Sermon for a house church on June 23rd, 2019. Notes below:
Just two short weeks ago we began a series digging into Paul’s letter to the Galatians. In this season of transition this summer, we’ve wanted to focus on two things: healing together as a community, and discerning God’s will regarding what the next season of local church life should look like for us all.
Towards those ends, we want to remind ourselves of the foundation for all that we do: the gospel of Jesus Christ. In this letter, Paul is calling the Galatian Christians back to the true gospel. False teachers were pressuring the Galatians to add to the work of Christ, and in our own ways, we can be susceptible to the same pressures, drifting from the gospel.
By focusing on Paul’s letter to the Galatians, our hope is that we would better understand and live out this gospel of grace, seeing the sufficiency of Christ’s death and resurrection. These past two weeks we’ve looked at chapter 1, where Paul began to lay out his argument for returning back to the true gospel:
- We saw Paul’s astonishment that the Galatians would so quickly turn to a distorted gospel contrary to what Paul preached to them.
- We saw that Paul received the gospel that he preached through a revelation of Jesus Christ, not through man and not by himself.
Last week, as Charlie led us through the last half of chapter 1, we saw Paul begin to recount the history of his calling. Paul’s former life in Judaism was marked by persecution of the church as he sought to destroy it. Jesus broke into Paul’s life in a miraculous way, calling him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles.
Reading of the Word
This morning we want to continue looking at Paul’s story, particularly in the context of the authority and confirmation of his calling. If you have a Bible, you can turn to Galatians chapter 2, and we’ll be looking specifically at verses 1 to 10.
When we come to this passage, Paul is now turning to the second trip he made to Jerusalem, appearing before the other apostles there. Paul is continuing to build on the argument he started in chapter 1, making a case for the validity of the gospel that he preached.
I’ll read this through once and we’ll spend a moment in prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate God’s word to us. Then I’ll read it again and we can dig in.
Galatians chapter 2, beginning in verse 1. This is God’s word:
 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me.  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.  But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.  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–  to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.  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.  On 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  (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.  Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.
Before we dive in, a couple points of clarification.
Paul mentions “those who seemed to be influential” in verses 2 and 6. This is most likely James and Peter and John, those “who seemed to be pillars” in verse 9. You’ll remember back in chapter 1 that Paul recounted his first trip to Jerusalem. During that trip he met with Peter and James, staying with Peter for fifteen days. Paul was acquainted with these pillars of the church.
Verse 2 also says that Paul set the gospel before those in Jerusalem, “in order to make sure [he] was not running or had not run in vain.” Paul uses this language in his others letters as well. Paul charged the Philippians to, “[hold] fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I [Paul] may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.”
Paul similarly told the Thessalonians that, “when I [Paul] could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.” Paul was concerned for these churches. He had labored over them, boldly proclaiming the gospel of Christ. He didn’t want them to slide back, drifting into a different gospel.
Paul wanted the Galatian Christians to know that the gospel he preached to them was trustworthy. That it didn’t come from him, and there was authority in it’s source. Paul wanted them to know that this gospel was completely sufficient, and nothing else needed to be added to it. For Paul, Jesus + Something = Nothing, but Jesus + Nothing = Everything.
Let’s walk through what Paul says here in this passage, and we’ll look at three points. First, what is this grace that was given to Paul? Second, what does it mean that Paul didn’t yield in submission to these false gospels? And third, what is the gospel?
The grace that was given to Paul
Paul knew that getting the gospel right mattered. Most importantly, Paul wanted the Galatians to see that the gospel he preached was true because he received it directly from Jesus. Practically, Paul also wanted the Galatians to see that the gospel he preached was the same gospel preached by the pillars of the church.
We see in verse 9 Paul describing the response to the gospel he had been preaching:
 [W]hen 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 had been given an incredible grace. This was evident to all who knew of his story. Jesus had broken into his life in an incredibly miraculous way, putting a stop to his violent opposition and persecution of the church. Even more than that, Jesus himself had commissioned Paul, calling him to preach the gospel.
You’ll remember in Acts chapter 9, where God appeared to Ananias and told him to find Saul of Tarsus, otherwise known as Paul. Ananias responded that he had heard of all the evil Saul had done, seemingly reluctant and afraid to meet this man. God responded to the protest of Ananias, saying in verse 15:
 “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.”
This is amazing. Paul, the one who had approved of the execution of Stephen, had been entrusted with preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, the same gospel that he had been so fervently seeking to destroy. Jesus had completely changed the trajectory of Paul’s life, despite the fact that Paul had so intensely hated Jesus. This is amazing grace.
James, Peter, and John had seen this grace in Paul. They had heard the gospel that Paul had been proclaiming. They had seen the fruit of his ministry. And in light of this evident grace and gospel that had been entrusted to him, the pillars gave Paul the right hand of fellowship. Peter, writing close to twenty years later in his second letter, had this to say of Paul:
 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him,  as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.
At the end of his life, Peter was able to call Paul a beloved brother. More than that, Peter was able to call Paul’s letters Scripture. This is the extent of that right hand of fellowship extended to Paul. Paul was not some lesser apostle, but had the same authority as those that had walked with Jesus during his earthly ministry.
Paul’s words here are not just his words, but God’s words. Paul’s concern here is not just his concern, but God’s concern. If Paul was this burdened that the Galatians wouldn’t add anything else to the gospel that had been given to them, we should take this seriously. If the Galatian Christians could so easily drift, perhaps we can as well.
Don’t submit to a false gospel
In Paul’s day, there were people who were confusing and twisting the gospel. Some were calling into question Paul himself and his authority, claiming he wasn’t worthy of being listened to. Others were adding to the gospel, saying you needed to keep the Law to truly be saved. Paul encountered these people in his ministry, and we see his response in verses 4 and 5:
 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–  to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.
Paul was setting an example for the Galatian Christians, warning them of what they would no doubt continue to face in their churches. Things haven’t changed too drastically since then, and this warning is still relevant for us today. We’re just as susceptible to confusing and twisting the gospel, calling into question the authoritative words of the prophets and apostles.
It’s sobering to realize that Paul was speaking of false brothers in the midst of the Galatian churches. These were members of their community, attending their fellowship, who were leading them astray. This means that false teaching, though certainly proclaimed from outside the church, can also come from within. Some examples might come to mind right away:
- The gospel of prosperity. Financial blessing and physical health are always the will of God for his people. Faith, positive speech, and donations to church causes will bring material wealth. The Bible is essentially a contract between God and man: if we have faith in God, he will deliver security and prosperity. Jesus + Faith, Positivity, Donations = Wealth, Health.
- The gospel of mysticism. A direct experience of God is achieved through union with him, via various disciplines of spiritual formation. This necessarily goes beyond Scripture, beyond doctrine and teaching, and beyond the Church. This is how you hear directly from God, experiencing a divine mystery. Jesus + Disciplines = Hidden Knowledge, Experience.
- The gospel of legalism. “If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema.” Jesus + Works = Justification, Salvation.
None of these are the gospel because every one of them adds to Jesus. All of them, in some way, claim that Jesus isn’t sufficient. That there’s some sort of transaction that needs to happen. Whether it’s the right level of faith, a certain amount of money, a specific set of practices, or living a particular life, all of it involves some sort of effort on our part.
Don’t miss the fact that, in every one of those equations, the end result is never Jesus. The promise is never Christ. The promise is always something other than Jesus, with the unspoken implication that the promise is better than Jesus. Not only is Jesus insufficient to save on his own, he’s not even the treasure that we receive in the end.
All of this is another kind of Law. Paul calls this slavery. Paul says that these false brothers peddling false gospels are robbing you of your freedom in Christ. And because of that, there’s no way he would ever yield in submission. Not even for a moment. Because the truth of the gospel is at stake. The truth of the gospel needs to be preserved.
Our hope in Jesus
What is this gospel that we need to preserve, being careful not to drift away from? It’s easy to use the word “gospel” and not define what it is. You’ll remember that Richard recommended a book two weeks ago titled What is the Gospel by Greg Gilbert. In the book, Greg uses four words to summarize the good news: God, Mankind, Jesus, and Response.
Who is God? Genesis tells us that, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” God is creator. Everything has its origination in him. Genesis also tells us that, “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” As the creator and sustainer of all existence, God is the one who defines what good is. He is holy and righteous. He is good.
Who are we? Genesis again tells us that, “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’” We were made to reflect, love, and obey God, living in fellowship with him. God also said, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Satan deceived Eve, Eve led Adam astray, and Adam blamed everyone but himself. And with their sin, the rest of humanity was plunged into sin as well. Paul says in Romans that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We’ve all rejected God, falling for the same lie all the way back in the garden. We all want to be gods. We all shall surely die.
Who is Jesus? As humanity was falling, God said to Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” There would one day come a man who would crush Satan under his feet. This was Jesus, the God-man, the savior of the world.
Isaiah prophesied that Jesus, “was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” Jesus took upon himself the guilt and shame of our sin, dying the death that we deserved, so that we could know life. He rose from death so that we could live forever.
How should we respond? Paul says in Romans that, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” God calls us to turn from our rebellion against him, trusting in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. It’s only there that we will ever find life.
This is the gospel. This is what Paul was so adamant about preserving. Christ died for my sins. We add nothing to this good news. There’s nothing we could possibly do to earn or pay for our salvation. No amount of force of will, money, or good deeds could ever outweigh the guilt of our sin. Jesus alone is our rescue. Jesus alone is sufficient. Thanks be to God.
A benediction from Hebrews 13:20-21:
 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant,  equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.