The Book of Galatians was the first letter that Paul wrote, and it is a defense of the gospel. At the very beginning of his ministry, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he writes to defend the gospel: the gospel as revealed by Jesus through the apostles, and to him as well; the only true gospel. He is its great defender. That’s how he began his writing ministry in the New Testament.
Of all the apostles, no one was more intent on guarding the gospel than Paul: guarding the accuracy of the gospel, guarding the clarity of the gospel, and guarding the priority of the gospel. What is the gospel? It is the good news that the one true living God, who is holy and sovereign will forgive sinners and grant them reconciliation with Himself and eternal life if they put their trust in His Son Jesus Christ.
Paul was called by God in Philippians 1:7 for the defense and confirmation of the gospel. We know that it’s critical that we get the gospel right, because this is the reason the church exists in the world, to preach the gospel to every person. So people can hear, believe, and be saved and brought to eternal glory. Every preacher like the apostle Paul is to be set for the defense of the gospel.
Now Paul was absolutely sure of one thing, and that was that the gospel came down from heaven. The way of salvation came from God, the one who was offended by all the law breakers in His world. The gospel is what it is because God has said so. It is not subject to human change or replacement. Anyone who tampers with the gospel is cursed (Galatians 1:8) and will be punished.
Paul wrote the book of Romans, sixteen chapters, the longest of his epistles. Romans is a systematic presentation of the gospel in logical order embracing all the doctrines contained in the gospel. And in 1 Corinthians, Paul defends the gospel against the corruptions brought in by human wisdom and carnal thought. And in 2 Corinthians, Paul assaults the false teachers.
In Ephesians, Paul emphasizes in particular that the gospel is entirely the work of God, and that salvation in every individual case is also the work of God. In Philippians, he gives a contrast between the corrupters of the gospel and the true testimony which he himself gives. He, the true preacher of the gospel has received the righteousness of God as a gift, not by works, but by faith alone in Christ.
In Colossians, he addresses all useless attempts to add human elements to the gospel. In 1 Thessalonians, he speaks of the power and the assurance of the gospel in the believer’s life. In 2 Thessalonians, he speaks of the consummation of the gospel at the return of Jesus Christ. In 1st and 2nd Timothy, he gives instruction to pastors, to faithfully safeguard reading and preaching the gospel.
Everything Paul wrote was about the gospel. In Romans, he says, “I have to preach the gospel; it is the power of God unto salvation. I’m not ashamed of the gospel.” To the Corinthians he says, “Necessity is laid upon me. Yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.” He says, “I preach Jesus Christ alone and Jesus Christ crucified. I’m determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
He was a warrior to the very end. It’s always a fight against the spiritual enemy, the powers of Satan and demons. It’s always a battle against deceivers. It’s always a battle against false brethren, false teachers, false prophets and false gospels. Now what is Paul saying about the gospel in Galatians? Primarily this: that salvation by grace is received by faith alone.
Why? Because the Jews had twisted true Jewish religion from believing God, and receiving His righteousness credited to you by faith, which was true of Abraham and all the true saints of the Old Testament. They had twisted it into a works-righteousness system which was really propagated by the kingdom of darkness, and nation Israel was apostate far from God.
And when Jesus came, they would not accept the true Messiah or His true gospel; and judgment came down on them in massive force by the Romans in the destruction of Jerusalem. That judgment continues on the Jewish people to this day who will reject Christ and salvation by grace alone through faith alone. There is one God, who says there is only one way to be saved, and that is through faith in Jesus Christ.
So what does Satan want to do? Well, first of all, he wants to prevent people from hearing the true gospel and being saved. Secondly, he wants to take believers who have already believed the gospel and been saved, and convince them that they’re too tight on the gospel. Many “Christian” people, want to lighten it up, because they don’t want the rejection that comes with it.
Paul writes this letter to get them to the point where they are crystal clear on the gospel by faith alone, apart from any works. So here come these false teachers, into Galatia; and they go into the churches, and they begin to confuse the believers that Paul has poured his life into. Now why should they believe him? Well, he is an apostle, and he has received that from the mouth of Jesus and he declared that to them.
He was converted on the road to Damascus when Jesus encountered him there: struck him blind, knocked him down. Three days later he receives his sight, and immediately he is sent to Arabia for three years. He goes to Nabataean Arabia, and spends three years there being instructed by Jesus. He has seen no apostle and met no apostle. He has three years of private tutoring by Jesus.
He comes back after three years, goes to Jerusalem for a couple of weeks; wanting to meet Peter. Finds Barnabas, who becomes a companion in the future. Is sent away because of persecution. Goes back and spends fourteen years planting churches in Syria, Cilicia and in Galatia on his first missionary trip. During those fourteen years he did make one visit to Jerusalem, when he brought them money from the church at Antioch.
Now as we come to Galatians 2, he comes to Jerusalem after a total of seventeen years, and went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas and also Titus. We saw his companion Titus; that’s very important. He is telling the Galatians, “I brought Titus. We went to Jerusalem. When we got to Jerusalem we were in the mother church with the apostles. We were there actually at the Jerusalem Council.”
This is recorded in Acts 15 when the apostles were gathered together – none of them compelled Titus to be circumcised. That was the first affirmation of the apostles on Paul’s authority and Paul’s gospel. Paul says this was an issue because of the false brethren secretly brought in by Satan, to spy out our freedom, which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.
The Jerusalem Council decided for the true gospel. They did it visibly by not compelling Titus to be circumcised. They did it officially by drawing up a document that lays out that you do not make Gentiles go through any acts, rituals, rights, ceremonies, traditions, as a necessity for salvation. We have been set free in Christ. Don’t let anybody put you back into bondage.
So when Christ died, you died in Christ. When Christ rose, you rose in Christ. Christ perfectly fulfilled the law. He has fulfilled the law on your behalf. He died on your behalf; He rose on your behalf. He lives in complete, perfect conformity to the law of God on your behalf as a believer. Galatians 5:1, “Keep standing firm. Do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”
Verse 6, “But from those who seemed to be something—whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favoritism to no man—for those who seemed to be something added nothing to me.” Paul says I met with those apostles, Peter and John, and I met with the brother of the Lord, James, who is the head of the Jerusalem Church. They basically made no difference to me.
Look, I am simply a preacher, nothing more. I have absolutely zero authority in the world. My education gives me no authority. My mind gives me no authority. My experience gives me no authority. I have zero authority as a leader of a church. My position gives me no authority. The only authority is that authority that comes from God through His Word; and I only pass that on to you.
It is impossible to believe that you have to do something that contributes to your salvation, and at the same time, be a Christian. If you think your morality, your religiosity, your baptism contributes to your salvation or is in any part necessary, you can’t be a Christian; you’ve fallen from grace. This is about the truth of the gospel remaining with you.
It’s not about who I am. It’s not about who Peter is, who James is, who John is, or anybody else. It’s about the gospel. And they saw it. “It was the same gospel, and I had been called to give it to the uncircumcised, and Peter had been called to give it to the circumcised.” Two worlds: the Jewish world, the Gentile world. The action is: the gospel to the uncircumcised and to the circumcised.
Verse 8 takes it a step further. “For He,” (that’s the Holy Spirit) “who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles.” The same Holy Spirit that empowered Peter from the Day of Pentecost on, as he preaches, and thousands of people are converted, “The same power in Peter as an apostle is the power in me. We have the same gospel and Holy Spirit.
They both possessed the same gospel, were empowered by the same Holy Spirit. There is no difference in message, there is no difference in power between Peter and Paul, and this decision was affirmed officially. Verse 9, “James, the brother of our Lord, the head of the Jerusalem church and Cephas (Peter) and John, the main leaders of the church, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship.”
Verse 9, “They recognized the grace that had been given to me.” This is the final blow to the Judaizers. They wanted Titus to be circumcised; but that wasn’t required. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:17, “A stewardship was committed to me.” He also says that it Is required of stewards that he be found faithful. And Paul was faithful all the way to the end: fought the good fight and kept the faith.
Notice that phrase in verse 9, “recognized the grace that had been given to me.” It’s the grace of the calling, the saving calling on the Damascus Road. That was all grace, wasn’t it? It was grace from God that called him to be an apostle. It was grace that taught him for three years. It was grace that empowered him. It was grace that produced the results. It’s all of the grace of God.
If anything ever happens as a result of anything I have ever said anywhere, anytime throughout my entire life, it is not because of me, it is because of the grace that has been given to me. It is the grace that touches the souls of people. Only God’s grace accounts for the spread of the gospel. Only God’s grace accounts for the growth of the church and for the power of the Word of God to transform lives.
Lastly in verse 9 his commendation. “They gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.” They affirmed exactly what God had called them to do. Paul was going to preach to the Gentiles, he was sent by the Lord to do just that. He began proclaiming Jesus saying, “He is the Son of God.” That’s why the Lord called him.
They finally ask him to do one thing. This is the final blow against the Judaizers. The only thing they asked was to remember the poor. Verse 10, “Remember the poor, the very thing I also was eager to do.” And if you study the life of Paul, he did that constantly in his ministry. In the early church, they were having all things in common, and they would distribute it to those who had a need.
Why were there so many poor saints in Jerusalem? On the Day of Pentecost, there were hundreds of thousands of Jews that came from all over the world back to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. They were converted there. They ended up staying because there was no other church anywhere. They had to be taken care of by the people in Jerusalem. It was tough to be a Christian; you wouldn’t have any resources.
Everywhere he went Paul was collecting money to bring to Jerusalem. 2 Corinthians 9:6, “Give generously. He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” 1 Corinthians 16:2-3, “Let each one of you lay something aside weekly, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. 3 And when I come, I will send your gift to Jerusalem.”
A Christian is a person who loves God, and who desires to love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. The moral law, is simply a reflection of the nature of God. If you love someone, you desire to please that person, right? If you love someone, you do everything you can to please that person. You are not required to do that, but your heart wants to do that. That’s what it is like to be a Christian.
We’re not mad like the older brother in the prodigal son story because somebody broke the law. He is furious that his law-breaking brother was forgiven, and he is furious that his father forgave him. So he really is a Pharisee; a Judaizer and a legalist. Look, we love God and we love His law. And we love each other. You don’t have to force us to meet the needs of the poor; that’s the thing we are eager to do.
So are we law-breakers now because we are believers? No. We pay no attention to the circumcision, external laws, and ancestral traditions. But the moral law is a reflection of God whom we love, and therefore we love everything about God that’s a reflection of His glory. There might be different methods, but there’s only one gospel, one theology. And the truth of the gospel must be defended and proclaimed. Let’s pray.