The Truth of the Gospel (2:1-14)
Paul wrote the letter of Galatians to several churches he had planted a few years prior. A problem arose when false teachers taught a different gospel. In the first chapter, Paul explained that his authority and message came directly from Christ. In today’s passage Paul shows that he was fully accepted among the other apostles. They recognized that he was both called and commissioned by Christ.
Two weeks ago we talked about the fact that the gospel always changes believers. Paul was a different person after he met Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. His experience is not unique. Whenever someone comes to know the Triune God, they are changed. Always!
At the same time, we must realize our tendency to live contrary to the calling we have received. Even those who have a very clear understanding of the gospel, can fall into grievous sins. Peter’s hypocrisy in this passage makes this clear. We cannot question Peter’s understanding of the gospel, yet he struggled to live in the unity the gospel brings.
One common reason people aviod church is the hypocrites that attend. They preach one thing, but do another. We cannot deny this problem, but we can respond to it with the Truth of the Gospel.
Read Galatians 2:1-14
We are going to look at three actions associated with the truth of the gospel, 1) preserving, 2) proclaiming, and 3) pretending.
I. Preserving the Truth of the Gospel (1-5)
Paul spent 14 years preaching the gospel without any supervision from the other apostles. He didn’t see another apostle until he met Peter and James three years after his conversion (1:18-19). And it wasn’t until after fourteen years that he formally met the other apostles (1-2).
Paul is not contradicting everything he has already written in the first chapter by suggesting that he needed to have the other apostles authorize his message. He has shown that his apostolic authority came directly from Christ, not through any man. He knew he was preaching the one true gospel, but his concern was that the apostles were divided.
One significant guest was Titus, a Gentile (3). This is where the Judaizers’ false teaching becomes clear. Their argument is stated in Acts 15:1, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” They believed in Jesus, but they taught that salvation also required circumcision.
Paul points to the fact that even though Titus was uncircumcised, the other apostles did not require him to be circumcised. So, the Judiazers were wrong, unless the apostles mistakenly accepted Titus.
They wanted to add something to faith in order to be saved, but Paul would not yield. They attacked the truth of the gospel, that we are saved by faith alone in Christ alone. Paul fights tooth and nail to preserve that truth.
Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria during the 4th century, was exiled five times by four Roman emperors. He was a bishop for 45 years, but 17 of those years were spent in exile. He was usually exiled because of his opposition to the Arian heresy (Jesus was created and subordinate to God). Men like Athanasius have rarely been the heroes of the church. Few stood with him then, and unfortunately, few would stand with him today. People want spiritual intimacy without doctrinal truth. But the truth is, you cannot have spirituality without theology.
We must defend the gospel against false teachers. A church must be bold enough to face opposition that attacks the truth of the gospel. Maybe you haven’t always thought highly of the Bible. Church is a nice place to be with nice folks, but you’ve never really read the Bible much. Maybe you have seen how quickly churches divide over the seemingly smallest of things and you have come to the conclusion that it’s all up to someone’s individual interpretation. You believe one way, I believe another. God doesn’t really care about such petty details (i.e., Trinity, Hell, Person of Christ).
Paul could have responded that way. He could have said, “Sure. Go ahead and be circumcised. What’s the harm? Let’s just not fight over it.” Instead, he stood his ground without compromise.
Preserving the truth of the gospel requires a commitment to…
II. Proclaiming the Truth of the Gospel (6-10)
Paul is not denigrating the other apostles, but responding to the Judaizers’ inflated view of them. They questioned Paul’s authority, placing him lower than the others. That is why Paul says, “those who seemed influential.”
God shows no partiality (6). Paul is not at a disadvantage because he lacked the personal friendship during Jesus’ earthly ministry. Rather, God worked through the ministries of both apostles (8).
Paul was converted in the midst of persecuting the church and it changed the course of his life. Peter, had a similar experience. He met Jesus while a fisherman (Matthew 4:18). Throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry, Peter was oftentimes embarrassingly quick to speak. He shamefully denied Christ when he was on trial. But after the resurrection Peter became a different person. No longer embarrassed by the gospel, he was willing to stand before 3,000 people and preach the truth with such boldness it’s surprising he wasn’t assassinated! Paul’s hatred was turned into love. Peter’s fear was turned into boldness.
The gospel was not faith plus circumcision. Circumcision never saved anyone, even the Old Testament saints. Rather, circumcision pointed forward to the saving work of Christ. Jesus took upon himself the curse of the covenant. Christ was cut off from the covenant community so that he might endure the wrath of God on their behalf. In other words, salvation has always been by faith alone in Christ alone.
Paul and Peter both exhibit a commitment to evangelism that goes beyond simply living like a Christian. I’ve often heard people say, “I’m not one to preach at others. I prefer to live my life in such a way that people see Christ through my actions.” They might refer to a quote that is often attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all time, and when necessary, use words.” Whether he said it or not, the concept is quite misleading.
Someone responded, “Preaching the gospel without words is like feeding the homeless without bread.” The gospel – “good news” – implies proclamation. Evangelism is intimidating, but if we believe what we say, avoidance isn’t an option.
There is a video online by the famous illusionist/comedian Penn Jilette, of Penn & Teller. Penn is a committed atheist, but in the video he talks about a man who came up to him after a show and gave him some compliments, and then handed him a copy of the bible. He briefly told him how important his faith was and how much he wanted Penn to know the truth. The experience moved Penn. He said, “How much do you have to hate someone to not tell them about your faith?”
We must preserve the gospel and proclaim it, but many are…
III. Pretending the Truth of the Gospel (11-14)
It may seem hard to imagine why Jews would have a problem eating with Gentiles. But Jews were raised to despise the pagan practices of Gentiles. It would be similar to eating with former Muslim radicals. A certain level of apprehension would be expected. In addition, different diets would complicate sharing a meal.
Peter knew that Christ had reconciled the Gentiles. His vision in Acts 10 affirmed that he could not call “unclean” what God made clean. Peter initially had no problem eating with Gentiles (12), but once the “circumcision party” arrived, Peter changed his conduct.
“Hypocrisy” literally means to “play act.” To act in a hypocritical manner is to say one thing, but do another. Peter preached the true gospel, but his actions were in direct contradiction to the truth. The fear of man was one of his besetting sins.
I remember really noticing hypocrisy in High School. I knew people whose faith seemed to vanish as soon as they left the church building. But I was guilty of hypocrisy as well, especially on the soccer field.
The Times asked several prominent writers the following question: What’s wrong with the world today? One response read, “Dear Sir, I am. Yours, G.K. Chesterton”
If Peter could be accused of hypocrisy along with a large company of Jewish believers, are some people expecting too much from the average church member today?
Everyone is a hypocrite when they are at their worst.
Several years ago an atheist challenged Christians to define a “true Christian”. The point was to make Christianity seem foolish with no definitive answer. Certainly, opponents of Early Christianity could have pointed to this disagreement between the two most prominent figures, Peter and Paul, as an indication of the inconsistency inherent within Christianity.
The problem is that it ignores the fact that every religious and secular worldview—including the atheists—contains disagreement. Scientists do not deny this. In fact, they consider contradictions to represent progress.
Hypocrisy is a problem within the church. It effects the most prominent figures at times. But we should recognize that this is a problem for everyone. No one lives up to their own standards.
What about those who claim to reject all standards? Even they will contradict this when their own health or livelihood is threatened. If someone claims that standards are subjective, take their wallet and see how long it takes them to appeal to a standard of morality.
It is true that all of us have standards. But, it’s also true, that none of us can consistently abide by those standards.
Circumcision was one of the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament. It was the primary sign that a man and his household belonged to the covenant community. It set the Israelites apart from the world. These ceremonial laws are referred to as the “clean” laws because violating any of them made a person “unclean” and unable to enjoy temple worship.
In other words, the worship God depended upon doing or not doing several things. The list was long. But they served a purpose that is often missed today. The “clean” laws showed that external washings could never make one truly clean.
Although circumcision was the issue in Galatia, Paul recognized that a principle doctrine of Christianity was at stake. If circumcision is required, then we are not saved by grace alone. Salvation is not freedom, but bondage to the law. However, Christ brings freedom (4). He returns to this theme in 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” And later on in 5:13, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Adding anything to faith in order to make one acceptable to God eliminates freedom.
Paul called these Judiazers “false brothers.” They were deceived. They thought they were honoring God by doing the right thing. But, in reality, they were in bondage. They had not experienced the freedom offered in Christ.
What is it that you tend to add to Christ in order to find fulfillment? For many it is their obedience. The evangelical version of the Old Testament “clean” laws: Bible reading, prayer, parenting, good works, language. Our list is oftentimes long as we attempt to prove we are worthy to receive God’s love.
The purpose of the “clean” laws was to show that you need a Savior. The laws showed you that you could never make yourself clean through external obedience. If that is true, then we must repent of even our best efforts. We must realize that cleanliness is not something we achieve by doing, but something we receive by faith. That is the truth of the gospel that is worth preserving and proclaiming.