The book of Galatians shows us the importance of the truth of the gospel. The truth is that we are saved by faith alone apart from all our works. We are saved on the merit of Christ’s righteousness, not on the merit of our own. Wherever Paul went, he faced backlash for the gospel he preached. In Galatia, the church was being attacked from within by false teachers who sought to change the subject from Jesus’ finished work to man’s additional requirements. But to change the subject from Jesus to man is to leave Jesus altogether. Paul writes the book of Galatians to preserve the truth of the gospel and to defend the flock against these false teachers who attacked both the gospel Paul preached and the man Paul was.
1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 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. 3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 4 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— 5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.
We saw in chapter 1 Paul’s defense of his ministry and message. He continues this defense in chapter two as he details his visit to Jerusalem. The accusation from these false teachers in Galatia was that Paul’s gospel wasn’t the real gospel. They believed the real gospel was Jesus plus works. Paul’s gospel began and ended with Jesus. Works played no part in justification, according to Paul, because it was only the work of Jesus that had the power to justify. We get in by believing in his work, not by trusting in our own.
To these false teachers, Paul’s gospel just didn’t hold up. God could never accept us as we are: unchanged by works. Jesus’ work was good, but he required a little effort on our part to complete salvation. But to Paul, this wasn’t just a slight deviation from the gospel. This was a complete repudiation of the gospel. This was a desertion of God.
Paul heard this gospel from the risen Christ himself. It was not any man who revealed it to him. It was God the Father in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, what Paul preached wasn’t some made-up, ear-tickling, live-however-you-want-now-that-grace-has-come gospel. It was the full-bodied, everlasting, glory-infusing gospel of God. He would never budge on it because to do so would be to diminish Christ. That’s what these false teachers were: Christ reducers. Who needs a savior when your works do just as well?
So, Paul went to Jerusalem, but he waited fourteen years. This is the second time Paul mentions going to Jerusalem in this letter. The first time was in 1:18, where he talks about visiting Peter to get acquainted with him. He spent only fifteen days there on that first visit. Now, he goes up to Jerusalem again, this time because the Lord tells him to go, “because of a revelation.” When he got there, he didn’t demand a public hearing before the apostles. He went privately, quietly. He wasn’t out to prove anything before men. He was out to partner with the apostles for the sake of God’s world-wide mission.
He met with “those who seemed influential.” He’s not saying they weren’t influential. They were! He’s merely saying that their influence didn’t matter to him. He needed no approval or validation for his gospel message or for his ministry. Jesus himself had given him that a long time ago.
He took two men with him to the meeting. Barnabas, a Jew, whom they knew, and Titus, a Gentile, whom they didn’t know. Titus is perhaps the most important person at the meeting. Being a Gentile, he was not circumcised. But he had heard the gospel and believed in Jesus Christ. He was a Christian, but he had never been a Jew.
Why did Paul take Titus? Most likely because he was an example of the gospel Paul preached to the Gentiles. In verse 2, Paul says he “Set before them the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles.” He did this to be sure he wasn’t running in vain, meaning to be sure he wasn’t wasting his time unifying the church if the Jerusalem leaders weren’t going to accept non-Jewish Christians. Paul was going to continue his mission, but here he sought the unity of Christ among the nations.
So, Paul brought the gospel he preached to the Gentiles and a real-live Gentile as proof of the power of Christ’s salvation in that gospel. Titus was exhibit A. How would they treat him? Would they demand that he be circumcised, or would they accept him as he was as a brother in Christ?
Today, so far removed from this situation, we find it difficult to understand the enormity of this event. This was a major point in the history of the Church. If the Jerusalem apostles forced circumcision on Titus, proclaiming it was necessary for salvation, the entire foundation of justification by faith alone would crumble and the gospel would lose its power.
But the gospel prevailed! Titus was not forced to be circumcised because they all agreed Jesus Christ saved him by faith alone. It was not a mark on his body that justified, it was the marks on Jesus’ body that justified. It was the person and work of the Savior who set his people right with God. This was a major success. The years Paul spent laboring in the mission field were accepted as valid and together they all rejoiced in what the Lord had done.
Of course, not everyone was happy. Whenever the gospel goes out and people are saved, there will always be some who frown. In this instance, false brothers weaseled their way in to spy on the situation. They wanted to steal their freedom in Christ and capture them in slavery, because accomplishing that would give them the power that Jesus rightly owned. That’s what heresy always does. It strips power from Jesus and puts it into the hands of the adversary. Yet Paul prevailed because Jesus prevailed. And in his preservation the gospel was preserved for all generations.
Now, there is a warning for us here in this passage. What we do with the gospel message matters for more than our family, or our church, or our generation. How we treat God according to the gospel has long-lasting impact. In fact, it may stretch down through the halls of history to come and change the way the world interacts with God’s gospel. That’s why Paul instructs us to pay close attention to our doctrine. (1 Timothy 4:16.)
What these false teachers wanted was not to preserve the gospel. They wanted to change the gospel. They wanted to undo what Jesus had done in his finished work. They wanted to put a comma where God put a period. That’s always a danger, even for us.
Here’s how you can know how you’re relating to the gospel of God’s grace. How do you live in light of the gospel? How you live helps you see what you really believe. For example, when you sin, what thoughts flood into your mind about God? Do you believe you must clean yourself up before coming to him for forgiveness, or do you run to him with conviction in your heart and cling to Christ’s righteousness alone? When others sin, what thoughts flood your mind about God? Do you believe they can find freedom in Christ right then, or are you secretly holding them to some other external standard? In other words, is God’s grace sufficient for you in both what you believe and how you live? What about for others?
These false teachers were holding others to a different standard, and it was a standard that they themselves set. I wonder why they set that standard? I think it’s probably because it was achievable. They themselves could do it. They held the pen in their hands, marking the boundaries and waiting for others to get their act together. But that’s not the grace of God! The false teachers drew the line and keep others out. But God erases those lines and with the blood of Jesus draws a wider circle around the whole world, encompassing all people groups of all backgrounds—whoever will believe in him—and includes people these false teachers would never even think of including. God reaches into the hell-hole of this world and grabs handfuls of hopeless sinners and puts them on top in his kingdom. Why does he do that? Because grace that big points to something so wonderful that only God can be in it.
So, are you holding the pen and drawing lines or are you resting inside the bloodline Jesus has drawn?
6 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. 7 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 8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), 9 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. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.
The false teachers were put down. The gospel prevailed. More than that, unity was found among the apostles of Jesus. This is unsurprising to us today because we have the New Testament to show us it all worked out just fine. But place yourself in their shoes, in Paul’s shoes. His gospel was God-given. He had no doubts. But he didn’t know how it would turn out with the other apostles. Would they accept the gospel or would they be deceived as well?
Paul uses a rhetorical device that sounds as if he’s downplaying the apostles’ leadership and importance when he says they “seemed to be influential” and “what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality.” But Paul isn’t downplaying anyone’s importance. He’s merely saying God’s grace levels us all. It does not matter to Paul who Peter, James, and John once were. All that matters to him is the gospel they proclaim, which is the same gospel he proclaims. He is not intimidated by their status because they stand together as one preaching the only good news that saves sinners.
The Jerusalem apostles added nothing to Paul’s message. They did not force Titus to be circumcised. They did not alter his message or correct his gospel. They listened and accepted it as the same revelation they had from Jesus. They recognized Paul’s ministry as effective and valid. Paul took the gospel to the uncircumcised. Peter took the gospel to the circumcised. Same message, different people groups, Jesus unifying the world around his good news. That’s what was happening then, and that’s what happens still today as the true gospel is proclaimed throughout the world.
So, they all agree. But how did they get there? We know from Galatians 1 that this isn’t man’s gospel; it’s God’s gospel. God gives his gospel to whom he wants, and Paul, Peter, James, and John all received it for the purpose of preaching and spreading it throughout the world. Look at the language Paul uses. In verse 7, he says he had been “entrusted” with the gospel just as Peter had. In verse 8, he says God worked through Peter just as he worked through him. In verse 9, he points to the “grace that was given” to him. What does this language indicate? It indicates at least three things. First, gospel ministry is a stewardship for kingdom advancement, not a job for market-share increase. Second, gospel ministry is God’s work done through us, not our work done for God. Third, the gospel of grace is a gift from God, not an achievement by man.
1. Gospel ministry is a stewardship for kingdom advancement, not a job for market-share increase (v. 7)
We saw in Galatians 1:16 that God was pleased to reveal his Son to Paul. Paul is referring to his conversion. That’s what happens when we believe the gospel: the Son is revealed to us. We finally see him in his glory, as he really is, for all that we really are. Paul goes on to say in 1:16 the purpose for which God revealed the Son to him, “in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles.”
In saving Paul, God entrusted a ministry to him for the purpose of kingdom advancement. He didn’t give him a job do as much as he gave him a ministry to steward. Think about that: the all-Holy God above entrusts his world-wide salvation project to a fallen, sinful man with limitations and weaknesses and inadequacies. Does that sound like a good idea to you? Of course not! But that’s how God works. He saves his people through the finished work of Christ on the cross and in resurrection power places himself within their hearts in the person of the Holy Spirit, commissioning them to the ends of the earth with his good news. He takes messed up people, washes them in the blood of Christ, and sends them out for his glory. That’s the God we serve!
2. Gospel ministry is God’s work done through us, not our work done for God (v. 8).
God’s plan was always to save the Jews and the Gentiles by his grace. When Jesus rose from the grave, that rescue plan ramped up for the Gentiles, and Paul was God’s appointed evangelist to begin that work with a full-court press. Peter was God’s appointed evangelist to continue that work with the Jews.
Paul’s point in Galatians, in order to refute his detractors, was to say that he and Peter we both merely pass-throughable vessels used by God. It was not Paul’s gospel any more than it was Peter’s gospel. It was God’s gospel. They were merely the messengers in the same way the Old Testament prophets were God’s mouthpiece.
Of course, they kept their personalities. Paul wrote like Paul and spoke like Paul. Peter wrote like Peter and spoke like Peter. God doesn’t change us into robots. He redeems us in total, including our personalities. Then, he uses who we are to spread his gospel in ways that he made us to.
The good news of the gospel is that God saves us apart from our work. Christ’s work saves. So, as we work as ambassadors for him, our work is done not as extra points on the justification scale but as the proper response to his saving grace. Gospel ministry is not our work done for God. It’s God’s work done through us. Therefore, it is God who gets all the glory, as it should be.
3. The Gospel of grace is a gift from God, not an achievement by man (v. 9).
Paul knows who he is. He’s a man saved by God and set apart for his gospel ministry. He told us in Galatians 1 about his surprising conversion. He was not a man primed to accept justification by grace alone. He spent his life in obedience to the law. He rose the ranks of Judaism, notching righteous marks by his actions. But when Jesus appeared to him and gave him his gospel, Paul received it as a gift. Jesus transferred him from a persecutor to a preacher.
The gospel is a gift. That’s why Paul’s boast wasn’t in his achievements among the Galatians. His only ambition was for the Lord. So, when the false teachers came in and sowed discord and brought up fake charges, Paul used all the zeal he once persecuted Christians with to fight for them before these wicked men. Paul’s only motivation was the glory of God’s gospel. What’s ours?