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Understanding Galatians – Part 4

As we continue our examination of the book of Galatians bear in mind what it is Paul was upset at Peter about. Also in this chapter, Paul will begin his main argument. Pay close attention to his opening statements on the subject.

Chapter 2

Paul continues his testimony

In the first part of chapter two, Paul is still talking about his testimony and alluding to his qualifications as an apostle. The point is the Judaizers have been slandering Paul to discredit his teachings so he is having to reiterate where his teachings are coming from… Jesus himself.

After fourteen years I went to Jerusalem again, this time with Barnabas. I also took Titus with me. I went because God showed me I should go. I met with the believers there, and in private I told their leaders the Good News that I preach to the non-Jewish people. I did not want my past work and the work I am now doing to be wasted.
(Galatians 2:1-2 NCV)

First, notice that Paul details approximately seventeen years [1]3 years mentioned in the last chapter and 14 here in verse 1 unaccounted for in the Book of Acts. This is not a flaw in the Book of Acts, it is simply information Luke did not feel necessary in presenting the account. But Paul uses it to bring out an important point. He was in Syria and Cilicia [2]Galatians 1:21, learning from Jesus himself [3]Galatians 1:1, Galatians 1:15-16 for at least fourteen years.

Titus was with me, but he was not forced to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. We talked about this problem because some false believers had come into our group secretly. They came in like spies to overturn the freedom we have in Christ Jesus. They wanted to make us slaves. But we did not give in to those false believers for a minute. We wanted the truth of the Good News to continue for you.
(Galatians 2:3-5 NCV)

Here we have the first reference to circumcision in the book and Paul addresses it first through an example of the preaching Gentile who has been accompanying Paul, Titus. Later, Paul actually compels Timothy (a Galatian who was half-Jewish) to be circumcised [4]Acts 16:1-5. So Paul is not making any statement against the actual practice of circumcision. He is making statements about legalistically binding the practice onto people. Notice in these verses, he uses the terms like “forced”, “overturn the freedom”, and “slaves”. This gives us more hints at what the corrupt gospel referred to in Chapter 1 was. It wasn’t just the issue of circumcision, but anything that would make us slaves to a particular performance and thus anything which adds requirements to people outside of having faith in the Good News of Jesus’ sacrifice. The truth of the Good News is freedom… not bondage to ritual.

Self-Righteousness is Dangerous

Those leaders who seemed to be important did not change the Good News that I preach. (It doesn’t matter to me if they were “important” or not. To God everyone is the same.) But these leaders saw that I had been given the work of telling the Good News to those who are not Jewish, just as Peter had the work of telling the Jews. God gave Peter the power to work as an apostle for the Jewish people. But he also gave me the power to work as an apostle for those who are not Jews. James, Peter, and John, who seemed to be the leaders, understood that God had given me this special grace, so they accepted Barnabas and me. They agreed that they would go to the Jewish people and that we should go to those who are not Jewish. The only thing they asked us was to remember to help the poor– something I really wanted to do.
(Galatians 2:6-10 NCV)

Jesus always had an issue with religious leaders who seemed pious and seemed important but were actually missing the point. Paul puts these leaders into the same boat. He also points out that their supposed importance is irrelevant to God. When you can demonstrate to others that you are performing properly and others are not, this is the time for self-examination. No one has a market on “the truth” and the things you think that make you right in the eyes of God can often be the very thing that God is dissatisfied with you about. It’s not that the actions you do are wrong, it’s that you declare everyone who doesn’t do it like you do or doesn’t understand it like you do as wrong. Like the leaders here, the point is being missed. The point is not to get all the doctrines completely right… because we all have errors in doctrine. The only thing we can be sure to get completely 100% right is our faith in Jesus Christ.

What Was Peter’s Error?

When Peter came to Antioch, I challenged him to his face, because he was wrong. Peter ate with the non-Jewish people until some Jewish people sent from James came to Antioch. When they arrived, Peter stopped eating with those who weren’t Jewish, and he separated himself from them. He was afraid of the Jews. So Peter was a hypocrite, as were the other Jewish believers who joined with him. Even Barnabas was influenced by what these Jewish believers did. When I saw they were not following the truth of the Good News, I spoke to Peter in front of them all. I said, “Peter, you are a Jew, but you are not living like a Jew. You are living like those who are not Jewish. So why do you now try to force those who are not Jewish to live like Jews?” We were not born as non-Jewish “sinners,” but as Jews.
(Galatians 2:11-15 NCV)

Paul found Peter guilty of not following the truth of the Good News. This same accusation is often thrown at many good brothers whose understandings and practices differ from our own. But what exactly was Peter guilty of? False doctrine? No. Unauthorized worship practices? No. Liberalism? No. (Yet I’ve heard the “other gospel” argument leveled at liberalism more times than I can count.) Peter was guilty of Christian division. Separating from those who “weren’t doing Christianity right” as defined by the religious leaders. (!) Haven’t we in the churches of Christ done the exact same thing? We withdraw from, mark and avoid, and refuse to eat with [5]All these verse references will be addressed in other articles everyone we think is getting it wrong.

Peter was guilty of hypocrisy. By acting one way and performing in another. We do the same thing. We claim to “speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent”, yet we scream at the top of our lungs on issues never addressed in the Bible.

The Point of Galatians

Yet we know that a person is made right with God not by following the law, but by trusting in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus, that we might be made right with God because we trusted in Christ. It is not because we followed the law, because no one can be made right with God by following the law.
(Galatians 2:16 NCV)

This is the mission-statement of the letter. He lays the context of the rest of the book out in clear language here. So he says we are not made right (justified) with God by following the law. Again, many argue that he is only referring to Old Testament or Mosaic Law and not New Testament Law (whatever that actually means). But this is not what Paul argues. Notice he does not say, “Yet we know that a person is made right with God not by following the law, but by following the commandments laid out by Jesus Christ and the Apostles.” No! We are made right by God by trusting in Jesus Christ.

Jesus + Nothing = Everything

He even reiterates it in other words just in case we missed it. “It is not because we followed the law, because no one can be made right with God by following the law.” The law is not bad (Old, New, or whatever)… we are. Thus, we need the obedience of Jesus to count on our behalf and we are only made right with God by His goodness. We also need Him to be punished for our failures. No obedience we can achieve can fix sin. This is why faith is the answer.

Faith in Jesus Changes Us

We Jews came to Christ, trying to be made right with God, and it became clear that we are sinners, too. Does this mean that Christ encourages sin? No! But I would really be wrong to begin teaching again those things that I gave up. It was the law that put me to death, and I died to the law so that I can now live for God.
(Galatians 2:17-19 NCV)

People somehow think that teaching salvation by grace alone is teaching that we don’t change. That we can somehow just sin without consequence now. This is not true. Paul gives us Romans 6 because he gave us Romans 3, 4, and 5 not in spite of them.

People often ask me, “So does that mean I can just do anything I want?!”
My answer to that question is, “I don’t know. What do you want?”

A real saving faith changes us. The Holy Spirit changes us. Jesus’ love changes us. Jesus’ obedience doesn’t mean we now are free to sin. Our own conscience and own love bind us to the moral standards the law tried to force out of us. This is why Jesus said all the law hangs upon the commandment to love God and our neighbor.

In opposition to this, if we are so obsessed with getting everything right without fail, we will never move in freedom or even love others. We are called to help the helpless and love the lost… not wallow in our own ritualistic attempts at perfection. Our continual internal focus and arguments led Paul Harvey to once say, “At some point, the church stopped being fishers of men and started being keepers of the aquarium.”

Living for Grace!

I was put to death on the cross with Christ, and I do not live anymore– it is Christ who lives in me. I still live in my body, but I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself to save me. By saying these things I am not going against God’s grace. Just the opposite, if the law could make us right with God, then Christ’s death would be useless.
(Galatians 2:20-21 NCV)

God gives us love and grace and when we accept that we truly start to live… giving out grace and love to others. If you are hoping your performance and practices will make you right with God, then you don’t need Jesus. You are missing the entire point of the Gospel. It is supposed to be Good News!


Read Part 3

Read Part 5

Notes   [ + ]

1. 3 years mentioned in the last chapter and 14 here in verse 1
2. Galatians 1:21
3. Galatians 1:1, Galatians 1:15-16
4. Acts 16:1-5
5. All these verse references will be addressed in other articles

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