Paul wrote this letter to the Galatian Church that he had founded during his travels (recorded in Acts 16:6). Galatia is in present-day Turkey. He wrote this letter rather early in his ministry – some say around 48AD – because of the turmoil caused by a group of people called Judaizers. These Judaizers were teaching that the gospel of salvation by Jesus death and resurrection was not enough. Judaizers were believers who insisted that in order to follow Jesus one had to follow all of the laws of Moses from the Old Testament; not just the Ten Commandments, the 631 Laws of the Pentateuch! Paul sees this as a major problem for the church, and rightfully so. He writes in a stark and bold format, even forgoing the normal “thanksgiving” at the beginning of his letters and jumping right into admonition. Paul writes out of loving concern for these people that God loves who have been overburdened and risk being led astray.
“In the church we talk about the gospel all the time. Can you define it in less than forty words?” In the interview to determine if I was fit to enter the ministry (can you believe I passed?), I was asked that question by the New England District President Jim Kerulainen. I said, “I think I can do it in about ten: Jesus died and rose to save sinners such as me.” He said, “Don’t ever forget that it is really just that simple.”
The gospel is so simple that it is easy to complicate. Paul has great concern for the Galatians because that is exactly what some people are doing. There are infiltrators among them, false teachers who are deceiving the believers. They were called “Judaizers.” They preyed on the Galatians. They told them that since the Galatians were such grievous sinners the simple gospel was not enough to redeem them. To Paul’s dismay, the Galatians believe it.
Before we get judgmental, it is important that we reflect on our own lives. Has there ever been a time when you were so burdened by a sin that you knew you would have done anything in your power to take it back? You know that feeling, right? That is precisely the feeling that the Judaizers tapped into to make the Galatians question whether forgiveness was really for them. In order to combat this, God has placed in Word, the Bible, in our lives. In it we can read and re-read the story of salvation in Jesus. We can experience the simple grace of the gospel – “Jesus died to save sinners such as me.”
Paul says that the Galatians are being thrown into confusion. The word is “terraso” meaning “disturbed, afflicted, plagued.” From this we derive the word “terrorized.” Just because our word means a certain thing does not mean that it meant the same thing then, but it is noteworthy here because the root of “terror” is “to disturb normal life so that the consequences are greater than the activity.” In this case, the Judaizers are attempting to disturb the believers into thinking that their sins can not be forgiven only by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul says, “May it never be!”