Galatians 2:15-21, John 8:36

The Law Makes Us Crazy!

Galatians 2:15-21 is a long passage. One of the key thoughts that Paul penned for the Galatians and for the entire church is at the end of verse 16. He says, “…for by works of the law no one will be justified.” Paul is making it perfectly clear that neither Jew nor Gentile will find himself standing right before God based on their own goodness or righteousness. The law makes certain of that. To wrap up his argument in verse 21, Paul explains that “…if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” The law was not given as the basis upon which we might make ourselves acceptable to God. No, it was given to demonstrate to each of us that we were unacceptable to God already and it is too late for anyone to go back and rebuild the system under which they had already failed.

The law drives us crazy. It does not set us free. Consider some of the laws that legalists have struggled with throughout the years.  If you as a Jew had a toothache, you could not gargle with vinegar. You could, however, use an ordinary toothbrush dipped in vinegar. You cannot do any work on the Sabbath. You cannot carry any “burden.” It was defined as anything that weighed as much as a dried fig. You could get around this law by making several trips. The elevators in Israel will stop at every floor on the Sabbath because pushing the elevator buttons is considered work and is forbidden by the laws of the Sabbath. Nothing was more frustrating for us in Israel than to have to go up 11 floors, one floor at a time! You cannot sew on the Sabbath. This led to a prohibition against pasting or gluing. Lawson observed, “This raises an issue unanticipated in the first century. Can you use gummed adhesive strips on disposable diapers? The argument seems to center around whether the tape is considered temporary or permanent, and whether removing it is seen as destructive or constructive labor. One rabbi has ruled that even if the practice is permissible, it really shouldn’t be done in the presence of anyone who might misunderstand.”

In the middle ages, French monks strictly observed the restrictions of not eating meat on Friday. You could only eat fish. I grew up with that law and learned to appreciate Joe Tess’ carp sandwiches every Friday! But the monks had a great fondness for hasenpfeffer (rabbit stew). So they got around the law simply by redefining rabbits as “fish.” They ate them to their hearts content with a clear conscience. It turns us into “lawyers” always looking for loopholes in the laws.  Laws are always going to win! Regardless of how scrupulous you strive to obey them all, you will fail. Further as Paul says, the law will never liberate you. It will only enslave you. Paul reminded all the believers that “Salvation is through a relationship with the Savior, not through slavish obedience to a complex code of behavior.” If this is not so, then Christ died for no reason. I like what John says in John 8:36, “if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed.”

Galatians 2:11-14

Equality in Christ

As I said before, Christ died for us all – Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, male and female.  One commentator says that Christ has set us all free from any kind of slavery “to a political or economic system, to social prejudices and barriers, to sin or habits or customs. Nor did He create us to be slaves of any religious system. From everything that would bar men and women from true fellowship with God, God in Christ has set us free.” Paul is ready to go to battle with all the other Apostles if need be. But he doesn’t have to. They agree! Freedom in Christ is for everyone! Everyone is equal in God’s eyes. I like to say that the ground at the foot of the cross is perfectly level. We all stand on sin’s ground! We are all sinners and approach God on the basis of Christ’s righteousness not our own.

Yet in Galatians 2:11-14, Paul tells of Peter’s struggle with the Jewish influencers in Antioch. Peter had slipped into the old routines of the Law and seemed to have favored the legalists at the expense of the Gentile converts. Paul confronted Peter for this error. We read, “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came, he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.”

Legalism is powerful! We do not want to be seen as less “spiritual” than the next person. When legalists look down upon those who might eat meals not approved under Jewish law, there is pressure to conform to the legalistic standards to save face. We do not like being put down or considered somewhat less of a Christian than others for any reason. Peter’s eating with and then not eating with the Gentiles said a lot more than immediately comes to mind. A common meal says so much.  As Lawson puts it, “Through common meals, friendships are solidified, romances are ignited, and barriers are broken down. To eat together is to treat one another as an equal. That is the reason slaves have always been forbidden to eat with their masters. That is also why, in the first century, no self-respecting orthodox Jew would share a meal with Gentiles. As far as the Jew was concerned, Gentiles weren’t equal.” In the early church the same spirit existed. The “law keepers” saw themselves as better than those not refined by the same culture. They could not lower themselves to the level of the godless “dogs” that ate forbidden meats. Paul would not stand for such distinctions in the body of Christ and neither should we.

Galatians 2:7-10

Freedom is for everyone!

When Paul finally made his way to Jerusalem, he was welcomed with opened arms. The three pillars, (James, John, and Peter) received him completely and commended him to the ministry to the Gentiles. Galatians 2:7-10 lays that out for us. We read, “when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.”

Paul received the complete approval of the apostles and was commended to the ministry to the Gentiles. In verse 10, they added a suggestion to Paul: “Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” Please notice that this is not a command. That means the Apostles recognized Paul as an equal. It was a request that Paul had already embraced and taught throughout the Gentile world. The Gospel that Paul preached was approved and Paul, recognized as an Apostle himself, was commended by the 12 to preach his message to the world. On the other hand, the gospel of the Judaizers was condemned at the Jerusalem Council (See Acts 15). It wasn’t just Paul’s non-authoritative opinion, like something I might say. No it was “Gospel.” It was the good news that Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins and to purchase for us a place in heaven that he offers to us all as a free gift! It is by grace we are saved, through faith. It has nothing to do with our righteousness. God leaves us with nothing but gratitude and nothing to brag about regarding our standing with God. It’s all of Grace!

Freedom is for everyone who believes, Jew and Gentile alike. They are free in Christ, just as you and I are! In his novel “Chesapeake,” Michener tells about a Reverend Buford. He’d been called to speak to rebellious slaves on the plantation. They are planning to run away but Buford tells them to forget it. “And what is running away, really?” he asks them. “Tell me, what is it? It is theft of self. Yes, you steal yourself and take it away from the rightful owner, and God considers that a sin.” For this terrible sin of wanting their freedom Buford says, “you will roast in hell.” I don’t think Buford has ever read or understood Galatians. Christ died for us all; Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, male and female.  One commentator says that Christ has set us all free from any kind of slavery, whether “to a political or economic system, to social prejudices and barriers, to sin or habits or customs. Nor did He create us to be slaves of any religious system. From everything that would bar men and women from true fellowship with God, God in Christ has set us free.” Paul is ready to go to battle with all the other Apostles if need be. But he doesn’t have to. They agree! Freedom in Christ is for everyone who believes!

Galatians 2:4-6

The Comfort of Slavery

According to Galatians 2:4, the problems in the church were caused by “…false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery.” I think Ken Boles in the NIV College Press Commentary on this passage explains it well. He writes, “Paul’s choice of terms in this verse vividly exposes the evil intent of the Jerusalem legalists. The word for ‘infiltrated’ is also found in 2 Peter 2:1 where it describes false teachers who ‘secretly introduce’ their destructive heresies. The term ‘spy on’ is a word with hostile intent, also found in 2 Samuel 10:3 where some of David’s men were accused of intending to ‘spy out the city and overthrow it.’ The objective of Paul’s opponents was not to honor Christ, but to ‘reduce to slavery’ their brothers. They insisted on the right to judge the actions and consciences of those they could dominate.”

People who live in one kind of slavery or another resent those who live liberated lives. Yet, to a very large degree, most of those enslaved prefer to remain in their well-worn chains. Lawson observed that, “Jean Jacques Rousseau cried in the eighteenth century, ‘Man is born free; yet everywhere he is in chains.’ He was wrong, of course. Man isn’t born free, but comes into the world helpless, ignorant, dependent, and a slave at the mercy of the powers that be.” Like the Israelites coming out of Egypt under Moses’ leadership, they often want to return to the comforts and conveniences of their slavery; leaks, melons, and free food is always appealing.

Lawson goes on to explain how a slave “…likes a powerful government that, with its bureaus and budgets, assumes responsibility for his welfare from cradle to grave. Socially, he conforms to the tenets of etiquette published by the current arbitrators of taste. Religiously, he is drawn toward ecclesiastical organizations that lay down rules for him to follow, rituals for him to perform, and guidelines that make it possible for him to judge his own and everybody else’s spirituality. Nobody threatens him more than the person who has been truly reborn into freedom.” In Christ we are set free from any condition to our acceptance by God. As the legalists in Paul’s day attempted to attach circumcision and other aspects of the Law to God’s grace, many today will attach a particular religious requirement, ritual, or regulation to God’s grace. But whenever anything is added to the cross of Christ as a condition of salvation, you are facing a heresy. Religious people resent true Christian freedom and want to put their own particular brand of religious shackles on our ankles. People often accept them because it’s socially, economically, and politically comfortable.

Galatians 2:1-3

Freedom for All!

As Paul begins chapter two of his letter to the Galatians, he tells them about his visit to Jerusalem sometime later (Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 perhaps). In Galatians 2:1-3 we read, “Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. … But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.” The focus issue on this passage is that a Greek, namely Titus, was not coerced by the apostolic leadership in Jerusalem to be circumcised in spite of the demands from the Judaizers. They insisted that Titus had to become like them if he wanted to be included in the body of believers in Jerusalem. The legalists were demanding observance of the Jewish rite of circumcision even for Greeks. Paul argued against it.

The issue had to be resolved. According to Rushdoony, “The issue had been created by the Pharisees who had come into the church and whose stand with regard to Gentile converts was that entrance into the church required two things, circumcision, and keeping the Law of Moses. This meant that baptism and God’s sovereign grace had been replaced by the requirements of the Pharisees; works had replaced grace, and salvation had been redefined.” They had established a set of rituals, standards, and behaviors based on their own culture that they imposed on everyone regardless of their background.

The Good News of God’s grace is for everybody. The Gospel makes it clear that God “so loved the whole world.” He doesn’t just love you and me! Well, I’m not too sure about you! As ridiculous as this sounds, I’d argue that many of us expect those who want to be part of our group to look a certain way, to groom and dress in accordance with some unwritten standards, or to behave in specific ways, to value similar rituals, or to cherish a particular title. We often cause outsiders, like Titus, to believe they have to conform to our culture if they want to be a part of the kingdom of God. We present the impression that they have to change who they are in order to belong. Mike Baker concludes his commentary on this passage by saying, “But our spiritual instinct tells us that the kingdom of God is for all mankind and the Scripture confirms it. What does freedom for all really mean?”

Galatians 1:22-24

The Truth about hopeless cases

When Paul was set free from his religious extremism and traditions of hatred that led to murder, it revolutionized his life. There is no other way to say it. It was not rehabilitation. It was regeneration. A new birth into a new life diametrically opposed to his old life. Paul’s conversion to Christianity shocked the religious world. Galatians 1:23 tells us that all the churches, even those he had never visited in Judea, were hearing about it. Paul says that although he was not known personally in many churches, yet they were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” This news was so remarkable that in the next verse (Galatians 1:24) Paul says, “And they glorified God because of me.”

Paul was a hopeless case! Nothing could have pierced his religious fervor. But God did. Kathy (my wife) often said that I was a hopeless case and that nothing could have pierced my secular fervor. When I was a young Catholic altar boy, I chose a patron saint. It was Saint Jude. It is interesting to me now because Jude was the saint for hopeless cases. How appropriate for me! I was a hopeless case, a lost cause. But, lo and behold, God performed His work in me. Since that time, I’ve met many men and women who were believed to be hopeless cases but God reached them. It takes years sometimes, but God does what no one else can ever do when it comes to bringing revolutions to the lives of hardhearted, stubborn people. He brings revolutionary changes into the lives of hopeless cases! Aren’t you glad?

How does Jesus do that? Think about it. He did not write any books, yet there are more books about Him than any other subject in the world! He owned nothing. He had no bank account and could have never qualified for an American Express card. He was considered a criminal. He was convicted and executed as one. He was deserted by his best friends and betrayed by his worst friends. In all ways imaginable he was a failure by human standards. Yet He proclaimed a message that destroyed the chains of slavery. It broke down the walls of racism, sexism, and every other kind of slavery imaginable. All this was accomplished by His simple message: God loves us all! He loves us so much that while we were still his enemies, He sent Jesus to die for our sins. Then He proved that we were forgiven by raising Jesus from the dead and sitting Him on the throne where He will reign in the church and one day over the entire world. This failure by human standards becomes the greatest success by God’s standards! We can appreciate why Paul was so determined to preach this message. It had to be proclaimed! There is no other truth that will set us free. Jesus is the “truth.” He is the truth that sets people free!

Galatians 1:19-21, Ephesians 1:7

Passing on Freedom

Paul spent three years getting his sermon together. It was to be the message of his life. He lived by it: “woe is me if I preach not the good news of Jesus” (1 Corinthians 9:16). He died by it: “my life is poured out as an offering…” (2 Timothy 4:6). It was the driving force of his entire life. He had been set free from the law! He had been set free from religious slavery! He had been set free from radical extremism! He had been set free from both pride and shame! He had been set free and couldn’t help but share his message with the world. It was Christ that set Paul free from his religious chains and it is Christ who wants to set us all free. Paul’s whole life was dedicated to sharing that truth. In Ephesians 1:7 he explains, “We have been set free because of what Christ has done. Through his blood our sins have been forgiven. We have been set free because God’s grace is so rich.”

After his abuse in Damascus and the Jew’s attempt to murder him, Paul moves into the regions of “Syria and Cilicia” as recorded in Galatians 1:19-21. There are more gentiles there! The other Apostles seemed to have remained in Jerusalem. They did not appear to venture out into the world with the message that filled Paul’s heart so! As F.F. Bruce names his history of Paul “The Apostle of the Heart Set Free,” Paul was so overwhelmed with what Christ had done for him that he could not help but share it with everyone. Of all the Apostles, he made it clear to us that we too can be set free because “of what Christ has done. Through His blood our sins have been forgiven.” When we came to Christ ourselves it is just as true of us as it was for the Galatians and the Ephesians. “We have been set free because God’s grace is so rich.”

After Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery in 1849, she immediately became involved in the abolitionist movement, organizing meetings and speaking against slavery. But that was not enough; she returned to the South to help other slaves find freedom. If she had been caught, she would have been thrown back into slavery or killed as an example to other runaways. Tubman returned to the South nineteen times to rescue some three hundred fellow slaves. Each trip became riskier as slave catchers became more aware of her. But each time, with God’s help she said, she evaded the authorities. She was a slave who had been set free and could not help but want that freedom passed on to others. Paul was the religious slave who had been set free and could not help but want that freedom passed on to others. Many freed slaves owed their freedom to Harriet Tubman. Most Gentile believers in every generation from Paul owe their freedom to the Apostle Paul. Because of his passion for the Gospel it came our way!

Galatians 1:16-18

Paul & Moses: The Liberators!

As Paul begins to share his personal experience of coming to faith in Jesus, he makes it clear that before consulting with anyone he spent some serious time alone with God. I believe that is what he means in Galatians 1:16-18. He writes that when God “…was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days.”

First of all, it’s important to notice that God’s supernatural intercession in Paul’s life had a significance to him beyond the event itself. He knew it meant something. As he separated himself from the world and seems to have drawn near to God, it became apparent to Paul that God had called him to salvation for a purpose. As one commentary puts it, “Life is not just an eddy of a purposeless stream; it is a part of God’s mainstream… God had a plan for Paul—as He does for every person, for you, for me. Paul saw the intervention of God in his life not as an unpremeditated happening but as a part of the eternal plan of God.”

Paul stresses the fact that he did not go to Jerusalem to consult with the other Apostles. Instead he went to totally gentile areas. Arabia, Damascus, followed later by regions of Syria and Cilicia. This was in keeping with his call to the gentiles. It seems that the other Apostles had not left Jerusalem at that time because that’s where Paul had to go to meet with them later. If this is so, it makes me think that they were not as focused on the Great Commission that Jesus gave them as He would have liked. He told them to make disciples “of all nations” yet they remained in Jerusalem. Most commentators agree that Paul spent time in Arabia, a barren, thinly populated place, to commune with God and clarify his life’s mission. God took Moses into the Midian wilderness and God took Paul into the Arabian wilderness (these places may be the same). Moses’ calling to lead God’s people out of slavery in Egypt became clear to him. Paul’s calling to lead God’s people out of religious slavery became clear to him as well. Thus, began Paul’s lifelong struggle with legalism!

© Chuck Larsen 2019. Powered by WordPress.