and holy wrath! The immediate context reveals that there isn’t any possibility that Paul’s intended meaning was what that preacher said it was:

And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. And do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment upon those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek (Rom. 2:2-9; emphasis added).

Paul’s reference to God’s kindness is about the kindness God shows in delaying His wrath! And one wonders how a minister could make such an absurd statement in light the greater context of the Bible, which is full of examples of preachers who publicly warned sinners to repent.