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Lesson 2: Paul's Authority and Gospel *

Introduction: Last week we learned that Paul depended upon his sterling education and past legal authority to defend himself against the law-breaking charges brought against him. This week we will see that Paul is again defending himself - and making some very astonishing claims. What does this kind of defense tell us? It tells us that Paul believes that serious challenges have been raised to his credibility. How do you feel when someone attacks your credibility or your self worth? It is difficult, right? Why do you think Paul is under such serious attack? Let's plunge into our study of Galatians and see whether these attacks are justified!

  1. Paul's Authority

    1. Read Galatians 1:1-2. How did your religious leader come to lead your congregation? (Normally, humans (hopefully led by the Holy Spirit)work out the arrangements.)

      1. What does Paul say about his calling? (It did not come from men.)

      2. Why does Paul say "not from men nor by man?" What does the "by man" add? (Jack Sequeira's commentary reveals that enemies of the gospel had come to the Galatian church (a church founded by Paul) and told the members that Paul was "self-appointed." He had no real authority for his teachings. Thus, in his language "by man" Paul is saying "I didn't appoint myself.")

      3. Who did authorize Paul's message? (He says both "Jesus Christ and God the Father!")

    2. Let's skip ahead and read Galatians 1:11-12. What is Paul's claim here? (That Jesus taught him personally.)

      1. Why should we believe Paul? Jesus had returned to heaven!

        1. If we eliminate the books written by Paul from the Bible, we would probably have a different view of salvation. Jesus often refers to something a person needs to do to be saved. (See, e.g., Matthew 5:17-20; Matthew 25:34-36; Matthew 19:21.) I know that these statements that seem counter to grace can be explained, but I'm doubtful many would attempt the explanation without Paul's writings on grace. This means the question of where Paul got his ideas is extremely important - even today.

    3. Read Galatians 1:15-20. How does this affect Paul's credibility? (I'm generally not impressed when someone has to deny that they are lying! "Honest, that is what happened!" What gives Paul credibility is that he gives the details of his instruction - he was three years in Arabia receiving instruction from Jesus.)

      1. Do you think Jesus spent three years with Paul - roughly the same amount of time Jesus spent with His disciples? (We just do not know. Paul does not claim Jesus was instructing him all of this time.)

    4. Read Acts 9:10-15. Who wrote the book of Acts? (We believe Luke wrote it, not Paul. Thus, Luke is convinced, based on a report from Ananias, that Paul was selected specifically by God to share the gospel with the Gentiles.)

    5. Read 2 Peter 3:15-16. What does the disciple Peter say about Paul's writings (other than they are hard to understand in some sections)? (That Paul's writings come from the wisdom God gave Paul, that they are on the level of "other Scriptures," and that ignoring or twisting them means the loss of salvation.)

      1. What does this tell us about Paul's authority? (That the early church leaders, Luke and Peter, accepted Paul's statements about the source of his authority. So should we.)

      2. Let's get back to our original question: why do you think Paul's authority was undue such attack? (If Satan wanted to stamp out the message of grace, Paul would be his main target.)

      3. Is grace (righteousness by faith alone) important? (Other than some of Christianity, all religions of the world are works based. That should tell us something important about the struggle between good and evil.)

    6. Before we leave this section, let's read Acts 1:6. I've always thought that this question, presented to Jesus just as He was returning to heaven, must have been very disappointing. His followers seem to still be confused about Jesus' mission. Is it possible that in light of this question, Jesus rethought the issue of using primarily former fisherman to promote the gospel, and decided that He would add an incredibly smart, highly educated theologian to His core group?

  2. The Gospel

    1. Now that we have settled Paul's authority, let's go back to Galatians 1:1. How does Paul describe Jesus? ("Raised from the dead.")

      1. Why? (This is a central issue to salvation by grace. Either we live or die by the law, or we live or die by accepting the life, death and resurrection of Jesus on our behalf. The most important part of this (for Jesus and for us) is the resurrection part!)

    2. Read Galatians 1:3-5. Let's not skip quickly over words we see all the time. What does it mean to have "grace and peace," and why would Paul say these words instead of "riches and beauty?" (Grace, again, is our ticket to eternal life. This gives us peace with God. Jesus is raised from the dead, thus we have grace and peace available to us.)

    3. Read Galatians 1:6-7. Who is being deserted? (Paul seems to be referring to himself. He is the one who called them to grace.)

      1. What is the problem? (They are turning from the gospel.)

      2. Think about this for a moment. When I think about being lost, my concern is that Satan will draw me so deeply into sin that I no longer care about my relationship with God. Paul seems to be warning about a different problem - a problem in which the supposed followers of God draw us into a false "pervert[ed]" gospel. What could that false gospel be?

    4. Read Acts 15:2-6. What does Acts record as the false gospel problem? (That the Gentiles must be circumcised and obey the law of Moses.)

      1. What is wrong with circumcision or the instructions God gave Moses? Did God give bad advice in the past?

    5. Read Acts 15:7-11. Peter stands up and he argues for Paul's view. One commentary that I read noted that (Acts 15:5) "the law of Moses" referred to the ceremonial law instead of the Ten Commandments. Is resolving that question important?

      1. Peter and Paul say that what is needed for salvation is faith alone. The false gospel people say what is needed for salvation is faith plus something else. Reduced to a mathematical formula: Salvation = Faith + X. Is the issue what "X" stands for? Or, is the issue whether salvation requires an "X" at all?

      2. If the issue is what "X" stands for, then we need to decide whether "X" is the Ten Commandments or the ceremonial law. But, if the issue is whether we need an "X" at all, no matter what it might be, then determining the identity of "X" is a waste of time.

    6. Read Galatians 1:8-9. How serious a matter is it to preach the false gospel? (Eternal life is at stake.)

    7. After discussion of this issue, James stands up and renders the decision of the early church. Read Acts 15:19-20. As I understand this, circumcision and the law of Moses are out, refraining from eating certain foods and sexual purity are in. Is this the new "X"? Is the salvation formula now Faith + X, with X defined in verse 20? (Scan 1 Corinthians 8. There, Paul argues that only those "whose conscience is weak" abstain from eating meat offered to idols. Paul's statements in 1 Corinthians 8, and common sense, tell us that our eating practices and sexual purity cannot be the new "X". Circumcision, the law of Moses, the Ten Commandments, proper eating practices and sexual purity are all good things. These instructions came from God to bless our lives and help us to walk in His ways. But, none of them are part of the salvation formula. Making them part of the salvation formula is a false gospel.)

    8. Friend, what about you? Do you accept that Paul's message came from Jesus? Do you believe in salvation by faith alone? Or, are you promoting a false gospel that repentance and faith in Jesus needs to be supplemented by an "X" factor - however we define it? I'm a guy who is a competitor. I like to earn victory and hate defeat. But, when it comes to salvation my competitive nature needs to be thrown into the dirt. Nothing, absolutely nothing that I do (including writing these lessons) makes any difference to my salvation.

  3. Next week: The Unity of the Gospel.
* Copr. 2011, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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