Galatians 2:1-10, “Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me. And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain. Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.
And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.
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.
But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.”
Moving from his introduction in chapter one Paul waists no time recounting his first run-in with the very crew that had now come to Galatia peddling a Gospel distortion. (Note: Grace, And; Grace, But; or Grace, So in place of Grace.) In a parallel account recorded in Act 15:1 we’re told these men had “come down from Judea to Antioch to teach the brethren that unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
Paul’s point in bringing this up was to make it known to these Galatians that he was not only familiar with these men, but that this very point of contention had already been settled years before. In recounting these events Paul is making three very important points:
(1) The Gospel message he had received came directly from Jesus and had not been influenced by the Apostles. It’s the essence of what he’s communicating when he writes, “For those who seemed to be something added nothing to me.”
(2) While this may have been the case the Apostles (specifically Peter, James, and John) not only rejected the heresy peddled by the same men who had come to Galatia, but they completely agreed with the Gospel message Paul had been preaching… “Grace.”
Paul not only explains that “Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was not compelled to be circumcised” by the arguments made by these “false brethren,” but the Apostles failure to find circumcision necessary only served to further validate their rejection of this position. When it was all over Paul explains “they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship.”
(3) Paul affirms that there is only one Gospel for all men - both for the Jew as much for the Gentile. He says, “The gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles).”
As we seek to unpack these things, keep in mind that these false teachers had come to Galatia preaching a “Grace, And” as well as “Grace, But” Gospel distortion. They were teaching these Gentiles believers that the essential nature of salvation was Jesus plus physical circumcision and an adherence to the dietary laws of Moses.
Since Paul had confronted such heresies back in Acts 15 he has no problem exposing their true intentions… These “false brethren” were intentionally desiring to move the churches of Galatia from the “liberty they had in Christ” in order to “bring them back into bondage.”
In Greek literature the word Paul uses for “liberty” is “eleutheria” which carried with it a very specific connotation. The word spoke of a unique legal transaction by which a slave was purchased and freed not by a mere mortal, but instead through the intervention of a god.
As the slave could not provide the funds necessary, it was the god who paid the debt into the temple treasury and was given a receipt containing the words “for freedom.” What made this transaction so unique was that because the individual was now the property of a god no man possessed the right or legal standing to enslave that person ever again.
In using this word Paul is stressing to his Galatian audience (very familiar with the implications of this concept) the completeness and totality of the liberty they had been given by Jesus. The freedom provided “in Christ’s” atoning work on the cross possessed both a momentary and comprehensive characteristic indicating it was done once for all!
Remember back to Jesus’ final words on the cross as He’s dying to atone for the sins of the world… We’re told He cried out in the Greek, before breathing His last, the word “Tetelestai” literally declaring to the world, “It is finished!” Through His death our sinful debt had been paid in full. His sacrifice on Mount Calvary was made “for our permanent freedom!”
You can understand why Paul calls them “false brethren!” No man has either the right or the legal standing to re-enslave a person Jesus died to set free! As Jesus so defiantly declared to the religious leaders in John 8:36, “If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed!”
I am sad to say the joy we should find in our new found freedom has been largely neutered by many within the church community. It’s a shame our liberty and therefore Christian culture has been relegated to the weakest among us. I am sure you (as I) have been instructed to lay aside a freedom in order to prefer the weaker brethren. Regrettably, not only is such a position un-Biblical, but the idea itself breeds legalism instead of the greater Gospel.
Before I get to this issue of great controversy and explain why any attempt at limiting liberty does nothing more than restrict our ability to fully grasp the implications of Grace (breaking free of legalism is essential if you want to discover the deeper waters of God’s grace), I need to first explain what Jesus has actually freed us from and therefore the underlying purpose behind our new found liberty.
Understand… The purpose of the law was purely diagnostic. The perfect law of God was given to man to reveal how short of God’s glory he had really fallen. The law of Moses towered over humanity declaring unquestionably that no man could ever be good enough and that all are deserving of death and judgment as a result of their rebellion against God.
Because the law set a standard no man could ever measure up too, the law was by its very nature condemning! Because the law demands a debt no man could ever satisfy to be justified, the law declares all men unrighteous before God and sentences everyone to hell.
And yet, through His atoning death on the cross, Jesus satisfied the debt of death demanded by the law… Meaning, if you’re found “in Christ” - if He’s freed you from a debt you could not pay, you’re now free from both the laws requirements and its condemnation because it’s the very law itself that now gloriously declares you and I righteous before God.
This is why Paul would boldly declare in Romans 8:1 that “there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” You see “in Christ” we are “Outlaws” because the law has already fulfilled its role in our lives. Through God’s “Grace.” (unmerited favor given through Jesus) we’ve been made righteous as God now sees each of us “just-as-if-we’d” never sinned.
And yet, always remember our liberty from the law had a purpose. Whereas the law demanded we all live in such a way in order to please God, Jesus freed us from this demand by extending to us God’s favor so that we could now be free to live a life that pleased Him.
This of it this way… Isn’t it true love is a much more powerful influencer of human behavior than law? Example: You can always tell when a man has a love-interest… Every life-change his parents have been stressing almost over night remedies themselves!
Beyond this… Isn’t it true law yields a natural relational resistance whereas unmerited kindness often produces relational reciprocation? For example… If you and your wife are having intimacy issues go home, make demands of her, and see how well that works out for you! It’s only love demonstrated through kindness that can soften a hardened heart.
You see this is what “Grace.” accomplishes in you. Grace frees a person to obey God, not because they have too, but because they now want too! Freedom not obligation. Whereas as the law demanded we all work hard to live the right way, God’s grace enables each of us to live the right way as a reciprocation of our relationship with His Son Jesus.
This is why the accusation that “Grace.” is dangerous because it provides a license for sin is not only baseless, but reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of Grace itself.
Jesus didn’t die on the cross so that you could remain in rebellion against God. He died on the cross so that you could enjoy communion with God. Forced behavioral modification through laws imposed was replaced with the natural behavioral modification yielded in a love relationship with Jesus to be enjoyed! The truth is that you can never take Grace far enough, because God’s grace will never lead a man or woman into sin!
Sadly, there are those who try to build the argument that while all this may be true the “Outlaw” concept is still misguided because the law still plays an important role in the life of a Christian. Many claim the law can still be used to point a believer in sin back to Jesus.
And yet, I think this is a tragic and misguided approach because it not only abandons the power of grace, but it sets a person’s focus onto the wrong thing. You see when the law is used to address sin in the life of the believer one of two terrible results tend to occur:
(1) It yields the condemnation of the believer… The law hammers home the reality that you’re not good enough, you’re sinful, you’ve let God down, that you’re not deserving.
(2) It yields the believers excusal of sin… Because the law correctly reminds the believer that despite their sin they are still righteous and justified before God in Jesus, using the law ends up leading to a “Grace, So” I can do anything Gospel distortion.
This is why instead of directing a believer in sin to the law we should instead direct that person back to the cross! For when we get our eyes back to Jesus and the source of our right-standing before God (His amazing grace) it is impossible to stand in either condemnation over or to justify the continuation of the sin He paid for through His sacrifice!
And yet, there is still an underlying question that needs to be answered in light of all of these things: Why would these false teachers prefer these Galatian believers be in “bondage to the law” as opposed to the “liberty provided in Christ?”
Answer: I have found that legalism within a church community often grows in the petri dish of fear, not faith! More often than not people intentionally add “ands” and “buts” to God’s freeing Grace not necessarily intending to limit the liberty provided in the work Jesus accomplished on the cross, but to instead safeguard against the abuse of that liberty.
Sure while grace gets the party started we believe it’s the law that keeps the party from getting out of control. Let me give you an example how the fear of liberty leading to sin uses the law to limit liberty in the sneakiest of ways… I have found that legalists love to play the “you’re free, but you really shouldn’t” game. It goes something like this…
And while all of these things are noble considerations, the entire approach is founded upon a fear of what could, might, or may happen when people are allowed to enjoy the liberties they have in Christ instead of faith that the Liberator knows what He’s doing by setting us free.
Not only is it true that any limitation of liberty is in and of itself a measure of bondage, but here’s the kicker… The what could, might, or may happen when other people enjoy their liberties is in actuality none of your concern! And this is where faith comes in…
While the Bible is clear the freedom yielded through Christ’s sacrificial atonement does not provide a license to sin, God’s grace undoubtedly liberates the individual to follow Jesus according to their own conscience. No one but the Liberator has the right to limit liberty! This is why when someone says, “Pastor Zach, look at what that person is doing!” My response, if the act isn’t Biblically sinful, is to simply respond, “Why do you care so much?”
Being an “Outlaw Church” does not mean we turn a blind eye to sin (it’s our Biblical job to address sinful behavior because it’s inconsistent with grace), but it does mean it’s not our place to limit freedom in the fear of what could, might, or may happen. What happens when you engage in freedom is Jesus’ responsibility because He’s the one who set you free!
You see the underlying point Paul is driving home is that if Christ sets a person free no one other than Christ has the right to say how that person should or shouldn’t enjoy their liberty! In order to illustrate this reality Paul now fast-forwards his narrative a few weeks from the Jerusalem Council to a situation that took place “when Peter had come to Antioch.”
Galatians 2:11-13, “Now when Peter had come to Antioch I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.”
It should be pointed out that Antioch was Paul’s home church and was rather unique. Historically, while most of the churches at this point in time were either predominately Jewish (i.e. the church in Jerusalem) or Gentile (i.e. the churches in Galatia) because of her location the church in Antioch was probably an even split between the two. Imagine the excitement in Antioch of having the famed Apostle Peter coming to pay this church a visit!
In order to understand what set Paul off we need to unpack what exactly happened that caused such a reaction. According to Paul’s account during the first part of Peter’s visit “he would eat with the Gentiles,” but when “certain men came from James” Peter changed his behavior, “withdrew and separated himself” by no longer eating with the Gentiles.
Keep in mind the table and the act of sharing a meal in Middle Eastern culture was viewed in a much different way that we do. First, while most of our meals are predicated upon the interesting balance of speed and price, in this society the table was the center of community and fellowship. Eating a meal was a slow and methodical process more focused on the interpersonal connections than the actual food.
Aside from this you didn’t share a meal with just anyone. The act of eating with someone carried a deeper, more mystical connotation. Instead of each individual ordering their own plate everyone at the table shared the same meal. As such the act of consuming the same food was rather intimate. In a sense you were claiming oneness and commonality. Note: This is why the Pharisees had such an issue with Jesus eating with sinners.
Understand… In eating with these Gentile believers Peter was affirming two important realities: (1) Because of grace there was no distinction between Jew and Gentile, and (2) Because of grace he possessed the liberty to eat food prohibited in the dietary law of Moses.
And yet, when these Jews came from his home church to Antioch Peter intentionally pulls back from the table of fellowship! Not only does Paul see this as “hypocritical” behavior on the part of Peter, but he takes it a step further in the very next verse.
Galatians 2:14, “But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?”
Notice what’s happening… It wasn’t just that Peter stopped eating with the Gentiles when his Jewish brothers arrived that was the issue. Paul was enraged at the fact that Peter was also requiring the Gentiles to forgo their liberties and eat a kosher diet. Paul was ticked off when he saw a stronger brother limit liberty in preference of the weaker!
This explains why Paul not only “withstood Peter” for “withdrawing and separating himself” from the Gentiles when these “men came from James,” but it also sheds light as to accusation that Peter was shockingly seeking to “compel Gentiles to live as Jews!”
Keep in mind… Paul’s issue clearly wasn’t the Gentiles or Peter for that matter eating non-kosher food around Jewish brothers who might have taken offense to it! Note: It’s safe to reason that if this had been the case Paul would have commended Peter and the Gentiles willingness to lay aside a liberty so as not to offend Jewish sensibilities.
Instead, what appears to have ruffled Paul’s feathers was the fact that Peter (a leader in the church) was not only being hypocritical concerning the enjoyment of his own liberty, but he was now activity limiting the liberties of the Gentiles.
Why would Peter do such a thing? Paul says, “Peter was to be blamed… because he feared those who were of the circumcision.” What did Peter fear? While there is no question that Peter knew grace afforded such freedoms for both the Jew and the Gentile (it’s why he had no issues eating with them in the first place), he also knew there was a group of Jews from his home church who would be offended by his enjoyment of this specific liberty.
Peter feared their enjoyment of liberty would cause a division with those who took offense to such liberties! So, in order to avoid offense and any divisions that might have come as a result, Peter decides it would be best that not only he but all of these Gentile believers lay aside their freedom and liberties for the sake of maintaining unity.
While on the surface it’s not hard to understand why Peter would take this approach (if we’re honest at some point we’ve all heard the exhortation to limit liberty in order to “prefer the weaker brother”); and yet, Paul still blows a gasket… Why? Paul views this approach to Christian liberty as “not being straightforward about the truth of the gospel!”
Understand… Because Christian liberty only exists because of the atoning work of Jesus on the cross, to restrict this liberty in any way is to undermine the very nature of grace itself! The fear of offense was highjacking the freedom Jesus died to provide.
The sad reality behind Peter’s actions and what is often the fundamental driver behind the trappings of legalism was not a failure to believe the Gospel, but a failure to fully trust the Gospel! To protect the Gospel message Paul defended the freedom of these Gentiles.
So the logical question should be… Is there any dynamic by which a believer should willingly limit liberty? Honestly, I’m convinced the key to fully grasping the radicle nature of “Christian Liberty” gains clarity when we understand the only Biblical limitation of our libety occurs for the benefit of the lost and not for the maintaining of Church unity.
For example… Look at 1 Corinthians 10:23-33, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other's well-being. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience' sake; for ‘the earth is the LORD's, and all its fullness.’
If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience' sake. But if anyone says to you, ‘This was offered to idols,’ do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you, and for conscience' sake; for ‘the earth is the LORD's, and all its fullness.’
‘Conscience,’ I say, not your own, but that of the other. For why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience? But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks? Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.”
If your liberty restricts your ability to reach a group of unsaved people God has called you to reach “you would do well” to lay aside that liberty. It was the sole reason the Apostles established the restrictions they did at the end of Acts 15. They feared a growing Gentile church would make it more difficult to reach the lost Jewish community with the Gospel.
To this point… How interesting that while our passage is clear Titus was not compelled to be circumcised, in Galatians 3, Paul will write of a young Gentile named Timothy who decided to be circumcised so he could reach the Jewish people with the Gospel. Timothy made the decision to forgo a liberty because he wanted to be more effective reaching the lost.
Understand… Fear of sin in your life or that in the lives of others will always revert back to the natural comfort provided in the law, whereas the liberty found in grace based upon the fact He set us free trusts that Jesus, the Liberator, knows what’s He’s doing! Paul was always able to resist this trapping “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)
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