A Gospel Greeting, Part 5
Scripture: Galatians 1:1–1:5
A Gospel Greeting
Text: Galatians 1:1-5
September 14, 2008
II. Paul Declares the Apostolic Content of His Gospel (vv. 3-5).
In his greeting, Paul gives 6 important affirmations concerning the apostolic content of his Gospel. Thus far, we have examined the authority of the gospel (v. 1), the nature of the gospel, which consists of grace and peace (v. 3). Currently, we are studying the vitals of the gospel, specifically Christ’s death and resurrection (vv. 1c, 4a).
Previously, we focused our attention on Christ’s death and saw how Paul insists that Christ’s substitutionary and voluntary death was central to the gospel and essential for salvation.
The question before us now is: How can we be assured that Christ’s life and death were actually good enough to deserve God’s approval and thus truly merited eternal life for us?
The answer: Resurrection!
Christ’s resurrection was God’s vindication of His perfect obedience! This brings us to the second vital element of the gospel, namely Christ’s resurrection.
This is the only reference to the resurrection by Paul in Galatians. However, this does not detract from its importance. The resurrection plays a vital role in Paul’s Gospel and life.
2. Christ’s Resurrection, v. 1c
The resurrection of Christ was of deep, personal, significance to Paul for both his life and ministry.
While traveling on the road to Damascus, still breathing out threats and murder against Christians (Acts 9:1), the risen Christ appeared to Paul and radically and graciously saved him and commissioned him as an apostle.
The resurrection shaped both Paul the man as well as the nature and mission of his apostleship.
As we have already seen, the source of Paul’s calling and commission as an apostle came from the risen, exalted Christ (cf., Acts 9:1-5; 22:1-9).
This most likely explains why Paul mentions the resurrection before the crucifixion here in Galatians 1. The risen Christ entrusted Paul with the Gospel, which he received (cf. 1:12) and for which he was commissioned to preach (cf. 1:16).
Paul’s aim in asserting the authenticity of His apostleship was to defend the Gospel. And, so his mentioning of the resurrection in verse one is not simply a passing reference.
Rather, Paul is asserting the authenticity of his apostleship in order to defend the gospel. The gospel and Paul’s apostleship were inextricably linked together. The resurrection authenticated his authority as an apostle and thus his gospel.
The resurrection was also the basis for the transformation of Saul the persecutor into Paul the apostle.
The risen Christ revealed Himself on the Damascus Road to Saul the Pharisee and persecutor and transformed him into Paul the apostle and preacher (cf. Acts 9, 22, 26).
Paul testifies that Christ delivered him from being a zealous blasphemer, persecutor and violent aggressor (cf. 1 Tim. 1:13-16a) and transformed him into a sold out apostle and preacher of the Gospel (cf. Gal. 1:13-16a)!
In respect to Galatians, Paul’s radical transformation demonstrates that it was not derived from moral effort or personal achievement.
No amount of human effort or moral transformation could have transformed Saul the Pharisee and persecutor into Paul the apostle and preacher of free grace.
It is quite easy to fail to recognize that there was nothing in the unconverted Saul of Tarsus that predisposed him to Christ and the Gospel. He was
A religious zealot;
A Pharisee of Pharisees;
Of the self-deceived opinion as blameless;
An expert in the law, educated by Gamaliel;
One of the fiercest persecutors of the Church (cf. Acts 22:3; Philip. 3:4-6; 1 Tim. 1:13-16a).
No first century religious zealot of Judaism would ever, by his own doing, have become a follower and sold out preacher of a crucified Messiah.
As an expert in the Law (Acts 22:3), the very idea of a crucified Messiah, dying on a cross under the curse of the law (Deut. 21:23; Gal. 3:13), would have been more than a contradiction in Paul’s mind. Such an idea would have been an outrageous blasphemy (cf. F.F. Bruce, Apostle of the Heart Set Free, p. 71).
What was it that had the power to change Saul’s mind and redirect the course of his life? The answer is the Resurrection of Christ!
The risen Christ did what no amount of human effort could ever do. The risen Christ transformed a violent, murderous persecutor into a Christ-treasuring, Gospel-preaching apostle.
Both the crucifixion and resurrection stand in stark contrast to the legalistic teaching of the Judaizers. The glory of the Gospel is highlighted in a powerful manner in Paul’s greeting.
True salvation and freedom do not come about by a combination of man’s efforts plus Christ. Salvation, in accordance with the will of the Father, comes only through the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ!
The Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 30 asks,
“Do those also believe in the only Savior Jesus, who seek their salvation and welfare from ‘saints,’ ‘themselves,’ or anywhere else?
No; although they make their boast of Him, yet in their deeds they deny the only Savior Jesus (1 Cor. 1:12-13, 30-31; Gal. 5:4); for either Jesus is not a complete Savior, or they who by true faith receive this Savior, must have in Him all that is necessary to their salvation (Isa. 9:7; Mt. 23:28; Jn. 1:16; Col. 1:19-20, 2:10; 1 Jn. 1:7).
There is a third reason why the resurrection was a vital aspect of Paul’s gospel.
By raising Christ from the dead, Paul taught that God the Father placed His seal of approval upon Christ’s death. This is to say God the Father vindicated Christ’s perfect, obedient life and death.
Noting the significance of the resurrection in relationship to the cross John Stott writes,
“By the resurrection God ‘glorified’ and ‘exalted’ the Jesus who had died (Acts 3:13; 2:33). Promoting Him to the place of supreme honour at his right hand, in fulfillment of Psalm 110:1 and on account of the achievement of his death, God made the crucified and risen Jesus ‘both Lord and Christ’, both ‘Prince and Saviour’, with authority to save sinners by bestowing upon them repentance, forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit,” (The Cross of Christ, p. 35).
Paul insists that God the Father’s resurrecting of Christ is evidence of His acceptance of Jesus’ suffering as our substitute.
By the resurrection, God the Father designated Christ as the complete and perfect Prince and Savior (Acts 5:31-32) whose work didn’t need to be supplemented.
Having been publicly condemned for sinners in His death, God the Father then publicly vindicated Christ through the resurrection. The resurrection was the Father’s decisive demonstration that Christ had not lived or died in vain!
The cross was the victory won and the resurrection was the victory vindicated.
The significance of the resurrection is underscored by the problem that was troubling the Galatian churches.
The Judaizers, in conjunction with their false gospel, opposed and dishonored the very One whom the Father had honored! According to the Judaizers’ gospel, Christ was only part of the scheme. His work was acknowledged but it wasn’t sufficient. It needed to be supplemented by one’s own efforts.
Paul, on the other hand, contends that salvation is a free gift. Christ purchased it by His own merits at the price of His own blood and was thus vindicated by His Father through the resurrection.
Since Christ claimed, “It is finished,” there is nothing left for man to contribute. What else, Paul reasons with the Galatians, is there to pay? What else is there to do? Nothing!
Through the resurrection, Christ’s life and death are vindicated, approved and demonstrated to be complete, sufficient and effective by their own merits.
Thus, Paul prepares the way for the prominent theme of his letter:
Justification and the subsequent freedom to live as adopted sons, all of which come through faith in Christ apart from works of the law.
The resurrection of Christ is essential to our justification. So, here at the very outset, Paul declares what was first and foremost in his heart and mind.
Concerning Paul’s reference to the resurrection in v. 1, Luther writes,
“Paul here bursteth out in the very title to utter what he hath in his heart. His intent in this epistle is to treat of the righteousness that cometh by faith and to defend the same: again to beat down the law, and the righteousness that cometh of works. This flame in his heart cannot be hid nor suffer him to hold his tongue, and therefore, he thought it not enough to say that he was “an apostle sent by Jesus Christ,” but also added, “and by God the Father which raised Him up from the dead.”
These words may seem unnecessary, but Paul speaking out of the abundance of his heart desires to set forth at the very beginning “the unsearchable riches of Christ,” and to proclaim the righteousness of God which is called the resurrection of the dead. Christ who liveth, and is risen again, speaketh out of him, and moveth him thus to speak. Christ who was raised up by God the Father from the dead; by the which alone we are made righteous, by the which we shall also be raised up at the last day from death to everlasting life.
But they who go about to overthrow the righteousness of Christ, do resist the Father and the Son, and the work of both. So he mentions at once the resurrection of Christ “who rose again for our justification,” to make us righteous, and in so doing He hath overcome the law, sin, death, hell, and all evils. This victory He hath given unto us. “Thanks be to God who hath given us the victory by our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Luther, Galatians, pp. 3-4).
Without the resurrection, justification would have been impossible. Together, the crucifixion and resurrection comprise the vitals of the Gospel.
Neither the resurrection nor the cross can stand alone. The resurrection alone is not the gospel and the crucifixion alone is not the gospel. Without the crucifixion, our sins could not have been taken away. And, without the resurrection, Christ’s death would have been in vain.
By the cross, Christ died to atone for our sins. By His resurrection, Christ canceled and conquered death and ensured the forgiveness of our sins.
As previously mentioned, Paul’s reference to the resurrection in v. 1 is the only reference to Christ’ resurrection in Galatians. To be sure, Paul’s main focus is the cross, primarily because it was the cross not the resurrection that was under attack.
Nevertheless, for Paul, the resurrection of Christ is essential to ones justification. Consider Paul’s words in Romans 4:25, “He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification,” (emphasis added).
On the cross, as our substitute, Jesus paid the penalty of our sin. He was then resurrected to life so that He might freely grant righteousness and life to His people!
Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross contributes to our justification. It is the only means by which sinners are reconciled to God (cf., 2 Cor. 5:21).
However, it would not have been enough for Christ to suffer the wrath and judgment of God and to incur the curse of the law due to our sins on the cross without His resurrection from the dead.
In fact, without the resurrection justification would not only be impossible but there would be no apostles, no gospel, no living Christ, no Christianity, nothing (1 Cor. 15:13-19).
And, so Paul ascribes the efficacy of justification not to one’s law keeping but to Christ’s resurrection. By the resurrection, Christ overcame sin and death and thereby righteousness is imputed to sinners through faith alone.
The resurrection played a vital role in Paul’s Gospel and life. It served to:
authenticate his apostleship;
transform Saul the legalist and murderer into Paul the apostle and preacher of free grace;
vindicate Christ’s perfect, obedience in life and death
and to provide the basis for the imputation of righteousness (Rom. 4:25)
The resurrection has many implications for our daily life as Christians. In light of the context of Galatians let us consider:
1. The gospel is the best remedy for our legalistic tendencies.
In dealing with legalism, the place to start is by establishing and fixing one’s mind on Christ and the resulting benefits that are ours by virtue of our union with Him through the Gospel.
Philip Ryken observes,
“To help Christians- especially recovering Pharisees-rediscover the gospel of grace, where should one start? Well, before receiving the gospel again for the first time, people have to know what the gospel is. So, the obvious place to start is with the gospel itself. This is precisely where Paul begins his letter to the Galatians. He starts with the good news about the cross and the empty tomb,” (Galatians, p. 9).
In like manner, John Calvin writes,
“He begins with commending the grace of Christ, in order to recall and fix on Him the attention of the Galatians; for, if they had justly appreciated this benefit of redemption, they would never have fallen into opposite views of religion. He who knows Christ in a proper manner beholds him earnestly, embraces Him with the warmest affection, is absorbed in the contemplation of Him, and desires no other object. The best remedy for purifying our minds from any kind of errors or superstitions, is to keep in remembrance our relation to Christ, and the benefits which he has conferred upon us,” (Galatians, p. 26, emphasis mine).
So, Paul from the very outset of his letter declares the vitals of the Gospel. He seeks to purify the Galatians’ minds from the errors of the Judaizer’s conditional gospel.
Paul’s aim was to put the Galatians in continual remembrance of Christ and thereby fix their minds on the central importance of Christ crucified and risen!
Because our tendency is to revert back to our default legal methods, Ralph Erskine reminds us, “They that think they know the Gospel well enough bewray (i.e., reveal-J.F.) their ignorance; no man can be too evangelical, it will take all his life-time to get a legal temper destroyed,” (emphasis mine).
No man can be too evangelical, focus too much on Christ and keep in continual remembrance the great gospel blessings, which He has bestowed upon him!
Paul understood that legalism distorts and perverts the Gospel of grace. Legalism cannot take away sin and it certainly cannot provide victory over death! The law cannot and does impart life but only leads to condemnation, curse and death.
The crucified and risen Christ takes away sin and gives life!
“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day,” (Jn. 6:40).
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,” (Jn. 11:25).
2. The true test of a Christian does not consist in observance of religious ceremonies or bare acknowledgment of historical facts about the gospel but in whether or not one has embraced by faith the risen Christ.
The death and resurrection (also burial) of Christ are historical events. The Gospel is firmly rooted in history. The crucifixion and resurrection of are facts of history. In fact, Christ’s saving work serves as the central focal point of history itself.
Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection really happened in time.
In regards to His resurrection, the Scriptures record that there were multiple eyewitnesses of the Risen Christ over the course of 40 days (cf., Acts 1:3; 1 Cor. 15:5-8). Subsequent to His resurrection, Christ ate, talked and walked with His followers. Their eyewitness testimony was unanimous.
Together, the crucifixion and resurrection comprise vital elements of the Gospel message. The historical fact of the resurrection vindicates Christ’s historical death on the cross and thus affirms the truthfulness of the Gospel.
However, the issue at stake in Galatians is not in regards to the historical nature of the Gospel. Recognizing the historical fact of the crucifixion and resurrection is not the same as acknowledging the historical fact that George Washington was the first President of the United States.
The historical events of the Gospel are unique and serve a redemptive purpose. The issue then is whether the historical fact of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection mean anything. And if so, what?
For Paul, the vitals of the gospel (i.e.., the death and resurrection of Christ) meant everything and thus gives everything meaning!
In Galatians, Paul insists that true saving faith does consist not in outward observance of religious ceremonies. Neither does true saving faith consist in bare historical acknowledgement of facts (cf. James 2:19), though these facts are vital.
True saving faith lies in a firm and steady trust in the truth of the Gospel, which leads a man to say with Paul, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all,” (1 Timothy 1:15).
Authentic saving faith acknowledges the truths of the Gospel and will not seek salvation anywhere else but rather rests in the merit and authority of Christ alone.
Spurgeon, thus reminds us,
“I have continually spoken to you concerning Christ crucified who is the great hope of the guilty. But we will be wise to remember that our Lord has risen from the dead and lives eternally. You are not asked to trust in a dead Jesus but in One who, though He died for our sins, has risen again for our justification. You may go to Jesus at once as to a living and present friend. He is not a mere memory but a continually existent Person who will hear your prayers and answer them. He lives to carry on the work for which He once laid down His life. He is interceding for sinners at the right hand of the Father. For this reason He is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God by Him. Come and try this living Savior if you have never done so before,” (All of Grace, p. 95).
© John Fonville
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