Introduction: Something interesting happened last week in Times Square on New Year’s Evening. Just before the ball dropped, the hip-hop artist and rapper Cee Lo Green was on the program. He sang John Lennon’s famous song “Imagine.” But he changed the words. Lennon had originally written: Imagine there’s no heaven. / It’s easy if you try. / No hell below us, / Above us only sky… And one line says: And no religion too. Lennon was saying, “If only we could do away with faith, with religion, with the idea of God, with the Bible, with Christianity, then we could all live as if there was nothing but today, the world would be much better, and we could solve our problems.”
So on New Year’s Eve, Cee Lo Green sang “Imagine,” but he changed the line that said: “And no religion too.” He sang these words: “And all religion is true.” Well, Lennon fans are up in arms everywhere. You’ve never heard such outrage. But this controversy is a telling indicator of our popular culture. The modern generation, my generation, Lennon’s generation, those who came along in the 60s and 70s, said: “No religion is true.” The new postmodern generation says: “All religion is true.” The postmodern attitude is: Don’t be judgmental. Don’t tell people they’re wrong. You can believe whatever you want to, I can believe whatever I want to, and we’re both right. You can mix and match your beliefs like clothing on the sale racks.
It reminds us of what G.K. Chesterton once said: “It is often supposed that when people stop believing in God, they believe in nothing. Alas, it is worse than that. When they stop believing in God, they believe in anything.”
Well, in the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul defended the purity of biblical doctrine, the exclusive nature of truth, and especially the doctrine of justification by grace through faith. Galatians has been called the “Magna Carta of the Christian Faith.” It’s also been called the “Little Romans” because in this book Paul introduced some of the arguments he’ll later amply in his epistle to Rome.
Background: There are two theories about the background and dating of the book of Galatians. Some scholars believe that the Galatians to whom Paul was writing were those who lived in the north of Asia Minor, and that the book of Galatians was written much later in his career. The preferred view (in my opinion) is that Galatians was written right after Paul’s first missionary tour and right before the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. In Acts 13 and 14, Barnabas and Paul set out on their first missionary tour and preached the Gospel in some of the churches of Galatia (Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Pisidian Antioch). Paul returned to Syrian Antioch to find a theological firestorm—the Judaizers were claiming one had to keep Jewish law to be saved. He also learned that Judaizers had followed in his footsteps throughout Asia Minor and were corrupting the doctrine of his newly planted churches. He evidently wrote the book of Galatians at about the same time he was defending the doctrine of justification at the Jerusalem Council. That would place the writing of the book at about AD 49, making it and James the first of the New Testament writings.
Outline of Galatians:
Introduction (Galatians 1:1-10)
Salutation and Theme: I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel… Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached, let him (be anathema).
1. The Origination of the Gospel: Where It Came From (Galatians 1:11 – 2:21).
In this section, Paul insists that the Gospel didn’t have its origin in human imagination, nor was it a collaborative effort between the other apostles and himself. It was given by revelation (see Ephesians 3:1-6). He also gives a timeline of his ministry and an account of his argument with Peter.
2. The Explanation of the Gospel: What it Means (Galatians 3:1 – 5:12)
In this section, Paul dissects the doctrine of justification by grace through faith and seeks to show its logic and its biblical consistency. Using the same example he will later employ in Romans, he points to Abraham, who believed in God and was justified. Later, in chapter 4, he uses a complicated analogy involving Hagar and Sarah. He became so worked up he spoke with shocking bluntness in 5:12, which brings this section crashing to a close.
3. The Implications of the Gospel: Why it Matters (Galatians 5:13 – 6:10)
In this precious and favorite section of the book, Paul talks about the kind of Spirit-led life we’re able to lead when our doctrine and our salvation is rooted in the freedom of Christ. He tells us to live by the Spirit and not gratify the desires of the sinful flesh. Here he is answering the greatest criticism leveled by his opponents: If we do away with legalism, what will restrain sinful behavior? Paul’s answer: The indwelling Holy Spirit. Rules and laws can’t really restrain evil behavior; we must be transformed by the Spirit. Walk in the Spirit. Be led by the Spirit. Display the fruit of the Spirit. Sow to please the Spirit.
Paul said he was underlining everything in this book (v. 11). And he ends with that great declaration of verse 14: God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of Christ my Lord.
Postscript: While the outline above is the best exegesis I have of Galatians, there is a very simple way to remember this book. Divide its six chapters into three parts, and notice the progression. Our ethics and lifestyle are based on our theology, and our theology is based on the historical events recorded in the Bible.
- Chapters 1-2 are Historical.
- Chapters 3-4 are Theological.
- Chapters 5-6 are Ethical.
This is always the order in which truth is actualized in our lives.
 For more on this, see Paul Handley’s editorial, “Imagine There’s No Simplistic Religious Imagery,” in The Guardian, January 6, 2012.