2 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. (Acts 15) 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. 2:1–3
After almost a decade and a half of working independently, Paul was instructed by the Lord to reconnect with the Jerusalem leadership core. This was a time long before our easy communications, before I-phones and computers and e-mail, and the work Paul was doing among the Gentiles to the north was known only by hearsay reports to the predominantly Jewish Christians to the south. Paul had years earlier checked in with the apostolic leaders and had received their guarded blessing, but his message had broadened and deepened in the time that had passed since that meeting, and he knew full well that he stood at odds with those ultra-conservatives in the Jeru-salem church who still held the Law of Moses equal to or even above the Gospel of Christ. Evidently he was already aware of the so-called “circumcision party”: Perhaps they had already tried to infiltrate his fellowships and were already stalking him. So Paul needed to determine if he and the Jerusalem leaders were still on the same page, or if, perhaps, he had learned more of the liberty that is in Christ than they were willing to let themselves embrace. It is evi-dent from his language below that he was prepared to continue with his own work regardless of what Peter and James and the rest said to him, but it was his hope that they would be in agreement with the revelation that he had received.
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 pre-served for you. 2:4–5
Titus, a young Gentile convert, accompanied Paul on his trip to Jerusalem, probably as an example of the fruit of Paul‘s ministry as well as Paul‘s protégé. The right-wingers there were offended when Paul brought a non-Jew into their fellowship, and they demanded that this outsider be circumcised if he wanted to be included among the believers. Paul faced these extremists down and successfully argued his case that Gentiles are not bound by the Law of Moses and do not have to conform in any way to it in order to receive the Grace of God. It is of importance to note that when the same issue arose concerning Timothy, whose mother was a Jewess, Paul assented to Timothy being circumcised. (Acts 16:3) He did this, not because it was necessary for Timothy‘s salvation, but because Timothy, as the son of a Jewish mother and a Gentile father, was a Jew according to Jewish law (his lineage being authenticated maternally), and by being circumcised Timothy gained acceptance by and access to a whole people group by whom otherwise he would have been shunned as an unclean half-breed. His circumcision was a pragmatic political and social decision by Paul to further the work of his minis-try. This is in contrast to Titus, who had to remain uncircumcised in order to prove Paul‘s point that Gentile circumcision was not a re-quirement of salvation.
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. 2:6
Of note here is Paul‘s personal consistency: He would respect people who deserved or whose position or rank required respect, but he would not ever curry favor with or suck up to those who might be power brokers. When he went to Jerusalem, he went with the hope that the leadership there would support him in his efforts, but it is clear from the tone of his letter that had they not done so, Paul would have continued to do the work the Lord had assigned to him regardless. As is recorded below, Paul had no trouble confront-ing even the chief apostle when Peter waffled in his commitment to Christian liberty.
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), 2:7–8
Again it should be noted that there is a significant and scriptural distinction between Peter and Paul: This difference in emphasis must also apply to their writing and to the way in which we today understand what they have written. Peter and those who wrote from Jerusalem were writing with attention to “the circumcised“, the Jewish Christians. Paul was writing with attention to “the Gentiles“, those to whom the Law of Moses never applied. We who are of “the Gentiles” are those to whom Paul‘s apostolic commission directly applies, and had we been living in the First Church era, it would have been the Gospel as Paul preached it which would have most directly affected us.
Paul, in the second letter to Timothy, speaks of “rightly dividing“, of correctly handling or reading intelligently and wisely, the Word of God. If we do not approach our study of these writings with intel-ligence and respect for their purposes and their contexts, then we will certainly create from them fantasies of our own imaginations and will always fall into imbalance leading to error in our under-standing of the Lord and of the Kingdom of God.
Paul was the “apostle to the Gentiles“. Peter was “the apostle to the circumcised… the Jews“. It is, I think, right to say that Paul‘s writings, therefore, will speak more directly and more clearly of the Law of Liberty and of the end of the Old Covenant in its entirety than would the writings of Peter and those with him (e.g. James and Jude and John, though John‘s writings are a bit different and more universal). Peter, on the other hand, would be very interested in establishing the connections between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant so that his Jewish converts could clearly see the continuity of God‘s purposes and the rightfulness of Jesus‘ claims to be Messiah.
To this end, when we today are reading the scriptures, and especially when we are reading in the New Testament, we need to keep clearly in mind which writer we are reading and to whom he is writing. I have already argued, in the page on “Progressive Revelation”, that there are elements of the four Gospels which, because they record sayings of Jesus made before the Resurrection, are actually statements made under the Old Covenant rather than under the New. I also would argue that there are statements in the New Testament letters which might be more appropriate for Messianic Jewish believers than for non-Jewish believers because the Mes-sianic believers are returning to the Lord from a different and unique heritage and have a different and unique part to play in the fulfillment of His Plan as the age comes to its close. These nuanced distinctions must be accounted for and maintained. If you are not willing to make the effort before the Lord to do this then please get out of the pulpit and shut up.
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 Gen-tiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. 2:9–10 (cf. 6:10)
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 2:11–13
Paul is here more concerned with the damage caused by hypocrisy than he is with the idea that different people may hold different personal theologies about how they live out their faith and work out their salvation in Christ. Elsewhere he speaks at some length about these things: (Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8). We are each unique as we stand before the Lord, and this certainly influences how we person-ally interpret many of those portions of scripture which are open to variations in interpretation. (It is, in part, because of this that Paul says that factions must exist (1 Corinthians 11:19), and it is because of this that there are so many Christian denominations and sects.) Hypocrisy, the saying of one thing and the doing of another, however causes uncertainty and confusion in the minds and hearts of those before whom it is displayed who are not strong enough in their own understanding and character to deal with it, and confusion in mat-ters of faith usually leads to stumbling and to sin.(Romans 14:22,23)
Peter has always demonstrated a character flaw that has caused him to drift toward self-preservation and toward pleasing whatever “side” of an argument seemed to be strongest. Here, even after all he has experienced in the Lord, including his own revelation about the inclusion of the Gentiles, (Acts 10,11) that weakness shows itself again as the risks of creating tensions and divisions at the predom-inantly Jewish Jerusalem mother church are pitted against the New Covenant‘s very “un-lawful” and “un-traditional” liberties that Paul and the Antioch leaders were allowing in the heavily integrated Jewish/Gentile church in Antioch.
Peter apparently had been perfectly willing to freely associate with everyone at Antioch, until the contingent that claimed to come from James‘ conservative clique arrived. When these men showed up and the possibility of Peter‘s egalitarianism being reported by them in Jerusalem became a problem, Peter pulled away from the Gentile believers and started to behave like a good Jew. In so doing he effec-tively denied the Gospel that Paul was teaching, and which he him-self had been in agreement with since his experience with Cornelius the Centurion years earlier, and he sided with the Judaizers, and was adding the authority of the Twelve to the heresy that Gentiles had to first become Law abiding Jews in order to be saved.
Paul had just recently returned from Jerusalem with the message that Peter and the rest of the Jerusalem elders had affirmed that the Gospel of Liberty in Christ was valid and that they supported Paul‘s preaching. Now the most revered of all the Apostles was publicly denying by his actions what Paul had reported that Peter had said with documenttary proof. This could only cause confusion in the minds of everyone who was present. And Peter‘s actions coupled with his authority began to split even the leadership core of the Antiochian church. This is why Paul had to resort to the very ex-treme measure of a public rebuke. 1 Timothy 5:20
But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gen-tiles to live like Jews?” We ourselves (I, Paul, and you Peter) are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we (both of us) know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we (both) also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too (again) were found be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? (Did Christ move me to do this thing? Are you listening to the Holy Spirit, Peter?!) Certainly not! It is the Law that convicts me of sin, not Christ. Christ offers me the only solution to the verdict that the Law declares and the sentence that the Law imposes. For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 2:14–19
(This is not something that Christ in me has led me to do: I have stopped listening to Him and have returned to the place that He has made every effort to call me away from.)
And if I abandon the Grace of God in Christ and return to living by the Law after having heard and understood the verdict of the Law that by the Law I am as condemned as a sinner as the Gentile who never had the Law, I only succeed in making even more clear the hard facts of the Law‘s judgments and of my need for the Grace of God.
This is what the writer of Hebrew‘s refers to as “crucifying again the Son of God and putting Him to an open shame ” Hebrews 6:6. Having understood from the Law that I am guilty, and having received and accepted my pardon from this guilt by embracing Christ, I then am choosing to reject the pardon and the sacrifice made to secure it, and to claim again my guilty status and the ritual actions that once had been required to defer the punishments rightly deserved for my guilt but which, as testified to in the letter to the Hebrews, no longer have any validity. I am choosing to negate the Cross. It is not Christ who is motivating my actions: I am doing this by my own choices, and against the will of the Spirit of God now within me, and against His word which I have been given, and for which He now shares His mind with me to help me understand.
For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 2:19
The entire purpose of the Law was to bring sin to light, to isolate and to draw out the infection in order that it could be lanced and cleaned away so that the wound could finally be healed. To return to the Law is to reopen a healed wound, even to desire to reintroduce the infec-tion that has been once and for all eternity cleansed from that wound.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in (gr: the faith of) the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 2:20
The Greek translates correctly as “by the faith OF the Son of God” (a genetive/possessive case construction)
(ἐν πίστει ← τῇ τοῦ υἱοῦ → ‹τοῦ θεοῦ)
en pistei te tou huiou tou theou
This is the heart of Paul‘s Gospel distilled here into a single pro-foundly simple sentence. Paul is not speaking of some theological theory, some mental shift that is made when a person decides to become religious and starts to go to church. He is talking about the fact of Christian regeneration, of spiritual rebirth, of being “born again” as a “new creature” in Christ as a result of the confession of sin and of true repentance and the acceptance of the terms of the New Covenant.
In the context of this letter he is contrasting the absolute separation away from the Old Covenant and its rules with the symbiotic joining of the believer with Christ through the indwelling personal presence of the Holy Spirit. The finished work of Calvary provides the en-trance into the Kingdom of God for every person who is willing to accept Christ‘s sacrifice as a sufficient solution for their own alien-ation from God and are willing to follow Him in His obedience.
When a person enters into the Kingdom on these terms according to the Gospel the “old man” dies. This death is real and is instantaneous upon the act of confession, repentance, and acceptance, and occurs when the Holy Spirit resurrects the spirit of the penitent person and they are reborn as a Christian. Obviously, the mortal body still exists, and its frailties still affect us, but according to Paul‘s teachings we are instantaneously liberated from our lifetime of slavery to sin and are now able to freely choose to resist the temptations of the flesh to sin and to serve the Lord obediently and righteously because the indwelling Holy Spirit has empowered us to do so (cf. 1 Peter 1:3,4). In fact we die and Christ becomes the life by which we live. (Read my Romans,Ephesians and Colossians essays.)
The theological terms that are used for this are justification and sanctification. Justification occurs at the moment of spiritual rebirth and is the action of God that breaks the power of sin over the life of the believer, removing all burden of guilt and past history of sin and providing a fresh starting point.
Sanctification is the lifetime outworking of the life of Christ in the life of the believer as he or she grows in grace and stature before God and man and learns to choose away from sin and toward right-eousness in every aspect of the day-to-day of Christian living. It is the process of the growth and maturation of the New Creation man, the Kingdom believer. From the moment of justification the Christ-ian is called to grow up into Christ-likeness, a walk of discipleship that is increasingly sin free and righteous in every aspect. (cf. 1 John 2:1)
There is a problem I have found (noted above) in most modern translations of the original Greek of this verse which I think reflects our protestant Evangelical bias more than anything else, but which I think also may lead us to a faulty theology that can weaken our effectiveness as Kingdom Christians and, in extreme cases, even lead us into serious errors. Most modern translations translate the phrase “en pistei tei tou houiou tou theou” as “by faith in the Son of God”. Some translate it as “by faith that is in the Son of God”, which is better. But the Greek grammatical construction actually means “by the faith of the Son of God”.
Paul consistently teaches throughout his writings that even our faith is predominantly a gift from our Creator; that it does not derive from within ourselves but rather that it is an infusion of Divine faith into our own meager efforts to believe. Yet, many believers struggle with the issues of faith perhaps more than with any other issue. And questions about “having enough faith” dominate Christian conversations and sermons throughout the Christian world. “Lack of faith” is blamed for unanswered prayer and adverse circumstances more than anything else. This is because in our general teachings and practice we tend to equivocate on the definition and concept of biblical faith. And in the minds of those who do not study the Word deeply for themselves this results in a confusion, leaving them subconsciously “double-minded” and therefore “unstable” and unable to hold securely to the Lord. (cf. James 1:6-8)
“We are saved by Grace, through Faith, and this not of ourselves, it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8
Christ is our life. The faith of Christ Himself is our faith. We are asked of God to believe and to trust, but beyond this the faith that has the power to move mountains is His faith … It is His confidence in Himself, not our confidence in Him! He asks us to have “mustard seed” faith, a faith that is vital and alive and able to grow, but not faith that is in itself large. (Matthew 17:20, etc.)
He has faith that is large, and He inhabits us. If we are supposed to somehow come up with the kind of faith that produces miracles out of our own efforts to believe, then faith becomes a work, and we are back to trying to please God by our own efforts. It is a slippery slope that ends with our salvation also depending upon us having enough faith. We are back to Law. We have fallen from Grace.
And we become slaves once again under increasingly unbearable burdens of guilt over our failures of faith which lead to condem-nation and ultimately to despair. Our loving Father becomes to us a tyrant and an abusive parent, and we live in constant fear of Him, or we run away. This is not the “Abba Father” whom Jesus came to reveal to us!
We are to operate from a position of “rest” (Hebrews 4:9). To rest is to “cease from our own labors”, to cease striving “in the flesh”, to stop trying to “work it up”. Even Jesus did only that which He first received permission from His Father to do or say John 5:19; John 5:30; John 8:28. Should we be trying to do more.
This is also the clear and simple meaning of the parable of the Vine and the branches. Branches and the fruit that they produce do not “do” anything: They “abide” (The old meaning of this word is “to wait in expectation with great patience”). The vine supplies the life to the branches and the branches in their turn and in the proper season bear fruit …This is a process that cannot be hurried up; It can only be carefully watched over and sometimes assisted with wisdom, as is done by a husbandman/farmer.
There is a life in the branches, and the leaves on the branches are an essential contributor to the vitality of the vine as they process sunlight, but the branches are derivative: They do not exist indepen-dently of the vine and its root. We are branches of the Vine: Our life flows to us as naturally as water and nutrients flow up from the roots of any plant to its topmost twigs and leaves.
The contemporary Evangelical church is a very busy church, and this isn‘t in itself a bad thing. But we have allowed our zeal and business to become conflated with sound biblical theology until we are preaching and teaching many things which are much more the tradi-tions of men than they are the teachings of the scriptures and espe-cially the teachings of the New Covenant. We need to return to a sound exegesis of the text of our charter once again, and to try to forget for a long season much of the chatter of popular theology and mass media preaching that has promulgated so many unsound ideas to so many people and worked us up into a frenzy that far too often leaves our sanctuaries after Sunday “worship” stinking like locker rooms after a game. In today‘s world an idea, sound or un-sound, can far too easily catch on and be spread widely, without exaggeration globally, in a matter of moments and without reflection or peer review. God‘s ideas, however, still require much reflection, and must also pass the biblically mandated bar of accountability and spiritual judgment by prophetically mature and biblically wise leadership. Unfortunately, through the mixed blessing of 21st Century media and communications, the roar of the mob far too often drowns out the voices of wisdom and reason.
At the end of the age there shall be a “famine of the hearing of the words of the Lord” that is concurrent with the increase of knowledge that identifies our age of information. (Daniel 12:4; Amos 8:11, 12) This prophecy is now in the time of its second fulfillment as there is far too much purporting to be biblical teaching available today, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff as the “winds of doctrine” Ephesians 4:14 are blowing so strongly that even the wheat is being blown about. The teachings about faith certainly seem to have become such a contaminated sack of grain.
I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. 2:21
There are only two choices for the children of Adam: Salvation and the liberty of restored relationship with our Father through the finished work of the Cross, or eternal independence and separation from our Creator. No one can be saved from the consequences of sin in creation by their own efforts. Salvation is through Christ alone.
This does not necessarily mean, however, that a person has to become a “Christian” in the sense that they have to “accept-Jesus-Christ-as-their-personal-savior”, be sprinkled, dipped, or dunked, and join a local denominational church like the Lutherans or Metho-dists or the Southern Baptists or the Assemblies of God or the “Two Seed in the Spirit Fire-Baptized Pentecostals”. Paul makes a statement later on in Galatians that leaves open the gates of the Kingdom to “sheep not of these folds” John 10:16. He remarks further along in Galatians 4:8,9
formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world…
Here, and in many other places throughout his letters, Paul alludes to the reality that much, perhaps most, of the action and initiative leading to our salvation rests in God, and not in us; That it is God who is seeking out the lost who He has identified as Kingdom seek-ers among men, that it is God who desires to know us infinitely more than we desire to know Him, who responds to our seeking. Yes, there is no salvation apart from Jesus Christ. But it does not immediately follow that one must “be a Christian” in the popular Evangelical sense of the term in order to be saved: The Father God whom Jesus came to reveal to us is bigger and more loving than this exclusive parochial viewpoint. The world is too large, and the human souls in the world too precious, for God to consign the responsibil-ities for their eternal destinies only to the temperamental and vacillating moods of His many often irresponsible and insular child-ren. When a church claims such a “gate-keeper” role (as has the Roman Catholic Church, for example, and a as well number of protestant denominations), it is falling into the same pit that Israel fell into in the generations after the Babylonian captivity. Christ did not consign Himself to that pit.
Paul does argue (Romans 10) that it is by the foolishness of preach-ing that men hear the word of the Lord, but in the context of his statement he is referring specifically to Israel, which had had the Law and the Prophets for a millennium and a half, and in the same breath he says that the “word has gone out into all the world” and implies that those with hungering hearts in all the world have heard it. His first allusion here is to the weekly reading of the Scriptures in the synagogues that were in every town with ten Jewish men since the Babylonian Diaspora, and to which Gentiles were welcomed as participants. The Old Covenant had been translated into the Greek Septuagint several generations before the Incarnation.
But beyond this, a careful reading of Paul‘s letter to the Romans leaves the reader with the understanding that Paul, who was called to bring the Gospel of the Kingdom to the Gentile world, had re-ceived revelation that the Spirit of the Lord can and does move upon human hearts independently of the ministries of the Body of the Church. (cf. the words of Jesus recorded in John 15:26,27) I have tried to explore this Pauline “universalism” in depth in my essays on Romans, Ephesians, and Colossians. (And please!!!!! Allow me to use the word “universalism” specifically and with great care here: I am not…I repeat…NOT… saying here that anyone can be saved apart from a relationship with Christ, nor am I saying that all human souls will be saved. 1 Timothy 2:3-6 I am saying that Christ is able and willing to reveal Himself to sincerely seeking hearts apart from the “normal” channels of missionaries, witnessing, pulpit preaching, evangelistic outreach, etc., and I believe that a careful study of the New Testament strongly supports this position. God‘s ideal and preferred vehicle for the Gospel is the Church, but it is not His only vehicle for the Gospel. Paul, himself, is sufficient proof of this. (There were no believers on the Damascus road. Ananias, the believer who prayed for Paul, was sent to Paul three days AFTER Paul met the Lord!)
Paul was very aware of the fact that there were many places in his world where there were no synagogues and no Jews, and places to which no other witness of the Gospel but the Spirit of God had ever yet reached. I have noted in other places that today, in “closed” Muslim nations as an example, myriad testimonies of conversions to Christianity are coming to light where men, women, and children who have never met a Christian or touched a New Testament are meeting the Lord in dreams and visions and other sovereign visi-tations as they search for Truth that is more substantial and consis-tent and liberating than the life they endure under Shariah. These accounts can be discovered by anyone who makes the effort to search them out in Christian missionary publications and through the Internet, as can similar testimonies from many other places around the planet. Such accounts are not only a contemporary phenomenon, but are common throughout the long history of the Church.