PAUL’S GOSPEL Galatians 1–2
“The Gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11–12).God validates the Gospel, not the church or any group of men.
The first Christians were Jews who acknowledged Christ as Saviour. These Jewish Christians continued to express their faith within Judaism, all of them “zealous for the Law” (Acts 21:20). But as the church expanded beyond Judea and Galilee, and Gentiles were saved, tensions developed. Jewish and Gentile Christians had vastly different cultural heritages. And many Jews understandably felt that since God had ordained the Law of Moses, they should continue to express their faith within Judaism’s traditions. Some went further, and held that Gentiles must also show their faith by adopting Jewish ways. To be saved, they must keep the Laws given to Israel, be circumcised, and in essence become Jews. When Paul heard that men representing themselves as messengers from the Apostles in Jerusalem were teaching legalism in the Galatian churches, he was incensed. He immediately wrote this powerful though brief circular letter. Galatians played a central role in the Protestant Reformation’s recovery of the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. Martin Luther playfully called it by the name of his wife, for he said of Galatians, “I am wedded to it.” Millions since then have found in this book joy, freedom, and the liberty to live a victorious Christian life.
Paul greeted the Galatians (1:1–5) and immediately launched a defense of his Gospel (vv. 6–10). He received this Gospel directly from God (1:11–23), his call was confirmed by the original Apostles (2:1–10), and he defended his Gospel against Judaizing tendencies by rebuking Peter himself (vv. 11–21).
Understanding the Text
“Sent not from men nor by man” Gal. 1:1–2. The polemic nature of Paul’s letter bursts from its very first line. Paul did not come representing men, nor did he depend on any human commission for his authority. Paul was an apostle—a royal emissary—who spoke authoritatively for the Person who did send him, Jesus Christ. Paul was not acting like a maverick here. He was not one of those folks who couldn’t get along with denominational leaders and so started up his own splinter movement. Paul was stating the facts. His conversion was by a direct confrontation of the risen Christ, and his commission to go to the Gentiles also came from Jesus (cf. Acts 9). Paul was in harmony with the Jerusalem Apostles, but in no way dependent on them or the Jerusalem church for his authority. Many young persons chafe under leaders they feel hold them back, lack vision, or simply resent them. Let’s not be too quick to take the maverick solution, and set out on our own. Unless we have as clear and certain a calling as did the Apostle Paul! In most cases it’s far better to accept waiting as a discipline from God, and be patient until He opens doors. “Who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age” Gal. 1:3–5. Paul had affirmed his own direct call as an apostle. Now he affirmed grace. Jesus gave Himself not only that we might be forgiven, but that we might be rescued from the present evil age. The power that will free us from sin, and enable us to live righteous lives, is found in Jesus. Not, by implication, in the Law! Salvation is received as a grace gift, and brings peace. Any “gospel” which fails to rely on Christ’s sacrifice of Himself for our sins, which fails to rescue us from the evil within and around us, and which fails to rest on grace rather than self-effort, is not the Gospel of Jesus. “A different gospel” Gal. 1:6–10. In Greek allos means another of the same kind. Heteros means another of a different kind. The gospel these Judaizers had introduced to the Galatians was a heteros gospel: it was a gospel that was essentially different from the Gospel of God. It was, Paul said, “No gospel at all.” Why? Because the Gospel is “Good News.” Any message that tells us “try harder,” even if we’re provided with a rule book, is no good news at all. No matter how hard you or I may try, we can never be good enough to escape the chains of “the present evil age.” Only God’s grace, bursting into history in the person of Jesus Christ, and doing for us what we could never do for ourselves, is truly Gospel, “Good News.” “Am I now trying to win the approval?” Gal. 1:10 One of the arguments the Judaizers had against Paul was that he emphasized salvation by grace alone to make salvation easy, and so “win approval” from men. Salvation by faith alone still seems to some to be an “easy” or “cheap” religious philosophy. But it wasn’t cheap at all. Jesus paid the ultimate price that we might enter heaven free of charge. “I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ” Gal. 1:11–23. The Judaizers claimed to represent Christ’s original Apostles. Paul answered in two ways. Jesus Himself revealed the Gospel to Paul, so he was not dependent on the Twelve, nor did his authority come from them (vv. 11–17). Then, after Paul had worked out the implications of the Gospel through years of prayer and study, when he did visit Jerusalem, the Apostles added nothing to his message but instead praised God for his conversion (vv. 18–24). Don’t get the impression that Paul was a loner. Acts shows us that even during these early stages of his Christian life Paul was actively involved in preaching the Gospel and in fellowship with Christian brothers and sisters (9:19–31). We may not derive spiritual authority from others. This comes as a gift from God. But we do need to fellowship with other believers if we are to mature spiritually. “I . . . set before them the Gospel that I preach among the Gentiles” Gal. 2:1–7. Paul continued with the story of his relationship with the Apostles. He explained the Gospel he preached to the Apostles, and did so just because “false brothers” like those that have disturbed the Galatian believers “infiltrated our ranks” in order “to make us slaves” (of the Law). The Apostles not only added nothing to Paul’s message, they also acknowledged his call to minister to the Gentiles. They didn’t even ask that Titus, a Greek Christian who accompanied Paul, be circumcised! Paul’s point was that the Judaizers, who claimed to represent the Jerusalem church, did not in fact have the approval of the original Apostles. And Paul—though he did not depend on this—did! Have you ever noticed that it’s often the least-mature or least-taught believer who is most eager to set up rules and impose them on others? This is what happened in the first century. The Apostles, who truly grasped the Gospel, affirmed Gentile freedom from Jewish Law. It was others, still unaware of the Gospel’s implications, who tried to tie the Gentiles down with Jewish laws and customs. Watch out when young believers tell you how you should or must live your Christian life. Especially when they claim that the authority for their rules is someone you respect. Don’t accept their word for it. Go to the source. “Those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship” Gal. 2:8–10. Do you remember an incident reported in Mark 9:38–41? The disciples of Jesus, who were now Apostles, saw someone driving out demons in Jesus’ name and “we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” What a difference now! Paul and Barnabas report their ministry among the Gentiles, and now the Apostles “recognized the grace given to me.” They even agreed that Paul should concentrate on a Gentile ministry, while Peter, who also traveled at this time, focused on a ministry to Jews. Let’s not be put off when other Christians have a different emphasis than we do, or come from a different tradition. Let’s recognize the grace given to them, and gladly extend the “right hand of fellowship.” “I have been crucified with Christ” Gal. 2:20. The Christian’s hope and joy is our union with Jesus Christ. We share in His death, and thus the bonds of sin are broken. We share in His resurrection, and thus receive power for a new life. It is Christ living in me, not any attempts of mine to keep a law given to men of a different race in a different age, that is the secret of spiritual life and vitality. Jesus, not the Law, must remain the beating heart, the sole center of our lives, the key to our personal relationship with God.
Setting Aside God’s Grace(Gal. 2:11–21)
For Paul, this was the decisive argument. He had been accused of preaching a distorted Gospel: one not sanctioned by Jerusalem. So he told of a time when Peter himself acted the hypocrite. When Peter was alone with Gentile believers in Antioch, he sat right down with them and ate Gentile food. But when some Jewish Christians arrived from Jerusalem, Peter was fearful of what they might think, and wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. Paul saw this not merely as hypocrisy, but also as setting aside the grace of God in favor of a Law which had never and could never produce righteousness. So Paul confronted Peter openly. He argued that the principle of justification by faith had set aside observance of the Law. Peter’s pandering to Judaizers “rebuilt” a way which the Gospel had destroyed. What’s important to us here isn’t the confrontation. We might admire Paul for standing up to Peter, and Peter for bowing to the truth Paul spoke. But what we learn is we can, by our actions, “set aside God’s grace.” We can act in ways that obscure, or even deny, grace. One of the most deceptive ways to deny grace is to confront non-Christians with their sins. “Don’t you know that’s wrong?” we ask. Or we suggest, “What you’re doing is harmful as well as sinful.” Our motive may be good. We may expect exposure of sin to lead to conviction and this to salvation. But by drawing disapproving attention to another’s sin, we draw attention away from Jesus and the grace of God. Our message isn’t that all men are sinners. Deep down others know their flaws. Our message is that God loves sinners. We must display the love of God, or we will surely obscure the message of His grace.
Let God’s love shine through everything you do and say.
“Men may not read the Gospel in sealskin, or the Gospel in morocco, or the Gospel in cloth covers, but they can’t get away from the Gospel in shoe leather.”—Donald Grey Barnhouse