Summary: Standing in the Freedom of the Gospel: Fighting for the Freedom the Gospel Promises us
Standing in the Freedom of the Gospel:
Fighting for the Freedom the Gospel Promises us
A neglected metaphor of our walk as Christ Followers is seeing life as war and a fight. Paul uses fighting imagery for his walk with God, his ministry, and his mission. He fought against his own sinfulness, he fought over problems in churches, and he fought as he engaged in mission. Yet it was not a war with flesh and blood but a spiritual war and his fight was a fight to believe God. Far too many view following Christ as being on a cruise ship rather than a battle ship. In the Galatian churches, Paul was engaged in a fight over the fundamental nature of the gospel – there is the gospel and there is no gospel. In today’s passage Paul describes how God told him to go to Jerusalem again to declare his gospel to the apostles there. Taking Titus, a Gentile, and Barnabus, a Jew, he met with Peter and the other apostles. Paul convinced them that Gentiles did not need to be circumcised. Well a group of Judaizers showed up seeking to enslave the church once again to works righteousness. But Paul did not give into them and so persevered the gospel for the church to this day.
1. Paul Clarifies His Gospel (2:1-2)
It had been fourteen years since his conversion (47AD; Acts 11:29-30) and Paul goes to Jerusalem again because God told him to go. God spoke to him one of two ways - directly or through the prophet Agabus (Acts 11:28-30). Throughout the whole bible it is very clear that God speaks to his people. The written word gives us clear understanding of Gods moral will and principles by which to live our lives but not specifics, like Gods calling in our individuals lives, who we are to marry, or specific decisions. That is when we need God to speak to us; it is when God will speak to us. He went to Jerusalem because there was confusion how the gospel applied in a Gentile context. When Jews trusted Jesus as their Messiah, they did not abandon their cultural and ethnic identity. They still went to temple, circumcised their boys, followed the Sabbath, etc. That was not a problem in itself but it became a problem when they expected Gentiles converts to adopt Jewish practices as necessary for salvation; works of the law. There was a group that was forcing Gentiles to adopt a Jewish identity because that was required under the Old Covenant for thousands of years. Judaizers said you must believe in Jesus as the Messiah but also be circumcised because that identified you as a son of Abraham, part of Gods covenantal people. Their mantra is found in Acts 15:1, unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." But Paul’s gospel was radically different. He taught that anyone, Jew or Gentile, only needed to believe in Jesus. He believed that Christ ushered in the New Covenant which made the Old Covenant obsolete. To require anyone to embrace anything within the old system was to go back into a system God had rejected and replaced. The gift of righteousness comes apart from the law. God protected his gospel and his people by sending Paul to Jerusalem to clarify his gospel so that Paul’s work would not be in vain, a divided church.
2. Standing for Freedom is Necessary (2:3-5)
Titus was the guinea pig for this debate. I am not sure if Paul took Titus there deliberately or not but Paul convinced Peter and the others that his gospel was true and that Titus did not need to be circumcised. But that is not the end of it. Sometime during the meeting a group of Judaizers crashed the meeting. The wording conveys that they sought to blend in with everyone else, like undercover agents, but with the intent to rob the church if its freedom and bring it back into bondage to works righteousness. They were false brothers because they were not genuine Christians (2 Cor 11:26; Jude 4). Yet because this distorts the very nature of the gospel into no gospel, Paul did not tolerate it one bit. He uses very strong, emotive language because these Judaizers were changing salvation from a work of God into a work of man (John 1:12-13; 3:5-9). For Paul, the issue is much deeper than circumcision or not; Jewish customs or not. The issue is bondage or freedom; works or grace; works righteousness or gift righteousness. The issue for Paul was protecting and preserving the gospel. Works of the law - requiring circumcision, observing the Sabbath, the ceremonial laws as a necessary for salvation perverts the gospel into no gospel.
But someone might ask about Timothy getting circumcised in Acts 16:3-8. That is a good question. Paul himself never abandoned his Jewish heritage and way of life. In Acts 15 at the Jerusalem council the issue of works of the law was resolved. Gentiles did not need to obey the works of the law to be saved. So once that was embraced Paul tolerated observing the law as a means of furthering the gospel. So when he was evangelizing amongst Jews he had Timothy circumcised so that Timothy would not be an unnecessary stumbling block when preaching to Jews. Jews would have been offended that Timothy, who was half Jewish wan not circumcised. Again, Paul thought it was fine if Jewish believers kept the law because of their Jewish ancestry but it was not ok to require Gentiles to keep the law.