By Kim Shay
“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” – Galatians 2:1-10.
Paul opens his letter to the Galatians with a charge to them for having embraced a “different gospel” (1:6). Following that, he defends his own apostleship, assuring them that he was preaching the only gospel; any other gospel was no gospel at all. In Galatians 2:1-10, he describes a visit to Jerusalem where he confronts an example of what happens when a false gospel is preached.
The issue, which threatened to divide the church, was circumcision. There were forces in the Jerusalem church who taught that circumcision was necessary to be in church fellowship. Paul describes them as “false brothers,” who were brought in to bring them into “slavery.” What does he mean by slavery? He means that by making circumcision necessary for salvation, the false teachers were not teaching justification through faith alone (2:15-16), but were dragging the church back to adherence to a system of laws. Paul does not yield to these false brothers and tells the Galatians that he did so that “the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.”
It is important to get the gospel right. The gospel says we are justified by grace through faith, (Ephesians 2:8) not through a system of outward behaviors. The law, while necessary to reveal our sinful natures, was fulfilled in Christ. This is freedom; this is the truth that is the basis for unity in the body of Christ. Had the false teachers been successful in their attempts, there would have been division, and division is not something God wants for his church.
We often unconsciously add “extras” to the gospel message. Whether it is promoting one kind of education for our children, what kind of clothing we wear, what our Sunday afternoon activities are, or whether or not we ought to work outside the home, we may begin to find more unity in conduct than in Christ. It can feel like we’re living in unity because we all follow the same codes of conduct, and everyone likes one another. That kind of unity promotes cliques and factions to the point where we smugly believe that we are better Christians because we don’t do this or that thing. That is not unity in Christ.
The gospel provides freedom, not slavery. Before we were in Christ, we were in slavery to sin; now we are free in Christ from being forced to observe what often amounts to incidentals. Those activities we cherish will not save us, and in the end, it is like being chained to the law. If we base our salvation and standing before God in a list of behaviors, we will grow very weary very fast. Tim Keller, in his book Galatians For You, refers to this as emotional freedom, and says that when we apply a list of rules and regulations to the gospel it can become an “endless treadmill of guilt and insecurity.”
Paul’s concern for the Galatians was to get the gospel right so that they could live in freedom. This needs to be my concern daily. It needs to be the concern of every Christian woman. Promoting a gospel with extras is no gospel at all, and in the end, it robs us of the joy and freedom in Christ that is ours through his sacrifice.
Kim Shay has been a child of God since 1985, married to Neil since 1987, and has been home full-time since 1989. She has three young adult children. She is currently a blogger, bible teacher and Curriculum Co-ordinator for her local church’s women’s ministry committee. She blogs at The Upward Call and Out of the Ordinary. You can follow her on Twitter @upwardcall.
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