The apostle Paul has been setting before the Galatian churches a defense of the gospel he proclaimed to them. In the last paragraph we learned that the troublers are saying that Paul is pleasing people (1:10) by weakening the gospel message. They are saying that he has taken elements out of the gospel to bring in the Gentiles. We learn from Acts 15:1 and 15:5 that there are Jewish Christians teaching that the Gentiles could not be saved unless they were circumcised according to the Law of Moses and they needed to keep other aspects of the Law of Moses. Paul is correcting this problem by proving that the gospel he proclaimed is not from man, but by the direct revelation of Jesus. Further, his gospel is accurate, so much so that anyone who declares a message containing anything different than what he proclaimed is accursed. As Paul proclaims this gospel message to the Galatians, we are learning what the gospel message is and how the gospel is to affect and change our lives.
Paul and Jerusalem (2:1-3)
After 14 years Paul went up to Jerusalem and brought Barnabas and Titus with him. But Paul did not go because he was summoned by the Jerusalem church. He did not go because the apostles needed to speak to him or “call him on the carpet” over what he was preaching. Rather, God told him to go, according to verse 2. Paul is preaching throughout the Roman Empire and by revelation he was told to Jerusalem and set before those leaders in Jerusalem the gospel he was proclaiming. Paul did not go to check his message. Paul went to present the gospel he was proclaiming “in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.” Consider what Paul says. Paul tells the Galatian Christians that he did not go to have his message checked by the apostles, but he went to check their message. Paul wanted to see if what he was doing was wasting his efforts and running the race for nothing because the Judean Christians were proclaiming a different message than him. Paul is living up to his declaration that he made in 1:8-9. He does not care who it is, the gospel proclaimed must be the same as his, even the preachers are the influential in Jerusalem.
To bolster this point, Paul says that he took Titus with him. Titus was an uncircumcised Gentile Christian. Paul brings Titus to make him a test case concerning the truth of the gospel. As we have noticed in our study, circumcision is one of the key points that the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem are claiming Gentile Christians must perform to be saved. Paul brings Titus to Jerusalem to see what these influential of Jerusalem will do because Titus is Exhibit A of Paul’s gospel preaching. But Titus was not forced to be circumcised. There was agreement on the message. Paul and the influential of Jerusalem had the same revelation and did not teach differently. This is an important point to the Galatian churches. Paul’s gospel was not contradicted or argued against by any of the pillars in Jerusalem.
False Brethren (2:4-5)
So what happened? How are there Christians from Jerusalem running around teaching these churches that circumcision and obedience to the Law of Moses are necessary for salvation? This would be a natural question that the Christians in Galatia would ask. Paul went to Jerusalem and the Christians in Jerusalem are on the same page as Paul. Paul is not running in vain. So what has happened? Paul explains in verse 4.
There are false brethren who were secretly among them. The problem is that there are false Christians. These false brothers have sneaked into their assemblies, seeming to believe and act like them, but were spying out their freedom in Jesus. They were secretly disruptive in their work, attempting to enslave them to the Jewish regulations. They were trying to restrict a freedom they possess in Christ. How often it seems people try to create walls of restriction that God did not give. But in verse 5 Paul says that they did not yield to them for a moment. They do not agree with these false brothers nor endorse what they are teaching. There was no consideration of this doctrine that these troublers are teaching.
Preserving the Truth of the Gospel
Paul says that they did not yield “so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” We did not give into this error so that you would not have to give into this error. We did not yield to them and you, dear Galatians Christians, must not give into them either. The covenant of Christ is sufficient and self-contained. There is nothing from the Law of Moses that is to be added to the covenant of Christ. Christianity is not the continuation of the Law of Moses but the fulfillment and completion of the Law of Moses. Paul said it this to the Roman Christians like this:
For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Romans 10:3–4 ESV)
Paul said this to the Colossian Christians like this:
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13–14 ESV)
The message of Jesus is not combined with Moses or any other regulations. Everything about the Law of Moses was completely removed, nailed to the cross and completed in Christ. It is important that we hear this truth. All commands and every aspect of the Law of Moses was completely fulfilled and brought to an end in Christ. This includes the commands of circumcision, sacrifices, temple worship, instrumental music, keeping sabbaths, dietary laws, ritual laws, the importance of physical Jerusalem, even the ten commandments that were given at Mount Sinai are obsolete and fulfilled in Christ.
The writer of Hebrews spends a great amount of time trying to argue for this truth.
But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. …In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Hebrews 8:6, 13 ESV)
The troublers are teaching that various aspect of the Law of Moses must be obeyed by Gentile Christians to be saved (Acts 15:5). The New Testament letters like Galatians teach that this is not the case. Everything about the Law of Moses, the commands, the ceremonial laws, the commandments, are completely removed through Christ and nailed to his cross.
Preserving the Truth of the Gospel Today
We also need to preserve the truth of the gospel today. Jesus is everything and there is nothing that is to be added to him or his covenant. This has led many to do something very dangerous to this text by way of application. Circumcision is not to be added as a requirement for salvation, as the book of Galatians and Acts 15 teach. By application many will say that people who come along and teach baptism are adding to the gospel of Christ. Salvation is by faith alone and adding anything to the gospel of justification by faith is to come under Paul’s condemnation that they should be accursed. I want us to consider this charge and ask if it is right. Is calling people to be baptized adding to the gospel message and those who do so should be accursed?
If so, then Paul cursed himself. Notice in Galatians 3:27 that those who are baptized are those who have joined themselves to Christ (cf. Romans 6:1-4). Paul himself did not exclude the need for baptism. But some will argue that it is an external act and Paul is condemning all external acts for salvation in this text. First, if this argument is true then confession, which is an external act according to Romans 10:9-10 because we are confessing with our lips, is also nullified and all who claim the need for confession of Jesus as Lord are accursed. Further, if this argument is true then repentance, which is an external act according to Matthew 3:8 because repentance has visible fruit, is also nullified and all who claim the need for repentance is accursed. We cannot say that Paul is combatting all external acts. Paul himself preached the necessity of repentance, confession, and baptism. What Paul was doing was combatting the addition of the Law of Moses to Christ! The gospel is not Christ plus the Law of Moses. The gospel is not Christ plus circumcision or some other observable act from the Law of Moses. The gospel is Christ alone. The gospel is faith in Jesus. The gospel is justification by faith. But believing in Christ alone means submitting to his covenant and commands. Justification by grace alone through faith alone means I will obey Christ and his covenant alone. Faith without works is dead and useless. Saved by faith alone does not exclude the actions that show faith. The actions that show faith in Christ alone are repentance, confession, baptism, and walking in the light of Christ each day. The truth of the gospel must be preserved against those who take true statements in the scriptures and twist them to mean something different than the clear reading of God’s word.
Nothing Added To Paul (2:6-10)
Paul continues to teach the Galatian Christians that those in Jerusalem fully agreed with Paul and his gospel. God told Paul to go to Jerusalem and he met with these influential leaders. But understand something, it makes no difference to Paul or God if these were influential or not. God does not care who you think you are. Your recognition in this world is nothing. These influential leaders and pillars are not greater than Paul and did not possess more authority than Paul. Paul did not need their approval and they added nothing to him.
Quite the opposite happened. They saw that Paul was entrusted with the same gospel that they possessed by direct revelation from God. In essence, Paul says that he is the same as Peter and they have the same gospel with the same Spirit working in both of them, so that Paul was extended the right hand of fellowship. There was not an ounce of disagreement. There was not an ounce of reteaching. There was not a moment of debate. There is no distinction between Paul, Peter, John, or James the brother of Jesus. They recognized that Paul and Barnabas should go to the Gentiles while these other apostles went to the Jews.
Rather than correcting Paul, they received Paul and only asked that they remember and help the poor Christians as they go. Nothing needed to be added to what Paul was proclaiming and he was eager and already remembering and helping the poor Christians in Judea. The New American Commentary makes a useful point that during that time in the first century, so chronic was the economic deprivation of the Judean Christians that they became collectively known as “the poor.” We see this in the book of Acts as the Judean Christians are repeatedly suffering under famine, distress, war, and persecution (things Jesus predicted for this region in Matthew 24). Paul’s message was unchanged and not confronted. The truth of the gospel was preserved by Paul and the other apostles against these troublers who were trying to steal the freedom that existed in Christ. Remember the needy Christians in Judea was all Paul was asked to do, which he was happy to do and we see him do in Acts and 2 Corinthians. We have to care for each other because we belong together as the family of Christ.