by Rev. Paul Doellinger

In his great work The Bondage of the Will, Luther writes, “A man must delight in assertions or he will be no Christian. And by assertion…I mean a constant, adhering, affirming, confessing, maintaining, and an invincible preserving…Nothing is better known or more common among Christians than assertions. Take away assertions and you take away Christianity.”[1]

The Reformation was not only about asserting what is true, but also rejecting that which is false. St. Paul’s passionate epistle to the Galatians is born out of his assertion of the Gospel and his defiance of false teaching. The Galatian Christians were “bewitched” and maligned into believing a “different Gospel” (Gal. 1:6; 3:1). Paul is determined to preach and preserve the Gospel in Galatia while at the same time reject what is false and corrupted therein.

Read through Galatians 1:6-20.

  1. False teachers in Galatia were imposing circumcision on the Gentile Christians (Gal. 2:12; 3:1-2; 6:15). They were teaching that Christ, grace, faith, and the forgiveness of sins wasn’t enough; that more must be done. Paul calls this a “different gospel” and a desertion of God “who called you in the grace of Christ” (Gal. 1:6). How is requiring circumcision a “distortion of the Gospel of Christ?” How is the Gospel distorted by false teachers today? What are some modern examples of “different” gospels?
  2. Luther: “The doctrine of Grace simply cannot stand with the doctrine of the Law. One of them must be rejected and abolished, the other must be confirmed or substantiated.”[2] Why is Paul so insistent upon holding up the true Gospel over and against the “different” gospel of the false teachers? What is ultimately at stake?
  3. Read Acts 9:1-19. In Galatians 1:8-9 Paul doubles down and curses the false teachers in Galatia. In order to proclaim the truth and reject the falsehood, Paul must first claim his authority. Based on Paul’s conversion in Acts 9 and his testimony in Galatians 1:11-12, by what authority can Paul make such an assertion? What is our authority today?
  4. Citing his own life as an example, Paul takes comfort in the fact that God “called me by his grace (and) was pleased to reveal His Son to me (Gal. 1:16).” Luther teaches, “Paul himself did not have an inward revelation until he heard the outward Word from heaven, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ (Acts 9:4). Thus he heard the outward Word first; only then did there follow revelations, the knowledge of the Word, faith, and the gifts of the Spirit.”[3] How is it that you received the outward, external Word? In what outward means of God’s grace can we find comfort, certainty, and the assertion of God’s love and mercy to us?

The Word of God makes assertions of truth and rejections of falsehood. The Reformation calls us to hold fast to the assertions God makes in His Word. The Formula of Concord states, “We believe, teach, and confess that the only rule and guiding principle according to which all teachings and teachers are to be evaluated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments alone. As it is written, ‘Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ (Ps. 119:105), and Saint Paul: ‘If…an angel from heaven should proclaim to you something contrary, let that one be accursed!’ (Gal. 1:8).”[4]

God has revealed His Son to you in His Word. You are justified. God has declared you to be righteous, perfect and holy for the sake of His Son. You are rescued from sin, death and hell, not by works of the Law, but by Christ and His atoning death and resurrection alone. This is God’s assertion to you. Let every teaching and every word of man that speaks contrary be accursed! Take delight in the assertions of the Reformation, which are the assertions of God’s Word!

Prayer: Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word; Curb those who by deceit or sword would wrest the kingdom from Your Son and bring to naught all He has done.[5] Amen.

The Rev. Paul M. Doellinger is pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Cassopolis, MI.

[1]               Luther, Martin. The Bondage of the Will in Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation (E. Gordon Rupp and Philip Watson, Eds.). Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1969., pgs. 105-106

[2]               Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4 (J. J. 2Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1963., pg. 54

[3]               Ibid., page 73

[4]               The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wngert, Eds.). Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000., Pg. 486.1

[5]               Luther, Martin, “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word” (No. 655) in The Lutheran Service Book (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2006).