Lesson 5 of 5
In Progress

Theological Themes in Galatians

Faith active in love

The problem with concern for keeping the law is that it shortchanges the care that is due the neighbor. Those who insist on circumcision prevent hearing the freeing message of the gospel of God’s grace that releases people for a “faith working through love” (5:6). Such active love of the neighbor is the true fulfillment of what the law imagines.

Freedom

The gospel of justification by God’s grace means freedom (5:1). But the central significance of this freedom in Christ is that freedom is not an end in itself. Those who are set free by the good news of the gospel are in turn enabled “through love [to] become slaves to one another” (5:13).

Fruit of the Spirit 

The promise of the gospel is that those who belong to Christ are energized and empowered in a new life that is guided by the Spirit. Such new life no longer lives under the law and by the desires of the flesh, but instead produces a singular fruit of the Spirit that blossoms in community expressions of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (5:22-23).

Gospel

Paul’s opening address announces the good news (gospel) that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead and that by God’s grace Christ gave himself to set us free from sin and the power of the present evil age. Fully thirteen times in the opening two chapters Paul makes reference to this good news by which God has called his readers and him to new life in Christ (1:6, 15). He pleads that the Galatians not risk losing this grace-filled gift by following the misleading and elusive promises of a deceitful “gospel.”

Justification

In 2:16, Paul for the first time substitutes the word to justify (“to be made right”) for the word gospel. Clearly in this letter “justification” (used a total of thirteen times from 2:16 on) is Paul’s synonym for the good news of the gospel. The good news of the gospel is that we are made right by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ and not by works of the law.

Life in Christ

The certain promise of the gospel is that through baptism the Christian is literally joined with Christ’s death and resurrection. The old person is put to death with Christ (compare Romans 6:6) so that now God’s children live a new life by virtue of the loving gift of God’s Son, who lives in them.

New creation

At the letter’s conclusion Paul says, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!” (6:15). The promise of the gospel is that those who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been linked with his cross, death, and resurrection. Now “clothed with Christ,” they live by virtue of Christ living in them (2:20).

Unity in Christ

“For all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (3:28). In language and vision that is almost unique in the New Testament, Paul asserts that, by virtue of their being common heirs of God’s promise in Christ, God’s children are united in a new relationship that transcends all traditional barriers of alienation or division. Unity in Christ brings with it the promise of a fundamentally changed social order.

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