I Do Not Set Aside The Grace Of God
Key Verse: 2:21
“I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
Paul wrote this letter to remind the Galatian Christians of the freedom they had in Christ Jesus— that they should not be listening to those who brought a different gospel than the one Paul had given them through which they were justified by faith in Christ .
It happens! Ever since the gospel was first preached, the devil had desperately tried to change it, to tweak it, to distort it, to corrupt it, to compromise it— and he did so with a purpose— that he might do two things. (1st) to undermine the work that Christ had done on the cross and by his resurrection. And (2nd) to empty the gospel of its power to save people. These are two things that are monumental in our faith and in our Christian lives. (1st) What Jesus did on the cross and in his resurrection is what restores us to God— and nothing else— nothing we do or can do to add to what Jesus had already done. If Satan could undermine that work that Jesus did on the cross and by his resurrection, in any way he could, he would. And he did. And (2nd) the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of anyone who believes (Rom.1:16); that is for anyone who trusts Jesus and calls on his name to save them from their sins. It is a power of salvation like no other. And Satan would do anything to corrupt, compromise and distort it. And that is exact what he was doing. He was using the Judaizers to do that. These were a group called the “circumcision group” here in this letter who went around telling those whom Paul preached the gospel to that he was teaching an incomplete gospel, that the gospel dictates that one believes in Christ and in his work but also that a person must also be circumcised and follow the Jewish laws to be saved. Paul’s letter to the Galatians is a defense of the gospel he taught— that it is the one and only gospel— that there isn’t any other— that anyone who preaches a gospel different from the one he was teaching is condemned to hell. Now these are harsh words. But Paul needed to be harsh here for good reasons. Life is not a joke nor is it a game. Jesus himself warned that anyone who does not receive this gospel will be condemned. But anyone who received it will be saved. (Mark 16:16) We are talking about life and death, heaven and hell. This is pretty serious stuff my friends. We ought to listen carefully to his defense of the gospel as we go through this letter so that we might live in the freedom of Christ the gospel. In this chapter we learn several things that I think its important for you to learn them by heart and take time to grow in them. We learn that (1) we are justified by faith in Jesus; that (2) we no longer live but that Christ lives in us; that (3) we now live for God; that (4) that we that life by faith; and (5) through the grace of God.
Do you remember what Paul had said in the last chapter— that he had visited with Peter in Jerusalem after his conversion and then set off for somewhere else. At the time he had made Peter’s acquaintance, for he had not known him. His point was that he had not received the gospel through the teaching of the apostles in Jerusalem, nor was he in any way inferior to any of them. Rather he was appointed by God and given the gospel first hand to deliver to the Gentiles. (Does anyone here not know what or who Gentiles are?) At the time churches everywhere were praising God because of his changed life. He had been a persecutor of the Lord, and had become one of the Lord’s foremost preachers and teachers. Now we come to verses 1 & 2 and 14 years have elapsed since then. During those 14 years, Paul had been busy studying the Bible and preaching the gospel and many Gentiles converted to the Christian faith through his preaching. In these verses we hear that Barnabas and Titus went with him. Barnabas was an extremely important man in Christian history. He was a Jewish convert to Christianity and Paul’s coworker. Titus was one of Paul’s Gentile converts to the Christian faith. Now 14 years after his conversion, Paul takes these men and visited the Jerusalem church, the headquarters of the Jewish outreach. Why did he feel the need to visit the apostles in Jerusalem? It must be serious!
He says that he went there in response to a revelation he had. In other words, he did not go there because he was angry or frustrated, although he had good reason to be both angry and frustrated at all the attacks these Judaizers had launched at him and his ministry. He had good reason to also be furious that his sheep in Galatia were being greatly influenced by a false teaching that was corrupting the very foundation of their faith and salvation. But Paul went instead in response to a revelation. It was God himself who directed him to go there and meet with the leaders there in order (as he says) to “set before them the gospel that I preach among the gentiles”. He goes on to say, “For fear that I was running or had run my race in vain”. (2) Paul wanted to set before the Jewish church leaders in Jerusalem the gospel of God’s grace— not of works. Now we’ve talked about this many times. Paul preached the very gospel to the Gentiles which the Lord Jesus had revealed to him the day he was converted. He was not unsure whether the gospel he preached was valid or authentic enough. It was! That’s not why he said, “for fear that I had run my race in vain”. He was just concerned that after so many Gentiles had already come to faith in Christ through the gospel of God’s grace, nothing would hinder this gospel— this life-giving ministry— from spreading to the Gentiles.
Perhaps Paul was confused by something. Did the Jerusalem church and leadership preach the same gospel he was preaching? Was a gospel of purely God’s grace? Or was it a gospel tainted with works? Was he teaching a gospel of God’s grace for salvation, while the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem preaching a gospel of grace yet requiring circumcision of the Gentiles who convert to Christianity as a requirement for salvation? Look what may have confused him in verse 4. “[This matter arose] because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.” Some supposed Christian brothers whom Paul calls “false” brothers, had apparently been sent to infiltrate Paul’s ministry and spy on his teaching. The words he uses here are so refreshing. He says “to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus.” What a marvelous revelation and truth this is for us. We have a freedom in Christ Jesus that makes those who are still slaves to laws and legalism, to religion and to ritual and ceremony and tradition envious and angry with us! We don’t want them to be angry or jealous. We want them to enjoy the same freedom we have in Christ Jesus. But to do that, they would have to let go of their own efforts at righteousness and trust Christ who alone can make them righteous. That’s why Paul said that they want to make us slaves again. They couldn’t bear the truth that Christ can take a wretched Gentile who had never obeyed a single Biblical law in his life, and cleansed him from sin, and made him heir of salvation and co-heir with Christ. That just drove them crazy. It was easy to recognize them, even though they thought they were spying. They were the ones with the sour angry face, whispering to each other every time a Gentile Christian said a loud happy Amen in a meeting or put food in his mouth without first washing his hand 5 times.
They wanted Paul to bring the Gentiles to slavery again to the Law from which Christ set us free. Most probably, from what Paul says in verses 3-5, the freedom Paul is talking about has to do with circumcision or in this case the un-circumcision of Titus the Gentile convert to Christianity and Paul’s very own disciple. It seems those Jewish Christians who came from Jerusalem wanted him circumcised to recognize him as a real Christian. They wanted him to also follow all the other Jewish laws. And Paul wouldn’t have anything to do with that. And that’s partly why he took him with him to Jerusalem to find out what’s going on, if the sentiment was the same there too. Look at what he said in verse 5. “We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.” Why didn’t Paul give in to them? For many reasons. To begin with their intentions were impure. They wanted leadership for themselves and taken away from Paul. You know when someone tells us that you have to be baptized in order to be saved, and you have to be baptized in their church, their concern is not your salvation, because as it is they have no Spirit of God in them anyway, but their motives are the same as these Judaizers— They want to exercise authority over your life. Paul didn’t care about such petty power struggles in the church. He cared more about the truth. He didn’t give into them because the gospel truth was at stake. He defended the gospel. Here is why we are making a big deal of this. Paul had defined the gospel on many occasions. He had said in Acts 13:38-39. “Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the Law of Moses.” It couldn’t be clearer than that.
Nothing can justify you before God except faith in Jesus— in what Jesus had already accomplished in the cross for you and through his resurrection and ascension to heaven. This is the gospel, that Jesus died that we may be justified. You know how many times the word justified appears in the Bible, especially in the New Testament? You cannot make it to heaven unless you are justified before God. And you cannot be justified by anything you do in your flesh, neither good works nor by your obedience to the laws of the bible, even if you obey all of them, because you cannot. That is why we need to be justified. And that is why God sent Jesus to become for us our justification. And he becomes our justification when we repent of our sins and put our faith in him. That is the gospel.
I wonder why didn’t Paul try to compromise with these people even a little. It would have been less stressful, less confrontational, more peaceful, more civil! Right? But there are times we can promote peace and unity when the price to pay is our dignity and honor, or our pride and self righteousness. But not when the price to pay is the gospel truth. There is nothing that can justify when we compromise the gospel truth. Paul said, “so that the truth might remain with you.” What a faithful servant of the gospel he was. He didn’t give in to them not because he was arrogant and unbending and looking for an argument. But he didn’t give in to them because he was concerned for his sheep— for us— that the truth might remain with us. And it has! Up till this very day, we have a gospel that has been passed down to us without compromise, because of men and women who would rather die than compromise the truth of it. And they did that by their love for Jesus. You must love Jesus enough to defend what he did on the cross and through his resurrection for you and for all people. Anything we add to the gospel or anything we take away from it, we are adding or taking away from what the Lord had done. And that should never be. What he had done is too precious and glorious to corrupt it with human effort— our feeble human effort— our contribution to our own salvation. Therefore, give thanks to God for Jesus whose gospel has truly fulfilled all righteousness so that all we have to do is to accept it with humility and reverence of heart and say “thank you Lord. You have done it all. You have done it all for me.”
Look at verses 6-10. Paul visited the Jerusalem church leaders and set before them the gospel of God’s grace. He pleaded for the freedom of all believers in Christ. From what Paul tells us, they all found that they could not add anything to the message of the gospel of grace. They didn’t require Titus be circumcised (3,6). That was revolutionary and set a coarse for the future church worldwide, because in nor requiring circumcision, they also had not required that new Gentile converts to obey the Jewish Mosaic Laws. The Apostles recognized that Paul had been “entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles just as Peter had been to the Jews.” (7) They could see that God was working in his ministry to the Gentiles just as God was working in Peter’s ministry to the Jews (8). They weren’t blind to the work of God. They saw that God was working in the lives of the Gentile sheep to whom Paul preached. So what did they do? Read verses 9 and 10. “James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” The Apostles gave Paul and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship. This too is revolutionary. They recognized God’s grace to Paul. This means, “I see the hand of God’s grace in your life and ministry as it is in my life and ministry, and I embrace you as my brother in arms, contending for the same gospel, sharing the same privilege in the kingdom of our God.” Can we honestly say that to one another? It also means that Gentile believers did not have to become Jews in order to become Christians— in other words, the Christian faith begins and ends with Jesus, and is not an extension nor a supplement to anything else— the Christian faith is being born again into a relationship with God by the grace of Jesus alone. These converts would not have to obey the Jewish Mosaic Laws to be recognized as true Christians. They were set free from the burden of sin as well as the burden of the law.
There is one more thing that is of significance here. Read verse 10 again. “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” It’s really interesting that the apostles in the Jerusalem church neither took away nor added anything to Paul’s gospel message. They were united in the fact that the purity of the gospel message be preserved. But the one thing they asked Pau to do was to be mindful of the poor. Of all things alongside of maintaining a pure gospel faith, why mention the poor? They could have asked anything! But their heart went out to the poor among the Jews and Gentiles alike. That’s because at the heart of the gospel there’s love mercy and compassion. The apostles spent three and the half years with Jesus who basically singled out the poor, the downtrodden and the outcast in almost all of his ministry. And they learned so much from him. Jesus came to us with the compassion of God for those who are suffering in a world consumed with greed and selfishness. At the heart of the gospel there is God’s compassion. When the gospel touches the heart, it changes that heart. We are born selfish and greedy in our sinful nature. We love ourselves, and nurture our own comforts, and we tend to shut out the world around us. But when the gospel of Jesus, who died on the cross for my sins, touches my heart, it awakens in me the image of the loving shepherd God. My selfishness and greed are crucified with him on the cross, and I am born to him a new man, a man or woman with his compassion for a suffering world. I know that people suffer mostly from sin, and for that I give them the gospel to set them free from their suffering. But I also know that so many people also suffer from the cruelty and oppression that poverty brings about. So the gospel changes us into loving caring human beings who are concerned with the poor. The apostles were mindful of the poor, and urged Paul to continue caring for them, which was the very thing he was eagerly doing. One cannot be truly Christian and be concerned only for his or her own needs and comforts, because the gospel molds hearts towards compassion. I am not saying this to condemn us, but that we may lift our hearts to God and pray: “Lord, let the gospel work compassion in my heart that I might share in your suffering for the poor.” (2 Cor.8:9)
After Paul’s visit to the church in Jerusalem, he returned to the city of Antioch and the Antioch church where he was ministering together with Barnabas. But then something happened that threw everything that was accomplished in Jerusalem between the apostles and Paul into jeopardy. What happened at the Antioch church threatened the gospel all over again, but in a different way. This time what threatened the gospel message was not the gospel theology (not what the gospel says), but the application of the gospel in everyday life (how you live our the gospel). In other words, practically speaking, the freedom of the gospel was being threatened, not by the gospel teaching itself, but by the behavior and actions of the top level Christian leaders such as Peter and Barnabas. If Paul did not correct this visible anti-gospel behavior— which Paul terms as “not in step with the gospel”— then the gospel and freedom in Christ (which the gospel imparts) themselves would be threatened. So what happened that was so serious?
Read verses 11-14. “When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, ‘You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?’”
Here’s what happened in a way that we might understand it. Peter visited the Antioch church. And he was enjoying eating together at the table with the Gentile Christians. If you think that’s insignificant, you need to know that there was a time when Jews never ever sat down with Gentiles, and certainly never ate with them in history. But now that they were all Christian brothers, Peter was eating pork at the table with Titus and the rest of them. Then they had a visit from some Christian brothers, who are referred to as the “circumcision group”, who had come from Jerusalem. As soon as Peter saw them, he picked up his plate and went to sit down with them at a different table, where only lawful meat was being served with certainly no pork. Then Barnabas joined him. Now there were two tables, one for the Jewish Christians and the one for the Gentile Christians. We can already see that there was something terribly wrong with this picture. The circumcision group were the same ones who insisted that Gentiles ought to be circumcised and follow the laws of Moses in order to be saved and be recognized as true Christians.
Peter who knew the will of God, who understood the gospel of God’s grace, the same Peter who had evangelized an entire household of Gentiles and baptized them into the name of Christ (Acts 10-11; 15:11), this same Peter who had come to Antioch and fellowshipped with these Gentile Christians, and eaten with them on many occasions, why would he draw back from them now, separate himself from them, so openly, so rudely, so painfully to them, and associate himself with the “circumcision group”? According to verse 12, it seems he was afraid of them. According to verse 13, he was being a hypocrite. According to verse 14, he was not acting in line with the truth of the gospel. Even great men of God like Peter and Barnabas make mistakes, fall into blind spots that cause them to sin against God and against themselves and against the church of God. Peter was afraid of them. It’s hard to fully comprehend the meaning here. But he may have been afraid of causing an unnecessary scene in the church. Perhaps he was afraid that the delicate and tenuous chords that joined all these debating Christian factions would be terminally broken. In other words he was afraid he would lose the “circumcision party” and they would split off from the church in Jerusalem and would cause the church sorrow. Maybe he was afraid of losing his own authority in the church if he was seen to consort with Gentile Christians who seemed to eat like animals rather than a holy people of God. Whatever the case may be, Peter was afraid. But he needn’t be afraid. That was his mistake— his sin. Fear comes from the devil. He should have stood by faith in what he believed to be true. Peter was also acting like a hypocrite. A hypocrite is a person who says something but acts something else. Like those in the Christian world who say they believe in Christ but live like pagans by the lusts of the flesh. Paul rebuked Peter for his outright hypocrisy. Also according to Paul, Peter did not act in line with the truth of the gospel. The truth of the gospel is that Jesus gave his life that we might be justified by faith in him. That is what makes us all stand on equal ground before God. There is no second class or third class Christian in the Christian realm. All who are in Christ are of Christ and for Christ, brothers and sisters, saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. There is no extra merit for those who are circumcised or for those who read Bible more than others, or follow a religious system more rigorously than another. When Peter removed himself from the table of the Gentile Christians, and associated with the Jewish circumcision group, he made the Gentile Christians feel inferior, as if they had to live up to the group’s expectations in order to be accepted into Christ’s family. That was wrong. It was not in line with the truth of the gospel.
To act in line with the truth of the gospel is not easy but it is not hard. One must not be afraid to lose something, or anything, neither reputation nor honor, nor popularity. Peter may have been afraid. That made him vulnerable to the devil. To act in line with the gospel one must stand on the gospel truth and live by the gospel truth. One must not be a hypocrite, saying something with the mouth but doing something else in their day to day lives. There are countless hypocrites who make the name of Christ to be blasphemed and dishonored among the non-believers. Non believers see what you do and they judge not by what you say but by the life that you live. If you live what you preach, if you are genuinely a servant of the gospel or you are a servant to yourself alone. When peter acted this way, he was afraid of losing something. But if he had thought about it, Christ had lost everything to bring these Gentiles to faith and to his kingdom. And by one act of hypocrisy, by one act out of line with the gospel truth, he was jeopardizing the tender faith of so many precious young Gentile believers. Paul rebuked him to his face. He was in the wrong. Paul did so in order to preserve the gospel truth. Where did his strength of conviction come from? Basically two things.
Read verses 15-18. His strength of conviction came from his absolute faith that our justification is by faith alone in what Christ had accomplished in the cross. Paul confessed that we, that is “he and the Jews” knew full well that the Law could not justify a man. He knew that the law was given so that we might know the holiness of God and the depth of our sinfulness. No faithful Jew who had ever read the Bible believed that he could obey all the laws. Thus no one could be saved through observing the law, because if you broke one law you have broken all of them. So as they studied the Bible they came to see themselves as sinners. And they came to see that only faith in the Christ of God could justify them before God. Jesus died to justify all men, however, not only the Jews. Paul deeply understood that. When he looked at the Gentiles he did not see unholy sinners. He saw men and women whom Christ died to justify— to bring back home to God. This was his conviction. He knew that we all stand on the ground of faith in Christ, that no man is better than any other man by virtue of their deeds or religious accomplishments. On the other hand, some of the Jewish Christians still believed that their daily holy routine gained them merits before God. Paul knew better. He would not compromise the gospel of God’s grace. In fact he says in verse 18, “If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker.” What he meant was that after being justified by faith, if he goes back to relying on the law he would be breaking the law itself because the law itself says that the “righteous shall live by faith.”
Read verses 19-21. His strength of conviction also came from his faith that he died to the law and now Christ lives in him and through him, and that the life he now lives, he lives by faith for God whose grace he never forgets. “For through the law I died— because the law condemns us. When God measures our lives by the law, the law clearly condemns us. But Paul also says: “Through the law I died to the law.” In other words, he also died to the law. That’s why Christ died for us— that we might die to the law and its demand on us. He died so that the requirements of the law might be fulfilled. His death became our death. His condemnation became our condemnation so that the law can be satisfied that the debt has been paid. Then Paul says: “So that I might live for God.” That’s what God wants from us— that we might live for him. But we can’t because to live for God is to live by every law there is. And we couldn’t. So Christ had to die for us, so that through his death, we might be released from the law, and be liberated to live as we should— a life for God. How did it happen?
Read verse 20. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” This is one of the most beautiful testimonies ever given by the apostle Paul. He was crucified with Christ so that his old selfish and self centered self might no longer live but die in Christ and with Christ. He was also crucified with Christ so that Christ might live in him. That is our hope and glory— that Christ lives in those who are redeemed by the blood of Jesus. When Paul was crucified with Christ, he had surrendered all his sins to Christ. He admitted that all that he did for God was not enough to save him, that in fact he had been living as an enemy of Christ. He also admitted that he needed Jesus’ death and shedding of his blood to wipe away his sins. He was admitting that he as a man in the flesh and all that is in him and of him must be put to death. So he put his faith in Christ and was crucified and died with him. And he said that he no longer lived, but that Christ lives in him. What he meant was that his old self was dead, and that now Christ lives in his heart and he lives the life that Christ would have him live for God. In Christ he lived what he could not live when he was in the sinful nature. In Christ he could love as he had been loved, he could forgive as he had been forgiven, he could serve as Christ had served him, he could labor for the Lord as Christ would give him the strength to labor— not for merit but for love. And Paul also testifies how he is able to do this— how he is able to let Christ live in and through him. It was by faith he came to Christ, and it is by faith that he continues to live his life. He would trust Jesus to continue loving and serving him as he has always done before, when he lived by faith because Jesus loved him and gave himself for him. That was the crux of Paul’s deep conviction. Christ loved him. Christ gave himself for him. Christ lives in him, so that Christ might reveal his wonders to the world as if Christ were here now and living in and through Paul. Paul gave himself to Christ.
And all that he was and is and would be is rooted in what he said next. Read verse 21. “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing.” But Christ didn’t die for nothing. Christ died to set us free from our burden of sin. Christ died to set us free from the burden of the law. Christ died that we might die with him, and so that we he might live in and through us as we live for God by faith. All this is the grace of God. So Paul not for one moment did he give in to them. Not for one moment did he compromise that wondrous grace. Not for a moment did he set that grace aside for a moment of men’s approval. He acted in line with the gospel truth. He lived in Christ and for Christ. And that’s the legacy that was left for us who are redeemed by Christ. We have a gospel that has assured us freedom to live a life of faith in Christ, for God and for his glory. Let us not compromise it for anything in this world.