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Galatians 3:15-18 pt. 1; Brief Thoughts

15To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 16Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

Old Testament covenants were permanent. They were not simply laid in place until something else came along. Covenants were not easily amended and they were certainly not annulled once they had been confirmed or applied.[1] When one party made a covenant with another, the covenant was confirmed by an action. In the covenant between Johnathan and David, Johnathan confirms the covenant by giving David his armor and robe (1 Sam 18:3-4). The Elders of Hebron confirmed their covenant with David by anointing him with oil (2 Sam 5:3). When God makes His covenant with Noah, he hangs floods the earth to confirm it and then hangs His bow in the sky (Gen. 6 and Gen. 9:8-17)! Further, the nature of the covenant was secured by the character of the strongest party involve. Pause for a moment and consider the implications of God’s character on the security of the covenants He has made. There is no greater name by which a promise can be secure. The God who holds all things together has covenanted with you. The God in whom we live and move and have our being has come down from Heaven and covenanted with people. There is no greater character by which your promises are secure.

The specific covenant Paul references here in this passage is found in Genesis 12. Abram is called by God to go to a new land that God will show him. He is told that God will give his offspring that land and Abram builds an altar in worship to God for the promise (Gen 12:4-7). Three chapters later, God ratifies his covenant with Abram through one of the most beautiful symbols of all Scripture. He has Abram kill and cut in half multiple animals and then line them up with a path through the middle of the split animals. Then Abram has a vision/dream of a torch and smoking pot going through the two halves of the animals.

In the vision, God is represented by the torch and the smoking pot. Abram is watching from the side. In essence, God establishes that He alone is the keeper of the covenant. In this act, God declares if either party breaks the covenant, may He be torn in two like these animals. And so, when humanity breaks the covenant with God, Jesus is rent in two in order to pay the price of the covenant! The ratification of the covenant of Abram is fulfilled and completed in Jesus. God maintains the covenant with those who have faith by dying for us. Oh What a great God who holds us together and lays down His life for our salvation!

So this is the covenant that Paul references in Galatians 3. This is separate from the covenant of Circumcision given to the Jewish people in Genesis 17. That covenant is a covenant based on the behavior of the Jewish people. It requires adherence to the law of God. God is still gracious and offers mercy through the law, but there is no righteousness gained through law. The Law serves only to show man’s sin. The only way to be righteous is to trust in Christ, who tore Himself in two for your salvation! Repent from your sin and confess to Christ that you need Him to save you! The blessing of Abraham is secure for those who have faith in the work of Jesus Christ – The Offspring! He owns the land of salvation! So, when we trust in Christ, we become “fellow heirs” with Jesus and receive the promise of salvation and presence with God (Eph. 3:6; c.f. Romans 8:16-17).

 

[1] Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Covenant. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 531). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

Galatians 3:7-9; Brief Thoughts

7Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

In Scripture, Abraham is counted righteous before he is given the law of circumcision. Effectively, he is granted righteousness through faith before he becomes the patriarch of Israel. In Genesis 12, God promises to be Abraham’s shield, give him reward, and offspring (Gen. 12:1, 5). It is in this moment that the Bible makes the declarative statement that, “Abraham believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 12:6). Following this statement, God makes a covenant with Abraham. This is a covenant based on faith, not law. It is a covenant that guarantees salvation for those who believe! Two chapters later, God gives Abraham the covenant of circumcision. Here is a law, two chapters later. Faith saves in chapter 15, the law is given later. The law does not save, it simply sets God’s people apart from the world. Another way to put it – God’s people believe differently than the world and therefore live by a different morality.

The law cannot save, however beautiful it may be. The law serves to point men to their need for Christ. As a person strives to be righteous by the law, they will inevitably find an inability to save themselves. Thus, it is those who believe the LORD and live in subsequent faith that are recipients of the promise of a better land and offspring of Abraham. Romans 4:13-25 explains that it is not those who strive to be righteous by the law, but those who have faith in Jesus’s righteousness who receive salvation. So here Paul echoes the same truth – that those who believe in Christ are those who are saved. Those that claim some sort of racial or legal right hold no claim to salvation. It is those who trust in Jesus that share in the faith of Abraham.

Paul further explains that Scripture has always testified to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Scripture saw ahead of time that God was going to extend salvation beyond one people group. In His infinite mercy, God has always sought out people who would trust Him for salvation. The message of the Gospel and the forgiveness of God is prevalent from the beginning of the Scriptural record. It has always been the plan to redeem all who have faith through Jesus. How wonderful it is to consider that the faithful have always been in God’s eyes! He has always had in His heart to bless the nations. Indeed, even in choosing a single people group to be His own, God has blessed the nations.

Consider the ramifications of such a truth. God chose a people that would spread His glory, in order that those who were not of that particular group might become chosen. He has set His affections on the faithful from before they could be faithful. His goal has always been to bless the nations through faith. What a tremendous God! He does not depend on your pedigree or your works. Rather, He determines to save those whom He so desires through faith. Faith is the pedigree of salvation. Faith is the identifying mark that allows access. Faith is the entry pass into the Kingdom. By faith, we are called heirs of Abraham’s promise!

Oh Christian, can you see how beautiful this is? God made a way of salvation and then guarded it, keeping it safe for you to access it. He laid down a law that would point to that way of salvation, and He walked in front of you for the glory of His name and the purpose of Salvation. So, when you doubt you are held by the Most High God, remember this great truth – God set forth the promise for you in Abraham. You are a child of God, not because you earned it or have been born into it. You are a child of God because He has chosen you through faith!

Galatians 3:1-6; Brief Thoughts

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4Did you suffer so many things in vain – if indeed it was in vain? 5Does He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith – 6just as Abraham “believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

When Jesus addressed the greed of the Pharisees in Luke 16:14-31, He concluded His discourse by explaining that the Pharisees would not believe even “if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). It is pent up in the heart of man to pursue self-righteousness. The appeal of the I saved myself posture is tremendous. Likewise, it is equally appealing to feel a great sense of self-exalted pride in our faulty attempts to garner some sort of leverage above those around us.

Indeed, that is the quandary facing the Galatian believers. They are striving to be proven holy on their own terms rather than trusting completely in Christ for their righteousness. They have decided that they need to add some sort of pious action to their already redeemed state. Yet, this is the struggle of the Pharisee in Luke, the pre-resurrection disciple in John, and in the anticipating crowds of Matthew. Humanity strives to prove itself. Born in the human spirit is a need to be right with God. Equally prevalent in the heart of man is a propensity toward law in an effort to answer the need and an unwillingness to surrender that need to God.

Paul is shocked by his brothers and sisters. Surely those who have seen the messiah crucified before their own eyes would not turn back to the religious system that demanded such a sacrifice when the sacrifice has been paid! His shock is warranted and understandable. What fool would surrender the gift of grace for the regulation of law!? So Paul poses the question in verse two, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” His assertion is clear – the Galatians received the miraculous salvation through no work of their own. They did not become believers because they somehow earned it or by some merit of their own doing. They became believers because they heard the gospel and believed it. The Spirit did not come to them because they were good enough. He came precisely because they were not good enough and Christ was good in their place! Christians enter into the sanctification process by the power of the Holy Spirit, a relationship that is initiated and completed by the Spirit (Philippians 1:6). Paul’s shock is manifest in three questions – 1. Who initiated your salvation? 2. Was your suffering vain? 3. Who enables and empowers your sanctification?

The Spirit begins the work and the Spirit completes the work. Thus, the correct course of action in a believer’s life is an abandonment of self-righteous attempts towards righteousness in favor of obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit. This striving to follow the Lord may look similar to an attempt to live according to the Law. Indeed, people who strive to follow the Spirit will often strive towards holiness and those who seek to follow the law are seeking to live holy lives. However, there is a distinction – The pursuit of the law is a pursuit of self-exalting works in an effort to be saved. In contrast, a pursuit of the Spirit is a laying down of self-exaltation in order to love and know Christ more. The one pursuing holiness by the Law submits to laws that claim to make them righteous and are subsequently condemned by that law. The one pursuing holiness by the Spirit is set free from restrictions and is enabled to be righteousness because they are able!

One who trusts in the law for their salvation nullifies the grace of Jesus. If you trust in the law for your salvation, you will not be saved. But, if by faith you place your trust in the work of Jesus Christ you will be saved from the wrath of God. All the suffering and struggles that the Galatian believers endured validate and prove their faith. They suffered because they shifted from Judaism or Paganism respectively and surrendered to Christ. Their society rejected them, their prior religious organizations rejected them, and many lost family and friends for the sake of the gospel. So Paul asks, was it in vain? This question cuts to the heart. If one returns to religion for salvation, then they are spurning the grace of the gospel and all that early suffering was for naught.

Finally, Paul asks who it is that enables the miraculous, life-shifting, change that they are experiencing. It is not the Law that brings the miraculous. It is not the law that changes hearts. It is not the law that is manifest in their community. It is the Spirit of God. To add a requirement of obedience to the law is to credit the law for the work of the Spirit. So, Paul challenges the reader to abandon the law as a means of salvation and trust the Spirit.

Our example in this text is Abram who was counted righteous apart from circumcision (the law). God makes his covenant with Abram before He institutes a law. Abram is counted righteous before God because “he believed the LORD” (Gen. 15:6). According to Romans 4, believers share in this kind of salvation. We are counted righteous because we share in this same faithful belief that Abram exemplifies.

Oh dear Christian, do not return to a yoke of slavery by instituting a law over your soul. Trust in Christ and in Christ alone for your salvation and do not add to the work of the Spirit. Only in trusting Christ will you be able to pursue a holy life.

Brief Thoughts: Galatians 2:18-21 pt. 2

19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

“There is no more pointed statement that Paul’s above. He clearly shows that it is not by his own efforts that he is saved, but by the death of himself to the law and Christ’s sacrifice on behalf of the believer. Now when someone dies, so goes their life. Someone who is dead does not continue to live. They are dead. Further, Paul asserts that Christians are humiliated in conversion. They don’t just die but hang on a tree through Christ. Deut. 21:22-23 explains that anyone who hangs on a tree is cursed. So Paul’s statement of conversion is not evidently of glorious blessing, but of a cursed man who hung on a tree. “Crucified with Christ” is a phrase we put on tee shirts and sell as if it is something to be proud of. Yet, Christ was cursed. Thus in our conversion, we are asking to share in that curse. Trusting that His cursed state is enough to cover our cursing state. In believing in Christ we are seeking to know Him and be like Him in His suffering (Phil. 3:10). Believer, if you seek to live as a Christian, you must needs prepare to suffer and share in Christ’s suffering.

Crucifixion hurts. The removal of sin and the attempt to live holy is never quite as wonderful as we think. No, Christ’s call on our life is to take up our cross and die with Him (Mat. 16:24, Lk. 9:23). Suffer humiliation, be beaten, have everyone reject you, and be cursed. Further, it took effort for Christ to accomplish His end. Radical obedience and extreme effort are exemplified in Christ’s life. To live a holy life is to reject all efforts of synchronism (the blending of cultures/religions). To live a holy life is to be consumed by the singular message of Christ. To live and breathe His words. To pursue who Christ is and appropriate His work.

Crucifixion ends in death. It astonishes me how many of us want to say that our flesh has been crucified (Galatians 5:24) and yet, at some point, we convince ourselves that the flesh keeps coming down off the cross. Oh dear confused believer, if your flesh keeps coming down off the cross, then it was never crucified. Holiness in a Christian’s life is demanded, not requested. If you live a life ruled by the flesh then you have not been crucified and ought to question whether or not you have ever repented and believed. Paul was not overstating, the flesh is crucified and dead. The flesh no longer lives. So, if you have believed in Christ and have surrendered and have been drawn to Him. Stop living as if you still are of the flesh. The flesh is dead and believers do not walk by the flesh but by the spirit (Romans 8).

Not only are you to deny yourself worldly pleasures or sinful activities, you must also be conformed to the life of Christ. Worldly pleasures can be a blatant denial of God’s law, such as sexual immorality, and they can be self-glorifying religious activities. Both are equally disgusting to God. To be conformed to the life of Christ, one must strive to live as He did. We must do what the Father had admonished us to do. (Lev. 11:44) We must strive for holiness.

This is going to hurt. Self-denial is never a fun thing. And when it requires complete transparency and humility in addition, well, that’s just downright humiliating. Exposing all our flaws and waywardness.” (Excerpt from “Consumed” by J. Novis Elkins)

 

Brief Thoughts: Galatians 2:18-21 pt 1

18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.  

When a believer comes to Christ, he comes to a death. The law that he once held in such high esteem and presented as a home in which to reside, is demolished and destroyed. It is destroyed in favor of freedom from it. As Paul has already asserted, the law cannot bring salvation. So, if you desire to be saved, you must trust in Jesus’ righteousness to cover you. It stands to reason, then, that a person who places restrictions upon themselves after having been freed from those restrictions is merely imposing upon themselves new shackles.

Shackles and walls are not designed to embrace freedom. Shackles are designed to restrict the individual from breaking the law. Walls are designed to protect the individual from other people’s freedom. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is antithetical to shackles and walls. When one trusts in Christ, they surrender their need to be protected from other people’s freedom in order to follow Christ, trusting in Him for deliverance and cover. In trusting Jesus, the Christian is set free from the bondage of the law and has submitted to the law of the Spirit voluntarily (Romans 8:2). A voluntary submission that he/she cannot deny. In this, the Christian has exchanged the restrictive walls that once demanded perfection and the subsequent shackles of unrighteousness for the gracious leading of the Spirit and His cleansing presence.

Paul is rightly confused as to why the Galatians would strive to subject themselves to a law again once having been freed. Paul explains the result of adding laws to the Gospel is condemnation. As one attempts to be righteous according to the law, the law serves to show that they are a “transgressor.” Thus Paul explains that those who have trusted in Christ have “died to the law.” The law no longer has anything to condemn because that life which was bound to the law has ended and a new life has begun. In Romans 7:1-6 Paul illustrates this point with the picture of a marriage in which one party is only freed from the contract upon their death. He further explains that the Christian is the one who died and that they are freed from the legal contract of marriage to the law because that former life no longer exists. Having died to the law, it is absurd that any man would rebuild the law in effort to embrace freedom.

When someone trusts in Jesus for salvation, they end the contractual obligation to the law by sharing in the death of Christ (c.f. Romans 6:1-11). In Jesus’ death, the old man has died. Christians are set free from sin and death and are raised to walk a new life. Therefore, submitting again to a law is incongruent with the freedom of Christ. To raise up a new law and insist that righteousness can only be achieved by Jesus AND the law is to nullify grace. Indeed, adding anything to trusting Jesus as a necessary requirement for salvation is nullifying that trust and is returning yet again to a yoke of slavery.

A necessary pause must be taken for a moment to consider the difference between submitting to a law and pursuing holiness. Christians ought to be marked by a pursuit of holiness. Yet, many modern Christians do not understand that holiness is a pursuit. Christians strive to be righteous because we can. We strive to be holy because joy is found in holiness. The things the law says to do are good and are a delight to the Christian. But, they are not a requirement for salvation. Christians do not follow the holiness of Christ because it will save them. They follow the holiness of Christ because He HAS saved them. Christians are free to participate in righteousness and they do out of a desire for joy!

Oh Christian, pursuing holiness is a joy! Striving to delight in the work and life of Christ is more powerful than you can imagine. Once set free from sin, we pursue becoming more like Christ and there we find our joy. Do not be deceived into thinking adding laws and regulations are the same as following Christ. When we add laws in an effort to secure salvation, we nullify grace. When we pursue holiness in delight, recognizing freedom, we empower grace.

Galatians 2:17; Brief Thoughts

17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!

No one is justified before God by the law (Romans 3:20). There is no way to be made righteous by the law. The law can identify unrighteousness, it can establish the need for righteousness, and it can even display and reveal the nature of God. But the Law cannot change the heart. The heart has been corrupted and is not righteous (Romans 3:1-10). Only through the work of Christ is any person able to be made righteous. Indeed, no work can make the heart of man different or changed (Jer. 13:23). All self-righteous attempts to secure salvation must be cast aside. Our pedigree, religious affiliations, and personal history must be surrendered in favor of Jesus’ righteousness.

There is no one holy. Not one person merits salvation or deserves to be acknowledged as better than another. It does not matter how great a person is in the eyes of the world, “no one is righteous” (Romans 3:10). This truth is the ultimate leveling ground. When a community understands that no merit or effort can establish righteousness and that each individual stands condemned by their own works before a holy God, then there is no basis for hierarchy or preferential treatment. This would be a tremendous community of which to be a part! Consider for a moment what it would be like if your community truly lived in this truth. When someone sins or breaks covenant with someone else, the response to that fracture would be one of healing, not judgment. It would be a community in which everyone could strive to live holy lives without fear of constant condemnation. It would be a community that lifts up those who struggle and carries burdens for one another. This is what the church is supposed to be like.

In order to be redeemed, a person must trust in the saving work of Jesus Christ – that Jesus lived a perfect life, died on the cross taking the punishment of my sin upon Himself, rose again conquering death and giving me life, and ascended into Heaven securing His victory and my future salvation. Paul asserts that we “endeavor to be justified in Christ” (v.17). The term here translated “endeavor” indicates an active pursuit of something. It is the same term used when Jesus says, “seek and you shall find” (Matt. 7:7). A Christian seeks to know God and does so with zeal in the pursuit of His glory. A believer strives to know and be known by Christ. It is for this purpose that we strive to prove our justification is in Him alone! When the adversary or the world tells us that we are sinful, we rest in the reality that Jesus is Savior and our sins have been forgiven in Him. In this way, our “endeavor” is simply an intentional effort to conform our minds to the reality of salvation.

The Judaizers, however, insisted on obedience to the Law in an effort to attain salvation. So the logic follows, assuming the Judaizers are correct, that fellowship with Gentiles as Paul and Barnabas did in Antioch would be an actual sin according to Jewish law and thereby make Christians into sinners. So, Paul asks the question – If our pursuit of Christ reveals that we are sinners according to the law, does that mean Christ is somehow in service to sin (v.17 – paraphrased)? Immediately Paul answers, “Certainly not!” In posing this question, Paul presents a polarity between the Jewish conception of salvation and the truth of Jesus Christ. The Law cannot justify anyone. Trusting in Christ is the only way by which a man can be saved. So, in order to be saved, one must turn from self-righteous attempts of legal perfection and trust in the saving work of Jesus Christ. Thus, by trusting in Christ, our need for His righteousness is revealed and grace abounds all the more!

Oh, friend, I do wish that you would trust in Jesus’ righteousness to save you. I see you striving to be good on your own. I watch your toil and struggle to know and be known. There is One King who can rescue and redeem. One Lord who can remove your sin and make you clean. Trust in Jesus now and be free.

Galatians 2:11-15; brief thoughts

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 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. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Conformity is a common unspoken demand of any society. When someone joins a community that community has a defining set of social norms. Sometimes those norms are explained and clearly articulated. More often those expectations are unspoken and are not so clearly defined. In order to truly integrate into the community, the adherent must submit to these demands in order to be considered a legitimate member.

As in any group, Christianity demands a conformity of sorts. The problem is that sin often corrupts our ability to discern the difference between what Christ demands and what we demand. As a result of sin, we demand that people conform to us. We have an unwritten expectation that people who come to share in Christ must behave and look as we do. They must submit to the same societal norms in which we have been immersed. When we insist on such an ethnocentric legalistic expression of Christianity, we miss the Gospel. The Gospel reaches across cultural and societal norms to establish life through the pursuit of God and His life! Indeed, Jesus does not require the Pharisees to surrender their religious customs of hand and foot washing when he goes to have a meal with them. Neither does Jesus require his fishing buddies and tax collecting friends behave as the Pharisees. He opens His arms to both groups and rescues any who will believe. He lays no additional law upon His followers.

In obedience to the Gospel, the early church opened her arms to anyone who would trust in Christ for righteousness. Peter and the disciples spoke a variety of tongues at Pentecost. They did not demand everyone learn Hebrew. God showed Peter that the Gentile, Cornelius, was admitted to the Kingdom, giving Peter a vision that defied the dietary restrictions of the Jew. He did not demand Cornelius become a Jew. Further, the model we have from Paul and the apostles at the Jerusalem counsel is one of reasoning together to understand overt Scriptural commands and exercising freedom where Scripture is silent.

Still, Peter and the apostles were just men and, even they, fall to hypocrisy at times. When Peter was worshiping with the gentile brothers at Antioch, there came a moment of such weakness. The “Circumcision party” came to join in the worship and Paul witnessed the shaming of the gospel message. Peter, desiring to be approved by these brothers, withdrew from the gentile believers.

Why did Peter withdraw? It is not common to see this particular apostle seek to accommodate the whims of men. He has a reputation as headstrong and often taking the leadership role. Perhaps Peter thought he could win over these Jews to the Gospel by showing himself to be disciplined in religious affection as they. Perhaps he was simply afraid that he would lose his prestige among the Jews, maybe even rationalizing that a loss of prestige for him would be the same as a loss for the gospel. Whatever his reasoning, Peter shows favoritism and Paul addresses him directly.

Paul’s response to Peter seems brazen and very confrontational. Indeed, Paul addresses Peter “to his face,” but he does so only because “he stood condemned!” Paul’s response to Peter was bold and forward for three obvious reasons. First, Peter was obviously in contradiction to the gospel and was in danger of God’s discipline. Paul states that Peter “stood condemned.” In saying this, Paul is framing the scene as one in which Peter is in danger of God’s intervention. He is guilty of wrongdoing and it is an act of mercy to confront him. Confronting Peter as an errant brother spares him from being disciplined as a disobedient son. Second, Peter was leading others away from gospel community. Gospel community includes ALL tribes, tongues, and nations. It is not restricted to Jewish people alone but includes gentiles as well. When Peter showed favoritism to the Jewish brothers, he was acting in contradiction to the gospel message itself. So Paul publically addressed Peter in an effort to clarify and defend the gospel witness as he states, “their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel.” Third, Paul is concerned with defending the reputation of his brothers in Christ. When Paul saw that Peter and the brothers were living in hypocrisy, he recognized a need to preserve them through a minor error that could have massive implications. Hypocrisy is a dangerous poison that can damage the testimony of even the most devout believer.

Through Paul’s example, we can see the proper way to confront one another in gospel community. As we strive to walk in gospel obedience together we must first check our motives. Paul confronts Peter because of a gospel motivation. He does not desire power, he seeks to honor the gospel and preserve his brother’s integrity. We must consider the implications of what is being confronted. Paul addresses Peter publically because multiple people were actually being addressed. He recognized that his true target was a large group of believing brothers who needed to be corrected. Finally, when we approach each other we must strive to pose the question, and not simply demand correction. Questions allow for introspection and self-examination. Paul challenges Peter and poses the question, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” His point is well made. Yet, in posing it as a question he leaves room for rebuttal. Pose your confrontation in the form of a question and you are offering grace to the person you are challenging.

Oh, that we would always confront one another with such grace!

Galatians 2:7-10; Brief Thoughts

7On the contrary, 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 8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), 9and 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. 10Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

The modern western church holds in high esteem people of influence. Pastors are valued because of the size of their congregation or the reach of their pulpit. Credence is given to men who can market well and appeal to a large audience. Leaders are given honor because of their ability to engage people, often ignoring or dismissing a lack of character. Not so with the early church! These men of God held in high esteem those who with honesty and integrity presented the gospel clearly.

When Paul stood in the Jerusalem council and presented his case for the uncircumcised, the other apostles accepted his ministry because of “the grace that was given to” Paul (v. 9). Paul had been a murderous agent of the Pharisees prior to his conversion. Yet, Christ saw fit to grant him grace and deliver him from his own sinfulness. Surely if God can transform His enemy into a child, then He can do the same for the ignorant Gentile who knows nothing of God’s Law. Consider further Saul’s reputation among other Christians. Prior to Damascus, Paul was a scourge to Christianity. He was a villainous adversary to Christ and the church. Ananias received a special vision from God and granted grace to Paul as a result – accepting him into the fellowship of believers. Finally, a man who was such a horrible adversary could not be expected to be given such a fruitful ministry. Yet, Christ saw fit to grant Paul grace in his ministry. It was that grace that served as Paul’s resume.

Consider for a moment what it would be like if your resume was entirely based on Christ’s work in your life. Consider the strength of a fellowship that recognizes others as equal recipients of the gift of life. What would it be like if you were judged by the work and effort that God has done for and in you? Further, what if you granted favor to other believers simply because God has given grace to them? What if you granted grace to others according to the grace that has been extended to you in Christ? Infinite, marvelous, and matchless grace has been given to you! Indeed, this is what we are called to do as Christians. We are to see one another through the lens of grace. We are to recognize our state as those who have been redeemed not by merit, but by the grace of an infinitely loving King!

Such an understanding of grace does not permit a Christian to hold another to a system of religious law. Rather, it drives the believer towards holiness and, instead of merely avoiding sin, leads to a community of faith that exhorts one another to live holy according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit through the Scripture. In such a community, there is no place for superstars. When Paul explains that the same grace worked through Peter as has worked in Paul, he levels any sense of superiority in the life of the Christian community. If anyone was worthy of extra prestige and honor in the first century of the church, it was certainly Peter. Yet, Christianity is not a merit-based, legal system. It is, in contrast, a system based on the grace of God and it is dependent on the mercy of God for its life.

When Paul sought wisdom over the question of circumcision of Gentile believers, he sought the community of faith and entrusted himself to the Holy Spirit’s leading. Trusting in the grace of Christ, Paul stood before the Jerusalem council as an equal recipient of the Grace of God and counted upon that grace to manifest itself among them. Paul and Peter did not get bogged down in the minutia of laws and legal morality. They lived in a system of grace with one another, addressing struggles and difficulties when they rose. Rather than setting up sign-posts and rules that explained what you could or could not do, the early church favored asking deep questions about motivation and dealing with each individual struggle as they arose. In this, the community thrived and holiness blossomed. When the community spends its efforts attempting to manage behavior, the community becomes lifeless. When the community strives towards holiness by exhorting each other in grace, then that community thrives!

Galatians 2:1-6; Brief Thoughts

2 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. 3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 4 Yet because of 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 – 5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. 6 And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) – those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me.

When the joy and delight of one’s life on centered on Christ, there will inevitably be those who desire to usurp that joy by laying restriction and rule atop of freedom. Indeed, those who do not know the freedom of Christ will either long for it, or they will seek to control it. Such was the case in the Galatian church. Those who had been given freedom in Christ Jesus were being instructed by others who had come to join in the community to lay aside that freedom for the sake of an appearance of holiness. This holiness was not genuine but was a legalistic and self-righteous attempt to achieve holiness through their own actions.

Their message was antithetical to Paul’s own commission. As he recounts in verse 2, Paul corroborated his preaching of the Gospel by setting it before the Jerusalem council so that he could make sure the Gospel he was teaching was correct (Acts 15). Fourteen years after beginning to preach the gospel, Paul sought to ensure that the gospel he was teaching was correct. Paul’s efforts to validate himself by seeking the wisdom of the apostles stands in stark contrast to those who demanded such legalism professed by those who were infiltrating the Galatian church. There are no arrogant demands that people submit to his message. Rather there is a humble submission to the message as it stands clear in Christianity.

Paul submits to the clear message of the gospel. Influence and prestige, once so highly esteemed in the life of Saul the Pharisee, were cast aside for the sake of truth. Paul does not bend to the influential or nor does he bend himself to become influential. As is often the case with the most influential people in Christian history, Paul is more concerned with the message than with his own honor and prestige.

Further, Paul does not slip in. Paul’s efforts to teach the gospel are extremely transparent. He lays his teaching out before the apostles with a brother, Barnabas, alongside to hold him accountable. He stands exposed, ready to be corrected. Those who would profess self-made righteousness do not present themselves so clearly. They hold back their message, crafting words in such a way as to hide their true meanings and agenda. This is not the way of Christ! Christians speak boldly the gospel and when we are wrong, we seek the admonition and correction of the community of faith.

Finally, Paul does not accept the voice of the famous. Take note, dear reader, there are no accolades or praises given to men and those in authority in this passage. As Paul recounts his experience it is as one who has sought truth within a community of gospel believing Christians. He does not slip in, he does not seek to control the faith of others, and he does not attempt to demand that others live by his own convictions. He simply and purely lays out the gospel with clarity and strength.

Sometimes it is difficult to recognize when false teachers attempt to slide in and usurp freedom. This passage gives us some characteristics to look out for.

  1. They force their morality on others. These legalists prize morality over truth. Paul offers a contrast in Titus, explaining that he was not required to get circumcised in Jerusalem (v.3). The gospel relies on Scripture and the conviction of the Holy Spirit in the heart of believers. Thus, those who follow Christ trust the Scripture to convict and call others to changed lives and particular morality.
  2. They slip in, unnoticed. False teachers are never obvious at first. It takes time for the revelation of falsehood to be revealed. More often than not, those who seek to rule over the church and deprive others of gospel life appear first as friends and even Godly leaders. Yet, time will reveal their deceptions and motives as contrary to the gospel.
  3. They prize influence over transparency and submission. Those who know not the redemption of Christ value their own authority and the fame and prestige of others to a higher degree than humble submission and honesty. These false brothers will speak with great admiration of those who have accomplished much with worldly success while disparaging the persistent ministry of faithful saints who bear much spiritual fruit with little material gain. They will quote famous false teachers and excuse overt sin or error if there is material success. They will appeal to positional authority instead of trusting the truth to defend them. They will cite their position as if it was given them by God and state that as their authority to make decisions.

When seeking to lead the church, we must be diligent to watch out for those who are false teachers.

Brief Thoughts: Galatians 1:21-24

21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

One of the most common character traits among great Christian leaders is a startling lack of desire for fame. There is a profound humility that accompanies the self-aware Christian. It is a humility born out of the understanding that man’s works and achievements cannot secure salvation. Paul certainly grasped the weighty truth that God alone must save. It is this truth that drives the bulk of his letter to the Galatians. Paul is not redeemed because he deserves redemption or has earned righteous covering. Rather, Paul is acutely aware that his own salvation is the result of grace extended from God’s hands to him. Likewise, any exaltation or honor for the work of the gospel after Paul’s conversion is due to Christ alone.

Reflecting on his journey in Christ, Paul explains that he was obscure and unknown in person to the Christian leaders for several years. He did not travel to Jerusalem and was not trying to advance politically. Indeed, in his former life of Judaism, Paul had attempted to make a name for himself, climbing the ranks of religious leadership. His Christian journey is marked by an attitude contrary to his former life. He seeks no fame nor accolade for himself. His testimony bears witness that he is concerned with the glory of God, not his own fame or fortune.

Beware of those who seek to make their own name great. Those supposed men of God who must have their names printed on everything are truly men who are seeking their own glory. A leader who seeks his own glory is not a leader worth following. Instead, seek to follow leaders who are obsessed with the glory of God and His kingdom. A Godly leader is one who will place the exaltation of Christ above his own prestige.

Paul seeks the glory of the Lord and early on in his ministry was privileged to be used by God to acclaim Jesus’ name and glory. Indeed, Paul recognizes that true joy is found not in fame or self-exaltation, but in lifting high the name of Jesus.

In Western Christianity, there is a pressure among teachers and preachers of the gospel to make their own names great. Marketing strategies, blogs, video curriculums, and the like are sold with particular teacher’s names attached and there is a particular glory that is often ascribed to these teachers. Consider Paul’s testimony in light of such a reality. He was not known to any of them personally, nor was he a famous teacher. Yet, the Lord used his testimony to further the Gospel and in this Paul found his value. “They only were hearing it said, ‘He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they glorified God because of me” (v. 23-24).

If we desire to glorify God above ourselves there are a few things we can learn from Paul.

  1. Seek to grow in your knowledge of God in fervent, God-obsessed, self-obscurity. Paul begins his discipleship process among unknown saints. He joins the disciples in Arabia (1:17) and does not pursue any of the big names until three years into his growth as a Christian (1:18). Learn to cultivate a love for obscurity. In this modern age, obscurity can be a blessing. When everything is put online for the world to see, there is little room for error or mistake and there is less forgiveness than there is room.
  2. Train yourself to find value in God’s glory. As Paul reflects on his life, he finds his value in knowing that his past wickedness is used to glorify God. There is certainly shame over his past life, yet God has redeemed him and is using his former self-righteousness to exalt the Gospel.
  3. Think heavily about grace and strive to extend it to everyone. A cursory read of Paul’s life in the book of Acts will show that he became obsessed with grace. Recognizing that the law could not save and that his previous successes as a Pharisee meant very little in the Kingdom, Paul demonstrates that God saves whoever will come (John 6:37). There is no preference given to one group over another, only grace extended to every weary and repentant sinner. Even the apostle Paul had to learn to cultivate grace. Paul’s relationship with Barnabas certainly helped him learn to extend grace to his brothers and sisters in Christ as is exemplified in his reaction to John Mark and his apparent shift from early in his ministry to the place of 2 Timothy 4:11.

Learning to practice these three things will help to cultivate a vision for God’s glory over self-exaltation. In the long run, these will bring you much more joy in your Christian walk.