LifeWay Explore the Bible Series for June 8
Salvation comes through personal faith in Jesus
Galatians 2:4-5, 11-21
By Jim Perkins
Madison Hills Baptist Church, San Antonio
Our zeal in life is often misguided. People waited in line for an hour recently for the promotional sale of gasoline at our new neighborhood grocery store. To save a quarter per gallon, they wasted an hour–and probably a gallon of gasoline! We need a more vital arena in life to invest our energies.
Set a good example
The Apostle Paul invested wisely–he maintained a consistent, God-given zeal for the defense of the “truth of the gospel” (2:5, 14). As becomes obvious in this passage, the message of the gospel centers around a simple yet life-changing truth: Salvation comes through a personal faith in Christ as Lord and Savior.
The second chapter of Galatians includes a description of two key events in the gospel ministry of Paul. The first event was Paul's defense of the gospel in the face of a challenge to the integrity of the gospel message of salvation through faith in Christ. It seems that “Judaizers” (those teaching that Gentile believers must be circumcised and obey the law of Moses, see Acts 15:5) had infiltrated the churches in Galatia. These “false brothers” (2:4) taught what we might describe as a “Jesus plus” gospel. Although this message varied somewhat–and still varies today–it always included the dangerous concept of requiring Jesus plus some other aspect to attain complete salvation. For Paul, as it should be for us, that concept of adding to the simple gospel message–“Jesus plus”–was anathema (1:9).
The second event was the occasion on which Paul had to remonstrate against the behavior of the Apostle Peter, a beloved and highly visible member of the apostolic group (2:11-13). It seems Peter had come to Antioch and accepted the full participation of the Gentile believers in worship and social events. This acceptance probably included social interaction at meals (a mark of acceptance in Jewish life) and the Lord's Supper.
Peter's behavior, however, began to devolve when those of the “circumcision group” (again, those promoting circumcision and observance of the Jewish law as necessary to complete salvation) came to Antioch. He “began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles” because of a fear of these self-appointed representatives of James and the Jerusalem Christians–even leading Barnabas and others astray (2:12-13). Sadly, Peter's behavior on this occasion can only be seen as an example of behavior not in line with the truth of the gospel.
Paul provided an appropriate example of faithfulness to the gospel by addressing this hypocrisy in a straightforward manner. We cannot be certain, but perhaps Paul's challenge to correct and consistent behavior was both private–between Paul and Peter only (“to his face,” 2:11)–and public (“to Peter in front of them all,” 2:14).
The content of Paul's corrective challenge was faithful to the truth of the gospel. Paul reminded Peter and all those caught up in this hypocritical withdrawal of fellowship that “man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ” (2:16). There are no second-class Christians, nor is there a wall of separation between Jewish and Gentile Christians (see Ephesians 2:11-22). Paul also reminded Peter and the group he had influenced to abandon fellowship with the Gentile believers that “we, too, have put our faith in Christ” in the firm belief that salvation would come through “faith in Christ and not by observing the law” (2:16).
The net effect, then, of Paul's defense of the truth of the gospel was to promote a unity in the church that transcended racial or cultural distinctions. We are faithful and wise to do likewise.
Live for God
Paul defended the truth of the gospel against unspecified charges in 2:17-18. While we cannot be dogmatic about the exact nature of the charges, perhaps they dealt with Paul's insistence that Jews and Gentiles alike were sinners in need of salvation through faith in Christ. Indeed, the law of Moses did not provide immunity from sin, but instead a recognition of the present reality of sin: the “all” of Romans 3:23 really does include every person on earth!
Christ, then, does not “promote” sin, but reveals the desperate need of all (Jew and Gentile alike) for salvation through faith. In addition, perhaps here Paul also means that a “going back” to the Mosaic law and its test for table fellowship would have been an act of disobedience relative to the specific command of Christ to respect and treat as precious all of God's creation (refer back to God's revelation to Peter at Joppa in Acts 10:9-35).
The Apostle Paul continued in his defense/explanation of the gospel in 2:19-21. New life through faith in Christ as Savior brings a momentous and radical transformation of rebirth for the believer. The person (“I”) who lived life in relation to the law now lives in a relationship with the risen Christ. That Paul chose to speak of the indwelling Christ here and elsewhere of the Spirit indwelling the believer is of little consequence (compare Romans 8:9-11, or even Acts 16:6-10).
We can simply rejoice with Paul that the good news of the gospel also includes this: The new life Paul (and every believer) received through a personal experience with the risen Savior becomes a dynamic, daily reality that renews every aspect of the Christian's life.
Question for discussion
What “Jesus plus” additions do people still try to make to the gospel?