The Truth of the Gospel
Topic: The Gospel Passage: Galatians 2:1–2:10
Paul is being bold and blunt in these verses. The book of Galatians is most certainly Paul’s most contentious letter. He is calling out “false brothers” who wanted to spy out his freedom and bring him and those with him into their enslaving traditions. He was having none of it. It is wrong to be a brawler, always looking for an argument. But it is equally wrong or more to be cowardly and not be ready to fight for what really matters. Paul is ready in this letter.
Paul is the ultimate freedom fighter. Not the freedom a sovereign nation can grant, but the freedom of a sovereign God. Paul was a warrior for the freedom the gospel alone gives. Freedom from sin. Freedom from the wrath of God. Freedom from the heavy burden of trying to keep rules. Paul loved this gospel that brings freedom. He lived and eventually died spreading it as far as he could.
Galatians is Paul’s first letter, written in about AD 49-50 and Paul’s last letter is 2 Timothy, which was written about AD 66-67. During this time period, Paul wrote 13 Holy Spirit-inspired letters which are collected for us in the scriptures. And in each and every letter, we see Paul’s main thrust of ministry. It was all about the gospel. For Paul, the gospel was not a message of initiation which people graduated from. Paul sums up his entire message and ministry in statements like this:
We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:23-24)
I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)
Near the end of his life just before his head is to be chopped off, after a life of loving, spreading, and defending the gospel, Paul writes, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith...” (2 Timothy 4:7)
So Paul’s ministry to the end was all about the gospel which brings freedom. He proclaimed the gospel everywhere he went and then after he planted and established churches, he wrote letters to those churches to defend the gospel, clarify the gospel, and expose enemies of the gospel. In Philippians 1:7 he describes his ministry as one of “defending and confirming the gospel.”
Whether it was the Gnostics or ascetics or Judaizers, Paul fiercely defended the gospel. And his essential message was: Christ alone is sufficient to save from first to last! Not Jesus AND... but Jesus Christ alone. He is the God man, who lived perfectly, died to exhaustively atone for sin, rose again victoriously, now sits at the right hand of God the Father defeating enemies, and cannot wait to come again. All he is and has done is to be received as a gift through empty handed faith! Jesus plus nothing! Through Jesus ALONE, you are free from the need to climb the mystical ladder to get closer to God. You couldn’t be any closer, since Jesus himself brings you to God! Through Christ alone, you are free from treating your body harshly to grow in holiness, since Christ is your holiness! Through Christ alone, you are free from living in meticulous obedience to rules in order to be accepted by God, because Christ is your perfect obedience and Rule-keeper! This of course is the context of the book of Galatians. Paul wants the Galatians to remember the gospel is the message of forgiveness, acceptance, and freedom in Christ alone apart from rule-keeping.
The Gospel to the Gentiles
Paul had been preaching the gospel to the Gentiles (non Jews), telling them of full forgiveness and acceptance without keeping the law and people were being saved. The same Spirit that fell on Peter, John, James, and the others on the Day of Pentecost and Paul and Jewish converts, was falling on the Gentile listeners. And God was doing this without them being circumcised or adhering to the law of Moses. In other words, they weren’t required to come into Judaism, but biblical faith was being dressed up in all cultures, which is what Jesus intended. Listen to what Paul preached in Acts 13:
Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man [Jesus] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes in freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. (Acts 13:38-39)
Think of how revolutionary this was! Paul could said to the worst criminal, “If you simply believe in Christ, you are free and your future couldn’t be brighter!” Paul could said to the lowest slave girl, “Believe in Christ and you are a free in the most important way!” Paul would said to those who were previously enemies of God, “Believe in Christ and you are 100% accepted by God and welcomed as his friend!” People were hearing this message - Jew and Gentile alike - and the Spirit was falling and joy was spreading. This is what Paul was preaching for fourteen years, but not without opposition - primarily from the Jews. Which brings us to Galatians 2. Here in Galatians 2:1-10, Paul explains events that took place in Acts 15.
In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas are in Antioch encouraging the believers with what God is doing among the Gentiles and some Jewish men from Judea come there and stir up trouble. Their message was this. “Of course, you need to believe in Jesus. AND you need to be circumcised AND keep the law of Moses.” All of a sudden, the message of freedom sounded like it had a lot of strings attached. Circumcision (the physical operation), observing the law of Moses, days, months, years, etc. And this other message, rather than freeing people actually brought them into slavery. So Paul and Barnabas get into a large dissension and debate with these men.
What followed was a trip to Jerusalem for the first church council which Paul addresses it here in Galatians 2:1-10. What’s at stake is huge and thankfully our text shows us the outcome. We see the gospel 1) revealed, 2) preserved, 3) affirmed, and 4) bearing fruit.
The Gospel Revealed
Paul, Barnabas, and Titus come to Jerusalem and Paul lays out the gospel he has been preaching for fourteen years to the apostles and leaders of the church there. And we see a stunning thing in verse 3. Perhaps Paul brought Titus as a test case for the gospel he preached. In verse 1 Paul says he was with Barnabas and took Titus along with him. This is a real Gentile who had a real encounter with the grace of God in the gospel and had been really changed!
The apostles in Jerusalem, whose primary ministry was to Jewish people, hear Paul’s message, see Titus and see no need to compel him to be circumcised. Circumcision was an outward sign that one belonged completely to God, that they were part of the covenant community of God. But now that Christ has come, he has satisfied all the OT requirements of the law on our behalf. And rather than the physical, outward sign of circumcision, God now performs the inward operation heart-circumcision, but giving us new ones.
So, there is need to add anything to the gospel Titus received! Titus, on the basis of his faith in Christ alone is completely accepted. He is totally clean, fully accepted by God on the basis of the work of Jesus Christ alone. Titus is free from the need to supplement Christ’s work with rule-keeping. And so are we! Have you ever been overwhelmed with the truth that at this very moment, I am fully accepted and received by God completely on the basis of what someone else has done, namely Christ? What a reason to celebrate!
Are you seeking to get God’s attention based on who you are and what you do (“I’m not so bad, I’m a good person” and “I try to help people, I read my bible, I do good things, I don’t drink or watch bad movies.” If you relate to God on this footing, Paul would say, “You are in slavery.” These may be good things, but can never earn your acceptance and freedom and peace. Martin Luther before he was converted was a Catholic monk, and one which was most meticulously obedient monk, outwardly. Luther once said,
“If ever a monk got to heaven monkery, it would have been me. All my brothers will testify to that. For if it had gone on much longer, I simply would have killed myself in vigils, prayer, reading, and other work.”
All this brought was enslavement and the peace Luther sought with God still eluded him. Heaven is opened, freedom is offered, and peace is given through Christ alone, apart from keeping any rules. The leaders at Jerusalem saw Titus, a non Jew, and on the basis of his faith alone, they said, “he’s clean, he’s acceptable.” Can you imagine singing, “Jesus almost paid it all, Mostly to him I owe…” No! We joyfully sing, along with Titus “Jesus paid it ALL. ALL to him I owe.”
The Gospel Preserved
The gospel is revealed in Titus not being compelled to be circumcised. It is preserved through Paul’s dogged resistance to the false teachers. This is not a small matter of insignificant differences. Paul is not arguing over semantics. The truth of the gospel was at stake. And because the gospel is at stake it is a matter of truth and error, of freedom and slavery. We see this in verses 4-5.
There were some false brothers - not true brothers who were just a bit off. They were false brothers with an agenda to bring free Christians into slavery. This had to be one of the most difficult aspects of Paul’s ministry. Often refuting people who named the name of Jesus, but weren’t truly brothers. But Paul is militant in his resistance. “To them we did not yield in submission even for a moment.” He didn’t even entertain it for a moment.
Look at the reason Paul gives. “So that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” This addition to the gospel threatens it being lost. Notice the two words at the end of the sentence - “for you”. Paul doesn’t say he wanted to preserve the gospel for himself or the believers in Jerusalem, but for the believers in Galatia. This is our privilege too - to work to preserve the truth of the gospel for those not yet here, who may be far from God. Even for our children and grandchildren. The gospel is not just for us - it is for those who are far from God as we all were at one time.
The Gospel Affirmed
The truth of the gospel Paul preached was affirmed by the other apostles. There are not two gospels - one to Jews and another to Gentiles. There is one gospel. It may be spoken differently just like it would be to Muslims and Hindus and atheists, but it is the same gospel which centers on the finished work of Christ and calls for repentance and faith. Paul says in verse 6, “those who were influential added nothing to me”, rather, they affirmed the gospel Paul preached. Notice 3 things in verses 7-9.
First, in verse 7, it says, “They saw that Paul had been entrusted with the gospel to the Gentiles (non-Jews) just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the Jewish people.” Just as Peter was the primary gospel spokesman to the Jews, Paul was to the primary spokesman to the Gentiles. Paul is being put on equal footing with Peter and the other apostles here.
Second, in verse 8, it says, the apostles perceived “the grace given to [Paul]”. They saw that God was working powerfully through him. Paul told them of all that God was doing. Acts 15:4 says, Paul and Barnabas on arriving at Jerusalem “declared all that God had done with them.” It was obvious, Gentiles were receiving the true gospel, the Spirit was being given, and Titus is a real, live example.
Finally, in verse 9 Paul says, “James, Cephas [Peter], and John… gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me…” Barnabas and Paul were recognized as co-workers in the gospel with the apostles in Jerusalem.
The gospel he was preaching needed nothing added to it. The gospel preached by the apostles in Jerusalem was the same as Paul’s message of freedom. These false brothers had NOT been sent by the apostles in Jerusalem (as Paul perhaps thought) and therefore Paul wasn’t preaching in vain. The gospel of freedom revealed, preserved, and affirmed! Finally the gospel bearing fruit.
The Gospel Bearing Fruit
Verse 10, at first glance, seems out of place, but in actuality it fits right in. What is the fruit the gospel produces? Do you see in verse 10? Notice the one thing Paul is asked to do. It wasn’t, “Hey by the way, can you just please circumcise Titus? Can you just make sure he observes the Sabbath? Can you make sure you immediately baptize new converts?” No. Care for the poor; remember the poor. Paul has no objections to this. He is zealous to bring the gospel both in word and deed to the poor. What’s the fruit? Love.
Galatians 5:6 says, “In Christ Jesus, neither circumcision, nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” You see, the external demands of rules can never change our hearts, only the liberating power of the gospel can. Then we are eager to do what pleases God from a changed heart. The gospel frees us to live a life of joyful gratitude and loving obedience in response to the unlimited grace of God, bearing fruit for his glory!
This is the gospel which sets free and is offered freely to you today in Christ. Come all who are thirsty and drink.