Today: [Galatians 2:] Delivered From Religious Expectations: In chapter 2 of Galatians Paul recounts the controversies that took place in Jerusalem when he visits there after 14 years. He was expected to defer to the racist and legalistic attitudes of the church there which he refuses to do even to the point of rebuking Peter himself for compromising the testimony of Christ because of pressure from those who insisted that Moses’ law must be observed. Paul contends that religious expectation or moral excellence is no substitute for the work of grace that Jesus wrought on the cross to justify and preserve us before God.
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[Gal 2:1-21 KJV] 1 Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with [me] also. 2 And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain. 3 But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: 4 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: 5 To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. 6 But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed [to be somewhat] in conference added nothing to me: 7 But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as [the gospel] of the circumcision [was] unto Peter; 8 (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:) 9 And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we [should go] unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. 10 Only [they would] that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do. 11 But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. 12 For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. 13 And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. 14 But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before [them] all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? 15 We [who are] Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, 16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. 17 But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, [is] therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid. 18 For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. 19 For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. 20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. 21 I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness [come] by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.
In chapter two Paul relates an account of revisiting the apostles at Jerusalem and of working with the apostle Peter at Antioch. By the time of Paul presenting himself a second time to the Jerusalem apostles, he has many years of active ministry to his credit. The purpose of his visit was to establish continuity of vision and ministry between himself and the original 12 apostles that there be no danger of schism in the early church. Upon arrival in Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus, he ministers as well among the Gentiles in Judea, but privately so as not to unnecessarily incite the Jewish believers who at that time still demonstrated great reticence to accept non-Jewish believers. Paul went so far to accommodate the racism among the Jews at Jerusalem that he compelled Titus to be circumcised just to satisfy those who utterly despised anyone who did not follow Jewish custom whether they professed Christ or not.
Part of the reason for Paul going to such extremes came about because certain pretenders from the Jewish believing element in the church had associated themselves with the Gentile believers following Paul. Their purpose was to surveil Paul and report back whether or not he was maintaining strict adherence to Moses’ law and whether or not he was allowing non-Jews to accept Christ. This looks very bad and doesn’t speak well of the Jewish believing community, but that is the history of what was taking place. Remember at this time that the church in Judea was emerging from a time when the natural family of Jesus and relatives of Mary were the ruling elite in the earlier church particularly at Jerusalem and more so at the even than the apostles themselves. Paul in returning to Jerusalem is stepping into a cauldron of controversy that ultimately resulted in imprisonment for many years, and it wasn’t just non-believing Jews but believing Jews as well who were at the center of the tumult.
Nonetheless, Paul subjects himself to these things for the sake of the gospel. His report nevertheless after submitting to those that were in power including the apostle Peter – he concluded that they added nothing constructive or helpful in terms of counsel or instruction as to how to quell the controversies boiling over between Jewish and Gentile believers at the time. What are we dealing with and how does this relate to us today? The problem in the early church at this time was two-fold: racism and legalism.
Does racism exist in the church today? Regardless of objections to the contrary, the simple fact is that the church and Christian culture is one of the most segregated people groups in the Western world. The Jewish believers might have objected that they were not racially biased in their objections to the Gentiles, but no matter how many scriptures they might have attempted to stand on at the end of the day they were revealing themselves to be religious bigots. Likewise with the issue of legalism. The church counsels had decided that there would be no other burden placed upon Gentile believers other than to abstain from blood, from strangled meat and fornication but the judgmentalism of those who despised them continued nonetheless.
What about in Christianity today? Does legalism exist in any form? Does the apostolic council of Acts 15 still stand or has it been enlarged upon and under what authority? To receive a new believer and put no other constraint upon him than a few minimal dietary expectations and to admonish them at least to stop fornicating – seems liberal in the extreme. What conduct might you observe a new believer engaging in that would cause you to question their conversion? On what basis? These questions need to be asked and answered because it is human nature to accuse others of falling short while all the while excusing our own peccadillos.
Paul struggles with the demands of the leadership at Jerusalem (v. 6) and concludes that whether they were held in esteem or not, they didn’t add anything constructive or valuable to his dilemma. He contends that whether they were among Jesus’ original apostles or no – God accepts no man’s person. What about today? Ministries with thousands of followers tend to be the de facto authorities that we are often expected to defer to just because of the numbers that are drawn to them. In minister’s meetings, the standing joke is that the pastor with the largest attendance last Sunday is the church growth expert of the week.
The one bright spot in all this confusing and turmoil is that Peter, James, and John had sense enough to realize that the grace of God was upon Paul and consequently they give him the right hand of fellowship. They accepted him but not unconditionally so. They would receive him on the condition that he would go to the heathen – in other words, leave Jerusalem and leave Judea. This is very common as well. When a ministry crops up in a given city the ministers in that city feel better about the upstart if they are leaving to minister in other areas and not infringing on what they feel is their territory. This is uncomfortable to hear, but it is the sad reality of religious politics both in the ancient world and in church culture today.
Paul leaves Jerusalem and goes to Antioch, but Peter can’t resist following after Paul to get involved in what he is doing. This is interesting because Peter insisted that Paul leave Judea but didn’t hold himself to the same courtesy of not meddling where Paul was called to minister. In other words, the Jerusalem leadership imposed demands upon Paul that they had no intention of honoring themselves. Peter arrives in Antioch and is willing to eat and drink with the Gentile church until other Jerusalem believers show up at which time he insults the Gentile church leadership by refusing to go among them. Paul rebukes Peter – withstood him to the face because as v. 11 says, Peter was to be blamed for his conduct and bowing to the elitist attitudes of the Jewish church.
All of this is uncomfortable to hear and seems like talking out of turn, but God’s people have a right to see things as they are. It is wrong to put a thin veneer of respectability and harmony among leaders where it does not exist. Paul is not trying to put them down but rather attempt to expose to the Galatians the wrong-headedness of the Jerusalem church who has sent emissaries into their midst demanding them to think and act like Jews and to subject themselves to Moses law and claiming divine authority to do so.
In correcting Peter Paul insists that man is not justified by keeping the law of Moses. We are not justified by adhering to the religious expectations of others neither are we put in right relationship with God because of our moral excellence. We are rendered righteous and acceptable before God not because of who we are or what we have done but because of who Jesus is and what He did on our behalf 2000 years ago. The only predicating condition that makes us partakers of this benefit is faith and faith alone. We want to add conditions to this because of our religious sense but we cannot. All we can bring to Christ is our faith and our faith alone in who He is and what He has done for us. What of the law? What of moral excellence? Aren’t we supposed to be good people? Remember that the fall was brought about by eating of the tree of the knowledge of GOOD and evil. Our good condemns us before God as resoundingly as our evil. If there is good in us that God values it is that moral sense and those godly qualities that are produced in us because we are saved not as a condition of being saved.
If we are to seek to be justified (just as if you never sinned) we do so by appeal to who Jesus is to us and what he did. If Christ is our justification but others condemn us because we don’t measure up to their expectations does that mean that Christ is a minister to us regardless of sin? God forbid Paul contends. Paul’s insistence is that coming to Christ is not about finding grace to keep the law or to be moral but to die to the law and our sense of our own goodness. We are dead to our own strivings either to embrace the good or shun the evil – that we might live unto God. We are not trying to be good or trying not to be evil – we are pressing into HIM, and HIM alone and out of that comes not fulfillment to religious expectations but transformation into His image. In other words, salvation doesn’t change what we do it changes who we are and thereby frees us from all outward demands of religious expectation because we aren’t pursuing moral excellence we are the fulfillment of it by nature of who we are not just what we do.
The conclusion for Paul is that we are crucified with Christ. You cannot accuse a dead body of being evil or commend it for being good. A dead body can neither be good or evil for it is beyond the demand of those expectations. God is not asking for you to be good and he is not demanding you to shun evil as a condition of being in right relationship with him. Properly understood, because you are a believer and have accepted Christ you are DEAD to all those demands. You are crucified with Christ but yet you live – not the old man you used to be but Christ is living out His life in you as you and through you. This is the Christ mentality that should shape all our thinking. We are not religious adopters of Christian culture – we are God carriers demonstrating the character, purity, and holiness of the dread sovereign of the universe who has made his abode in us and set his throne in our hearts. You are crucified with Christ. This IS life after death – even the death of the Cross. Having accepted Christ you have abandoned all else and now you live not by a moral code or religious expectation but by faith in the son of God who gave himself for you and in return you relinquish all that you are or have ever been into total abandonment to his complete overthrow in you of the old man of sin that the New Creation in Christ might assert himself and carry out the remainder of your days on earth.
Because of this great salvation, Paul says that he will not frustrate the grace of God. Ministers teach this today saying that your sin and disobedience is that which frustrates God’s grace but what Paul is actually saying that it is your religious adherence and pursuit of moral excellence that frustrates God’s grace for man’s attempt to measure up to God’s expectation ursurps grace within us – the grace that otherwise would bring about spontaneously in us what all the religious striving in the world can never produce. If there is any other basis of right standing before God other than the presence of the indwelling Christ in us, in you then the Cross Paul contends was a sham and Christ died in vain.