If righteousness could be obtained through the law, then Christ died for nothing (Gal. 2:21). Righteousness could never come through human obedience since God demands perfect obedience, and a curse impinges on all who fail to do everything God commands (Gal. 3:10). The curse is only removed through the death of Jesus who took the curse for us when He was hung on a tree (Gal. 3:13). Galatians, then, stands out as the first letter that declares that believers are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone.
1. Galatians Defends Paul’s Gospel as Being from Christ
Some readers may not know that Paul’s Apostolic legitimacy was attacked by opponents in Galatia. They claimed that Paul was not truly an Apostle. After all, he wasn’t a follower of Jesus during His earthly ministry. Furthermore, they asserted that Paul’s gospel contradicted the gospel taught in Jerusalem by Peter, John, and James. In other words, the agitators said that Paul’s gospel was dependent on the Jerusalem Apostles, but there’s more: they also accused Paul of distorting the gospel taught by the Apostles in Jerusalem.
In the first two chapters, therefore, Paul defends the legitimacy of his gospel. He emphasizes that the gospel he proclaimed was revealed to him supernaturally on the road to Damascus by Jesus Christ Himself. Paul’s gospel can’t be ascribed to his own thinking but was given to him independently by Jesus. But that’s not all—when Paul traveled to Jerusalem fourteen years later, the Apostles Peter, James, and John ratified Paul’s gospel. They acknowledged that Paul’s gospel was the true gospel, the same gospel that they preached. In fact, Paul even reproved Peter when the latter compromised the gospel in Antioch (Gal. 2:11–14). In the first two chapters of Galatians, then, Paul shows that he received his gospel directly from Jesus and that he did not distort the message taught by the Jerusalem Apostles. They all taught the same gospel.
2. Galatians Teaches That We Are Justified through Faith, Not by Works
Galatians is the first letter in which Paul trumpets the truth that believers are justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. His opponents insisted that one must keep the law and be circumcised to obtain salvation (Gal. 5:2–4; 6:12–13; see also Gen. 17:9–14; Acts 15:1–5). What these adversaries did not understand was that the new covenant had dawned with the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Believers were no longer under the stipulations of the Mosaic covenant, including circumcision.