What is the history and significance of the churches in Galatia?

The region of Galatia gets its name from the Gauls, or Gallic Celts, who lived in this area before Rome conquered them in 189 BC. It is a land-locked area that is now modern-day Turkey, also known at that time as Asia Minor. To the north was the Black Sea and to the south the Mediterranean Sea. Being between so many countries and having different owners meant that many influences created the culture then and now.

Paul visited this area most likely on his first missionary journey. Scholars believe the Book of Galatians was the earliest epistle written, as it would have closely followed Paul's visit there. His letter became an important one, as it helped the new Christians to understand that they were following Jesus Christ under a gospel of grace, not something that mixed salvation with the works of Judaism. It helps us understand the same truths today.

Paul begins his letter to churches in Galatia with a greeting and then gets straight to the point: "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ" (Galatians 1:6–10).

The churches in Galatia were a mix of Jew and Gentile believers. The problem was that "Judaizers" were telling the Galatians believers they still had to do things like circumcision for their faith to be real. Modern Christians may encounter this, too, when someone preaches anything that is "Jesus and [fill in the blank]." Paul wants them to understand it is Christ alone who brings salvation and that it is the Holy Spirit who empowers this new life: "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do" (Galatians 5:16–17).

No amount of ritual or works would bring about the godly change that was available to them through the Holy Spirit, then or now (Galatians 3:1–6). And the goal is not perfection but to live a life of love and service to others, which comes in the form of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22–25). The Mosaic law served a good purpose, "yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ" (Galatians 2:16). "For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe" (Galatians 3:21–22). Paul pointed out, "the Scripture, forseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, 'In you shall all the nations be blessed.' So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith" (Galatians 3:8–9).

Paul's letter to the churches in Galatia remains important in our understanding of the Mosaic law. It serves us as a clear treatise on the reality of salvation by God's grace alone through faith alone (Galatians 2:21) offered to all types of people through Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:26–29).

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