The New Testament book of Galatians is one of two books of the Bible that fueled the Reformation and is the basis of what today is termed the Protestant work ethic — two phenomena that profoundly shaped the development of our nation and culture.
This small book not only contains walloping implications for cultural formation, but it also holds critical truths relative to our personal growth in Christ — truths that are unsurpassed in terms of importance!
The author of Galatians is the Apostle Paul, who planted many churches on his missionary journeys throughout Asia Minor (now Turkey). One region was called Galatia (cf. 1:2; 1 Corinthians 16:1). This epistle, which contains some important lessons, is addressed to more than one church and was passed from one church to another. As such, Galatians is called an encyclical epistle and is still being passed along today to us.
The Galatian region had been a Roman province since 189 B.C., and Paul had worked hard on his first missionary journey to found many churches in the region, including in Antioch, Derbe, Iconium and Lystra.
Since the founding of these churches, the Judaizers had infiltrated, gained control of them, and corrupted the doctrine of salvation — justification by faith alone. The Judaizers preached “faith plus works.” Paul argued in 2:21 that “if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
The main purpose of the book is to put an end to the false teachings of the Judaizers. As such, it is a polemic epistle — a strong refutation. Herein is a course correction for those who are misled into believing that faith alone is not God’s formula for salvation.
Christ came to set believers free from an economy of works-based salvation and sanctification (per the culture of the Pharisees and the Judaizers). Christ came to set you free from a performance-based economy — one in which you never know if you’re good enough. Paul confronts ensuing condescending attitudes in 6:3: “For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”
In an economy of grace, we may then inquire, “How do I mature in Christ?” If we remain sensitive to God’s indwelling Holy Spirit by confessing sin whenever he convicts (1 John 1:9) and remain short-roped to his Word (Colossians 3:16), then we are walking by the Spirit per 5:16b: “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”
The theological truths of Galatians fueled the Reformation, giving birth to what is commonly referred to as the Protestant work ethic (cf. “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” by Max Weber, trans. 1930).
When we are empowered and walk by the Spirit, we increasingly manifest the fruit of the Spirit as listed in Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
As a result, we become increasingly self-governed. The promise and the munificent implications of the manifest fruit of the Spirit for any given society are enormously large! As you can imagine, a culture of indwelt-by-the-Holy Spirit individuals will shape its DNA in a myriad of positive and profound ways.
The resident Holy Spirit when reigning in the heart — in contrast to being continually grieved or quenched — controls and dominates the actions of the individual (Galatians 5:18), enabling him to overcome the proclivities of an otherwise overriding sin nature.
This sin nature, among many other manifestations, includes slothfulness (cf. Proverbs 12:27) — thus the idea of Galatians being the book of the Bible that fostered the Protestant work ethic.
Several additional manifestations and benefits of an individual and ensuing culture being indwelt by the Holy Spirit are: being led into all truth (John 16:13), a sensitized and empowered conscience (Romans 2:15), and an active, victorious, overcoming nature (John 16:33). These are but a few.
The point is that huge societal benefits are achieved by the manifestation and practice of these qualities. What great things happen in a nation when citizens and governmental leaders are characterized by the magnanimous fruit of the Spirit!
It follows that Spirit-indwelt leaders rise above the effects of surrounding, otherwise dominating oppressive sin to influence, shape and aid their fellow man and country. How astoundingly significant this Galatian truth is to the prosperity of a nation!
What results from the Galatian teaching of God’s design for a self-governing individual (and citizenry) equates to there being much less need for a dictator and/or police state to alternatively quell the inherent sin nature of man by outward force. Galatians, then, in one sense, is about how to govern a nation most effectively!
Summarily, the cultural implications of Galatians are this: When believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they will be governed from within.
The cultural results stemming from the individual’s ability to self-govern are both munificent and magnificent. More societal liberties! More freedom! More prosperity! And more opportunity for everyone to reach his full potential as a human being! Conversely, there is less need for outward forms of restraint, i.e., governmental controls.
This cultural application is reflected in Paul’s summary words found in the concluding portions of Galatians (6:9-10): “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people.”
Lastly, what follows from the profundity of the Galatian truths is the necessity to uphold the constitutional tenet of the freedom of religion, if for no other reason than to further the churches’ capability and calling to create indwelt-by-the-Spirit citizens both now and in the future. These powerful God-indwelt individuals will affect a nation for good via their personal manifestations that stem from walking by the Spirit, i.e., the fruit of the Spirit.
Read the full Bible study on Galatians, as taught in Capitol Ministries’ House and Senate Bible studies in D.C.
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