by Rev. Paul Doellinger

Instead of preaching the Gospel of forgiveness and salvation by grace through faith in Christ, apart from works of the Law (Gal. 3:16), the false teachers in Galatia were peddling a religion of works based on the Law. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul is deeply concerned that the church was losing sight of the Gospel he first preached to them.

Luther shared this same concern for the Church at the time of the Reformation. He calls “The office and work of Jesus Christ (and) our redemption…The first and chief article [of faith]…Nothing in this article can be conceded or given away, even if heaven and earth or whatever is transitory passed away…On this article stands all that we teach and practice against the pope, the devil and the world. Therefore we must be quite certain and have no doubt about it. Otherwise everything is lost, and the pope and devil and whatever opposes us will gain victory and be proved right.”[1]

Read Galatians 5:7-15.

  1. In verses 7-8 Paul notes how the Galatians were “running well,” proceeding in faith in Christ toward eternal life until a false “persuasion not from (God)” was introduced into the Church. Luther, attributing all false persuasions to the devil’s lies, notes, “This…applies to us all who, in their affliction and temptation develop a false idea of Christ. For the devil is a highly skilled persuader…Here the troubled mind should be encouraged…namely, by being told that this thought or persuasion does not come from Christ; for it conflicts with the Word of the Gospel.”[2] How are we to discern whether a particular teaching or persuasion comes from God or from the devil?
  2. In verse 9 Paul says that “A little leaven leavens the whole lump” in order to illustrate that one false teaching—no matter how small—can pervert or compromise the truth and wholeness of the Gospel. Luther says, “Doctrine must be one eternal and round golden circle, in which there is no crack; if even the tiniest crack appears, the circle is no longer perfect…[The doctrine of faith] is a sunbeam coming down from heaven to illumine, brighten, and direct us. Just as the world with all its wisdom and power cannot bend the rays of the sun which are aimed directly from heaven to earth, so nothing can be taken away from or added to the doctrine of faith without overthrowing it all.”[3] Give an example or two of false persuasions and teachings that ultimately rob the chief article of faith of its glory and truth.

3. Paul was being slandered and persecuted for preaching the “stumbling block of the cross,” which is the very content of the Gospel and the doctrine of faith. “The church must suffer persecution because it preaches the Gospel purely…There is nothing that vexes the devil more than the proclamation of the Gospel; for this takes away from Him the mask of God and shows him for what he is, not God but the devil.” [4] In the face of hostility and persecution what comfort can the Church take in these words of Paul and Luther?

  1. Everything hinges on the gospel of salvation by faith in Christ apart from works of the Law. This Gospel, however, doesn’t give us license to sin, but motivates us to love one another. “The godly should remember that for the sake of Christ they are free in their conscience before God from the curse of the Law, from sin, and from death, but that according to the body they are bound; here each must serve the other through love, in accordance with this commandment from Paul.” [5] How does the Gospel drive and motivate us to not “serve the flesh” but to love and serve one another?
  2. Luther places Christian love within the context of vocation: “Thus we learn to praise the works that each man performs in his calling—even though in external appearance they appear to be trivial and contemptible—provided that they have been commanded by God, and, on the other hand, to despise the works that reason decides upon without a commandment from God, regardless of how brilliant, important, great, or saintly they seem to be.”[6] List some of the everyday, ordinary Christian works that are commanded by God and encouraged by Paul when he says “through love serve one another.”

Paul’s concern for losing the Gospel in Galatia isn’t just a matter of silencing his opposition. His aim is to glorify God through preaching the truth of the Gospel. If the Gospel is lost then “everything is lost.” Included in this Gospel are works of love that proceed from faith. Truly good works flow only out of faith in Christ Jesus and His Gospel. Paul shows how true Christian love for the neighbor is born out of the pure preaching of the Gospel: when we are set free from the curse of the Law and sin, we are then truly set free to live by faith toward God and in love and service toward one another.

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

1               The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, Eds.). Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000., Pgs. 300-301

[2]               Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, vol. 27: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 5-6, 1519 Chapters 1-6 (J. J. Pelikan, W.A. Hansen Ed.). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1964., pg. 33

[3]               Ibid., pgs. 38-39

[4]               Ibid., pg. 44

[5]               Ibid., pg. 49

[6]               Ibid., pg. 57