Freedom uncompromised (Galatians 2)

Freedom uncompromised (Galatians 2)

We all love stories about historic battles where heroic locals defended their families in spite of being outnumbered by the enemy. We respect those who fight for noble goals. There are also others we label ‘Don Quixote’ because they’re struggling in vain. On of the most important things in life to learn what’s worth fighting for and what’s not. As we continue in the book of Galatians we see Paul fighting for freedom – especially from religious rules and regulations.

This epistle was written to churches founded by Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. These churches fell into the pitfall of legalism seduced by the judaizers. Just like a parent to his rebel teen, Paul brings up some episodes from his own life hoping that the Galatians will get the message.

First, he retells the story when he went to Jerusalem to settle some issues the Galatians are grappling with. Returning to Antioch from their first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas told stories of what God had done. News spread quickly, and not much longer the religious police from Jerusalem showed up. Hearing that Paul preached a Gospel of faith to the gentiles that had no mention of keeping rules and regulations they were upset. I like how honest the Bible is: we read that first Paul and Barnabas got into quite a quarrel with these folks, and then decided that this issue is so important that they better set it straight with the apostles in Jerusalem. Not that they believed they could be wrong, but they wanted to stop this teaching of faith plus religion equaling salvation from spreading further.

Everybody was full of anticipation for the results. Is it enough to believe in Jesus to be saved or shall we also keep parts of the law? Because circumcision was one of the main expectations the judaizers wanted to put upon gentile believers, Paul took the Greek and uncircumcised Titus with him. Now, what will they have to say when they see him?

The issue caused a big debate in Jerusalem too, but at the end the statement was clear: both gentiles and Jews can only be saved based on their faith in Jesus Christ and they don’t have to keep the law for that reason. On this meeting Peter’s argument was the most helpful. He understood that if God himself accepted these believers without burdening them with rules the Jews themselves couldn’t keep, the church cannot be not accepting them either.

The other story that Paul shares with the Galatians is also in connection with Peter who once visited the Antioch church. For a while he was enjoying fellowship with the gentile believers, but when others joined from Jerusalem he set himself apart and led others including Barnabas into this hypocrisy. Again this was a moment for Paul where he felt a need to stand up for the truth of the Gospel, so he openly confronted Peter.

Paul’s using these stories for two reasons. First, since the judaizers told the Galatians that the Paul is not really valid in the eyes of the higher ups in Jerusalem he shows them that it’s just the opposite. Not only do the leaders in Jerusalem agree with his message, but it was actually him who confronted Peter when there was a need for it. Second, he makes it obvious that he preaches the true Gospel and that the judaizers have no authorization form the apostles at all.

The question that was raised there in Antioch and then in the churches of Galatia is still with us today. The battle is still going on with the truth of the Gospel being at stake. Paul thought this was something worth fighting for. Religions, including legalistic Christianity, divides people to good and bad and give a list of solutions how we can get better. God, however, has two very different categories in mind. We’re either righteous or sinners in his eyes.

The Bible shows two ways by which we can become righteous in God’s eyes: we either keep the law flawlessly, or we admit we can’t and so receive grace by casting our faith into the crucified and risen Christ. The first was is functional. The second one requires humility. God decided to make it this simple: anyone, who believes in Christ will be announced to be righteous. Only those people remain in the sinner category who cannot take the step to humble themselves and accept grace as a gift.

At the end of the chapter Paul argues that one can not mix these two. We cannot say we’re saved by grace through faith but we also need to keep rules to make it sure. God gives salvation only as a gift. “So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified” – says Paul and then adds: “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

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