If the apostle Paul came to preach in our country today, Iím sure he would be rejected by much of so called ďChristianity.Ē They would say he had no accreditation. "We didnít ordain him as an apostle, he didnít get his training at our seminaries. He doesnít have a license to preach in our denomination. He doesnít even have a degree from any seminary."
Most of the first two chapters of Galatians is given over to Paul's defense of his ministry and the message of salvation by grace, through faith, plus nothing.
Galatians is the only epistle Paul wrote directly to a group of churches. All of his others were written to individuals like Timothy, Titus, Philemon, or to individual churches such as the church at Thessalonica, or to the believers at Corinth, Ephesus, Colosse, Philippi and Rome. The epistle to the Galatians was passed from church to church, and in that way, several churches in Galatia and Asia Minor received this message from the Apostle to the Gentiles.
On Paulís first missionary journey he preached in the cities of Antioch, Icouium, Derbe and Lystra, and had great success in leading men into the wonderful saving grace of God. These believers then gathered into local assemblies and were enjoying the liberty of salvation by grace through faith. They were saved by Godís grace and kept by the power of God. They were enjoying their freedom from Godís judgment until the false teachers came and claimed that Paul was not an official apostle sent out by the church in Jerusalem. These legalizers began to preach that the Galatians had to be circumcised after the Law, that they had to keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved and stay saved. Paul wrote the letter to the Galatian churches in an effort to set these matters straight.
His answers to the false doctrine of the legalizers was that salvation is entirely apart from the Law of Moses, apart from works, or any effort on man's part.
Paul stated that he had received this message from God out of heaven but the legalizers and Judaizers in Jerusalem still rejected it. This new message he delivered was simply this: All men, Jews and Gentiles alike, can be saved by grace and kept by grace entirely apart from the works of the Law. The key word in Paulís message is "grace." The key verse is Galatians 2:21: "I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain!"
His message was that salvation is by faith in the person and finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is simply believing what the Bible tells us about Jesus, His birth, His life, His death, burial, and resurrection.
Salvation is not "religion," itís not good works, itís not reformation, itís not education, itís not culture nor is it a group of ordinances. Salvation is not a ritual or a ceremony. Itís not prayers, good works, nor giving to the poor. Itís the hell-deserving sinner, simply coming to Jesus Christ in faith, believing that Jesus died for our sins "According to the scriptures."
Galatians 1:11-12: "But I certify to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. 12: For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ."
His message came directly from Jesus Christ. It was ďChrist in you, the hope of glory!" (Colossians 1:27). It didnít come from any man and you and I will never be able to boast about our salvation simply because our salvation comes entirely of the Lord.
Believers today face the same problem Paul faced in Galatia. We still have churches who teach "salvation by grace plus works." But the Bible says, in Romans 4:5 "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness."
Verses 13 and 14: "For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers."
Paulís "conversation" here means his "conduct" or "manner of life" while he was wholeheartedly involved in Judaism.
The cross brought about the Dispensation of Grace. When the Lamb of God was sacrificed, there remained no more sacrifice for sin. Jesus offered Himself once, for all, forever, and of course the Jewish sacrifices and rituals became mere religious activity--or, as Paul called it, "the Jews' religion."
I donít suppose there was a better educated man than Paul in his day, and certainly there was no one more zealous. When he consented to the death of Stephen, and allowed the young men to lay their coats at his feet while they stoned Stephen, Saul of Tarsus thought he was doing God a favor. He thought the Christian religion was an enemy to the religion of his fathers and he had used his man-given authority to defend the religion of the Jews.
Verses 15 and 16: "But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood."
Paul believed that God had chosen him while still in his motherís womb to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. He had been born with two names, Saul, his Jewish name, and Paul, his Roman name. He was a Jew, born a Roman citizen. Acts 13:9 records the first usage of his Gentile name, Paul. This is fitting because he was the apostle to the Gentiles.
While he was still known by his Jewish name, Saul of Tarsus, he had been led to the Lord by Ananias there in Damascus. God spoke to Ananias and made it clear that he was to tell Saul of Tarsus the way of salvation.
When he realized that God had called him as an apostle to the Gentiles, he wrote, in verse 16b-17: ďimmediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: 17: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus."
Paul was not bound by any group as to what to preach, or where or when to preach. After his conversion he spent a little time in Damascus preaching, then he journeyed into Arabia. (Arabia reached almost up to the border of Damascus, but it didnít include that city.)
Paul trusted in Christ and immediately began preaching in the synagogues in Damascus that Jesus was the Son of God, something he had vehemently denied previously. He continued to preach there until his life was threatened and he escaped when some of his friends let him down in a basket over the city wall by night.
Verse 18: "Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days." The three years referred to in this verse are difficult to place exactly. Some believe it is the time spoken of as "many days" in Acts 9:23. Paul is simply recording the fact that he preached the Gospel before he saw any of the apostles at Jerusalem and that his authority and ordination had come from the Lord Jesus Christ. No man gave him his message or apostleship, he was set apart by God to preach the good news of salvation by grace through faith plus nothing.
Verse 19: "But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother."
Paul met only two disciples, Peter and James there in Jerusalem, and he received neither advice nor instruction from the disciples.
Verse 20: "Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not." Paul realized the responsibility that rested on him concerned the eternal destiny of men. He was not a religionist, he was a minister of the Gospel, chosen and ordained by God. He spoke earnestly and truthfully what the Holy Spirit dictated to him. In Romans 9:1, Paul begins by saying, "I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost."
Verses 21-24: "Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; and was unknown by face unto the churches of Judea which were in Christ: but they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed. And they glorified God in me.Ē
The people of Syria and Cilicia hadnít seen Paulís face but had heard that His authority in the spiritual realm came from God and not from men so they accepted him. Paul expected no glory or praise from men, but he was always glad when men glorified God through him, that is, they glorified God when they believed the God-given message Paul preached.
Paul continues his message to the Galatians of Godís grace to all men in chapter 2.
Galatians 2:1. ďThen fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also."
Chapter 2 recalls the visit of Paul, Barnabas, and Titus to Jerusalem and the important matters discussed at the council in Jerusalem that is described in Acts 15. The issue of circumcision had been brought up by the Judaizers and false teachers who claimed to represent the mother church in Jerusalem. They declared that the believers at Antioch and Syria were not really saved because they hadnít obeyed the Law of Moses in the ritual of circumcision. We have a denomination today that preaches you arenít saved until you have been baptized.
Verse 2: "And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that Gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain."
Paul went up to Jerusalem according to the revealed will of God and gave them an exact account of "The Gospel which I preach among the Gentiles.Ē
That should be the believerís goal, too, to always seek the will of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all we do.
When he arrived at the council meeting he didnít minimize the fact that he had been preaching the new message of "salvation by grace through faith plus nothing." He told the leaders exactly what he had been preaching to the Gentiles. Paul knew the disagreement was serious and that it could only be solved through the Holy Spirit.
There was danger that the spread of the Gospel could be hindered by this conflict between salvation by grace through faith and Judaism. Paul wanted the cooperation of the apostles, rather than their opposition but he dare not compromise the message of grace. He stood firm on the one foundation: Jesus Christ, crucified, buried, and risen "according to the Scripture," and "Christ in you, the hope of glory." He rightfully believed that the only hope for any poor sinner, regardless of race, creed, or color, is the grace of God, Christ in your heart by faith.
Verses 3-5: "But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: and that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: to whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour, that the truth of the Gospel might continue with you."
Not even Titus, who was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. At another time, under different circumstances, Paul had Timothy circumcised but he did it on the principle of being "all things to all men, that I might by all means save some." Acts 16:3.
But when the apostles in Jerusalem insisted that Titus be circumcised as a condition of spiritual fellowship, Paul stood his ground in order that the truth of the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith without works might continue to be preached.
He was willing to do anything and everything reasonable to reach anyone with the Gospel but he also realized the danger of adding to the Gospel of grace, and he flatly refused to permit Titus to be circumcised. False brethren had been brought in without his knowing it and he didnít compromise with them one iota.
Verses 6-10: "But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man's person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me: But contrariwise, when they saw that the Gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the Gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; (For He that wrought effectual in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:) And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do."
The result of the meeting was that Paul's authority and his doctrine were recognized as from God and was acknowledged by the true apostles. It always pays to stand up for Jesus. He declared that the Christian is not under the Law, that the Law canít help save anyone, and that the Law doesnít help keep anyone saved.
He also emphasized that the believer should be careful in the exercise of the liberty provided in the grace of God.
At this same time, the conclusion was reached that God had called Peter to minister to the nation of Israel and that He had called Paul to minister to the Gentiles. Peter and the other apostles extended the right hand of fellowship to Paul, acknowledging that there is no difference between the Jew and the Gentile, but that all must be saved alike: By grace, through faith in the finished work of Jesus, without the deeds of the Law, without the practices of Judaism.
Verse 11: "But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed."
In Antioch, something happened which caused Paul to openly rebuke Peter. At the trial of Jesus, we had seen that Peter could be a little two faced.
In Jerusalem, Peter had sanctioned Paul's position that the Christian believer is not under the Law of Moses, but when he came to visit Paul in Antioch, he took a different attitude and Paul said he was truly ďto be blamed.Ē
Verses 12-14: ďFor before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. 13: And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. 14: But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?Ē
Peterís action is hard to understand, and hard to explain; but remember, Peter was a man of like passions as we are so he was not infallible. Peter was not alone. Other Jews, including Barnabas, ďwere carried away with their dissimulationĒ for a time.
The Apostle Paul stood alone, declaring the liberty "wherewith Christ hath made us free" (Galatians 5:1). Thank God that the Apostle Paul feared no one except the Lord who called and ordained him, even when his friend and companion Barnabas, walked away.
I paraphrase Paulís words to Peter before all of the Jews, in verse 14: "Peter, if you are a Jew, living after the manner of Gentiles and not as do the Jews, why do you compel the Gentiles to live as Jews live?" "Why do you live one way, and command others to live another way?"
According to Galatians 2:11-14, Peter had nothing to say when he was rebuked by Paul.
Certainly he had made a sad mistake in his actions at Antioch, but he didnít defend his actions when Paul declared that both Jews and Gentiles are on the same grounds where sin and salvation are concerned.
With Peter present, Paul spoke of his own personal relationship to the Law of Moses, "For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God!" Galatians 2:19.
Paul never said "The Law is dead," he said, "I am dead to the Law!" Paul is speaking of God's Law, including the ten commandments. As far as that Law is concerned, Paul said, "In the eyes of the Law, I no longer exist.Ē
The Law is still alive. It still curses, it still condemns, itís still the ministration of death. The Law demands the death penalty for sin, but Paul said, "I am beyond the reach of the Law forever! I am dead to the Law. What I never could have done in my flesh, Jesus did for me.Ē (Romans 8:1-4).
In Romans 7:4 Paul wrote, "Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the Law by the body of Christ." What Paul had in Christ, as believers we also have in Christ.
Romans 6:14: "for ye are not under the Law, but under grace." Every born again believer is under grace, not under the Law.
In Galatians 2:20-21, Paul puts it this way: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me. 21: I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.Ē
Simply stated, the believer is dead to the Law, but alive unto God, and Christ did not die in vain.
Peterís later actions proved that he had fully accepted what Paul preached and he also preached that the Gospel of Godís grace was on an equal basis to Jews and Gentiles alike.