Summary: We must be stubborn about the gospel, but we must be flexible about matters of lesser importantance.
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FREEDOM IN CHRIST
In the first century, Christian freedom was under attack.
Freedom is precious. It often comes at a great price. And sometimes it can be easily lost.
Paul was a freedom fighter. The apostle Paul was determined not to let his enemies take away the freedom of his Gentile converts.
There was a group of false teachers (Judaizers) who were telling the Galatians that Paul’s gospel was incomplete. They claimed that they represented the apostles in Jerusalem.
In chapter 1, Paul demonstrated his independence from the other apostles. Now in chapter 2, Paul shows his unity with them. He did not receive his message from the other apostles. He received it directly from God (1:12). But he preached the same gospel as the Twelve.
Paul made at least four visits to Jerusalem after his conversion: (1) Acts 9:26-30; Galatians 1:18-19; (2) Acts 11:27-30; (3) Acts 15 (Jerusalem council); (4) Acts 21-28. Which of his visits to Jerusalem is Paul referring to in Galatians 2? We can’t be certain, but I think he may be describing his second visit (Acts 11:27-30). Paul says that he took two of his coworkers: Barnabas, a Jew, and Titus, a Gentile.
During this visit, Paul presented to the apostles the gospel that he preaches to the Gentiles. He writes that he did this “for fear that [he] was running or had run [his] race in vain” (v. 2).
“What Paul was concerned about was not the validity of his gospel (of which he had divine assurance) but its practicability. His commission was not derived from Jerusalem, but it could not be executed effectively except in fellowship with Jerusalem.”
“To describe his fears, Paul used the illustration of a footrace, such as a relay race. Paul knew that he would complete his leg of the race, but he needed to be sure that the other apostles were also carrying the gospel baton. Otherwise, his efforts would be wasted and the church would never make it to the finish line.”
The Judaizers were saying that Gentile believers had to be circumcised in order to be truly saved (cf. Acts 15:1, 5). They were adding human works to the gospel. “Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek” (v. 3).
According to the gospel, we are FREE from working for salvation.
“Free” and “freedom” are key words in Galatians, occurring eleven times (2:4; 3:28; 4:22-23, 26, 30; 5:1, 13).
This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves (v. 4).
Paul uses military language in v. 4. He says that the Judaizers had “infiltrated our ranks” (cf. 2 Peter 2:1; Jude 4). They claimed to be “brothers” (Christians), but they were “false” (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:26). They were really “spies,” wanting to take away the freedom of Gentile believers.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1).
When I was a kid, sometimes during church services I would search through the hymnal for humorous song titles. One of my favorites was a song called “His Yoke Is Easy.” I thought it had something to do with gooey egg yolks. But there is another kind of yoke. Paul was talking about a beam which is placed between a pair of oxen to allow them to pull a load.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
• Our WORKS are insufficient to save us.
• The CROSS is sufficient to save us.
Does this mean that good works are not important for a Christian? No. In verse 10, Paul mentions that the apostles asked him to “continue to remember the poor.” (They were referring to the poor believers of Jerusalem.) Paul says that this was something he was “eager to do” (cf. 2 Corinthians 8-9).
SAME GOSPEL, SEPARATE CALLING
Paul’s interactions with the Judaizers and the apostles show us how we should deal with differences in the church.
1. We must be STUBBORN about the truth of the gospel.
We did not give in to them [the Judaizers] for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you (v. 5).
What if Paul had given in to the Judaizers? For one thing, we wouldn’t be allowed to eat ham sandwiches or lobster today. But more importantly, the gospel of grace would be compromised.