Week 16: Letters to the Churches in Galatia and Ephesus

Progress After This Week
Bible Foundations Plan 67%

Reading & Summaries

READ: GALATIANS 1-2

Background on Galatians: On his first missionary journey, Paul planted four churches in the Roman province of Galatia (Acts 13:14-14:23). These Galatians embraced the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus, but were led astray by the Judaizers after Paul left. Judaizers were Jews who had accepted Jesus as the Messiah but ignored the decision made by the Jerusalem council (Acts 15:23-29); they taught that Gentiles must be circumcised and keep the Jewish law in order to be saved. These Judaizers questioned Paul’s authority to add credibility to their message. Paul wrote to defend his apostleship, denounce the Judaizers’ message as a false gospel, and argue for the essential doctrine of justification by faith. Since justification by faith is a central theme in both Romans and Galatians, you may notice similarities in Paul’s content and arguments.

The gospel preached by Paul and the apostles is the one and only true gospel because it came directly from Christ. Paul retells how he was specially commissioned by God and went to great lengths to preserve the integrity of the message he received. We must not draw back from the gospel of justification by grace through faith, as Peter did, because it has set us free from the bondage of the law.

READ: GALATIANS 3-4

The justifying and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in our lives is in response to faith, not works. If we live by faith, we are children of Abraham and recipients of all the blessings promised to Abraham. If we live by law, we fall under God’s curse because we are unable to keep the law perfectly; we must turn to Christ, who became a curse for us. Christ redeemed us from the law by paying its penalty, dying in our place, that all may be saved and receive the Spirit through faith.

Since God’s promise to Abraham concerning Christ was given before the law, we know that the law has not annulled God’s promise and that God will not require the law as a prerequisite for receiving the promise. The law was given as a temporary covenant to reveal our sin and, like a schoolmaster, bring us to mature faith in Christ. Set free from life under the law, we now enjoy a new identity in Christ that breaks down ethnic, class, and gender barriers.

Since Christ has redeemed us from the law, we are no longer slaves but sons and heirs, and recipients of his Spirit. The goal of gospel ministry is to produce Christlike converts; Paul expresses this in a personal, pastoral appeal on the basis of his relationship with the Galatians—a relationship formed while ministering during a time of illness.

Like Sarah’s son Isaac, who was born according to God’s promise by supernatural means, we should be children of freedom. We should not be in bondage like Hagar’s son Ishmael, who was born according to ordinary means by human self-reliance.

KEY VERSE — Galatians 3:13, Substitutionary Atonement: Those who break God’s law are under his curse; they are outside of God’s favor and must pay the penalty of his law. But “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” According to Deuteronomy 21:23, to die on a tree is to die a cursed death. It is significant that Christ died on a tree (cross), because it symbolizes that Christ was cursed in our place; he bore the wrath of God and paid the penalty of sin as our substitute. What should have happened to us happened to Christ. Highlight Galatians 3:13 in pink.

READ: GALATIANS 5-6

We should treasure the freedom we have in Christ, and guard against threats to our freedom. Adding a requirement to salvation (such as circumcision) undermines the sufficiency of Christ; in Christ, the only thing that counts is faith working through love. Judgment is severe on those who hinder Christians from running the race of faith.

Christian freedom is not an excuse to satisfy the flesh. The only way to have victory over the flesh and truly love one another is to walk by the Spirit; if we walk by the Spirit, we will never satisfy the desires of the flesh. Those who live by the flesh are exposed by their works, and will not enter the Kingdom of God. Those who live by faith and walk by the Spirit are marked by the qualities of the Spirit; they will have victory over their desires and love others. Spiritual churches should cultivate a culture of grace where sin is confronted in a loving and gentle way. Spiritual people should demonstrate practical love to others, especially fellow believers. Though it causes us to be persecuted, our only boast is in the cross of Jesus because it is our only hope for justification and new birth.

READ: EPHESIANS 1-3

Background on Ephesians: On his third missionary journey, Paul established the church at Ephesus (Acts 19)—the location where Aquila and Priscilla had first taken the gospel. Paul pastored at Ephesus for three years before Timothy took over for a year and a half. Paul wrote to encourage the Ephesians by reminding them of their blessings in Christ, and admonished them to live in a way that is consistent with the gospel. Ephesians is sometimes called the Queen of the Epistles.

Paul rejoices that every spiritual blessing is available to believers through Christ; he prays that the Ephesians’ eyes will be fully opened to God’s plan for them since they have access to the same divine power that resurrected and exalted Christ himself. Paul reminds them that they were once dead in sin, but God spiritually resurrected them. The saved Ephesian Gentiles thus became equal members with the saved Jews—part of one body in Christ and fellow heirs in God’s household that is built on Jesus, the chief cornerstone.

The mystery of the gospel has been revealed, uniting Jew and Gentile in one body in Christ. Paul prays that the Ephesians would understand the love of Christ and experience inward spiritual power.

KEY VERSES — Ephesians 2:9-10, Salvation by Grace through Faith. God saves us solely on the basis of our faith in Jesus Christ and his finished work on the cross. Our good works do not contribute in any way to our salvation. There is nothing that we can do to earn God’s grace. Verse 10, however, guards against the false notion that works are therefore unimportant. God saved us in Christ “for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Before you were born, God foreknew that you would be saved through his son, and prepared opportunities for you to glorify him through good works. Highlight Ephesians 2:8-9 in pink.

KEY PHRASE — In Christ: Christians are saved by being united to Christ by faith. Our spiritual union with Christ is the source of all of our spiritual blessings. As you read Ephesians, highlight each occurrence of the phrase “in Christ” in blue.

READ: EPHESIANS 4-6

Paul urges them to pursue unity and spiritual maturity. Their new life in Christ requires that they put off their old life with its sinful practices and pursue true holiness, which is expressed through love, kindness, and forgiveness.

God’s holy people must have nothing to do with the crude, sexually immoral, and shameful lifestyles of the world. Instead, they should be filled with the Holy Spirit, building up one another in their love for God through song and thanksgiving. Marriage, family, and work relationships should reflect the glory of Christ and the church. Paul concludes by encouraging the Ephesians to be strong in the Lord as they wage spiritual warfare.

Study Exercises

When exercises require a written response, record your answers in a journal or email them to a pastor or class leader who will provide you with feedback.

  1. According to Galatians 5:16, what is the key to spiritual victory? 
  2. What is the fruit that the Spirit produces in the lives of believers (Gal. 5:22-23)? Since this fruit is contrary to the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-22), what must every believer do (Gal. 5:24)?
  3. In light of Galatians 6:1-4, how should we treat a fellow believer who falls into sin?
  4. How does Ephesians 1:3-14 reveal the Trinity (Father, Son, and Spirit) at work in our salvation? See also Ephesians 2:16. Draw a rectangle around each member of the Trinity with your pen.
  5. What phrase is repeated in Ephesians 1:6, 12, and 14? What does it reveal about God’s ultimate purpose in the plan of redemption? Highlight each similar phrase in blue.
  6. According to Ephesians 3:19, 4:13, and 5:18, what does God want us to be filled with? Circle each occurrence of the word “filled” or “fulness.”
  7. According to Ephesians 4:11-12, what is the primary purpose of pastors? Who is responsible for the work of ministry? How does this compare to popular thinking?
  8. According to Ephesians 4:22-24, there is a positive and negative element to holiness. What is the positive element? What is the negative element?
  9. In Ephesians 5:22-6:4, what one word is used to summarize a husband’s duty to his wife? A wife’s duty to her husband? A child’s duty to his or her parents?
  10. When the church sings psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, who are we singing to? (Eph. 5:19)
  11. Paul describes the Christian life as spiritual warfare and uses Roman armor as an illustration of the importance of Christians being equipped. Draw a suit of armor, including and labeling each piece described in Ephesians 6:13-17. Why do you think Paul chose the pieces of armor that he did (e.g. how is the word of God like a sword?)

Coming soon.