Receiving the Gospel – Galatians 2:15–3:9
By Pastor Lee Hemen
July 28, 2013 AM
Recently, the Dali Lama was in Portland. He held a conference with adherents of various other religions. Many of the Buddhists who attended were in a posture of meditation. Many of individuals who were interviewed by local TV declared all religions are equally valid in helping people experience genuine life. How tragic that some people choose a dead leader’s teachings or an esoteric lama rather than a relationship with God through faith in a living Savior. How would you answer someone who insists all religions are equally valid?
Many people today contend truth is relative—what is true for one person may not be true for another. They say one religion is as good as another is; any religion is equally effective in showing the way to God and eternal life. Unfortunately, even some Christians accept this false philosophy and say the gospel is not necessarily true for others. They need to realize this idea contradicts the Great Commission and thus blunts missions and evangelism. More importantly, it denies the Christian gospel’s basic truth. The truth of the gospel, however, is not relative and shows the only way to God and eternal life.
READ: Galatians 2:15–3:9
In Galatians 2:11-14, Paul recounted his confronting Peter in Syrian Antioch. When Jerusalem believers came, Peter withdrew from table fellowship with Gentile Christians. Paul publicly renounced Peter’s action. In verses 15-16, Paul emphasized justification comes by grace through faith in Christ, not “by the works of the law”. Paul insists that we…
I. Believe (Gal. 2:15-16)
“We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.
(Galatians 2:15-16 NIV)
1. Paul had recounted his confrontation with Peter in Antioch in which Paul rebuked his fellow apostle for withdrawing from table fellowship with Gentile Christians. Now Paul reflects on that experience. What began as words directed to Peter, now moved to the emphasis as to what the Galatian Christians needed. He uses the royal “we” to refer to the fact that he was a Jew by birth with access to God’s revelation. He had God’s law and once had tried to attain righteousness by keeping it. The term “Gentile sinners” has quotation marks to indicate Paul was quoting the Judaizers’ reference to non-Jews. Although Paul was Jewish, he understood that nobody is justified by the works of the law. Paul knew from experience that attempts to attain righteousness through keeping the law are futile. The word justified means “made right with God.” The phrase “observing the law” refers to keeping the Ten Commandments and the oral rules and regulations attached to them. Obeying the law does not produce a right relationship with God. Only faith in Jesus Christ makes people right with God. Faith is total trust in and commitment to Christ. Faith is the means, not the source, of salvation; it is openness to receive God’s great grace-gift. Paul’s then uses Jesus’ name and title to emphasize that Jesus of Nazareth is the Savior and God’s Messiah. Paul used the verb form of the noun rendered faith to stress that Jewish Christians (and all believers then and now) had been and are justified by faith in Christ! They could not be saved by works of the law, for keeping the law cannot justify anyone. The statement “because by observing the law no one will be justified,” probably represents an interpretive quote of Psalm 143:2. No one can do enough good works to earn a relationship with God. We have to believe in Jesus Christ to be justified!
EXAMPLE: Do some of you remember the “The ABCs of Salvation” we were taught during VBS? We receive salvation only by placing faith in Christ. Our understanding of this truth is crucial. Christians need to be clear about it so they can express it lovingly and kindly to unbelievers. Non-Christians need to hear this truth so they will not depend on false concepts of salvation.
Paul described his life before and after his conversion (vv. 17-21). His Christian life was totally different from his previous life because it was under Christ’s control. He tells the Galatians to…
II. Behave (Gal. 2:17-21)
“If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 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. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:17-21 NIV)
1. This verse may reflect the criticism the men from Jerusalem leveled against Peter. Jewish Christians from Jerusalem viewed Peter’s action of eating with Gentile believers as forsaking the law and thus as committing sin. Paul then raised the question, “does that mean that Christ promotes sin?” Paul absolutely rejected such an idea. For Christ to promote sin would contradict His character. “Absolutely not” literally is “let it not be so,” or “may it not happen.” It has the sense of “God forbid!” To Paul, the real sin was legalism. Paul’s reference to rebuilding what was torn down expresses a return to legalism after leaving it. If he went back, it would prove he was a lawbreaker. Paul emphatically states, “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.” The phrase “through the law” likely refers to the law as the beginning point for Paul’s conversion. He came to recognize the futility of law keeping as a means of being made right with God. Paul died to the old way, the old law, on the Damascus road! It marked his complete break with legalism so he could live to God. His living to God involved following God’s will, living in such a way that honored Him, and no longer living for self. At conversion, Paul began to live under God’s direction. Paul described his conversion as his having been crucified with Christ. The tense of the Greek verb for crucified expresses an experience in the past, that continues in the present, and into the future! He was stressing identification with Christ. Mainly, Paul referred to his dying to the law and being freed to live for God. His experience involved dying to self—replacing self-rule with God’s will. “The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me,” he completely identified with his Lord. Having died with Christ, Paul was raised to new life—resurrection life! Paul did “not set aside the grace of God,” as the false Judaizers claimed he did. In fact, “if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” Jesus’ death would be nothing more than a tragic, insignificant martyrdom. Instead of invalidating God’s grace as the Judaizers did, Paul proclaimed it as the only way to be saved. Paul not only believed in Jesus for salvation, he behaved in such a way as to promote it with every fiber of his being!
EXAMPLE: When we place our faith in Christ, He radically transforms our lives, giving us the inclination, guidance, and power to behave, as He wants. He lives in us and expresses Himself through us. Knowing He loved us and gave Himself for us should inspire us to demonstrate His character in our behavior.
Paul urged the Galatian believers to be consistent in their theology and ethics, quizzing them about how they experienced salvation when he first preached to them. He also asked about their letting someone deceive them and about the Spirit’s presence and work among them. Paul says…
III. Be Consistent (Gal. 3:1-5)
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes, Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing–if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard? (Galatians 3:1-5 NIV)
1. Paul’s strong address, “You foolish Galatians,” expressed his dismay at their readiness to abandon the good news of grace. He incredulously asks, “Who has bewitched you?” The Judaizers had “put the evil eye” on believers, as sorcerers were thought to be able to do. The false teachers had bewitched the Galatian Christians. Yet, “Before your very eyes, Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified!” Paul bluntly reminds them. The Greek wording vividly portrayed means “to write (or ‘paint’) before the eyes” or “to post or placard.” Paul had presented the good news of Christ’s redemptive death graphically, as though he had posted a public notice in large letters. Paul asked, “I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?” The Galatian believers definitely did not receive the Spirit by works of the law. No good work had earned them the Spirit. When they heard the gospel of grace and placed their faith in Christ, they received the Spirit. Now, they were being inconsistent in their faith! Were they that “foolish”? Evidently, they were! Could they attain their goal of righteousness by “human effort?” the answer was, “NO!” Turning to legalism to attain righteousness instead of relying on the Spirit’s presence and power made no sense to Paul. Had they “suffered so much for nothing?” Paul’s question likely focused on believers’ facing opposition because of their faith. Paul’s final question was designed to cause these Christians to reflect on their experience with the Spirit, whom they had received at conversion. They had not earned this immeasurable gift by works of the law. God had supplied the Spirit. The Spirit’s presence and work produced the miracles. The gift of the Spirit and God’s miraculous activity among them came by hearing with faith—hearing the gospel and placing faith in Christ. They needed to stop being so stupid and instead be more consistent in their faith!
EXAMPLE: When we receive salvation through faith, we also receive the Spirit who wants to lead us to consistency in our beliefs and actions and to move us toward maturity as believers. We need to be sensitive to His presence, and we need to cooperate by acting obediently to His prompting within us.
Paul also contrasted living under the law to living in faith. And finally, he emphasized the permanence of God’s promise to Abraham. Paul related that we can also…
IV. Be Blessed (Gal. 3:6-9)
Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:6-9 NIV)
1. What was faith? Was it that important for the believers to grasp this concept? Paul immediately referred to Abraham, the father of the faith, and quoted Genesis 15:6 to stress the truth that people are made right with God through faith. Abraham “believed God”—he trusted in and committed himself to God. As a result, his faith was entered in the positive side of the ledger as righteousness—a right standing with God. Before God gave the law and before Abraham was circumcised, he was made right with God through faith and not following the law! Paul emphasized that people who place faith in Christ are Abraham’s spiritual descendants: “Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham!” Circumcision and works of the law have nothing to do with real righteousness and being Abraham’s true descendants. Faith has everything to do with both. We are Abraham’s children as well! Next, Paul personified the Scripture and quoted Genesis 12:3b, a reference the Judaizers likely qualified by insisting it carried the requirement of circumcision. Paul contended that God’s promise, “All nations will be blessed through you”, was a prophecy of good news to Abraham. The Lord would make the Gentiles right with Him in the same manner Abraham was made right: by faith. Thus, everyone who exercises faith as Abraham did shares the blessing he received: right relationship with God.
EXAMPLE: What does sharing Abraham’s blessing mean to you? How do you define faith?When we become Christians, we receive the blessing God promised Abraham and that countless multitudes have enjoyed. This blessing is available to non-Christians through faith in Christ. When believers talk with others about becoming Christians, we give them the opportunity to participate in fulfilling the Scriptures, to receive the blessing God promised Abraham’s descendants.
1. We receive salvation when we believe by placing our faith in Christ.
2. When we place our faith in Christ, He radically transforms our lives, giving us the inclination, guidance, and power to behave, as He wants.
3. When we receive salvation through faith, we also receive the Spirit who wants to lead us to consistency in our beliefs and actions and to move us toward maturity as believers.
4. When we become Christians, we receive the blessing God promised Abraham and that countless multitudes have enjoyed.
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 27 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.